Water during long distance runs?
June 19, 2006 2:07 PM   Subscribe

RunningFilter: Newbie long-distance runner wants to know how to pace drinking water to avoid dehydration.

Backstory: I am “in training” (and I use that term loosely given my lack of experience) for a 15K run, which will constitute the longest distance I have ever run.

I am female, 40, have been running for about 2 years and right now top out at 6 – 6.5 miles. I try to push for distance once a week. I have adopted a training plan that I hope will help me accomplish the 15K. (By that I mean I want to be able to run the whole distance, even if it’s slow-paced.)

I have 5 weeks to prepare. The plan has me doing a long run once per week and yesterday’s was supposed to last 75 minutes, which for my pace amounts to around 7 miles. I came off a rest day and felt fairly confident I could do it.

Well, it was a disaster. First of all, it was pretty damn hot. I didn’t drink nearly enough water beforehand and at about 4 miles basically collapsed, dizzy, into a random yard until I felt well enough to walk. I managed to make it home OK.

I weighed myself pre- and post-run and was down 2.5 pounds afterwards. I drank like a fiend the rest of the day.

My question involves longer distance running and water drinking. I can’t drink too much water before I run because of pesky stress incontinence issues that I’ve dealt with ever since giving birth. (Trust me on this one.)

So I realize that at least while training, I will need to allow for the fact that while my “normal” (3-5 mile) runs have proven to be accomplishable without additional water along the way, 6+ miles cannot. I will need to drink on foot, therefore I have purchased a 1.5 liter Camelbak pack. I think this will work better than trying to run while clutching a bottle of water.

For those of you who run longer distances- do you drink when you are thirsty, or do you sip periodically to keep a more constant level over the length of the run? I assume I will not be able to wear the Camelbak during the 15K, but there will be water stations along the route so I will be OK. I want to train as effectively as possible and make sure I get the water in the right way. If drinking at each mile marker is what my body should adjust to, I will do that. I just don’t want to end up like I did yesterday.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Definetly drink as you go and don't wait until you're thirsty, waiting until your thirsty can be dangerous. I would also recommend increasing the frequency of drinks the further you get into the run, especially if its hot. As for the pacing, what works for me is to take a drink about 15 minutes into the run, I then slowly work myself up to a drink about every couple of minutes by the time I'm about 45 minutes or so into the run.
Personally, I like to mix a bit of gatorade (or similar) into my water, about 1/3 gatorade to 2/3 water, especially on hot days.
Also 15k is getting close to the limit of where you need more energy than water can provide. I know I can go 13-16 miles without energy as a 39 year old male. If I don't get energy (like a power bar or similar), I "hit the wall" and have to walk/shuffle back home. Good Luck! I'm sure others will have good advice as well.
posted by forforf at 2:22 PM on June 19, 2006

I forgot to ask about bars/gels. I have never used either while running. Thanks for the reminder!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:35 PM on June 19, 2006

I find the key isn't so much how or how much you drink on the day of your run, but rather how much you drink the day before. Before a half marathon I did awhile back I drank a ton the day before and that left me feeling quite hydrated the next day for the run (early morning). I didn't have to drink anymore than normal.
posted by split atom at 2:37 PM on June 19, 2006

along the lines of split atom's comment: probably best to avoid/reduce consumption of coffee, booze, and soft drinks on days before long runs. i find that doing so, more than anything, has helped me avoid nasty dehydration.

posted by casconed at 3:11 PM on June 19, 2006

why not wear that 1.5 litre camelback on race day? others will, too. Either that, or a belt that carries two 750 ml waterbottles.

you also might want to try various flavours of GU, a carbohydrate replacement gel. some have caffeine, others not. some have strong flavours, others not (the no-flavour still has a /hint/ of vanilla).

what is important here is training your body to expect hydration and training your body to use hydration prior to the race. What I mean by this, is drink before your are thirsty, have a few sips from your camelback just as your mouth feels just a tinge dry - don't wait for thirst before taking your next sip! you might want to turn this into a game - take 20 steps, take a sip, take another 20 steps, take another long sip, etc...

you are training not only for pace, but also for nutrition, for thirst, for mental fortitude. running is a multidimensional game, this is why so many of us are enamoured/addicted to it.

you might want to try various flavours of energy replacement (GU gels, or perhaps energy bars? fruit leather, powerbar, powerbar with protein, luna bars...) and find the one that is *most suitable for you*. That's all part of training too.

as for heat - yep it's a pain. I live in a temperate climate, eg our winters don't get too cold and our summers don't get too freaky hot and I still feel the burden of hot and humid. Don't worry - your body will get used to that, too.

you might also want to try electrolyte supplementation. That means replacing the salt that you lose from sweat. So have salty carbohydrate-laden foods (an ultrarunner favourite is boiled potatoes rubbed in plain salt) and also have some bananas (which, I figure, you love :)

most of all, have fun - and a good time (and a good time) at your upcoming race!!
posted by seawallrunner at 3:43 PM on June 19, 2006

more about the camelback - find the hydration solution that best suits your needs. don't rely on water aid stations: they may be too far apart, or have the wrong hydration there (maybe a flavoured drink you can't stomach). Bring your own.

But train with different solutions in mind. Some people love wearing a camelback (I'm in that camp). Others like a belt. Some belts have room for one bottle. Some for two. Some for three. Try all these various combinations - what works for you is fine for race day. But don't leave the hydration to the race management - the responsibility for hydration rests with you!
posted by seawallrunner at 3:45 PM on June 19, 2006

I've been a finish line medic at the NYC Marathon for years, and by far the biggest issue we see is drinking too much during the race - not dehydration. You may want to read up on hyponatremia and plan to drink accordingly.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:27 PM on June 19, 2006

You lost about 2.5lbs in 40mins running - that's about a litre of water. So your Camelbak will only keep you hydrated for an hour, so won't be a solution when you get up to longer distances.

I hate carrying lots water as it makes me feel really heavy. I prefer to take a load on every 5km or so.

What works for me is to dump (hide) water along the training route and pick it up as I go. Or if you do circles you can keep going home or to your car. Sealed sports-type bottles are easier to drink out of and they make me feel better as I could tell if someone had been messing with them. (Don't know why there'd be a poisoner lurking trying to kill runners, but there you go. Call me paranoid.)
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:30 PM on June 19, 2006

read blaneyphoto's comment. There is no need to drink as much as most of the other posters are suggesting, and it could, in fact, be dangerous.
I am on deadline right now or I'd dig up more links from the latest research, all of them refuting much of the advice given above. Suffice to say, hydration over long distances during intense effort was of keen interest to me for a number of years. I also suffered from dehydration a couple of times and wound up meeting the nice medics, but what I learned is the key to happiness is staying well hydrated on a daily basis. You probably began that run already low on fluids.

Some reading:

A recent NY Times article, requires registration:


and another shorter blurb on:

over hydration
posted by stagewhisper at 6:24 PM on June 19, 2006

I run 21-28 miles a week in 7 mile intervals and outside of a few mouthfuls before I go out, I do not drink water during my run. When the temperature is in the mid-80's with 100% humidity, I can drop 4-5 lbs (2.5% of body weight) over the course of a run and not feel thirsty when I return, though I will desperately need of a shower.

If your mentioned condition has only occurred once, I would question if it was entirely related to the temperature, your hydration level, and your physical exertion on that day. I know there are some days when I have eaten the wrong thing, or there is some other random condition, or I have been pushing my self too hard for too many weeks before that result in me basically wanting to die rather than completing that last mile. Increasing the amount of water I would have drunken on those days would have made no difference. You may want to consider that you have been pushing yourself beyond your capacity, something that is much more common when preparing for a race rather than just running for fitness.

As far as the camelback, I know that when I have run with a backpack I have regretted it. As soon as I start to sweat, the shoulder pads start to erode the skin around my shoulders. If you haven't run with one before, this is something you should be aware of when you do. You should also expect that the 5 or so pounds that it will weigh when full will slow down your pace a noticeable amount.
posted by 517 at 6:47 PM on June 19, 2006

Here's another NY Times article on this topic that's still online.
posted by exhilaration at 7:08 PM on June 19, 2006

hyponatremia arises largely out of drinking plain water devoid of sodium and other electrolytes. Yes you want to avoid plain water, but the solution is an electrolyte-balanced sports drink rather than not drinking enough.

Most cases of athletic dehydration are not severe enough to impact your health, but even mild dehydration can hamper your performance significantly. The more dehydrated you are, the thicker your blood is, and the less aerobically efficient you are. It can mean the difference between feeling good or feeling knackered at the finish line, and the difference between making the podium or not (if you care about that).

So yes, you should hydrate properly -- not too much, not too little. And I agree that it should be a routine established during training, not something you adopt on race day.
posted by randomstriker at 7:41 PM on June 19, 2006

I run around 6-8 miles a day, 5-6 days a week, as my schedule permits, when I'm not swimming regularly (then I usually run less).

I can't agree more with the people who are urging against drinking too much when you run. The key is not trying to re-hydrate yourself while you run, but being well hydrated long before you actually run. Think of it as giving a car a full tank of gas before a long drive, rather than pouring the gas in sparingly as the tank nears empty. There are two things that are key for this: a) drinking a lot of water, regularly - as in all the time - most people are chronically underhydrated on a regular basis, and b) getting a proper amount of carbohydrates roughly 24 hours before your run (of any distance).

I can physically tell the difference when I run if I've been drinking enough or too little water in the past 24 hours, and I feel significantly more energy when I've done some carbing up well before a run as well. If I am running over 8 miles on an extremely hot day, I will sometimes take water, but not more than a few ounces and I usually try to take those after the 5th mile or so - just to keep the pipes moist.

That said, I'm a 27 year old guy in good shape. Talk to your doctor about your specific needs and consider a professional trainer / coach for distance running. Most major cities have these readily available - try checking with a local uni for instance.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:49 PM on June 19, 2006

The danger of hyponatremia is present in long-distance races (marathon and beyond). Let's all remember that our runner is training for a 15km race, a shorter distance by more than half.

Thirsty? Drink! Even before you are thirsty, take a few sips of water. You may find that you will go through less than 1.5 litres of water for your entire 15km, but at least you will not run out of water.

Heed randomstriker's words. And remember to supplement your electrolytes (salt, potassium) while you run, particularly if it's a hot day. Just drinking Gatorade for electrolytes is NOT enough!
posted by seawallrunner at 11:54 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that you are also getting used to new distances in new heat. You may have just been experiencing the results of that, and you will adapt.

But, to follow up on seawallrunner's comment, remember too that you need not replace all the water you lose in a run this short. Were you going to be running all day, you would want to keep as close to a 1:1 loss:replacement schedule as you can, but for 15k, just getting some water should be sufficient.
posted by OmieWise at 4:34 AM on June 20, 2006

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