We all need to drink. There I said it. Though I think we already might have worked this out. When you’re a runner you need to make sure you maintain hydration. Now this isn’t any special news to anyone, but I think we often underestimate the importance. I for sure haven’t really though enough about it. I need to correct to get me through a 100 mile event this year. Otherwise I’m going to fall short far from the finish line.
I recently started reading the Jason Koop book ‘Training Essentials for Ultrarunning’.
It was reading this that really got my brain working and made me realise that this is something I need to address before tackling my 100 mile race.
Its true that you need fuel and you need hydration to run endurance events. Eating gives you the fuel (though obviously you can get limited carbohydrate fuel from some drinks) and drinks/gels give you the fluid/hydration. What I ignored was the rate of impact these two types of intake have on your body. In the case of fuel, eating something gets sugar/carbs into your blood stream and fuelling your body pretty quickly. Therefore whilst you want to avoid a calorie deficit if you can (or as minimally as you can in an endurance event) you can take fuel in at aid stations/crew stops and the process of recovery begins pretty quickly. It’s not the same for hydration. Once you reach a point of dehydration, even if it is not severe, recovery is much slower. if dehydration starts affecting you during an event you will be hard pushed to recover during the event. You will continue to be dehydrated and if you continue there’s a good chance it will get worse. Severe dehydration can be a serious problem and ultimately can be fatal. Now I’m not suggesting that every runner risks death every time they put their shoes on, of course not. But I for sure need to take hydration more seriously.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- feeling thirsty
- dark yellow and strong-smelling pee
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- feeling tired
- a dry mouth, lips and eyes
- peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day
Dehydration can happen more easily if you have:
- vomiting or diarrhoea
- been in the sun too long (heatstroke)
- drunk too much alcohol
- sweated too much after exercising
- a high temperature of 38C or more
- been taking medicines that make you pee more (diuretics)
So what to do.
We are all different and a long run for me is far too far for some and just a quick potter around the park for others. What works for you and the points at which you do it are yours to determine. So the below outlines my plans, others will need to baseline on their own level of running.
My approach now is that as a minimum I take fluid on runs of greater than 10 miles. My body doesn’t reach a point of thirst in that time, but thirst is the sign you need fluid and are already at risk of dehydration. And it’s too late. Drink BEFORE your body starts asking you for fluid!! So my aim here is to ensure that even on modest distance training runs I keep good hydration levels and avoid extending my recovery by having to battle post run dehydration.
Any runs of the 20 mile distance up I aim to monitor my hydration in the very basic way of weight pre and post run. It’s a rough estimate but it gives an idea of water loss. You then the the change in weight, add the approximate volume of fluids taken in (1ml = 1g) and the total is your fluid loss. You ideally want to be net zero with no weight loss during the run. But for sure you want to keep that number low. If I feel that the weight loos overall is high and I sense some of those symptoms of dehydration I have to push myself to take on more fluid. If I’m running 100 miles and getting partially dehydrated on a 20-30 mile run, I am making the challenge of 100 miles much greater. My aim is to finish these long runs in good shape.
I also aim to drink little and often during my runs, not waiting until I’ve done 5 miles to down half a bottle. Keep the fluid intake steady.
What to drink
Millian dollar question, and one that has no right answer. Plenty of wrong ones, but not one perfect answer that works for all.
My choice currently is Precision Hydration electrolyte tablets, Tailwind, Active Root and I’ve used SIS and Hi5 successfully. I tolerate all of these and quite enjoy most of the flavours.
I currently prefer Precision Hydration as I am a pretty big sweater and they offer different strength options, so I use the PH1000 and PH1500 tablets. Taste fine and do a good job of maintaining hydration, or speedily rehydrating when I do slip into a dehydrated state.
I will continue to use these products and vary them so as to not stick with one particular drink. I often take two on a long run. I think that over extended long runs 40/50 miles for example that intake of the same drink might risk upsetting the gut a bit, so I want to rely on a blend of drinks, giving me the electrolytes I need, varying flavour to avoid me getting sick of the same taste. To avoid a nausea risk I also like Active Root, that contains ginger which is good at settling the stomach, and a taste I really enjoy. So Active Root features on the later parts of my long run hydration plans.
How much to drink
Like the ‘What to drink’ question , this is personal. It’s important you drink enough to avoid being thirsty and avoid the symptoms and signs of dehydration (see above). Its also important you keep intake below the level that you get stomach slosh as I like to call it as this can be unpleasant and lead to GI problems that can totally derail your event. Training runs are really key to trying the strategy for what, how much and how often.
How to drink
No I’m not asking a stupid question. We all know how to drink, but how we carry fluids on our runs and how we actually take them onboard can affect our experience of our run.
For me I run with a hydration vest.
For 10-15-ish miles I take 500mLs (at the moment) in a single soft flask and drink whilst running.
For 20 + mile I take 1L plus (depends on time of year). If I can I stick with soft flasks front mounted on a running vest.
The benefit of flasks is it is easy during your run to judge how much you have run, A bladder is helpful for larger volumes and if I am running far without the option to top-up on the way I will use one. But you can’t judge consumption rate. So flasks win out for me. I used 2 x 500mL flasks on my longest 100Km ultra so far and never felt I was struggling for liquid – though an aid station every 8-12Km does help!!
Again it’s personal preference.
Hydration is something we all need, but how we go about it is one to try out on the way. Its easy to get wrong, but with a little bit of thought and preparation it is also easy to get right, and remove one of the issues that can really take an event and make it a disaster for you, no matter how much you might feel prepared for it.