Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hydration Packs vs. Bottles

I originally posted an article on hydration packs vs. water bottles, both hand held and in belts back in January of 2011.  Much of what I said I still agree with totally.  I always drink more if I carry my Nathan Quickdraw bottles than I do if I wear a hydration pak.  The trouble with any hand held bottle is that your hands are not fee.  The trouble with back packs is you have to stop and take it off, open it up and pull the bladder out to be sure you are adding enough water.  Probably the best alternative is the hydration belt, but for me, that is not an option.  Wearing the belt around my waste really bothers me and they bounce up and down.

Hydration packs are great under  certain conditions.  I always use use one of my Nathan vests in ultras where I will be using trekking poles.  I just can't figure out a way to combine hand held bottles and poles.  They don't bother me at all and I don't seem to have a problem with the packs rubbing sores on my back as I understand some do.  They are also great for storing all of your supplies.  This is really important if you are running in uncertain weather conditions or in the mountains where the weather can always be questionable.  

In all the 100 milers I have run I wore one of my hydration packs, even if I was carrying water bottles.  The pack (without the bladder) gave me room for things like spare a flashlight and batteries, light rain shell, a place to store my hat and gloves after I took them off as the temperatures warmed, trail directions or map in a baggie, a little toilet paper in a baggie and a few other things I did not want to be without.

I have a Nathan Endurance 70oz pack 

and a Nathan Xtreme 100 oz pack.

The Nathan Quick Draws I carry most of the time have two major disadvantages.  First, as I mentioned above, you hands are not free or at least one hand is not free.  

The second problem isn't really a disadvantage, it can be pure misery.  Your hands freeze in cold weather.  Even it the temperature outside is no colder than 45 or 50 deg. they can still make your hands numb.  In cold temperatures they are almost unbearable, even while wearing gloves.  To that end I decided to attach a layer of neoprene rubber (about the same thickness as tri wetsuite neoprene) to my bottles.  I glued it on with some wetsuite repair cement and it has now stayed on for over a year.  This really helps.  If you try it, remember to leave a narrow space down one side so you can tell how much water is left in the bottle.

I tried the Amphipod Bottle, mostly because it came with a neoprene sleeve, but I could not keep the bottle strap together during runs.  The top of the strap fits around the neck of the bottle and bottom strap is hold in place by tension between the two.  Loosen the tension and the bottom strap (loop that fits around the bottom of the bottle) just falls off.  To keep the strap attached securely, the part that goes over you hand must be tight.  That bothered me so I had to loosen it a bit.  When I would take my hand out at an aid station to refill the bottle, everything fell apart.  I retired the bottle.

That did give me the idea to put neoprene on my bottles.  First, I used the one that came with the Amphipod bottle and it really helped with the freezing hands but I could not tell how much water I had left.  Then I added my own layer of rubber and have used that ever since.

The following is the original article as it appeared in 2011.  I have made several changes in how I handle electrolytes while running now, but I am writing a new article on Hydration and Electrolytes that I will post next.

Like just about everything else involved in ultrarunning, it depends on what you like and the race you are running. Personally, I prefer the hand held bottles like the Nathan Quickdraw. Here is a link to Nathan hydration products. I used them in the first two 100 mile races I ran and they worked great. I use them for all the 50Ks I run and every training run I do that is less than 5 hours. I also use one in every road race I do including the run segment of Ironman events. You can even carry a flashlight while running with them.

I always use the hand held bottles in shorter ultras. If the aid stations are pretty close together, less than 5 or 6 miles,(and not too mountainous,) you will only need one bottle. For longer stretches, especially if it is hot, I carry two. I found out in 2009, at the Leadville 100, that two bottles may not be enough. I hurried through the Twin Lakes aid station and failed to drink anything. I did refill both bottles before heading up Hope Pass, but it was very hot. I used up one bottle crossing the valley floor before reaching the climb. I started rationing my water and totally ran out before reaching “Hopeless” Aid Station located at timberline, about 1000 ft. below the crest. I was so dehydrated by that time I had to walk all the way down the other side of Hope Pass and up to the Winfield turnaround. At that point, I really did not think I would be able to finish. Fortunately, my wife, Marye Jo, made me stay in Winfield a few extra minutes and eat and drink. I still had to walk the 4 miles back down to the start of the climb back up Hope Pass and all the way up to the pass but I recovered on the descent and was bale to finish.

One reason I liked the hand held bottles so much is that you always know exactly how much water you have. I used NUUN electrolyte tablets. You add 1 Tablet to 16 ounces of water for a perfect balance of water and electrolytes. I mark the side of my bottle at 4, 8, 12 and 16 ounces (20 oz. is full) and it is easy to tell how much of a tablet to add. I divide the tablets in1/4s and put them in baggies.

This works great as long as you do not need your hands. Unfortunately, this year at Wasatch I decided to use trekking poles. Wasatch has 26,882 feet of elevation gain. I had read articles talking about the benefits of using poles and I started using them in training runs. I really liked the poles on steep climbs and also used them on really steep descents. Trouble is, you cannot use hand-held water bottles if you are using trekking poles. I purchased a 3liter Nathan “X-Treme” Vest that I used for all my training runs and the race. It is great. You can carry all the supplies you might need and (unfortunately) way too much water. I was so concerned about the climb to the first aid station at mile 13.4 that I carried so much water at the start that I did not have to add any water until “Bountiful B” AS at mile 24. That is not smart! I carried several extra pounds of water up the longest climb in the race.

I also use a Nathan “Speed” belt. The one I like holds four, 10 oz. bottles and has a pouch in back and a small zip pocket in front. My favorite energy drink during all races from Marathons to 100 milers as well as all training runs is Hammer Nutrition's “Perpetuem” drink mix. I have found I can drink it for 30+ hours with no problems. I add two scoops of Perpetuem in every of the 10 oz. bottles I think I will need. At Wasatch, I think I filled 24 bottles (21 were in drop bags.)  I will carry two bottles all the time but only fill one. Each 10 oz .bottle will last me about 1.5 hours. I try to time mixing up the next bottle at aid stations as I have just about emptied the first bottle. (Extra Weight)

A lot of ultra runners like hydration belts. They are available in all kinds of designs, one bottle, two bottles and bottles with pouches. I have quite an assortment of these belts that I need to put on eBay and get rid of. I just do not like having the bottles around my waste. They bounce up and down unless I really tighten them up, then they feel like they are restricting my breathing. But that is just me. When you go to any 100 miler, you will see a lot of runners with them. Some runners claim the belts cause stomach problems late in the races, too.

One of the reasons I purchased the X-Treme vest is because it will hold a lot of equipment. When you do ultras in the mountains, especially the Rockies, it is important to be prepared for any possible weather conditions. I have been fortunate. I have had beautiful weather at Leadville in '09 and Wasatch this year, although it was unusually cold at Wasatch. The back pack allows you to carry a jacket, gloves and hat or have room to stow them if it warms up. It also has room for Ginger ChewsShot Blocks, Enervit TabletsHoney Stingers, extra contacts, sunscreen, or anything else you might need.

I have provided links to most of the suppliers for the products I have mentioned. The are the products I use and like. Many of the items like Hammer products and Nathan belts and vests you can find at local running stores and bike shops. If you cannot find them locally, go the the Zombie Runner web site. They specialize in everything ultrarunning and sponsor a lot of events.  I have purchased a lot of stuff from them over the past 3 years.