Fall Marathon Training Kicks Off in the Heat. A Few Thoughts on Hydration

This week marked the beginning of Fall Marathon Training, my second attempt at a marathon. This time around, I’m taking a more conservative approach, hoping to make it to marathon day injury-free. As I ran along the trail in the early mornings, grumbling because it was humid and already 70 degrees, I thought about how my approach to hydration has changed since last summer.

First, I’ll throw this out there—I am the most loaded-down runner you will come across on the trail. I take my hydration belt on every run, no matter how short. I like knowing I have water when I need it. (And, that’s not all I carry: I have sunglasses, music, Aquaphor, a phone, tissues, hand sanitizer, BandAids, my Road ID, and a small towel. My friends make fun of me–and it might scream “Rookie!” to many–but these are needs to me.)

With all this gear, one would think I’d be prepared for almost any emergency. In theory, this might be true. But…the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that it doesn’t do any good to carry a beverage if you don’t drink it!

Just after completing the Lincoln Half Marathon this spring, I fell to the ground when a calf cramp crept up one leg and hamstring, and then the other. When the cramp reached my abs, and I couldn’t straighten my legs, I panicked. I was alone, rolling on the ground in pain, screaming—and no one would stop to help me.

Finally, two incredible college students stopped; the young man just happened to be interested in physical therapy as a career. One student gave me a giant bottle of water to drink, while the future PT stretched my legs. Twenty minutes later, I could stand again. It was a painful, frightening experience, one that changed the way I approach race day.

As I talked to other runners and researched in the days following the run, I learned that I had been running dehydrated for over a year. I was shocked when I learned how much I should have been drinking.

I am not a medical professional, so I’d encourage you to talk to the appropriate experts and form your own opinion. (There is a lot of information online about hydration–and also about the dangers of taking in too many fluids). Here are a few things I learned:

1)    Most people do not drink enough water on a daily basis, which is why it’s important to not enter race week under-hydrated. Drink lots of water every day—not just the day or two before you run.

2)    You’ll find conflicting information about how much water to consume immediately before a run, but most experts say you should drink a minimum of 16 ounces two hours before the event.

3)    The majority of articles say you should drink at least 6 ounces every 20 minutes.

I still have a trouble consuming this much before and during a race, but the full body cramping episode provided the proper motivation to try harder. I drink more water on a daily basis;  I’ve switched to running with a sports drink (not one of the sugary store brands);  and I use Hammer’s Endurolytes to keep my electrolytes in check.

A few weeks ago, with my new hydration plan in place, I ran a hot, hilly half marathon. I felt the best I’ve ever felt after a long run—I was able to eat solid food afterward, and I didn’t have to spend the afternoon in bed. It wasn’t my fastest finish ever, but feeling strong after running a half marathon was a HUGE victory to me.

Sometimes I feel like running is one big science experiment—experimenting with hydration and fuel and distance and rest days to get my body to perform its best. I wasn’t able to run the spring marathon I’d planned on, but I am determined to make it to race day this fall.  I have my training plan in place—and if all goes well, when I use the AlterG this time around, it will be for speed work, not rehab.

Please continue to follow me on the AlterG blog as I prepare for my first marathon. I’d love to hear about your experiences with race hydration. How much fluid do you consume on a run? And, what are you training for right now?

Feel free to comment below!

–Kimberly Peek