My last attempted (and barely achieved) marathon PR was in NYC, where I crossed the finish line looking pretty haggard due to the wind and likely mismanaged hydration/fueling.
It’s no surprise that even the simplicity of water has become an area of confusion for many runners as studies change each week: drink before thirst…no, no this could lead to overhydration (hyponatremia), drink your body weight x’s 123, drink less, drink more, throw your hands up and wave ‘em around…
What’s a runner to do?
Learn to trust your body and of course test all advice before race day. You’ve read all about how dehydration impacts performance, so let’s instead talk about what to drink, when and how. As a long time runner, I have learned how to follow the cues of my body. I don’t need to drink a great deal while running and when I did test out “the rules” it usually resulted in feeling bloated and nauseous, not exactly conducive to a great run. Following are what I’ve found to help me and the runners I have coached over the years.
WHEN TO DRINK WATER
One of the major complaints for runners is that feeling of slosh while running. Some of this is due to waiting too long to drink and then guzzling, some of it is due to trying to follow running hydration guidelines that are causing us to take in more than needed.
Here are a few strategies to figure out your needs:
- Ensure 30-45 minutes pre-run you’ve had at least 8oz
- Start carrying water on every run (then you won’t forget on long runs)
- Try sipping it every mile
- Still feeling thirsty? Try sipping every couple minutes
- Still thirsty? Check your pre-hydration again
If you don’t like the taste of flavored water, you can also take something like Salt Stick tablets before and during the run to help balance out sweat loss as well.
Not sure how to manage those cups on race day?Slow down to grab the cup, squish together so you’ve created a peak on one end making it like a funnel to pour down your throat. Again sip if needed rather than feeling you must chug it all. Some people prefer to walk through each aid station to ensure they get in water, I hate to lose momentum so I practice the sip or carry my own water. Do what works for you.
Post run, again it’s time to sip not guzzle which usually leads to an unhappy stomach. All the blood is currently diverted from your digestion, so you want to ease in both water and food. One great way to do this is with a recovery smoothie which can contain a lot of hydrating foods along with water.
WHAT KIND OF WATER TO CARRY
Do you need a sports drink? No. Skip the artificial chemicals (nothing in nature is neon).
Do you need electrolytes, probably (depends on the distance). Learn more about electrolytes and how they impact your running.
If you answer is yes to any of these, adding some electrolytes to your water can help:
- Are you a heavy sweater?
- Is it a longer run than normal?
- Have you been feeling fatigued on recent runs?
- Do you have muscle cramps during or post run?
Personally I like to carry water on short runs and a Vega Sport electrolytes or coconut water for longer runs. The slightly sweet taste also helps your brain believe it’s getting fuel and can reduce gels needed. Not sure I agree, but I like the enthusiasm.
HOW TO CARRY WATER
One of the biggest frustrations for many runners is finding the right method to carry water. For some reason, us road runners seem resistant to hydration packs, but I’ll tell you once I started wearing one I haven’t looked back.
I reached out on Facebook to get your feedback and the options were pretty varied with no particular consensus other than different strokes for different folks. One of the benefits to carrying your own water is being able to sip it rather than feeling rushed to slug it down or not having it when you want it.
Here are the pro’s and con’s of some different sizes and methods of carrying water:
- Hydration pack — hands free, easy to sip anytime, can be hot and more clean up time
- Handheld small Nathan Quick Shot – light, fits to palm, low water volume
- Handheld large Camelbak — keeps water cold, plenty of fluids, must be conscious of form
- Fuel belt holster – extra storage, good volume, bounce or chaffing issues
- Stash water/water fountains – nothing to carry, but pre-planning required
- Beer hat — sometimes you just need to party
Best Hydration Packs for Runners
Once I started using a hydration pack, I never looked back. Suddenly I could carry my iPhone for photos (oh and safety), along with water, some tissues, a Kind bar in case the trail gets long, car keys, you know…all kinds of stuff. It doesn’t change my stride or bounce around.
Camelbak Marathoner Hydration Vest – This is actually the vest that I’ve been using for a few years now. I like that the pockets are in front so I can easily grab my phone and am not carrying more water than needed.
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta – I’ve also run with this pack and again it has tons of pockets, but I didn’t like that I needed to buy the bladder separately. However it’s a favorite among many of my runner friends who want to be able to take off jackets or gear as weather changes.
Salmon Advanced Skin 5 Set – There are a few varieties here and I tested out one of their packs during my training at 12,000 feet and I can say for sure it stayed put! I’ve also heard from shorter runners that they felt this was super comfortable on their torso.
Nathan VaporHowe — One of the few vests that goes down to a XXS, which is super important to ensure that you’re getting a good snug fit. We don’t want these bouncing around on us. Another one with easy front pockets and 2 straps for best fit.
What do you carry for hydration?
How much do you drink on the run?
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