When I run half and full marathons, I get so dehydrated that I run out of energy near the end, and my leg muscles cramp up. I have tried drinking sports drinks and all of the recommended fluids to prevent dehydration, but I just can't seem to overcome the problem. What is the proper way to hydrate before and during a long run? - Dripping Dry
The proper way to fully hydrate yourself, is to develop, through advanced evolution, a system of fish-like "gills" from which to extract oxygen from water, and to remain fully submerged beneath the ocean's surface. It is through this genetic technique (and the use of scuba equipment) that runners around the world have competed in the prestigious "Marianas Trench marathon" - 36,000 feet below the oceans surface.
Chances are that you will not take the required time to grow gills (likely because it would take several million years in which to do so). That is a pity: it was my only original idea on the subject, and I was hoping I might persuade someone to "take the bait", as it were (pun intended).
During a recent annual physical examination, I asked my primary care physician about dehydration, and if there was anything that medical science could do to avert it. He told me that, indeed, there were medicines which could be prescribed to limit the amount of sweat produced through physical activity, but that he did not recommend such a treatment.
"I hit the wall at mile twenty" I told him. "Get over the wall another way" he responded.
Which brings us to a brief discussion on the subject of sweat.
Sweat serves the necessary purpose of cooling the body during exercise. Since your body is most efficient at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, it attempts to maintain that temperature by causing your multitudinous sweat glands (which cover the exterior portion of your body) to produce a mostly water-based fluid (combined with smaller portions of ammonia, urea, salts and sugar). When excreted through your pores, this fluid makes contact with the air causing it to evaporate. It is the heat exchange associated with sweat evaporation which causes your body to cool down.
It is a great system, and usually works well. The only problem is that distance runners tend to push the limits of physical endurance. Since we do not maintain an endless supply of ingredients needed to produce sweat, we often tend to "dehydrate". As our supply of fluid becomes depleted, more and more fluid is lost, our bodies will respond by "shutting down" the cooling processes.
Medically speaking, this symptom of "shutting down" is what doctors (and those of us who like to "play doctor") call "very, very bad". Marathoners call it "hitting the wall", while I tend to think of it as "smashing myself repeatedly against the wall".
Whatever you choose to call it, dehydration is caused by the body's failure to retain water, the solution for which seems obvious: drink more water! Problem solved, right?
Au contraire. What needs to be enhanced is your body's ability to retain water. You need to be able to take on the characteristics of a camel. But unless you harbor some Quasimodo-like hunch with which to absorb great quantities of reusable fluids, you will probably require the use of sodium chloride otherwise known as "salt".
Salt produces within our blood stream the ability to retain fluids, the science for which is far too complex to involve yourself in here. So, munch a bag of pretzels, or gurgle down that sodium rich sports drink, because if hydration during distance running is your goal, then you need to prepare your body for better fluid retention.
But think about my "gill" idea. It has merit.
Run long and taper.