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5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day

...and the strategies you need to fight back.

Training is designed to prepare you for the inevitabilities of race day: a hilly course, a little more mileage, a quicker pace. But sometimes the course isn’t what throws you for a loop, it’s your body that betrays you.

So what should you do if your body baulks when you need to be on the top of your game? Here, experts weigh in on the most annoying ways your body can derail your race and how you can get back in control.

Body Betrayal: You Can’t Poop

5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 1

No one wants to start a race when the urge to poop is brewing. That’s why bringing on your morning poop is extra-important on race days. But what’s a person to do if their bowels aren’t on board?

The answer: coffee.

“A cup of coffee helps get everything moving inside of you,” says Mark Coogan, an elite running coach with New Balance. “Most of the elite runners will have something with caffeine to help them go to the bathroom.”

Coffee sparks contractions in your gut, which triggers the gotta-go urge as the stool travels to your rectum, says Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the digestive health centre at Georgia Regents University. So does food, so if you want to wake up your bowels, have something to eat with your coffee, too.

The caffeine in coffee also has an added perk: It stimulates fatty acids to float around in your bloodstream, which you can use as energy early on in the race, says Coogan.

If coffee doesn’t get things moving, try a short jog, a light walk, or a stretch, suggests Terrence Mahon, a high-performance coach for the Boston Athletic Association. Otherwise, says Coogan, if you’re not running for an elite time, hop into a porta-potty when the urge does hit. (Massaging this body part can make you poop, too.)

Body Betrayal: You Wake Up With a Cold

5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 3

If you just wake up with the sniffles, you should be just fine to run your race, says Shanna Levine, M.D., a clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

A cold dehydrates your body more than usual, so your move is to prioritize hydration and fit in a solid pre-race meal. That can fuel you for the race and replenish lost fluids.

“My favourite race day snacks are a glass of orange juice - which is packed with antioxidants and vitamin C and whole wheat bread with organic chunky peanut butter and jelly with at least 16 ounces of water,” says Dr Levine. “This combination provides the peanut butter as a source of protein, the bread as a complex carb, and plenty of hydration.”

But if you wake up feeling lousy, you should check your temperature before lacing up. If you have a fever, you should skip that race, says Dr Levine.

Fevers are your body’s way of mounting an immune response, and as your body fights off the infection, you’re more likely to become dehydrated more easily. Plus, running while you’re ill might stress your body, making your sickness even worse. Consider a fever your body’s way of telling you to take it easy.

Body Betrayal: A Bug Flies in Your Eye

5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 5

You’re running along at a brisk pace when something flies right in your eye making every blink feel like torture.

If a bug or another kind of debris finds its way into your eye mid-race, it’s likely going to hang out behind your lower eyelid, says Matthew Gardiner, M.D., the director of ophthalmology emergency services at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear. (Sometimes, he says, will small flying objectives make their way to the upper eyelid and if they do, every time you blink you’ll be in a lot of pain).

If you don’t want to stop, you can try to blink several times to see if that removes it out, your excess tears may help flush it out but don’t rub your eye. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to pause to do some recon.

Your removal strategy: Ask a friend to take a look, or use a mirror (protip: your iPhone camera also works), to find out where the sucker is. Then, pull your eyelid down, spin a small piece of tissue or paper towel into a point, and wick the bugger out.

And PSA for next time: Wear sunglasses5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 7, says Mahon. That should prevent bugs or debris from finding their way into your peepers.

Body Betrayal: You Get a Side Stitch

5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 9

You’ve sent the bug packing, but then one more thing pops up to derail your run: the dreaded side stitch.

Side stitches usually hit you for two reasons, says Mahon. The first is the result of too much turning in your lower spine and not enough rotation in your shoulders and thoracic area.

If you feel the stitch in your diaphragm area (which is right below your rib cage), the problem might be tied to your breathing. Take a few slow, deep breaths to control your breathing and put pressure on the area that feels cramped to relax the spasm, suggests Coogan.

Another common reason for side stitches is eating or drinking something that isn’t agreeing with you, says Mahon, likely something too acidic or too complex to be absorbed quickly. This is a good reminder not to eat or drink (or wear) anything new on race day Stick to the stuff you know works from your training. If it’s too late for that, try drinking small bits of water to help move the food along, lightly massage the cramping area while you’re running, and take slow, deep breaths.

Body Betrayal: You Feel a Blister Coming On

5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 11

“The inevitable blisters, bloody toes, sore heels, and the like happen so often that they are the badges of honour for many a runner,” says Mahon. But these issues can also halt your run in its tracks.

A lot of shoe comfort comes down to socks. If you feel yours start to crinkle up and you can spare to lose a few seconds, stop and straighten it out, says Coogan. An out-of-position sock can change your gait and lead to friction, which can mean blisters, he notes.

If it’s a hot or rainy day, consider a little Vaseline5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 7 on your feet, says Mahon. “This will reduce friction and keep your feet from over-heating.”

If you tend to sweat heavily, he suggests adding talcum powder5 Ways Your Body Betrays You on Race Day 7 inside your shoes to help absorb excess moisture.


APR 24, 2017

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