IBS is a Bad Sport

IBS has a way of working itself into every corner of your life. That includes sports. It doesn’t matter how fit you are: If your gut decides to throw a tantrum on the day of an event or competition, it can really wreck your performance.

IBS, travel and competitive sports

I’m no elite athlete, but I do like to stay active. My husband and I are into a sport called orienteering. It’s a race where you use a map and compass to navigate point to point in unfamiliar terrain, usually forests. It’s well known in Northern Europe, but a real niche activity in the U.S. The objective is to find all the points in order in the fastest time possible. It’s a great combination of physical and mental challenge in the outdoors.

We travel around the country, and even the world, for orienteering events. Which means that I have had IBS-driven memories in forests from Texas to New Hampshire, and from to Sweden to Slovenia!

Before my aging knees became a limiting factor, I tried hard to beat the other women in my age category. That meant a lot of running. And you don’t need to have IBS to know that running will really loosen things up down there… Plus, I got so nervous before events, I would end up trapped in the port-o-potty before the start. Not a big deal when there are 20 units; really embarrassing when there are only one or two and people are waiting. I was tempted to stave it off with something like Imodium, but because I have the “alternating” type of IBS, stopping things up artificially could make things worse for me later.

On more than one occasion, I found myself out on the course, and my system still hadn’t calmed down. The good news is that the forest is essentially one big bathroom: You find some pine needles or leaves to use in place of toilet paper (I don’t support leaving actual toilet paper in the woods), quickly dig a little hole far from water sources, and try to have a positive, “can-go” attitude! As far as I know, no one has ever spotted me hiding behind a boulder. They were nice enough not to say so if they did.

It was tougher to deal with the abdominal pain I suffered from when diagnosed with IBS-A in 2010. (Coincidentally, I likely brought home the C. diff infection that possibly triggered my major attack from an orienteering event in Scotland). My stomach hurt from the bouncing motion of running. I could only make it a few steps before the pain made me stop. For months, I watched other people run by me and wished I could go faster than a walk.

Now that I’m more of a recreational participant than a competitive one, I don’t get quite so nervous. That has helped. But you know how it is with travel and IBS: Some odd food could trigger a flare-up, and certainly has before. So I make sure to bring my own breakfast foods and stick to my routine. Which includes more time in the port-o-potty. There ought to be one with my name on it!

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