The sun is brighter, the days longer, and the air more humid. Oh yes, it’s summer time. Unlike most runners, I enjoy running in the heat. During the summer you will often find me logging long miles in the heat of the day. For some reason I like the intense heat. It probably goes back to my early days of running when I believed that training in the extreme heat would make me that much better when the races were in the morning and it was cooler. I still think it worked. The only problem I had back then was that I often got dehydrated, and I don’t mean a little dry. I mean picked up on the side of the road covered in goose bumps when it was 100 degrees out. My problem then was that I had no idea how much water I really needed. After years of mistakes and education, I found that it was a lot more than I (or most people) actually realized. So how much is that?
First we need to look at the numbers and a little science behind hydration. The average runner will burn anywhere from .5 liters to 2.5 liters in an hour. That is a lot of fluid loss, and it can cause major issues in the body, the first being dehydration all the way down to kidney failure. Under-hydrating is no joke. The recommendations for hydration during running changes from source to source, but the average seems to be somewhere between 6 and 8 ounces for every 20 minutes of expenditure. Seem like a lot of fluids? It is compared to the average runner’s intake. Studies show that the average person only takes in water on runs longer than 3-5 miles or any run equal to or longer than an hour. Think about that for a second. The average person is around 160 pounds, and that person carries an average of 40 liters of fluid in his body. That is not to say you have 40 liters just sloshing around inside you; that 40 liters is spread throughout the cells, blood, and other tissues. Only a third of it is extra-cellular, or actually accessible to the body. That is roughly 15 liters of fluid you have available for sweat, saliva, tears, etc. Take that information back to the run where you just burned 2.5 liters in one hour. You have now lost about 1/6 of your available fluids for sweating and hydration. That amount will increase exponentially as you continue because your core temperature is going to keep rising as you continue to exert yourself, causing you to lose more fluid in the next hour.
Do those 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes seem like a lot now? It doesn’t seem that way to me, and it should not to you either. In training runs I recommend you follow this rule and get plenty of fluids as you go. When training, there is no need to test your systems and run low on precious fluids. In races keeping hydrated can be tougher so I recommend you research the race and know how far apart the hydration stops are. Three weeks out from the race, begin to implement those distances between fluids opportunities in your training plan to develop a comfort level for the race. On race day do your best to stay hydrated to reach your top potential. Constant hydration throughout training is also a must. Just drinking more water on running days is not enough. The days leading up to running days will play a large role in how your body responds to training. Making sure you get plenty of fluids two to three days out will help ensure you do not run too low out on a run.
So you may now be asking yourself “how do I get water out on my runs?” It is a common issue for runners to wonder how they will get their fluids while out on a run, and I have been one of those many. Since I am now older and wiser, and I still love running in the heat, I have learned ways to keep myself hydrated through a lot of trial and error. Here are some options for you to utilize on your run to keep hydrated. I have never found the water belts comfortable. I will also admit that I cannot maintain a sense of masculinity with little water bottles strapped to my waist. Aside from that I also could not get used to them sloshing and moving around while I ran. This is of course my own personal opinion, as I know plenty of runners who love the water belts. If I can’t strap it to my bum, and I won’t carry it in my hand, then what options are there?
1. Water Fountains
Plano, TX is a very active town, and they have gone to great lengths to cater to those of us who enjoy cycling and running. The city is criss-crossed by paved trails that run along several city parks. There are also more parks in the city without trails, and most of them have water fountains. I did a little recon work and found a great section of trail that I can run where there is a water fountain every two miles for a total of eight miles. That is a perfect distance between water stops, and in one trip out and back, I can get a solid sixteen miles without ever having to worry about where I will get water. You may not be able to get a stop every two miles, but I would bet that in most towns you could find a water fountain or two and build a nice run around them. One piece of advice on the fountains is to make sure they are working and are year-round fountains if you are running in the winter. There’s nothing worse than feeling dry and finding your fountain is not pumping when you get to it.
2. The Hydration Pack
I started running with a hydration pack last year training for the Goofy, and it has been a life-changer in my world of running. A hydration pack is a bladder hidden in a backpack that offers you water through a tube and mouthpiece. There are many companies like UltrAspire, Camelback, Osprey and others that make a variety of hydration pack styles. Many of these have straps and a bag that are cut in a way to fit over my shoulders and between my shoulder blades in a very comfortable manner for running form. They come in different shapes and sizes and are able to carry items other than water. Some are a small pack with a bladder inside, and others are bladders with pockets on them. Mine is a 1.5-liter bladder with a small pocket for my keys and ID. I use it for my longer runs when I don’t want to worry about where the water is, and I recommend it for everyone.
3. Hydration Belt
If you are not keen on wearing a backpack while running, but need to carry water with you then you may be interested in a hydration belt. These can hold 1-4 bottles typically and often have other areas for salt pills, gels, or other things you may want to carry with you on your run. A solid option to keep all of your needs on your waist. Find a good one that does not bounce much or get in the way of your run. There are a variety of sizes and fits available out there.
I personally do not like carrying things when I run so I recommend against a handheld. Many ultra marathoners, however, enjoy the use of a handheld as it is easy to keep your water in mind. This way you are able to easily remind yourself to drink and consume your hydration source. These come in a variety of sizes and offer options of holding one or two.
5. Set up Stops
This can be done in a couple of different ways. First, map your course in either an out and back or a loop. If it’s an out and back, I recommend driving through the course on your way to the starting point so you can drop water off at your chosen water points. The only issues there are that the water can get warm or someone might take it. Still, this is a good option if you know the area and feel confident that no one will mess with your water. If you are running a loop then just leave your water at your starting point and get your fill as you come around each time. A two to three mile loop should be perfect for this. I’ve been known to make a course that has options on the turns but comes out to the same distance so I can have variety but still make it back to my water in the same amount of time for each lap.
I also recommend using gel shots or chews during the hotter parts of the year. Most of them have electrolytes as well as carbohydrates in them. These will keep you going and help you maintain your hydration and energy levels throughout your run. Of course, as always, if you feel you are getting dry or dehydrated either get yourself to water as soon as possible or just stop all together. It is always smarter to live to run another day and not set yourself back a few days by getting dehydrated and overheated. Still, the point here is to keep the heat from slowing you down or keep you from running. If you are smart about it you can run in just about any temperature and still get the same amount of enjoyment out of it.