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August 21, 2012

The Art of Hydration

Written by Tom McGlynn

screen shot 2012-08-21 at 4.27.42 pm

You already know how to hydrate and how to run.  But do you know how to put the two together?

It has been proven that proper hydration can drastically improve race results but many runners have trouble drinking water and sports drink while on the move.  The constant motion jostles your stomach which is already void of necessary blood resources which are attentive to your leg muscles. This is one of the many reasons that the art of hydration is essential.

We use the word ‘art’ as opposed to ‘science’ because there is a limited amount of calories and fluids that can be utilized intra-run (unlike cycling, walking and other activities).  Because of this we recommend experimentation to determine the most effective personal hydration routine (ie. Much like runcoach training the below is not a one-size-fits-all assignment. Experiment and find the routine that works best for you).

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Your hydration routine starts before the run
  2. Drink 8-16 ounces of water or sports drink with your pre-run breakfast (slightly more on race day when you are up early and have more time to digest)
  3. Coffee shouldn’t count into this equation as it is ultimately a diuretic (makes you pee)
  4. Caffeine is fine to consume as is normal for you
  5. Clear urine is a great sign
  6. Stay hydrated leading up to the run
  7. Take one final bathroom break right before the run
  8. Then take one final drink before your start (less than 2 minutes prior is best)

For runs longer than 75 minutes or runs in the heat, you will need more than just water.  We recommend sports drinks containing sugar and salt in appropriate quantities.  Here are some tips to pick the right drink for you:

  1. Check the race website you are training and find out which sports drink they will serve on the course
  2. If the race drink sits well with your stomach then stick with it; if not go for an alternative
  3. Look for ingredients that include sodium (salt/electrolyte) and sucrose (sugar)
  4. Become well acquainted with the drink and find a way to have it on race day (carry a bottle)
  5. Drink 4-8 ounces of fluid every 20-30 minutes within the run
  6. Sports gels can be effective as they include key nutrients – take these in lieu of a sports drink.  They must be taken with water.
  7. Because of caloric density you may only need to consume gels at every other fluid stop – keep up with water at every stop

Start refining your personal art of hydration at least 10 weeks prior to race day and practice before, during and after most runs.  Here are some tips for refueling on the run without carrying a water bottle:

  1. Hide your water bottle somewhere along your running route
  2. Plan to pass this spot every 20-30 minutes or place more bottles along your route
  3. Invest in a fuel belt.
  4. Enlist a friend to ride a bike with you or meet you intra-run to provide fuel
  5. If gels are your fuel of choice simply carry some with you and then target public water fountains along your course

The exact amount you need to drink can be tricky and will vary from person to person.  Here’s a science project to help you learn about your hydration needs:

  1. Weigh yourself prior to a run without any clothes on
  2. Go for a run
  3. Re-weigh yourself after without any clothes on
  4. Calculate the difference and hydrate accordingly within your next run

Example: if you weighed 160 before a 90 minute workout and then weigh 157, you have lost 3 pounds and require 48 ounces of liquid. Your schedule for a similar event would be 8 ounces every 15 minutes to maintain your weight.

Note: This is just an example.  Please try this yourself and keep in mind that the amount you need will vary depending on the temperature, humidity and other personal physiological factors.

Proper hydration can improve your race results from 5K to the Marathon.  Invest some time into the development of your art of hydration.

Share your hydration thoughts with us on Facebook at runcoach.com and qualify to win a half-zip, technical runcoach shirt.

Last modified on October 04, 2012
Tom McGlynn

Tom McGlynn

Tom started runcoach in 2002. His main objective was to equip more runners with the successful training philosophies he was exposed to. In 2007 Tom and the team found a way to make our proven training more widely available through the new online resource

Tom has qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon three times (2000 ’04 and ’08). He trained under legendary coach Harry Groves at Penn State and graduated in 1996. Tom ran with the Nike Farm Team and Coaches Jeff Johnson, Vin Lananna, Jack Daniels and Ray Appenheimer from 1996-2004. From 2004-2006 Tom served as Assistant Distance Coach to Frank Gagliano for the Nike Farm Team.

Through runcoach Tom has helped thousands of runners set new PR’s. He has trained Marathoners ranging from 2:15 to 8:15 and remains convinced that anyone can improve their running with the right approach.

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