Monday, April 29, 2002

Water: Marathoners' fuel of choice

Experts recommend keeping the tank fairly full before, during, after race

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

        Drinking water before and during a marathon is serious business. What you know about water consumption can improve your race performance or keep you from the finish line.

        How much water should you drink? When is the best time to drink it? These questions sometimes are confusing for beginning runners.

    Hyponatremia can occur when the body saturates with water, causing too little sodium in the blood. This may happen if a runner sweats excessively, loses too much salt and then drinks an excessive amount of water. It is more likely to occur late in a race or even afterward, in hot or humid weather and in longer races (more than 4 1/2 hours).

    Initial signs of hyponatremia are similar to dehydration and can be misdiagnosed. They include lethargy, weakness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, dizziness, unconsciousness. The condition can be fatal.

    Suzelle Snowden, director of the Cincinnati Run Injury Free Program by Jeff Galloway, says hyponatremia is rare and usually generated by a predisposed medical condition.

    “If you are over-hydrating — or think that you might be — it doesn't hurt to pick up a pretzel or a salt tablet to get rid of (the imbalance),” she says.

   Source: Runners' World Magazine

        Suzelle Snowden, director of the Cincinnati Run Injury Free Program by Jeff Galloway, a marathon-training program, says, “during (training) runs of 15 miles and over, we encourage everyone to carry a water bottle and consume 4 to 6 ounces every mile of the run, depending on the heat and humidity.”

        Since January, the Enquirer has been following the progress of Ms. Snowden's “11-minute mile training team” as members prepare to run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon May 5.

        On April 14, Cindy Witt, 40, of Western Hills, completed her first marathon in Athens, Ohio, with her Galloway training team. As suggested by Ms. Snowden, she increased her water consumption during the race.

        "It really did help,” Ms. Witt says.

        Mr. Galloway, training program founder and former Olympic distance runner who lives in Atlanta, offers this rule of thumb: “If you are sloshing (in your stomach), that's enough. When you stop sloshing, start drinking again.”

        Water consumption during a marathon is usually the same as during long practice runs, although most people don't carry water bottles when they race, Ms. Snowden says.

        That's where water stations come in. The Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon is typical of most marathons, in that water is available — but not at every mile.

        “With the cups they give you, by the time you swallow it, you've had about 3 ounces,” Ms. Snowden says. “Double up occasionally (by drinking) one cup and folding another (full) cup at the top to carry along with you” for later.

        “Every time we came across a water station we drank a cup and filled our water bottles,” says marathon veteran Bruce Favret, 51, of Anderson Township, who also ran the Athens marathon. “Everybody in the Galloway program finished under six hours.”

Early "hyper-hydration'

        To get the most benefit from water, Ms. Snowden recommends starting “hyper-hydration” two days before a marathon. “That's when your drinking habits should change drastically. Go for extra hydration. Carry a bottle of water with you and try to do 4 to 6 ounces every hour. You'll be using the restroom a lot, but it's really important to get that (quantity) into your system before the race.”

        She advises cutting back a little on the water the night before the race so you can sleep. On race day morning, consume a half bottle of water with whatever you are eating and another half bottle no later than an hour before the race — “so you won't be (making pit stops) every few minutes during the marathon.”

        Symptoms of too little water consumption (or dehydration) include lethargy, nausea and extreme leg cramps. But sometimes it's hard to know if you are drinking enough water.

        “You can't tell by thirst,” Ms. Snowden says. “That's partly what training is for. You start to get an idea of what your body needs. I see people who don't sweat an ounce, and I see people who are dripping as if they jumped in a river. The latter are definitely going to need (to drink) more water, but people who don't sweat shouldn't get the idea that they don't need to.”

Water, not sports drinks

        Is water a better choice than electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade? Ms. Snowden believes it is.

        “Your body shuts down about half way through (the marathon),” she says. “All your blood is being pulled into your legs and making them work, so there is not a whole lot going on in the belly. We recommend water straight through (a race), and you can use sports gels or bars . . .”

        The need for water consumption doesn't end at the finish line.

        “Its very important to rehydrate after the race, even though you may not be thirsty,” Ms. Snowden says. “You have expended the moisture whether the weather is hot, humid or cold. Get some water right away and drink a lot. From that point on, every two to three hours for the rest of the day, you should be replenishing yourself with water.”

        And that's a good time to add electrolyte solutions, as your system starts to slow down and you can absorb them.

        “That first half hour (after the race) is the optimum time for these solutions,” Ms. Snowden says. ”

New marathon training
        Cincinnati Run Injury Free Program will kickoff its fall marathon training program 7 p.m. next Monday at Fleet Feet Sports, 9525 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash.

        Speaker will be Jeff Galloway, program founder and former Olympic distance runner.

        For information, contact program director Suzelle Snowden, (859) 341-0734, or register online at


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