Hydrating, It’s Complicated.

Staying hydrated is essential to being able to sustain a good pace on race day. Too much or too little water can cause serious problems for runners. Maintaining optimal hydration is more complicated than we’d all like.

There are many factors that play a role in your hydration during training and races. We all hear the pervasive message of 8 glasses of 8 oz of water a day, but is that right for everyone? It’s not even close. It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much fluid a person needs each day. Some factors that impact your recommended fluid intake are: the type of food you eat, your activity level, your body fat percentage, and your acclimatization to the heat.

Another recommendation we hear a lot is to drink to thirst, but once again the phrase, “it’s complicated,” rears it’s head. When you’re exercising, especially for extended periods of time, your body may not signal you to drink because of imbalances in your system. You need to be looking at other objective measures such as the amount of fluid you are taking in, the temperature, the color of your urine (we’ll talk about this more in a few paragraphs), and any GI issues you’re having.

You’re unlikely to need to hydrate during a 5k or 10k event. For a 1-2 hour run, you’ll need water, but not electrolytes. If you’re running five plus hours, you’re going to need some form of electrolyte replacement strategy. If you’re between the 2-5 hour range, water is necessary and electrolytes would be helpful but are not necessary like they are after 5-6 hours. Electrolytes are helpful in the 2-5 hour range because they help you hold onto the water you’re consuming rather than it just going straight through you.


Most ultrarunners use some type of electrolyte supplement during training and in races. There are lots of options as far as different sports drinks, powders, and tablets/capsules. It’s likely that you’ll want a variety of options when you’re racing because things change and some times something that has worked throughout training suddenly stops working. Sports drinks usually do double duty by providing you with both carbohydrate and electrolytes, so make sure you have options for both when the drink doesn’t work so well. Aid stations typical fare will consist of foods with both carbohydrate and with sodium, the main electrolyte you need, so keep a mental note that you’ve taken in some electrolytes there too.

After a run or a race, there’s no need to ingest a sports drink to replenish your electrolytes. Your body will be able to balance it out within the next 24-48 hours. If you have another run within that time frame, however, drinking a Gatorade is probably a good idea.

One way runners often judge their hydration is through urine color. The problem is there are a lot of things that impact your urine color, so it’s not always the most accurate. You can have clear urine because your body doesn’t have enough electrolytes to hold onto the water so it just spits it back out. The best time to judge hydration with urine color is when you first wake up in the morning because it’s had time to accumulate. The first urine in the morning tells you about your hydration the day before. So if you track your hydration and exercise, you’ll get a good idea of what your body needs for different workouts.




Gearing UP


It’s time to gear up for spring races in the norther hemisphere. Hopefully, you’ve been following a maintenance program through the winter months. How much you need to increase your miles will depend on where you are at and what your race distance is.

If you have a standard training program you’ve found on the internet (you can find mine above) or in a book, find the week that matches what you have been doing and start from there.

As you increase your miles, don’t forget the two golden rules of running: First, only increase your miles by ten percent each week; and second, every fourth week should be a rest week, reduce your miles by twenty to twenty-five percent.

After deciding where to start and working out the details of your training plan, think back to the things you struggled with last season. It could be loads of things, hydration, fueling during runs, falling a lot, climbing, or descending. Ideally, you worked on these issues while you were doing maintenance, but… Once you have a few things you’d like to work on, brainstorm different ways you can address the problem.

Hydration: this is something you have to stay on top of from the very beginning of a race/run. Find a way to remind yourself to keep drinking. Don’t chew gum because it increases saliva. You’ll drink if your mouth gets dry. Try taking little sips frequently or longer pulls every mile (when your garmin beeps). You could count your steps and sip every one hundred. Keep in mind you need to think about electrolytes too.

Fueling on the go: this is another one you have to stay on top of from the beginning of the race/run. You may want to eat something small before the race starts. Don’t over eat the night before to the point where you can’t eat the next morning. Eating something small every hour is the best way to sustain your energy throughout the race/run. Find different things you can tolerate, in case something makes you sick or is just unappetizing. Try different amounts of food too. It may be easier for you to eat more frequently, even every half hour or twenty minutes, just taking bites of things.

Falling a lot: You might just be clumsy, but I doubt it. Muscle imbalances can cause falling as can not paying enough attention to where you are putting your feet. Maybe your feet are not fast enough to prevent tripping or changing your foot placement once you figure out it’s precarious. Another problem could be your balance and proprioception. Muscle imbalances between your outer thigh and inner cause instability in your lower leg, ankle and foot. Having high arches can also cause some instability. Working on agility training with a speed ladder helps with foot placement and being able to move them quickly. Balance, proprioception, and core exercises will help as well.

Climbing and descending: just do it. A lot. You can also add strength training to your routine; for climbing focus on hamstrings and glutes; for descending, core and quads.

The goal is to go into your spring races stronger than you did your pervious fall races and certainly stronger than last spring’s races.

Winter Hydration


Just because it’s cooler outside doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need to be hydrated. The body’s thirst response is reduced by up to 40% in the winter. When you get cold your blood vessels constrict slowing the blood flow to your extremities which is why your hands and feet typically get cold first.

In the winter we don’t always feel sweaty, but that doesn’t mean you’re not sweating. It means your clothing is doing its job. Winters in Utah are very dry, more try than the summers actually, because the water in the air is frozen. I have to put lotion on a few times throughout the day and my hair frizzes nearly every day. This dry frozen air can increase your chances of becoming dehydrated, so don’t neglect this critical aspect of your winter training.

Another contributing factor for winter dehydration is losing water through your lungs. The colder the air the more water vapor is present in your breath. You can see it when you exhale. It freezes and you can’t breath it back in.

The first step in maintaining your hydration is developing the habit of taking sips throughout your runs. Frequent small sips of water is easier on your body and reduces the risk of becoming dehydrated. If you wait until you want to guzzle the water, you have waited too long and are now trying to play catch-up, which is never a good place to be in.

Next is your clothing. Maintaining a comfortable body temperature allows you to have more stable water and electrolyte loss. Wear layers you can take off and put back on as needed.

Be aware of how much you are drinking. This is huge because many of us get in our zone and we don’t really pay attention to how much we are sweating or when the last time was we sipped on our water or how frequently we are doing so.

Winter hydrating can be a challenge if you run outside in temperatures below freezing. There are insulated handhelds and hydration packs (snowboarders and skiers use them). You may need to break up your run to keep your water from freezing or get a really nice friend who is willing to bring you water every so often.

If you are using a hydration pack and it’s not insulated make sure and blow the water out of the tube and mouth piece every time you take a sip. If you leave it in the tube, it will freeze leaving you with nothing to drink.



What does the color of your urine tell you?

urine chart

The color of urine is something that is or should be pretty important to a runner, especially an ultra-runner. So what does it all mean…

No color: you’re drinking too much water. Drinking too much water can be just as dangerous to a runner as not drinking enough. When you have too much water in your body, your cells swell which can cause GI issues, dizziness, and soreness. Even more scary, it can cause hyponatremia, low sodium, which can lead to death in some cases.

Pale straw yellow: you’re normal and well hydrated.

Transparent yellow: you’re normal.

Dark yellow: normal but drink some water soon.

Amber or honey: you need water now.

Syrup or brown ale: you are severely dehydrated or have liver disease. Drink water and see your doctor if it doesn’t go away within 24 hours.

Pink to reddish: Have you eaten beets blueberries or rhubarb recently? If not it could be blood or other things. You should see your doctor soon.

Orange: you are probably not drinking enough water or it could be something you need to see your doctor about. Drink more water, if it doesn’t go away within 24 hours or returns, call your doctor.

Blue or Green: this could be food dye, medication, or a bacteria. If it persists, contact your doctor.

Purple: That’s just ridiculous. No one has purple urine

Foaming or Fizzing: this one is real. It could be harmless, a kidney problem, or indicate you have excess protein in your diet. See a doctor if it happens all the time.


Drink when you are thirsty and watch the color of your urine. If it starts to get darker each time you go, drink more water and make sure you are getting enough electrolytes.

If you are pacing or crewing for an ultra-runner there really is no taboo topic. You need to know how often your runner is using the bathroom and what color their urine is.



Hydration on the Run

hand held

I believe we all agree staying hydrated while running is important. Runners manage their hydration in different ways and there are tons of options to fit individual runner needs. Sure, you can stash water along your route or plan to run past water fountains during your run, but this restricts your creativity and freedom during your runs. And isn’t creativity and freedom the reason we all run anyway?

There are three popular options out in the running world, the handheld, belt, and hydration pack. Each has its costs and benefits so let’s go through each one.

The handheld is convenient easy to use and clean. It comes with a little pocket usually where you can store other things like a phone, car keys, or nutrition. Handhelds are not expensive. They come in all sizes and shapes. Having 16-20 ounces of fluid in your hand can take some time to get used to, the added weight and the sloshing of water. You should chose whatever shape is most comfortable. Solomon has a handheld that is more like a bladder than a bottle. I haven’t had the chance to use these during a run. The Solomon handheld bladder is a little more pricy. Handhelds are not a good option in the winter months. It’s hard to hold on to them with big gloves on and if you don’t have big gloves the water will make your hands colder.

What do I look for in a handheld? It needs to hold enough water for a ten mile run. I don’t want to stop and fill the thing up every three miles. You might as well not even carry one at that point. I have smaller hands so I need something that fits comfortably. The strap needs to hold tight enough that I’m not squeezing the bottle the whole run. It has to be spill proof. I can’t have water spurting out all over the place. The bottle has to be easy to squeeze with one hand. If it has a pocket, it needs to be big enough to be useful.

The belt and or vest consists of bottles attached to a belt or a vest. The bottles slide into pockets or clip on. There are vests with bottles on the front and the back. The belts also have various placements. These options are good if you don’t need a lot of water, but you hate to have things in your hands. They’re a little more expensive than handhelds. The bottle tends to be a little bigger or you have two bottles. There is at least one pocket to put other things in. The pockets are big enough to be useful. Having two bottles allows you to care plain water and an electrolyte drink at the same time.

When it comes to belts, I hate the bounce. It drives me crazy. I end up fighting with the thing trying to stop the bouncing. I’ll admit I have not used a belt or even tried one for the past five years because of this, so I’m guessing one company or another has attempted to fix this problem. Sometimes the placement, vertical or horizontal, of the bottles makes a big difference with the bouncing. One thing you need to pay attention to with belts and vests is accessibility. How easy is it to pull it out of the pocket and put it back in without having to stop?

Hydration packs carry a lot of water and you can stuff all kinds of stuff in them such as a compact jacket, food, small first aid kit, and a flashlight. The packs made specifically for running don’t bounce. There is some sloshing of the water, but I can’t hear it with mine. You just get used to it and then don’t register it anymore. The packs are going to be the most expensive option. They are great for long distance and trail running. The water is easy to access. They are also the heaviest choice. In the winter the tube can freeze so make sure it is insulated and if it’s really cold, that probably won’t help much.

With a pack, I look for pockets on the front and the back. I want the pockets to zip closed so things don’t fall out of them. Like all the other options, the pockets need to be useable. I want a women’s specific pack so it fits better and prevents bouncing. If you can’t get it to fit snug it will cause chafing.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any store which allows for a trial run of their hydration systems. So you have to think of your needs and then try to match it up. It’s good to have options as well because some runs will require a different hydration system. You can always use a pack, but it’s a lot to care for a ten mile run.

Just when you thought you had it figured out…

There is so much conflicting information out there on the internet about every possible running topic stretching or not, carb loading or not, strength training or not, shoes or not, Electrolytes or not. It is never ending and constantly evolving.  As an average runner, with limited or no access to professionals, it can be hard to know what to trust and what to leave on the side of the road.

Whenever anyone asks me about one of these topics, my answer is always, “It depends,” followed by me asking a bunch of questions to figure out what their experiences have been before I can offer any helpful suggestions.

Electrolyte replenishment is a big deal for runners. We have all heard the horror stories of Hyponatremia (dangerously low blood sodium levels). Runners rushed to the hospital near death after endurance events. There are equally scary stories about dehydration.

Today I opened up my email to an article called, “Do Electrolytes Actually Prevent Marathon Cramping? Do we need to replace them at all?” from Runnersconnect suggesting that electrolytes may not be necessary for marathon and some ultra-distances. I pulled out an article I read last year (yes I still have it and know where it is) called “Electrolytes for Runners: The Definitive Guide,” also from Runnersconnect.

I love Runnersconnect. They provide a ton of excellent information and the latest research on many running related topics. In fact, I post many of their articles to my Facebook page, including this recent one.

So the article from  “Do Electrolytes Actually Prevent Marathon Cramping?…” cites Tim Noakes’ research, detailed in his book, Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports, (I have not read this book, but I have read his book, The Lore of Running, where he mentions this as well). His research suggests that your body will adjust the amount of sodium it puts out in your sweat depending on how much you usually consume and how much is available in your body.  Noakes’ says that the amount of sodium in sports drinks is not enough to stop hyponatremia because the sodium content of your blood is much higher than the amount found in any sports drink.

What I think he is saying is that the amount of sports drink you would have to consume to impact your blood sodium level could lead to overhydration.  Noakes’ advocates drinking to thirst and mostly plain water.

But sodium isn’t the only benefit of sports drinks, they also contain carbohydrates that your body needs (unless you’re a low carb runner) to maintain your pace over the duration of your run. Just keep in mind that your body can only absorb so much carbohydrate per hour, and if you take in more you will end up with an unhappy stomach.

The article “Electrolytes for Runners: The Definitive Guide,”  suggests that if your electrolytes get out of balance you may experience muscle fatigue, muscle cramping, muscle spasms, dizziness, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, muscle weakness, dark urine, and decreased urine. The four most important electrolytes that keep bodily fluid balanced are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, so these are the ones that you are looking for in your sports drinks.

Some of this conflicting information can be attributed to advances in research data and collection. After all, Gatorade has only been available to the public, as the first official sports drink, since 1967. The marathon race has been an event in the Olympics since 1896 (the distance was standardized in 1921). So, I suppose it is about time for the pendulum to swing back on sports drinks vs. water  as it has in many other areas (Paleo diet and barefoot running).

There are a million different products out on the market, so which one is right? Or maybe none of them are right? I believe everyone agrees some form of hydration is necessary when running more than two hours.

I take my hand held out whenever I’m going out for more than one hour. What I put in my water, if anything, changes depending on distance and temperature. I know that if I go out for a long run in the heat without any electrolytes, I will come back with nausea, dizziness, and muscle weakness. I also know that as a low carb runner, my body retains less water and less electrolyte storage. So if I don’t take magnesium I will get muscle cramps.

Electrolytes are another area where you have to figure out what your body needs through trial and error. I don’t think there is one answer that fits everyone. And my guess is the middle road is probably the best one to travel.