Hydration & Water

Drink up.

Skin 4 Hydration Vest

As the summer runs get longer (and hotter) I’ve picked up a new bit of gear to assist with the ever-present runner’s dilemma: hydration.

I don’t think I need to write too many words on the subject of why water is important to … um … being alive, but certainly the effort of carrying enough fresh water (or other fluids that both fuel and hydrate) on a long distance run is a complex challenge for anyone who is out there on the trails.

Water, of course, is heavy and clumsy.

A bottle in the hand is something that needs to be carried, balanced, and on the trails two free hands are more useful than one might realize. On a short run taking a small bottle along is just fine, but an hour into a longer run the last thing I want to be carrying is a half-full plastic bottle that’s sloshing around in my hand.

I’ve used water belts in the past, but sloshing along with a couple plastic containers on your hip is a moderate inconvenience. And I have yet to do a race a not see multiple dropped belt-bottles littering the course, usually in the first five hundred meters of the race when someone’s carefully planned hydration plan is now just garbage and an obstacle for the next hundreds of people who run by.

I’ve tried a couple hydration packs in the past, the key differences from a hydration vest being the kinds of shoulder straps and the location of pouches. A pack is basically a light backpack with a water pouch. And my biggest problem with my previous pack solution was that usually within ten kilometers into a run I was running with my thumbs hitched up under the thin straps to limit the whole apparatus from that chafe-inducing jostling that was already well underway.

Last week I pried open my wallet and ordered myself what is probably the sports-car-equivalent of hydration solutions: a Salomon Skin 4 Hydration Vest, a snug fitting, light-weight, multi-pocket four-liter backpack-slash-vest designed to hold water bottles, a water bladder, gel packs, cell phones, car keys, and whatever else a distance runner might need quick access to while on the trails.

The new pack arrived yesterday and I wore it for our regular Wednesday evening adventure run.

The advantage of this pack, or so the logic of the purchase goes, is that it is snug. I have no honest comparison, but I assume it’s a little like wearing a sports bra overtop of a running shirt. This tight fit is both deliberate and a feature. It keeps the whole system from moving, shaking, jostling, and rubbing, and is meant to wear comfortably and securely for hours of running while keeping the hands free for trail navigation.

Our adventure run took us deep into some rolling river valley trails, the kind of terrain where your legs are slapped by branches as bumble through the trails and as you scramble up over steep dirt paths, grabbing onto tree stumps and protruding roots. I only carried a bit of water, as it was a short sub-ten kilometer run, but a set of car keys, my wallet and an iPhone tucked neatly into the pack and

… well … success!

I barely noticed the pack after the first few minutes.

A better test will come this weekend, as temperatures creep into the mid-30s Celsius and our distances move into the longer-than-a-half-marathon slogs through that same heat. I can’t say I’m not nervous about both the heat and the mileage, but at least now I’m pretty certain I won’t die of thirst.

The Haunting Hassle of Hopeful Hydration

December 16, 2015

Or, five tasty things I drink to escape the cool, refreshing icy-death grip that soda has on my life.

I fight to drink enough water.

I have great intentions and I know the benefits, but as a guy who –up until about five years ago– got most of his fluids from sugary beverages, switching to simple water has been one of the most challenging aspects of this fitness journey. Soda, pop, cola, fountain drinks… whatever you call them, they may not be the general pariah that drugs or smoking or numerous other addictions have been so labelled. Yet prying them out of your diet fully, completely & forever seems –to me, at least– to be a daily and conscious effort.

Thus, I’ve been experimenting with finding a satisfying substitute for a cold glass of pop.

And that’s the key really: satisfying. Because while it may seem like a first-world problem and a trivial factor, there are folks like me who understand that while rationally accepting water as the ideal replacement for soda is fine, there are moments of weakness when rationality is toppled to the ground by the raw, insatiable need for something nostalgic and emotional. Sweetness triggers the emotional side of quenching thirst. It invigorates memories of youth and fun and innocence. Plus, pop is conveniently sold around every corner of my life, in the vending machine a few dozens steps from my desk, and every time I go to buy lunch someone asks if I’d like a can of something with that. I say no thanks, but drinking fewer calories suddenly, abruptly, painfully becomes a real effort. In other words, addiction is a helluva-thing.

And to top it off, water is swell, but it doesn’t have that emotional kick to replace the big soda-shaped hole in my life.

I’ve been working with a few options to keep myself hydrated despite my irrational snobbery of plain old H20…

1. Fruit

Eating more fruits and veg may seem like a no-brainer, but when you work in an office building and the nearest grocery store is eight blocks away, fresh produce is either rare or something that is expensively purchased piece-by-piece from a convenience store.

a snack and some fluid wrapped into one

Actually, there is a little fresh lunch market that’s about a five minute walk from my desk, and occasionally I’ll wander over there and buy what should be called The Most Expensive Fruit Cup in the World® which ends up costing me about four dollars for a little plastic beaker of chopped fruit, which I squirrel back to my chair and munch on. It’s a snack and some subtle hydration wrapped into one.

2. Tea

I’ve heard mixed analysis of this: y’know, that anything with caffeine is a diuretic… that it makes you pee more and so negates the hydration effect of what you’re aiming for by drinking it in the first place. But then I’ve also read that you need to make that tea pretty strong to create a real reverse drag on your hydration with caffeine, so… shrug.

as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd

The thing is that I’m a morning coffee drinker, so once I get through my morning Joe, I’m much more apt to turn to tea to get me through the rest of the day. My wife is a tea drinker, and having spent almost two decades with her I’ve learned to drink tea in her style: as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd. Actually, it’s a bit stronger than I’m implying, but it’s hardly the stand-up strong of English-style tea. In effect, it’s hot flavoured water.

3. Diluted Sports Drinks

a lightly flavoured watery brew

We’ve all heard that sports drinks are pretty much salty, sweat-flavoured soda, so I will eagerly admit that drinking these is not an ideal replacement for water. However, as I’ve learned with much experimentation, there is a sweet-spot (so to speak) in the mix-your-own powdered variety. This is the point to where you can dilute it to about one-tenth to one-fifth the recommended concentration (I just eyeball it so I can’t provide a more accurate measure) and the result is a lightly flavoured watery brew that (for soda junkies like me) is more palatable that plain water but only has about 25-50 calories per litre.

Mathematically speaking, it’s cheaper and probably fewer calories than a convenience store banana, at least.

4. Electrolyte Tabs

I’ve recently discovered a new favourite product to assist with this effort (so you just know I’m waiting to find the website that tells me these things are evil somehow!) I’m not trying to endorse anything here, but I’ve been using NUUN tabs for a few months at the rate of about 5 per week. These are unsweetened, very low calorie electrolyte tablets that dissolve in plain water and –all other electrolyte-positive health claims aside– give the water a nice mild flavour that it’s sweet but which has been encouraging me to drink a lot more fluid.

they sell three flavours in the sports store in the mall

The problem with these is more to do with availability and price. They sell just three flavours in the sports store in the mall near my office, and I’m getting pretty bored of them. Plus, the price works out to about sixty cents per tab, which is not quite coffee-expensive, but it can still really start to add up.

5. Lots of Ice

If all else fails, I’ve found the thing that almost —almost— makes boring old water palatable for me: ice. Lots and lots and lots of ice. Really, almost more ice than water, and often with a few drops of lemon juice from one of those little plastic yellow lemon juice shooters.

almost more ice than water

Icy cold water has a distinctly refreshing feel that I will tolerate long enough to get through the better part of a big glass. Not cold. Icy, dripping condensation from the glass, freeze your tongue icy. The problem is more one of convenience then, really, because I don’t really have easy access to lots of ice at work — or when out and about — or when travelling — or when running… unless, of course, I stick my face in a snowbank.

The Emotional Side of Quenching

I get that after reading this many of you are shrugging it off and thinking “just drink water, man!”

But that’s the thing. There is an emotional component to many things: I don’t dislike water, I just have a mild addiction to flavoured drinks because they trigger a flush of good feelings in my brain. I know water is the preferable choice, and I also know I need to keep myself hydrated… but that soda jerk on my back doesn’t care.