Hydration - Drinking on the go

Learning how to hydrate is an important part of marathon training.

If running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, why is training for a marathon so complicated? First there's the shoes: the average pair of sneakers won't do. Marathoners need specialty running shoes, with the correct amount of pronation control. Clothing is specialized too: technical fabrics wick moisture from the body to prevent chafing.

Eating takes on a whole new meaning, and a whole new language too. One doesn't simply eat, one "refuels" with carbohydrate concoctions that promise to make the body stronger, leaner, and faster.

Drinking should be simple enough, but it's not. Sedentary people drink: runners hydrate. When and how to hydrate is an art unto itself. Common logic suggests that we should drink when we're thirsty. But common logic doesn't apply to marathon training, with long runs lasting two-to-three hours.

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Desert denizens

Living in the desert, most people understand the importance of drinking water, especially during our hot summers. What many people don't realize is that it's just as easy to become dehydrated in the winter, when running out of doors feels comfortable.

Even when the weather is cool, our bodies need water to produce sweat. Sweat promotes cooling of the muscles and skin by releasing heat created during exercise into the ambient air.

How often should runners drink? The answer depends upon a person's age and fitness. The more fit a person is, the more he sweats: sweating makes the body a more efficient machine. Some younger, more resilient runners can take in little water during the run, and make up for the deficit by increasing their fluid intake the rest of the day.

Others need to hydrate frequently during the workout, in addition to drinking more during their recovery. A good rule of thumb is to drink every twenty minutes: more often on a warm day.

It's just as important to start drinking early in the run, before there are any symptoms of thirst. It takes about twenty minutes for water to be absorbed into the body. The trick is to drink enough fluids to prevent decreases in blood volume. When that happens, muscles have to work harder, and the risk of injury increases significantly.

Water versus sports drinks

Water is the best way to hydrate on runs lasting under an hour. Assuming the runner is eating a good diet, he'll have enough carbohydrates in the tank to fuel the body during a relatively short run.

For runs over an hour, it's better to consume sports drinks, that replace sugar and electrolytes along with fluid. For people with sensitive stomachs, finding a sport drink they can tolerate may present a challenge. One option is to dilute the drink with water, making it easier for the stomach to absorb.

Some runners find it's easier to think, and drink, outside the box. I know runners who drink Pedialyte, an electrolyte replacement for children, because their stomachs are too sensitive for Gatorade.

Another option is to drink water and take electrolyte tablets which contain no sugar. Runners with extremely sensitive stomachs may do better eating natural foods such as unsweetened banana chips in place of sports drinks or energy gels.

Too much of a good thing

Hypotremia, otherwise known as water intoxication, is a potentially fatal condition that can affect endurance athletes. It often happens during long races, where there's a water station at each mile marker.

While experienced runners tend to know how much water they need, new runners who drink only water at the aid stations may create an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. The symptoms of hypotremia are dizziness and muscle cramps. In severe cases, the runner may faint or go into a coma.

The best way to prevent hypotremia is to ingest adequate electrolytes in the form of sports drinks, electrolyte tablets or energy gels. Runners need to learn the early signs of hypotremia just as they understand dehydration, and seek immediate medical assistance if they find themselves in distress.

The perfect balance

Training for a marathon is more than logging miles; it's a dress rehearsal for race day. Learning how to hydrate on the run is just as important as deciding which shoes will ward off injury and what socks will prevent blisters.

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