Hydration and Energy Management

What I did wrong —

This past weekend, I ran in my second annual miniMarathon. As usual, the weather was less than cooperative. A 30-minute delay turned into a one hour delay, and ended up being a two hour delay. I learned some very hard lessons through this experience.

First, let me walk you through my typical running preferences.

I like to run fasted. If I eat anything substantial within about two to three hours of my run, I will feel horrible. One time in high school, I ate Long John Silvers’ hush puppies before a track meet. Let me just say that didn’t end well for me! Things haven’t changed much over the years, as I still feel better if I don’t have anything on my stomach.

I have found that I can run just about any distance in a fasted state, as long as it’s first thing in the morning. Up until about 9am, I’ve been able to do my 10 and 11-mile runs without problem. After 9am, I find that I need to plan to eat a light breakfast to fuel my body for the run.

That obviously didn’t work out this past weekend, since we were at the starting gate off and on from 7:45am to 9:20am.

As for hydration, I don’t have any trouble running early in the morning without hydrating. I do tend to spend the entire day and evening before those runs drinking plenty of water, though. So, I’m probably still well hydrated even when I wake up. This also only lasts until about 9am, and is very dependent on the heat index. Running before 9am in my area of the country usually means running in sub-70 degree temperatures. That’s pretty cool, so sweating is very efficient and water loss is less significant.

This past weekend didn’t play well to my hydration parameters, either. It was almost 70 degrees when we started the race, and I only had a cup of coffee to drink at 7am.

Two things kept me distracted enough not to think about changing my preparations for a later start. First, the delays trickled in every 15–30 minutes, so I kept expecting to start any moment.

Second, my checkout time at the hotel was 11am, which became a problem as 9am approached. I ended up running back to the hotel to check out when I heard the start time was pushed back to 9am. Since I planned to finish in just under 2 hours, I knew I wouldn’t have time to make it back before they charged me for another night’s stay.

The result —

The result of these missteps? I totally crashed at mile 11.

It was bad.

By bad, I mean I immediately realized that I was dehydrated and completely wiped out. My limbs were tingling and my muscles were aching so badly, despite the fact that I was breathing just fine.

I had started hitting the water and Powerade hard about mile six, because the temperature was rising. It was too little, too late at that point — I just didn’t know it yet.

By the time I crossed the finish line, I could barely stand up straight. In fact, I stopped to take a picture and almost fell over! It wasn’t pretty.

So, what did I learn?

Everyone knows that hydration is very important, but you don’t realize how vital it is until you get dehydrated.

Next year, I plan to wake up early and start hydrating regardless of the start time. I’d rather have to stop and use the porta-potty three times than end up where I was this year.

I also plan to wake up early and eat a light breakfast. I’m planning to purchase some of the high calorie gel packets to take to the start line, too. That way, if we get delayed for two hours again, I can eat one of those right before we start.

My example from this year’s race is a cautionary tale. Fueling and hydrating your body should be top priority.

Here are some preparation tactics that I have used:

  1. Drink as much water the day(s) before the race as possible.
  2. Eat a healthy dinner the night before, with emphasis on complex carbohydrates.
  3. Drink 12–16oz of water in the hour before the run.
  4. Eat a light breakfast on the morning of the run. Experiment with how much/what kind of foods are most comfortable.
  5. Try energy gels or jelly beans before and during the run. Experiment with how much/how often they are needed for best results.

How about you? Have you ever had this type of experience? What strategies/tactics do you use to prepare for a race?

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