There’s no need to overthink hydration for a short jog, but if you’re running long distances, you’ll need to hydrate before the workout is over. (The American Council on Exercise recommends 7-10 ounces (200-300 ml) of water every 15 to 20 minutes, although that may be overkill if you’re not sweating a lot.) So where do you get all that water while you’re on the move?
The simplest solution is to carry a water bottle, but your hand may tire out before your run is over (or you may just get annoyed at having to hold it that long.) The kind of belt that carries your phone usually isn’t built to hold a water bottle alongside it, and even if it were, you’d have to worry about sloshing. So how do distance runners do it? It turns out you have plenty of options.
Wear a hydration pack
Hydration packs like Camelbak are probably the best-known solution for this problem. You wear a backpack or vest that includes a flexible plastic bladder that you fill with water, and a hose connects to the bladder and acts as a straw. You can grab a sip of water while you’re on the run, and since the capacity is larger than a water bottle (2 litres, for example), you also don’t need to worry about refilling.
This is a great option for people who will be away from water sources for extended periods of time, like if you’re going on a trail run or a hike where you’ll be in the woods for hours. Some packs are minimalist and only include the water bladder, but others have pockets or even double as full-fledged backpacks.
Get a water bottle with a strap
Don’t need that much water? A bottle is a cheaper and more convenient way to carry water. Search for “handheld” water bottles, and you’ll find models like this that include a strap to attach the bottle to your hand so you don’t have to actually grip it.
Fancier models often include pockets, like this one that has a clear pouch for your phone.
Try a hydration belt
OK, so maybe you’d prefer to have your water bottles on your belt instead of in your hands. There are hydration belts that are made to fit snugly (no bouncing!) while carrying usually two or four mini bottles. The smaller bottles allow the belt to stay balanced, and they also let you carry a variety of liquids if you like; one bottle of water and one of Gatorade, for example.
I ran with a four-bottle FuelBelt when I trained for my marathon, and it was easy to forget I was wearing it. I removed two of the bottles for runs that weren’t too long or when I knew I could refill on the road.
Stash a bottle somewhere
Now let’s take a look at some of the options that don’t involve carrying water the whole time you’re running. As a bonus, these are (mostly) free.
First up, you can stash a water bottle along your route. This works best if you run a loop, and if you’re in a place where you feel safe leaving the bottle and expecting it to still be there when you return.
A busy city park? Maybe not. An out-of-the-way spot in the woods? Sure. Better yet, plan your route to loop back to your house or your car. For a long run, consider if you might be able to stash some water in friendly territory like your workplace or a friend’s porch.
Plan your route around water sources
When I was doing a lot of long-distance runs on the trails of a county park, I could have told you the location of every single water source in the park, and told you which ones are fountains, which are taps where you can fill a bottle, and which ones stay on even in the dead of winter. (I also had an encyclopedic knowledge of the porta-potty locations.)
If you’re relying on certain water fountains to be there for you when you’re thirsty, scout them out beforehand to make sure they’ll actually have water. In cold climates, pipes can freeze in the winter, so park staff will often turn off outdoor fountains. There’s also always a possibility that a fountain marked on a map may not be in good repair, especially out in the woods. Bring some water as a backup if you’re not sure.
If you’re running in an urban setting, it’s helpful to know where you can find public buildings that you can duck into and find a water fountain (and maybe even a bathroom). Or carry some cash so you can buy a water bottle at a convenience store.
How to decide
If you run long enough, you’ll probably use all these strategies eventually. If you’re overcome with indecision, start with the easiest and cheapest options. Are there reliable water sources along your favourite routes? Take advantage. If not, see if you can run a loop and stash a bottle. But if you’d rather wander and explore, a handheld water bottle with a strap gives you plenty of freedom without breaking the bank. (You could even rig up your own strap with duct tape or elastic, if you’re crafty.)
Serious trail runners pretty much all buy a hydration pack or belt (or both!) eventually. If that’s the way your long runs are headed, consider how much water and other gear you’ll need to carry, and choose the right model for your needs.