How I Hydrate (Especially Around Hot Desert Runs)

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Since I now live in the desert, the higher altitude fringe of the Las Vegas Valley, I’ve gained a lot of experience in running in these hot and dry conditions. To do well running in these conditions, i obviously had to learn how to hydrate effectively.

Workout hydration is a delicate balance. You need to hydrate to avoid the performance (and possibly health) damaging effects of dehydration. But if you consume more fluid than you need, you’re simply going to end up needing the restroom/toilet too often too soon to be worth the trouble.

Over my years of running I have through trial and error developed a useful approach to hydration that running in the hot Vegas desert has helped me fine tune into a reliable methodology.

It is worth noting that training with some degree of very mild dehydration can be useful for developing aerobic fitness. The line between useful and detrimental is very fine, not to mention the line between proper hydration and needlessly overloading your kidneys and bladder. You also must bear in mind that carrying hydration adds weight to your body and will to some subtle degree slow you down on your run.

Thus I don’t mind being a little “dry” during a training run, whether it’s an easy run, a harder speed workout, or a long run. However, I want to avoid tipping over the edge into performance loss from dehydration.

So, my objective is to go into a training session with a rudimentary amount of pre-run hydration, then hydrate as needed during or after the workout.

My Keys to Hydrating Workouts:

  • Because of the heat, I almost always run early in the morning when temperatures are their most bearable. Sometimes as needed I will run towards sunset, though in Las Vegas temperatures around sunset are still around 100-105°F (~40°C). Such a run is manageable thanks to the setting sun, though a bit more arduous.
  • Before any run in the desert, I make sure to drink 8 ounces of water, equal to about a cup. Any more than this, and I will probably need a bathroom break or my bladder will fill during the run to where it detracts from my focus on the workout. While I could drink less than this, I end up dried out on runs as if I hadn’t hydrated at all. Eight ounces is about right. Cold or room temperature doesn’t matter, though in warm conditions I’d prefer it not be warm water.
  • If the run will last less than an hour and is not a high intensity workout, I don’t bring (let alone consume) any fluid during the run.
  • If the run will last more than an hour, or requires speed or tempo work, I may bring water depending on how much longer than an hour the run will last, whether I’m far from home and won’t have ready access to food, drink, shelter, etc. For speed reps, I typically will bring water no matter what, because I will heat up quickly and need water in short order.
  • If the run will last more than 90 minutes I absolutely will bring water… either a 17oz steel bottle that I carry like a big baton, or my handheld 20oz squeeze bottle. If going on a very long run, beyond 2 hours, I will bring my 2 liter hydration backpack.
  • For longer runs, I’ll consume some of my carried water around 20-30 minutes into the run. After the initial dose, I will drink by thirst, or if 30 minutes have passed since I last took water, whichever comes first.
  • Once the run has ended, I will weigh myself for tracking purposes, then drink 8-10 ounces of cold water (which I keep stored in my fridge) as soon as I can think to do so following the workout. My next goal now is to drink an amount of water equal to my estimated sweat loss, before consuming anything else.
  • Garmin helpfully estimates the amount of fluid and sweat lost during a run. I will use this data to determine if I need to consume another 8-10 ounces of water within a few minutes of that first post-run dose. Typically I lose about 16-18 ounces total and thus will make sure to drink that much.
  • Once I have consumed the needed water to replenish the estimated sweat loss, I then go about my day, perhaps consume recovery food as deemed necessary or useful.
  • Beyond that, I simply drink to thirst. Garmin also provides an estimate of how many cups of water I need total in a day, and I make it a general goal to consume at least that much, though the summer Vegas conditions make adhering to that fairly easy.

This protocol ensures that I start a workout with suitable pre-run hydration, that for longer or harder workouts I stay hydrated, and that following a workout I re-hydrate as needed.

This avoids unnecessary dehydration in an environment (a dry desert) that makes dehydration easy and very dangerous.

Having a solid hydration process reduces not just guesswork but the possibility of error, of not being hydrated, or of over-hydrating and having to run to the restroom. It’s a process I would follow even in ideal balmy 55 degree conditions with more normal humidity, and certainly a process I would follow before a race.

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