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Hydration Tips From 26 Strong

Marla Brizel is training for her first marathon this fall, but she’s far from a novice. The 26-year-old from Chicago has been running for about two years, and before that she was a regular cyclist. The idea of keeping properly hydrated during long bouts of exercise isn’t news to her.

Yet when she ran the Chicago Women’s Half Marathon in June, she ran into some real problems.

“I took extra care to hydrate well all week, but I still had a meltdown at about mile nine,” she says. Her second half of the race was 10 minutes slower than the first, and she ended up in the medical tent immediately after the race “Aside from not being acclimated to the hot weather, I think I learned that aid stations are not enough by themselves to stay hydrated on a hot day. It’s probably a good idea to carry a small handheld in longer hot races.”

Marla’s training for her first marathon as part of the Saucony 26 Strong project, a collaboration between Competitor and Saucony that pairs a veteran runner with a first-timer to train for a fall marathon. And while she recovered quickly from the incident, it’s a good reminder that hydration and nutrition during a long event is something that requires constant vigilance—even for those veteran runners.

“The best tip I can give people is to get ahead of the curve,” says Kate DeProsperis, a Saucony 26 Strong veteran from Downers Grove, Ill., who ran in the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. “Take in fluids and nutrition before you need it.”

DeProsperis learned this lesson all too well at the California International Marathon in 2010 when trying to qualify for the trials. “I had gone out at a fast pace, the weather was nice and cool and I made the rookie mistake of avoiding some of the early water stops in order to keep things rolling and avoid any time delays,” she says. “Around the halfway point a wave of light headedness came over me. I immediately started throwing back gels and extra water but it was too late.” She ended up running 3 minutes off the qualifier.

“I learned a valuable lesson,” she says.

Almost every veteran runner among the Saucony 26 Strong team had a similar story of past mistakes. “At my most recent marathon it rained much of the morning and was very cool,” says Laura Dempsey Watertown, Mass. “I didn’t feel as thirsty as I normally would so didn’t take in as much fluid and electrolytes. Halfway through the race my legs began cramping and I slowed down a lot. I may have had a much different run if I recognized my need to hydrate more earlier on.”

Veteran runners offers these tips for hydrating during a long run:

Have a plan and stick to it. “The best thing I did with my nutrition during training was to eat and drink on my long runs the exact way I was planning to do on race day,” says Sal Nastasi of Massapequa Park, N.Y. “I knew exactly how my body would react on race day.”

Get your electrolytes. You need more than water, especially on hot days. Make sure to have an electrolyte drink (like Gatorade) in addition to water.

Start hydrating early. Katie Oglesby of Littleton, Colo., offers this suggestion: “I buy a sports drink in a disposable bottle and start the race with it,” she says. That way you can avoid the crowds at early aid stations and make sure you drink the whole thing. Just dispose of the bottle when you’re finished and you don’t have to run with empty bottles.

Get fueled before you start. Gael Henville of Boston led a group of novices for long runs this winter. “Some were running without eating breakfast or with very little fuel,” she says. “There were numerous complaints of cramping, hitting walls, loss of interest and so on.” Don’t start your run already in deficit.

To view the 26 Strong home, click here.