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Marathon runners have to worry about more than mere muscle pain

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German-born runner Uta Pippig made history in 1996 when she won the Boston Marathon for the third consecutive year. Her win seems even more spectacular considering she crossed the finish line of that race with diarrhea dripping down her legs for all to see, including a live television audience.

If you completed Sunday's Manitoba Marathon, you know what running 26 miles (42 kilometres) does to your body.

Your legs ache so much that even a single step is absolute agony. Your head pounds as if you spent last night downing a bottle of bourbon. You're so exhausted, you would swear someone slipped you a few sedatives.

But did you know about the other, less talked about marathon-related ailments -- the upset stomach, the bleeding nipples and, like Pippig, the diarrhea?

Here are a few of the strange ills running can inflict on your body and how to handle them.

 

Bleeding

IT'S not uncommon for runners to cross the finish line with blood soaking though their shirts -- a result of chafed nipples. Why? "Imagine the pounding and repetitive motion against your clothing during a race," says Dr. Earl Minuk, noting that such friction creates irritation. The Winnipeg dermatologist says he advises patients with this condition -- what he calls contact dermatitis -- to treat the area with care. That means keeping it moist with a lubricant such as petroleum jelly. Doing so will sooth the "cracking, scaliness, itch and discomfort" that you can experience in the irritated area. Minuk also suggests placing a cool towel over the area to gently remove scaly skin. He says more men than women suffer from chafed nipples after a race since women are protected by bras, which are often made from a soft material. Bras also minimize breast movement and friction.

Preventative measures: Before a long run or marathon, lubricate your nipples with petroleum jelly. Wear soft clothing. And women should always wear a bra during runs.

 

Chafing

THE vaginal area is not immune from chafing during a race, says Dr. Michael Stephensen, a Winnipeg physician who specializes in sexual medicine. At particular risk is the labia majora -- the skin folds that cover the vaginal opening and that are in direct contact with the inner thigh.

"For a lot of women, when they run, their thighs touch together. They are basically putting repetitive pressure on the labia majora... during a stride so there's a pressure and slide movement," says Stephensen. "Imagine a repetitive friction movement thousands and thousands of times. "Although any one rub is not going to be harmful, tens of thousands of rubs will be." Stephensen suggests gently cleansing the area, covering it with petroleum jelly and even antibiotic ointment.

"Watch for signs of infection, including pain, redness, swelling and discharge." Stephensen also suggests choosing underwear that is comfortable -- or even skipping it altogether until your chafed labia heals.

Preventative measures: Lubricate the outer vaginal skin with petroleum jelly before runs. (Stephensen says men should do the same with their scrotal sacs, which can also end up chafed after a marathon).

 

Red eyes

With all that sweat dripping in your eyes during a marathon, it's not surprising that your eyes will be red, irritated and a bit painful after a race. "It's the salty content of the sweat that's the irritant," says Winnipeg optometrist Dr. Don Porter. Combine that with the wind and your eyes are probably extra dry this morning, leaving you with some residual stinging and discomfort. Porter suggests using over-the-counter artificial tears. These drops come in various viscosities. Use the thicker kind at night and the more liquid form during the day, he says.

Porter warns to stay away from drops designed to get the red out of your eyes. "You have to be careful with those, because they shrink the vessels. They can have a rebound effect if you use them over the long term."

Preventative measures: Wear a headband while running to catch your sweat before it trickles into your eyes. Also, wear sunglasses to keep the elements out, says Porter.

 

Diarrhea and upset stomach

Runner's trots, along with nausea, are probably the most unpleasant side effects of distance running, says Stephensen, who is also a runner. Why it happens involves hormones and blood flow.

"Probably from less blood flow going to the gut and more blood flow going to the muscles. Also, there will be an element of adrenalin," says the family doctor, noting that adrenalin (the fight-or-flight hormone) tends to get the digestive system moving fast, especially in novices. "New racers have an element of bowel excitability."

If you had a bout of stomach irritation during or after the race on Sunday, it's best to make sure you're well hydrated today. Stephensen recommends staying away from caffeine and fat, since these can exacerbate stomach upset.

 

Have an interesting idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2014 D1

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Updated on Monday, June 16, 2014 at 6:49 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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