One for the Road
Drinking water and other fluids during your run or race is the best way to fight dehydration, but it requires some technique and planning.
Posted Sunday, 10 June, 2001
Runners often lose up to two quarts of sweat (or four pounds of body weight) in a single hour of vigorous activity. With that much water pouring out of you, it's important to find ways to pour it back in. For runs over 30 minutes long in warm weather and over an hour in cool weather, runners need to drink on the run. Waiting until after the run won't do.
For that matter, waiting until you start running is no good, either. Particularly on warm days, you should prepare for exercise by drinking at least 16 ounces of fluids about two hours before running, then stop (your body needs about an hour and a half to get rid of extra fluids, and you don't need that happening during your run). About ten minutes before running, drink another 12 ounces or so, particularly if it's going to be a long run or race. When you start running, your kidneys slow way down so you don't have to worry too much about unplanned bathroom breaks with these last-minute sips.
Once you are finally running, you should try to drink about half a cup of fluids (or about four or five big gulps) every 15 minutes. The body can't absorb much more than that in that period of time; too much could give you an upset stomach. Keep in mind, too, that it takes about 20 minutes for the body to put the fluids to use, so do not wait until you feel thirsty. You have to drink in anticipation of your thirst in order to avoid dehydration.
If you are racing, finding water should be no trouble, since most race directors helpfully provide water along the course. For training runs on your own, however, it takes planning. Unless you carry fluids with you, try to plan a course that passes by water fountains, or even stash a water bottle in some bushes ahead of time. If you do choose to carry fluids, there are more and more gadgets and gizmos available to help you do so. Several manufacturers now make insulated water-carrying pouches that you carry on your shoulders and back, drinking through a straw. More simple is to strap on a belt with a holster for your water bottle (some designs bounce more than others, but none are too bad). Or just carry a water bottle in your hand.
Get the water in your mouth, not down your shirt>
All of those options, of course, are entirely different than the paper cup you are handed on the race course. There is no question that drinking from a cup while running is an awkward business. It takes practice. Many first-timers (and second- and third-timers, too) find themselves spluttering water, choking more than drinking.
The simple act of getting that little paper cup into your hand takes some practice. Often the front of the water stations are crowded and congested while the back is relatively slow and full of volunteers waiting to hand you a cup. If the front seems too hairy, try to see if there is more water a few feet farther along. If possible, try to point and catch the volunteer's eye to let them know you're coming for their cup.
Once you've snared your drink, squeeze the cup at the sides so you can pour the water into your mouth through a narrow funnel. If you drink from an unsqueezed paper cup, it will almost always run down the sides of your mouth. Squeeze and drink, that's the secret. Sip a little at a time, enough to drink at least four or five ounces. Stay relaxed and breathe normally between swallows.
Another great suggestion came from reader Mark Sanders: "Take a straw and cut it into small sections 3-4 inches in length. Just crush the cup around the straw and suck. No sloshing no mess. One tip: take more than one short straw, since they're easy to lose."
It's worth slowing down>
If these methods seem like too much hassle, it's okay. Feel free to slow to a walk and drink like a normal human being. Better to get your fluids than to charge through the water station and wind up with Gatorade all over your shirt but none in your mouth. The seconds you gain by running rather than walking may be lost by inadequate hydration. Really, it's okay. Take a brief break and have your drink.
However you do it, save a little water (or take a second cup) to pour over your head. Every little bit helps to keep you cool, though if push comes to shove you should drink the water rather than soak in it.
After your run, drink about 16 ounces (two cups) of fluids for every 30 minutes you ran. When in doubt, drink a little more. It's tough to overdo it, and bad news when you underdo it. Drink, drink, drink. Eating salty foods with your fluids will speed water absorption, too. For very long runs, it may take a couple of days to get completely back to normal, so continue drinking fluids heavily for the next day.