Diary of a loosely boweled runner
Hi friends, maybe you read my blog for enviro news or you're related to me (thank you either way).
OR, maybe you're a runner and you're desperate for the cure-all formula for your running poop problems (take that phrase as you wish).
Well, I'm sorry. I'm not an expert and I don't have a cure-all. Strangely, I've been noted in running and outdoor media often for my diet as much as my running results. I'm writing this to set the record straight. I know nothing. But, I'll tell you my bowels' story anyways.
First, Thailand. Second, confident ignorance. Third, a very liquidey summer. Fourth, an A race ruined. Fifth, a wake-up call and super helpful blood-test. Sixth, trying to live my best poop life while still drinking margaritas.
1. Eat Thai
Let me give you a glimpse of my diet while living in Thailand, where I was able to gain 15-much-needed-pounds. This was after running collegiately, where I developed a lame relationship with food. I wasn't ever severely underweight or underfed, but I didn't fuel myself smartly for over four years until I moved to Thailand.
First step to gaining a butt back: rice crackers, the Thai version. These are not the air-popped calorie-replete puffed circles of eternal hunger that we have in America. No, these are bona-fide desserts. Sticky rice is fried into a square or circle, fried with I'm not sure what to be honest, all I know is they are gluten free. Then topped with molasses that hardens or a sugar coating.
I would eat bags of these. Whole bags being the equivalent of a pack of cupcakes. For breakfast, for snacking at the school where I taught, for lunch, for snacking at the beach, for dinner. For dessert. These gave me my butt back.
In between rice cracker bags, I'd eat the spiciest, freshest, most mind-blowingly delicious Thai meals: pad thai pak, pet mak (very spicy noodles with veggies), khao pad pak, pet mak (very spicy fried rice with veggies), som tom thai pet (papaya salad, thai spicy), massaman, green, and panang curries (all pet mak). You get the idea.
The people and cuisine of southern Thailand taught me what it means to really enjoy your food with your friends and with strangers. Heck, I never even learned Thai, so I know I missed out on certain meals, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that southern Thai cuisine is the hottest, most gluten-free and vegetarian friendly food in the world. Not even including the Thai snacks!
2. Back At Home
Now, back in the motherland, I'm a horribly incapable cook and eat way less fresh and delicious food. I've basically been eating fried eggs, rice, spinach, tortilla chips and hummus for the last three years since leaving Thailand. It's been fine. It worked. But then when I run, yes, I eat candy, frosting, gels, and Coke. I like sugar. Who doesn't? Oh, and I can't forget margaritas!
For the most part, my stomach has been an indomitable source of pride—for a vegetarian celiac to be able to run and eat with the best trail ladies in the world, I've been pleased.
But I'll admit, I began to get careless. I had basically shun all nutrition advice and reading since college. After all, I learned how to gain weight, stop getting injured, and start running well without much thought.
3. Liquid Poop
Yet, This past summer, my stomach began to rebel. My energy was low this spring, but I fought through to an 8th place finish at Trail World Champs in Spain in May. Lots of white rice before and after that race and no major problems during the race.
At Lavaredo in June, I was dealing with the extreme difficulty of eating in Italy. For a non-bread, non-pasta, non-meat, non-pizza eater, it's not easy to get calories in. Thankfully I can drink wine. But seriously, I took my nonchalance about my diet to the extreme, not packing enough food from home and eating some meat to get calories, but for a vegetarian to eat meat the week before a big ultra = a stupid idea.
During Lavaredo, I took a lot more than normal pit stops and I vomited for the first time in an ultra. It sucked. I tried to shake it off. But, I'm not like those freaks of nature who can run 100k's off a few gels and Coke flasks. No, I need the 200-400 recommended calories per hour in order to keep moving. I didn't keep moving. I slowed immensely and my race suffered directly from my nutrition problems, ultimately finishing 9th.
Then in July, I raced a 100k in Colorado (the summer of self-inflicted forced racing! 4 ultras in 4 months: something I highly DO NOT recommend) for a final qualifying points race for UTMB. My stomach was off there, yet again. I was getting so good at digging holes, I wondered how much time I'd lost from pulling off the side of the trail.
As a side rant: we all should be digging holes every single time you make a personal mess in the wilderness; I do it while racing! We all should! It's fucking gross and ecologically wrong not to. That goes for dog owners, too. I'm so confused: are your little doggie shit bags ornamentation for the trail? What a horrible dog owner if you clean up after your dog only to litter plastic in the forest. Same goes for runners/any hiker/forest goer who doesn't dig a hole for your shit. DON'T LITTER GODDAMMIT. End rant.
4. UTMB Ruined
After finishing Never Summer 100k, placing 2nd, I was so eager to just get onwards to focusing on UTMB I never looked into my bowel problems. Like a hawk, I was all UTMB all of August. But, I didn't race anywhere near to my best abilities due to my stomach YET AGAIN. I felt off the week before the race, as my traveling companion noticed. He thought I was eating too much white rice. But, that's what's worked in the past!
Anyways, it didn't work during UTMB. Saving boring details, I basically was stopping what felt like every 10 minutes after 4 hours into the race, and that continued for 4 hours or so, then my race basically ended when I stopped eating to stop the deluge from my butt and got cold. Like Lavaredo, I got calorie-deplete, except this time, with other parts of my body not operating at 100-mile level (a nagging leg injury), I stopped 50-miles into the race.
Side story: since UTMB starts at 6pm, the height of my pit stops were in the middle of the night; pitch black on high mountain trails. I'd turn off my headlamp, find a place off the trail, quickly dig a hole, do my business, fill the hole, turn headlamp on, and onwards. This worked pretty well for the most part. I don't keep TP with me because it's just more human-trash in the ground that I can avoid. But, this got messy quickly, so I started hoarding leaves when they were visible from the trail.
One time while pulled over, I was pulling up my shorts, where I also stored empty gel wrappers, and all my wrappers fell into my liquid mess. I yelled some profanity, considered burying everything, then immediately scolded myself for thinking I'd leave gel wrappers on a mountain. So, I held my breath and quickly picked them all up and shoved them right back into my shorts. Don't worry, I made sure the volunteers at the next aid station did NOT take my trash.
Post-UTMB, I was convinced I had giardia or a parasite from traveling in Asia and Ethiopia in the past year. But, all of my stool tests came back negative.
Then, I took an InsideTracker blood test. My coach, David Roche, has lauded these tests for years and thanks to the fine people at InsideTracker, like Jonathan Levitt, I was convinced it could help me understand more about my body. It's not a nutrition test, but it basically has revamped my diet and guess what, I'm not shitting my pants on every run anymore!
Now, I've been getting CBCs (complete blood counts) since the beginning of my short life because I was chronically anemic as a weird little child, yet to be diagnosed with Celiac. But, this test is way more than a CBC. It goes into the nuances of what biomarkers are importance to athletic performance and overall health. Even cooler, a paper was just published in Nature, citing the efficacy of these blood tests and subsequent diet recommendations in improving overall health! FYI, Nature is a really good science publication. Like the best.
So, here I am with a bunch of information about my blood. I'm not anemic. I have plenty of B12 (sometimes vegetarians struggle with B12). My calcium + vit D gummies have been working. Some interesting stuff: my magnesium is a bit low. So, I now am eating more foods high in magnesium: pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, nuts, whole grain GF oats, and continuing to eat spinach daily. This alone is super helpful because before, it would never have crossed my mind to consistently eat pumpkin seeds! Little things.
6. Variety and Learning Are Good
More stuff: beans are good. I need more beans and legumes in my diet. Interestingly enough, all of this, plus adding a probiotic into my regime and my gut woes have improved noticeably. I think I wasn't eating enough variety in my day-to-day. And, I haven't given up hot sauce or margaritas!
So, it's only been a month since UTMB, but I've cooked more than ever. I've taken my diet more seriously than ever (without becoming an annoying fun-hog), and in this process I've done more reading about the impacts of animal products on the environment and animals themselves. I've been compelled to forgo cow's milk for a variety of plant-based milks and yogurts, until I can buy local cow's milk that I know is coming from a humanely treated animal. I'm not being militant about this, but I think it'll be best for me in the long run because I'm not giving up any nutritional benefits. I still buy standard organic half and half. I still eat cheese when it's at parties. I'm by no-means perfect, but I at least know more about what I'm putting into my body.
Additionally, I'm paying that extra $4 to get the pasture-raised eggs; not just free range eggs anymore, but small farm, pasture-raised, free-range eggs. The egg-laying industry is super fucked up. Consider buying the better eggs and save a chicken her beak.
On that note, I just spent a few days with Jeff Browning at a Patagonia ambassador speaker training. Jeff, aka Bronco Billy, is known for eating sustainable, clean meat and a fat-adapted diet. He forgoes grains for elk his buddies hunt and forgoes the standard vegetarian fillers, like tortillas and rice, for veggies and fats. He swears it's better for him and not to mention, returning our grassland prairies back to their wild state with grazing animals like cattle, buffalo. The point being, I'm reading more about his approach, about the land management practices behind meat and grassland cultivation and regenerative agriculture. Land management from farming to livestock raising is a moving, ever-evolving field. I'm re-reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, because I clearly didn't ingest it fully the first time.
But in the meantime, I wish you knowledge in your journey of running, stomach happiness and solid poops.
Happy eating and happy pooping and happy running!