Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hydration and Electrolytes - What I have learned over the last 5 years.

In 1966, training to run the mile in high school, we frequently ran a three mile and five mile training route out from Mesquite High School, east into the countryside and looped back to the school.  No one ever thought about taking water.  During the summer before my senior year I started running a 10 mile loop way out into the country from my house.  I ran the 10 mile loop in the middle of summer, in Dallas, and carried no water and there was no place out there to get a drink.  I never thought about taking water.  I did my run on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  The highs in Dallas during July and August are above 100 deg. almost every day.  I don't even remember getting thirsty.  Salt tablets?  That was what we took before football workouts when it was hot.

The first time I ever drank anything while running was during my first 10K, the Azalea Trail Run in 1979.  Actually, I am not sure if I drank the water or poured it on my head or both, but I did grab a cup of water at the aid stations.  A few weeks later I ran another 10K and decided I wanted to run a marathon so I started running longer routs.  I found a 12 mile loop I liked and I always stopped for water at three gas stations along the run.  I selected them because they were equally spaced along the route and two had outside water fountains.  The third was the last place to get a drink before the final several miles to my house.  I usually drank out of a faucet by the pumps.  I remember passing a bank sign on Old Shell Rd that would read  as hot as 103 in the afternoons when I ran.  I always ran in the afternoon.  I was an accountant with a CPA firm and by the end of the day, I had to run!

From 1978 until the first two 50Ks I ran in late 2007 and early 2008 I never took any kind of electrolyte tablet.  Occasionally I would drink a Gatorade after a race, but that was it.  When I went to the Katcina Mosa 100K in Utah, John Bozung, RD of the race and also of the Squaw Peaks 50 Mile Trail Race  in Provo, Utah, provided every entrant with Enlyten Strips for the race.  I used them just like he said, "put one strip between your cheek and gums.  When the first one is gone, put in the next.  I never got sick at my stomach at all.  Of course, I only ran 38 miles but that took me almost 13 hours.  But that is where I started using electrolytes and suddenly I no longer got sick at my stomach every time I ran a long run.

Electrolyte Progression
1.  First two 50K races, water only. Beginning thru August 2008. We took Salt tablets before football   workouts.
2.  Enlyten Strips - Katcina Mosa 100K, Pinhoti 100 and Leadville 100. (great but burns your mouth)
      August 2008 - August 2009
3.  NUUN tablets - Wasatch 100, Tahoe100 (first 75 miles), Rocky Raccoon 100 (first 2 or 3 laps)
       August 2009 - February 2012
4.  Back to Salt Tablets - NOW!

How much water to drink?
Since my first 100 mile race in 2008 I have learned a lot and made a lot of mistakes.  Several times I have been sure I had the whole problem of hydration and electrolytes solved only to find out in the next race I did not.  Over the last year, and especially in the last few months, running so many races, I feel I have a better grasp on staying hydrated that I ever have before.  Of course, staying hydrated is the single most critical issue facing every ultra runner.  While fueling is critical to a strong finish in shorter ultras, or finishing at all in longer ones, improper hydration can be dangerous.

Lets review some basics.  A lot of people suggest weighing yourself, naked, before a two hour training run. Do not drink anything or pee during the run, then weighing yourself again, nude, before drinking or peeing following the run.  This would give you an exact weight loss from sweat during the run.  Of course, for this test to be relevant, you would have to perform it at 30 deg. F., 50 deg. F., 70 deg. F. and 90 deg. F and possibly at 100 deg. depending on where you run or race. (I can tell you, there is a huge difference in perspiration between 50 and 90 deg.)  With this little experiment, you could probably get really close to figuring out how much to drink during training run and ultras.  (There are a couple of complicating issues though.  If you tried this at Oak Mountain State Park here in Birmingham, you would probably get arrested. The 30 deg. weigh-in could be a little uncomfortable.)  Then, all you would have to do is figure out how to stay cognizant of the temperature progression from morning, through the heat of the day (or lack of same) into the cooling of the evening, calculate how much you needed to drink between each aid station based on the expected temperature and, of course, remember to drink that specific amount.  It is hard enough for me to remember to add water to my Carbo Pro mix bottles, never mind the rest.

I use a much simpler system.  I just drink all the time.  I literally drink a sip of water every four or five minutes.  I don't time drinks, I just drink a little, constantly.  This last weekend I ran the Oak Mountain 50K right here in Birmingham.  The temperature was about 55 deg. at the start and warmed to 82 by the time I finished (six hours, 54 minutes later.)  It was overcast and damp early and did not clear until mid morning. Then it got hot, a little later it clouded up again although it was still hot.  During the first section of the race, (start to first aid station) I covered the distance in 1 hour, 25 min and drank about 18 oz of water plus one of my 10 oz bottles of Carbo Pro mix.  The Carbo Pro totally dissolves in the water so you can count is at 10 more ounces of water so actually I drank 28 ounces or about 18 oz per hour.

The second aid station I reached at 2 hours, 54 minutes (almost 1.5 hours.)  During that time I drank 20oz of water and another bottle of Carbo Pro mix.  That is 30 ounces of water or 20 oz per hour.  About the same as the first 1.5 hours.   By now, it was getting hot.  The sun was out but the humidity was still very high. I reached the third aid station at 4:22.  (There seems to be a pattern here.,)  That is about another 1.5 hours.  From here we start a 2.25 mile climb up the red trail (a fire road) to the crest of Double Oak Mountain.  There is an unmanned, water only aid station along the crest about three miles from AS #3.  I drank about 15 oz. in that three miles so I refilled the bottle and finished it off as I reached the 4th aid station at 5:40.  That is about an hour and 20 minutes.  So I drank 35 oz of water, 10 oz of  carb mix or 45 oz total in 1.33 hours.  That comes out to about 34 oz if water per hour.

The final segment of the race is mostly down hill with only two short climbs with about 100 and 150 ft elevation gain.  I finished in 6:54:30 so that final segment took one hour and 14 minutes.  Again, I finished off my 20oz bottle of water and most of my carbo drink mix or about 28 oz. total.  I am back down to about 22 oz per hour.  Usually, the last mile or two of a race I just run and don't worry about drinking or any thing else.  I just want to get to the end.

I have decided to simplify my electrolyte mix.  Instead of fooling with NUUN tablets which work great as long as you mix them to exactly 16 oz of water per tablet.  That sounds easy enough but I have found in race conditions I just don't do very well.  I always seem to get the mix too strong and that causes real stomach problems.  There is one other problem with NUUN tablets.  When the water gets hot, the NUUN mix is almost undrinkable.  It tastes so bad I just quit drinking.  That is not good, especially considering that the water only gets hot in hot weather.  I now just eat "Thermolite" electrolyte capsules.  During the first three hours of the race I took one each hour.  When I started drinking more water, I increased the dosage to one capsule every 45 minutes.  I had no problems at all with cramps or upset stomach.

In summation:
First, I weigh 165 lbs.  The amount of water you drink and the quantity of electrolytes you require will likely be different than mine.  If you weigh 98 lbs. and try to drink as much water as I do, you will probably never reach the first aid station.  If you weigh more than me, obviously, you will need to drink more and take more electrolytes.  Also, everyone sweats at different rates.  Experiment and figure out what works for you.

In Cold or Cool Conditions I drink about 18 oz of water (liquid) per hour.
In warm temperatures, (70's - low 80's) I drink bout 25 to 25 oz per hour.
In hot conditions (85 - 90+)  I drink 35 or more oz per hour.
When the temperature reaches the mid 90s as it does in summer here in Alabama I drink even more but I really do not know how much more.  I will check that out in the next few months.
I take one tablet per hour in cool or cold conditions. (0 up to about 70 or 75 deg.)
As it get warmer, 80 to 85, I will increase dosage to one tablet every 45 minutes.
When it is hot, 90 to 95+ I will probably take one tablet every 30 minutes.
In reality, I just drink what I want and take electrolytes as I think I need them.  I still carry Enervit Tablets with me when I run and if I start to get a cramp I eat one.  I will also start drinking more when I first feel that little twinge in a muscle.  As it gets hot, and you drink more, so you need more electrolytes.  This you will have to experiment with in training and figure out what works.

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