Poo joggers: why they do it
WHILE mystery still surrounds the identity of the "poo jogger" who was filmed defecating outside PR queen Roxy Jacenko's office, recent research has revealed just how common athletes experience gastrointestinal problems while exercising.
On Tuesday Jacenko released two clips on social media showing a blonde female jogger relieving herself on the street outside her office.
It was an immediate online sensation, prompting thousands of comments within minutes and prompting a mischievous rumour that the mystery blonde woman was in fact Kiis FM host Jackie O. (The radio veteran vehemently rejected the claim.)
NSW Police have yet to identify the alleged culprit, but the incident follows a similar account from Brisbane last year, when 64-year-old business executive Andrew Macintosh was caught on camera defecating outside an apartment block. The fed-up residents who photographed him in the act claimed they had been confronted by human faeces left outside their building up to 30 times in the preceding 12 months.
Another case that made international headlines was the case of a female jogger in Colorado, who repeatedly defecated in public in 2017. She has never been identified.
The questions arises: why would anybody commit such an anti-social act?
Although there can be complex psychological reasons behind such behaviour, recent research shows that for many people, exercise can have a pronounced effect on the digestive system.
There have been a number of cases of elite athletes suffering the embarrassment of an unplanned bowel movement as they push their body beyond the limits most humans can endure.
Robert de Castella suffered diarrhoea during his gold-medal-winning marathon at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, as did French athlete Yohann Diniz during the 50km walk at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In his 2014 memoir Pushing the Limits, wheelchair athlete Kurt Fearnley revealed the same thing happened to him while he still had 10km to race in the 2008 New York marathon.
"It took me about three years to tell my wife about it," he told News Corp after the release of the book. "It messes with your head."
That may be so, but a lot of athletes have experienced the same thing.
"Many recreational to elite runners will experience the need to 'do a number two' in the middle of a run," Professor Louise Burke, the Chief of Nutrition Strategy at the Australian Institute of Sport, told News Corp.
"Sometimes this is due to a collision between the activity and the athlete's diet leading to gut problems during the run - we know that this occurs more often during running than other sports, probably due to the physical 'joggling' of the gut through the action of running. "Sometimes, it can just be 'bad luck' - the athlete has chosen to go for a run in the morning, which coincides with the natural time of the day for emptying our bowels. If the latter problem occurs frequently, runners might be able to circumvent the need for a call of nature during a run by getting up slightly earlier and having a hot drink (e.g. tea or coffee) to help their bowels move before they get out the door."
Prof Burke suggested that if the problem is more significant, runners should consult a sports dietitian and investigate dietary changes.
The phenomenon is part of a broader set of conditions (nausea is another) which have collectively been called Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Syndrome (EIGS).
Dr Ricardo Da Costa from the Department of Nutrition Dietetics and Food at Monash University headed up a research project looking at the issue ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where athletes will likely be competing in soaring temperatures and high humidity.
Dr Da Costa and his team found that the prevalence of EIGS varied across different sports, but it affected more than 60 per cent of participants in ultra-endurance events. An online survey from 2009 showed somewhere between a quarter and a half of "recreational athletes" worldwide had reported similar symptoms.
Dr Da Costa's research concluded that there was no "one-size-fits-all" approach to preventing or managing EIGS for athletes such as long-distance runners.
"Certain dietary and nutritional strategies before and (or) during exercise may be either beneficial, favourable, neutral, or damaging in supporting gastrointestinal health in athletes exposed to exertional-heat stress, depending on whether or not these strategies address the prime causal and exacerbating factor(s) specific to the athlete," Dr Da Costa stated.
Marathon runner Allison Feller has spoken out about how her life and exercise regime have been impacted by Crohn's disease, with its unpredictable bouts of diarrhoea,
But the issue is just not pertinent to elite athletes.
University of Melbourne Professor of Psychology Nick Haslam said some cases of poo-jogging could be attributed simply to people being "caught in an urgent state far from a bathroom".
"The poo-jogging phenomenon isn't just about people with deviant personalities committing dirty crimes but in some cases just people caught out by the physiological effect that intense exercise can have on bowel activation," he said.
In the case of the Jacenko poo-jogger, it is unclear whether the alleged offender realised that a nearby cafe had a bathroom she could have used, but access to amenities is clearly related to rates of public defecation.
In San Francisco, with its high homeless population, the problem is so bad that the city council launched a "poop patrol" street cleaning service in 2018 after it received an astounding 28,084 reports of human faeces on the street.
Unrelated to the Jacenko case, Professor Mike Berry, a clinical forensic psychologist, told the BBC last year that repetition of public defecation incidents often suggested it was "a message to somebody or some people", citing the example of IRA prisoners in the 1970s who used faeces on their jail cell as a protest.
News Corp makes no suggestion that the woman accused of defecating outside Roxy Jacenko's office, or any other people mentioned in this story, of being motivated by anything other than being caught out by the need to go to the bathroom at a time when they believed they had no access to one.
Adjunct Professor Dr Helen McGrath from Deakin University, who is a psychologist in private practice and has written about criminal motivation, said that there was also a sexual element for some public defecators, often traced back to childhood.
"But there are exceptions to any sort of principle," she said.
Such people were displaying coprophilia - sexual arousal connected to human waste.
"Coprophilia is a condition that occurs in adults and represents the small number of individuals who reject social pressure to control elimination and instead find the act of defecation in public arousing, exciting, pleasurable and erotic," she said.
"They also enjoy imagining the 'shock' they cause to those watching them and this often creates a sense of their own power and superiority.
"(These people are) sexually motivated but there's a certain degree of getting away with it as well.
"They don't want to get caught. Their aim is to get away with it."
Whatever was happening for the woman caught on CCTV outside Jacenko's office, the problem appears to have stopped.
"We have had no 'dumps' since the video was shared which is wonderful; we can now walk freely in and out of our premises without stepping in shi*t," Jacenko told News Corp.
"The main aim was to make it stop, and that it has."