To Hydrate, or Not to Hydrate, That is the Question…

If you’re interested enough to read about running, you’ve surely encountered admonitions about hydration.  Performance starts to suffer, the articles tell us, as soon as one gets the slightest bit dehydrated, as evidenced by the first touch of dry mouth, or the passing thought ‘I’d like a sip of water.’

“You need to drink enough to replace all the water you sweat out,” is a common injunction, followed by complex instructions about weighing yourself before and after runs, then converting pounds and ounces to liters or ounces (but a different kind of ounces, the liquid ones…) in order to calculate just how much you need to drink for every mile, or every hour.

For those of us not inclined to that level of lab-work, ‘drink early drink often,’ seems to be the simple bottom line, so if you’re a good scout, you may find yourself purchasing any of a variety of hydration devices – bladder packs, trail vests, belts with holsters for water bottles (single, double or even more), and using them almost religiously.  Despite the fact that when you look around at events – the top finishers are nearly always water-naked, or at most, sport a single hand-held bottle.

And being an even better scout, you may have tried to go farther by hydrating before the run; downing a couple cups of coffee, (yes, caffeine can enhance performance, but coffee is also a desiccant – meaning it encourages your body to expel fluid – and a laxative, which can become problematic an hour or two later…) and topping off with Gatoraid during the drive-to, so you’re fully watered up at the start.

Hence the scene in one marathon: first patch of thinned-out woods the course passed, passels of the boys stepped aside to relive themselves, in full view of the rest of the field. Poor form dudes! Especially given that a good number of the ladies were no-doubt holding-on for dear life till a more discreet opportunity presented itself.

Regardless of gender and manners though, every minute watering the lawn or on line for a Porta-Jane is a minute not running, as was pointed out to me after one race when a sleek young runner, with whom I’d played leapfrog throughout the last half, suggested she never would have passed me that final time if I hadn’t kept stopping off at the porta-potties.

Being a slow-learner is better than not learning at all, and since that day I’ve tried limiting beverages in the hours before a big run to no more than a single cup of coffee, then starting moderate drinking (oops, that sounds wrong: I mean ‘moderate hydration’) a half-hour before the start and continuing to drink (OK, ‘consume’) small amounts regularly throughout.  So far, the relief stops are fewer and times correspondingly shorter, plus it’s just more comfortable not running on a full bladder.

“To hydrate, or not to hydrate?”  It’s all about the timing.

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