If the song by Nelly is in your head right now, I’m sorry. Or maybe I’m not?
I set out for a run last week in less than favorable conditions. Temps were in the upper 60’s in the morning with a humidity of 84%. Yikes! It’s still March! But Mother Nature was just giving us a preview of what’s to come. I just thought we’d have more time with crisp early spring weather than this!
The heat and humidity that are the curse of summer in most of the mid-Atlantic and Southern states can be brutal. Training for many an autumn marathon through these hot summer months taught me a few tricks for enduring the conditions, and it centers around hydration and electrolyte replacement.
Let’s talk about hydration first. As I’m sure you are aware, by the time you are thirsty, you are already becoming dehydrated. It’s really essential in these conditions to carry a vessel of some kind for water. I’ve used all the main types, and I’ll break them down for you, plus the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Handheld Hydration Bottles
- These are a great option for shorter distances. This is what I carry for most runs 6 miles or less.
- They are easily refillable. Pack with ice on hot days! If you are running with a supported training team which provides aid stations for their group runs, this simple vessel is still an adequate option even for double digit runs.
- Not a great option for longer distances on non-supported runs, especially if you would like to have both water and an electrolyte replacement drink with you. It’s only one vessel!
- Typically has a pocket to hold your phone and/or a key. May not accommodate larger phones.
- Fairly affordable, and a great investment for a new runner.
- Another great option for shorter runs, but also for mid-range distances. I’ve made it up to 10 miles using a belt with 2 bottles without refilling. This is what I have used for every marathon I have run thus far, but not for my first ultramarathon.
- Many of these have 2 bottles. This gives you the option to have water in one and an electrolyte/carb replacement in the other.
- Bottles are also easily refillable at aid stations. Pack with ice on really hot days!
- Typically also have a pocket to hold small personal items, like your phone, car key, and nutrition.
- These do tend to slip a bit, so it takes some time during the run to make adjustments before the belt settles, which is a process that has to be repeated every time you access the pocket, it seems.
- These are, by far, the most expensive option.
- Best for long runs, especially double digits, and even more especially for unsupported long runs.
- It’s a great idea to try these on in person, as there are many manufacturers, and they are all cut differently.
- Most provide lots of storage for your phone, an additional bottle if you need an electrolyte/carb replacement as well, and nutrition.
- I have recently invested in my own hydration pack, and I’m pleased with my purchase thus far. Just like my other hydration gear, mine is made by Nathan.
- These typically come with a bladder that you must care for to keep it clean. This is why I only use water in the bladder, to reduce the likelihood of mold growth.
These hydration vessels require some upkeep. Nathan bottles are top rack dishwasher safe, but if you have left your bottles for a while with remnants of any product containing sugar, you may find some slime and possibly unwelcome growth in the bottom of your bottles. This may require some extra attention!
I have two solutions for this:
- Rice method. Take about a tablespoon of dry rice, and add it to the bottle. Add a very small drop of dishwashing liquid and about an inch or so of water, put the lid on, and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. This should clear most of the mold and residue.
- Bottle scrubbies. I found a set of these in the dollar section of Target last year, and I wish I’d bought more! Although they are no longer at Target, they are available for a great price at Kroger. These are basically mini-sponges with a marble inside. Add these to your bottles with a bit of water and a drop of dishwashing liquid, and shake. Works even better than the rice, and easier, too.
Caring for a bladder from a hydration pack includes emptying it, including the line leading to the bite valve, after each use. Try to keep the bladder bag open so that it can dry out between uses.
Another tip with using a bladder: to avoid sloshing, before loading the bladder into your pack, turn the bag upside down, and draw the air out through the bite valve until the water is “sealed.” Place the bladder in your vest like usual. Voila! No more sloshing.
As important as it is to replace water, it’s equally important to replace the salts that you also sweat out during a run. Replacing only water will create an electrolyte imbalance called hyponatremia, causing muscle cramping, fatigue, and headache most typically. If these electrolytes are not replaced, more serious symptoms can develop, including vomiting and confusion, or worse.
The sports nutrition market is saturated with electrolyte replacements (pun intended!), from old school Gatorade, to Pedialyte, to Tailwind. Some also have carbs as well. But what’s right for your running buddy may not be right for you. It takes some experimentation using these during runs to find products that settle with your GI system.
My favorite electrolyte replacement is SaltStick. I personally love their Fastchews. It’s not a drink. It’s a chewable tablet, and comes in several flavors. My favorite is lemon-lime! All but the tart orange are vegan. So easily portable, they basically taste like sweet tarts! Taking 1-2 every 30 minutes or so on a run helps prevent muscle cramps for me. If you aren’t a fan of sweet tarts, SaltStick also makes electrolyte replacements in capsule form; each batch is banned substance tested and are race ready, approved for use in elite competition. I’m biased, since I’m an ambassador, but I only rep products I love and use myself!
Get ready for summer!
As Mother Nature thaws out from winter and ramps up to summer temps, make sure you are ready for warmer runs! If you already own hydration vessels, make sure they are in good condition, do some deep cleaning, and upgrade if you need to. If you have a marathon or ultramarathon in your race plans this year, and you don’t already have a hydration pack, now is the time to invest so you can practice using it long before race day. And if you haven’t found your perfect electrolyte replacement yet, shorter training runs in the beginning of fall marathon training season is the perfect time to figure out what works. Happy running!
Will you be training through the summer for big fall races? I’d love to hear about your race plans!
What’s your favorite hydration vessel?
I’m contemplating writing a part 2 on running in the heat and humidity, discussing best gear to wear and anti-chafing! Update: read part 2 here!
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.