4 Ways to Stay Hydrated while Running
Staying hydrated while running is a critical component to a successful run. Less so in a 5k, way more so in a marathon. Our bodies are about 60% water. Recent research suggests that being just 25% dehydrated could result in a 3% performance loss. That’s almost 10 minutes for a 4 hour marathoner. Exactly how much you need to hydrate during a run will depend on your age, gender, sweat rate, outdoor temperature, intensity and training distance.
Especially on hot summer days, hydrating during your long run is of the utmost importance. Hyponatremia, however, is also serious. That happens when you drink too much and your blood sodium gets diluted.
In the many years that I’ve been running long distances, I’ve tried just about every possible way to bring fluids along with me on my run. I have used various bottles, backpacks and belts – nothing I’ve really felt great about.
Until last summer I found a great solution.
Below is a list of four ways you can stay hydrated while running, and the pros and cons of each method.
1. The Hydration BackPack
I ran my first two marathons with a Camel Bak strapped to my back. I tried several sizes, but never really got used to it. This is similar to a hydration vest, like the Ultimate Direction Jared uses, but with a drinking tube.
Pros: This is by far the easiest way to get fluids. You simply grab the tube and drink. Most packs also have some storage so you can stash keys, wallet, phone etc. The water bladder inside can also hold a lot (depending on capacity) and doesn’t slosh around.
Cons: I hated the feeling of having something strapped to my back when I was running. By mile 20 of a marathon, this really sucks. It’s also difficult to refill quickly, and when you’re carrying all that extra weight around, it certainly doesn’t help your time. It also takes a special cleaning kit to clean it properly.
2. Hydration Belt – Big Bottle
There are several different forms of hydration belts. One that I’ve used is the REI single shot waist pack. Other versions have multiple 16 – 21 oz bottles. This belt holds a single, 21 oz bottle. The case is also able to carry a significant amount of stuff for longer runs or commuting.
Pros: I like how easy it is to grab the bottle. Not nearly as easy as the Camel Bak, but a close second. It’s also easy to fill on the go. I do like that there is an option to store gear, but that’s less and less important to me.
Cons: This belt, no matter how tight I would get it, always tended to ride up. Especially at the beginning when the bottle was full. I also felt that during a race, the extra cargo space was wasted, since I had no need to carry stuff with me. The bottle sloshed around quite a bit.
3. Fuel Belt
The Fuel Belt Revenge has served me well during two marathons and several half marathons. To some, it is synonymous with long distance hydration. There are a few different varieties, but you have four, 8 oz bottles that slip into little holsters. They are strategically placed, two in front, two in back
Pros: Like a wild west gunslinger, you have quick and easy access to these ergonomically shaped bottles. Because you have four of them, you can fill some with water and some with sports drinks. Most also come with a small pouch, large enough for three or four energy gels.
Cons: Like the other waist belt, the Fuel Belt would almost always ride up. Unlike the waist case, you couldn’t adjust it, other than making the Velcro tighter. Because it was all soft material, at least it didn’t chafe. These bottles are also tough to clean, and easy to drop when trying to put back in.
4. Handheld Bottle
Last year I started running with a Nathan brand Quick Draw plus handheld bottle. This is the system that changed it all for me! Often the favorite of ultra runners, this particular bottle slides over your hand, creating a natural grip. There’s also a small pouch, large enough for an iPhone, credit card and a few gels.
Pros: It’s super easy to drink from this. It’s literally just drinking from a bottle, except you don’t really have to carry it (the hand strap and thumb hole do all the work). It’s quick and easy to refill, and light weight. It’s also easy to pack while traveling.
Cons: Even on hot summer days, if you fill it completely full with ice and water, your hand will feel like you’re getting frost bite for several minutes. Also, when it’s full at the beginning of a run, it does feel like you’ve got a brick on your arm.
This also comes in a smaller version as well.
Other Options for Staying Hydrated while Running
If you have an aversion to carrying stuff with you, there are a few time tested methods to staying hydrated while running. If you’re able to plan ahead, you can drop frozen or nearly frozen bottles at strategic locations along your route. If you hide them in the bushes, you have a pretty good chance they will still be there. The obvious con with this option is that they will be gone, or tampered with.
Ask a Friend to meet you at various spots. They can take a bike (or bike along the whole way), and give you fluids like you’re a boxer going into the next round. Typically this isn’t a good, long term solution, except perhaps on race day.
During a race, you can, of course, use the water and sports drink provide by the race organizers. You’re paying for it, so why not? The trick to drinking fluids this way is to slow down a bit, avoid the crowded first table, grab your cup, pinch, sip (this is key), then try to throw it into a garbage can.
After almost a decade of racing, I’ve finally figured this out, and no longer carry any supplemental liquids while racing. Practice makes perfect, so if you do this, try drinking what they will be serving on the course.
How to you Stay Hydrated while Running?
The bottom line is that there are many ways to stay hydrated while running. Experiment and find what works best for you.
What other ways do you hydrate during a long run or race? Share your insight below.