Hydration During a Marathon: Different Schools of Thought

Here’s the problem about advice regarding proper hydration during a marathon: there’s no one correct and accepted method. 

Instead, there are multiple schools of thought on how to properly stay hydrated without being overhydrated.  In a recent New York Times piece, there’s a focus on avoiding drinking too much water, which could lead to the condition called hyponatremia.  Ingesting more fluid than you lose through sweating or urination could dilute your blood’s sodium levels, which could lead to serious, even fatal conditions.  Instead, the article cites recent guidelines from the International Marathon Medical Directors Association to recommend drinking only when you’re thirsty.

This advice probably goes against everything marathoners of all levels have heard.  Indeed, a HealthDay article from this weekend offers differing thoughts from a registered dietitian.  The recommendation was to stay properly hydrated and consume 16 to 20 ounces of water about 2 hours before the race, drink another 7 to 10 ounces of water 10 to 20 minutes before exercise, and take in about 6 to 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.  For activity of longer than an hour, there also should be consumption of a sports drink with 4 to 8 percent carbohydrates. 

In the end, it matters what works for you.  For me personally, I’ve tried drinking only when thirsty as well as drinking on a regular schedule and gotten dehydrated through both methods.  If anyone has a fail-safe method, I’m all ears.

Drinking Alcohol on the Night Before a Marathon

In my months of training for my marathon, I have learned one indefatigable truth: drinking a lot of alcohol on the night before a long run is quite detrimental for your performance.

Sure, there are the typical circumstances that generally accompany consumption of a few drinks, such as possibly being out late and having less sleep.  Then, there are the other adverse physical effects.  Alcohol, of course, is a diuretic, which leads to dehydration.  It causes the body to lose fluids quicker, impairs performance and makes those long runs even tougher.  By extension, drinking alcohol also significantly increases the rate of urination.  There have been times I’ve gone out on long runs (after a night of drinking) and had to stop to use the restroom multiple times.

Not surprisingly, most articles providing advice on running marathons generally discourage drinking on the night before the race.  At the same time, many runners are used to drinking beer or wine on almost a nightly basis.  It can certainly be done.  Witness former U.S. Olympic marathoner Deena Kastor, who used to drink a glass of wine before races, including before her bronze medal performance.  Hey, if it’s good enough for an Olympic bronze medal, it’s good enough for me.  If nothing else, it would help calm the nerves, and, after all, you shouldn’t stop what you have been doing all throughout training right before the marathon.

With that said, it appears to be ok, for those who are used to drinking wine or beer, to have ONE (and only one) glass of wine on the night before the race, particularly having it early in the evening with dinner.  Accompanying the drink with adequate water afterwards is also for the best.  Of course, if my performance during the race is below par or if I end up having to stop for restroom breaks multiple times, I also then have a built-in excuse.

Planning to Address: What to Do When Problems Arise During Marathon

In the midst for training for my marathon, with ambitious (and possibly unrealistic) time goals, I am looking ahead for formulating my official Race Plan.  As a wise man once said, running a marathon under a certain time is just a goal; what you do between the start and 26.2 miles is the Plan.

And of course, while you may hope all goes well, there’s bound to be at least one or more issues that arise during the race.  I’m talking about problems that can hurt your overall finish time or possibly even prevent you from finishing the race for which you’ve spent months training.  These are the types of issues that can derail your goals and dreams.  Fortunately, most every problem has a solution, so long as you plan ahead for all eventualities.

So, here are some of the potential obstacles, in order of what I worry about most, as well as potential solutions for the problems I’ve gleaned through research and consultation with marathon veterans:

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