Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hydration and Electrolytes

Here is a second excerpt from my website for the Run for Kids Challenge from a section on how to run the 50K or 12 Hour Challenge at Veteran's Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

On of the biggest problems ultrarunners have is staying fueled and hydrated during hours of running.  The longer the race the harder this becomes.  Your are burning calories faster than you can replace them and your body does not absorb water as fast as you are loosing it.  It is critical to begin drinking a lot of liquid (NO ALCOHOL) several days prior to the race.  The day before the race drink even more.  I drink so much water the day before a race I end up hopping out of bed every 2 hours to run the the bathroom.

We will provide water for all 3 races but the water will not be served in cups for the 50K or 12 hour run.  If you are running these races you will need to carry a water bottle with you.  There are several ways to do this.  I personally prefer a hand held bottle with a hand strap make by Nathan.  The one I use is called a "Quickdraw."  It has a pocket on one side that can hold a few supplies.  (I usually put my car keys or cell phone in it.)  There are also many type of belts that hold a bottle.  The Trak Shak has everything you will need.  Of course, you can just carry an ordinary water bottle.  Hydration packs work, but they are a pain to refill and really slow down aid station stops.  Since you will reach the water stop every three miles you really only need to carry a few ounces at a time.   I think you will find the hydration pack a lot more trouble than the other methods.  Start trying various hydration systems now so you will know what works best for you by race day.

During the 50K and 12 hour runs it will be very important to stay hydrated.  It will probably be very hot and humid during the race.  If you are running the 50K, you will be running until almost noon or early afternoon.  You should drink water all the time.  I probably take a drink every 5 minutes or so during runs and races.  You can handle a lot of small drinks much better than one big drink at aid stations.  Drink Constantly!

One of the major causes of stomach distress during a run is too much in you stomach.  If you are drinking a lot, as you are supposed to, the "too much" will likely be water.  So how do you keep from drinking too much water.  Usually the issue is not drinking too much water.  The problem is the water is not being absorbed fast enough.  If you are not taking in enough electrolytes with the water, the water will not be absorbed fast enough and will start sloshing around in there.  That is when you start feeling really sick at you stomach.

There are many good products available that will help solve this problem and they are all spelled "electrolytes."  Start at a local bike shop like Cahaba Cycle and Homewood Cycle.  They carry a good assortment and can tell you about each.  I am now using one called "NUUN" tablets.  You simply drop one in your water bottle each time you refill it.  There are several other types of tablets and capsules available.  One popular product is called "Salt Stick" capsules and I always carry a few of them with me in every run and race.  Start using them in your training and see what you like best.  After several hours of running I find it hard to swallow capsules.  That is why I like the NUUN tablets.  Sometimes I also use Enlyten strips.  They are like breath strips and come in a very small cassette.  You put one strip between your cheek and gums and let it dissolve.  Each one lasts about 45 minutes.  When one is gone, put in another.  In my early ultrarunning I used them almost exclusively.  They work great but have one major drawback. The Enlyten strips actually burn the tissue in your mouth after hours of continuous use.  Another good product that I like is "Cliff Shot Blocks."  They are sort of like "gummy bears" and taste good.  I usually carry some with me to eat like candy.  

Another product I always carry, training and racing, is Enervit tablets.  They come in a pack of 12 and are the best thing for cramps I have ever used.  I began using them several years ago while training and riding area bike rides like Six Gap in North Georgia and The Assault on Mt. Mitchell.  I eat one tablet as soon as you begin to feel twinges in my leg muscles and I never get a cramp.  It just goes away.  Most bike shops carry Enervit products but not the tablets for some reason.  That is why the link is to Amazon.Com.  The last time I ordered them, that was the only place I could find them.

My rules for staying hydrated:
1.  Drink a lot of water for several days before the race.
2.  Drink even more water the day before.
3.  No Alcohol for at least 2 or 3 days prior to the race.
4.  Do all training runs using electrolyte supplements.  
Follow the directions for each product)
5.  Use electrolytes before and during the race.

The NUUN tablets I use mix at a ratio of one tablet to 16 oz of water.  I don't like to carry any more weight than necessary.  If I know the aid stations are no more than 4 or 5 miles apart, I break the tablets in half or fourths before the race and put them in a zip-lock baggy.  As I come to the aid station I check to see how much water I have and figure how much I will need to reach the next AS.  I remove the lid from the bottle as I approach the aid station.  I will add either 4 or 8 oz (I mark 4,8,12 and 16 oz on the bottle for reference) and drop in a 1/4 or 1/2 tablet, put on the top and head out.  I don't like to waste time at aid stations, either.

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