How To Make Yourself “Go”

Your race is in an hour, and you know you've gotta go. Here’s how to guarantee a timely Number 2.

Amanda MacMillan |

On a perfect race morning, you’d wake up, have breakfast, and use the bathroom – at least once, maybe twice – and then head to your starting pen feeling great, not worrying whether you’ll have to stop along the way for an emergency Number 2.

But sometimes, your routine fails you. Maybe you’re travelling and in a different time zone, maybe your diet’s been a little off, or maybe you’ve just got a nervous stomach. But some mornings, you just can’t go, no matter how much you know it’s essential for a good run.

So what do you do now? We looked at the latest research, and talked with Felice Schnoll-Sussman, a gastroenterologist, to find out. Here’s what science says about how to get yourself to go.

Sip and Sit

Photograph by Jonathan RH via Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution
Photograph by Jonathan RH via Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Many runners swear by their morning cup of joe as the thing that gets their bowels moving – and although scientists aren’t sure exactly why coffee works this way, at least one study has found that it does seem to induce “a desire to relieve yourself.” (It’s unlikely that caffeine is responsible, because even decaf coffee had this effect.)

But Schnoll-Sussman says that any warm beverage can help stimulate a bowel movement, including a cup of tea or even hot water. “The warm liquid acts as a vasodilator,” she says. “It widens blood vessels in the digestive system and helps increase blood flow and GI activity.”

Schnoll-Sussman advises runners to drink a hot beverage in the morning and then sit on the toilet for a while. “Just the act of sitting there for few minutes can bring on the urge to go, even if you don’t feel like you have to right away.”

Get Moving

Photograph by Cassandra Tannenbaum
Photograph by Cassandra Tannenbaum

Physical activity can bring on a bathroom break, which is one reason a warm-up can be so important before a race. “Before you head out the door for a hard workout, I would suggest exercising lightly to help stimulate a bowel movement,” Schnoll-Sussman says.

If you’re trying to unload in the comfort of your own home or hotel room, try jogging up and down the stairs or doing some jumping jacks or dynamic stretches. Already at the race start? Warm up with some strides while you’re still near the portaloos.

Wake up Earlier

Photograph by Ed Landrock
Photograph by Ed Landrock

“Make sure you’re getting up early enough on race morning to go through your whole morning routine, including time for the bathroom,” Schnoll-Sussman says. People racing in a different time zone, she adds, should try to stay as close to their body’s natural schedule as they can.

It’s also important to wake up with plenty of time to spare, so that your body has extra time to digest your breakfast and feel the urge to go.

Try a Massage

Photograph by Monika Adamczyk
Photograph by Monika Adamczyk

A recent study suggests that putting gentle pressure on the perineum – the area between your genitals and anus – may help break up and soften stools for people who have been suffering from constipation.

While it’s not yet a common treatment prescribed by doctors (and it wouldn’t be her first line of advice for runners who don’t typically have pooping problems), Schnoll-Sussman says that it may be helpful for people with specific types of blockages or medical conditions. “It might be worth a try if you’re in a bind,” she says – and while it will probably be a bit awkward, it certainly can’t hurt.

What to Know for Next Time

Photograph by Amy Guth via Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution
Photograph by Amy Guth via Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Getting enough fibre is important in the days and weeks before a race for keeping digestion regular and preventing constipation. But on race day, consuming more fibre than usual can cause diarrhea, so don’t eat (or drink) large amounts the morning of, especially if you’re not used to it.

Staying hydrated is also key – especially if you’re flying on a plane or otherwise travelling. “Constipation occurs when the poop is too dry to move through the body easily, so drinking plenty of water can always help move things along,” Schnoll-Sussman says. Filling up on H20 the days before your race, and drinking that warm beverage first thing in the morning, is the best way to make sure you’re able to go when you need to.

Good luck!