Reader to Reader: Drinking on the Run

What's the best way to take on water while on a run? Here's what you thought


Posted: 22 May 2007
by Catherine Lee


Knowing when and how much to drink while on a run is one thing - actually taking on water is quite another. Can you help this week’s questioner master the art and science of hydration?

"During training I haven't been taking water with me, as I've not been going that far and I don't want to carry anything whilst running. Instead I've been making sure I'm topped up and then downing a couple of pints on my return. In my first 10K at the weekend, I went for water at the water stations, and I just couldn't seem to drink it. I slowed to a walk and still coudn't seem to find the co-ordination to get the water from the cup into my mouth and then to swallow. I don't suppose I'm the first person to have come acoss this, but seeing as I intend to keep running, it's something I think I ought to work out how to do! Any words of wisdom?"Helenliz


Your best answers

Taking on water

  • Slow right down
    If I need to take some water and it’s in cups, I walk through the aid station and drink calmly. I've learned it’s quicker to do that than choke myself on the water and lose more time that way. – cougie
  • Master the make-a-spout technique
    If I get a cup of water in a race, I generally tip out half of it, squeeze the cup in the middle to make a spout, sip a couple of mouthfuls, then pour the rest down my back if it’s very hot. For marathons I would generally slow to a walk (you only lose a few seconds) and make sure I drink more. – Happycat
  • Practice drinking while breathing
    If you can manage to pour a little water under your tongue, you can then release it into your mouth when you are ready to swallow (i.e. in between breaths). Otherwise, learning to absorb water through your nose would be a good trick! – Nessie

  • Carry a bottle ...
    Take your own bottle of water if you are likely to need it. You can then drink when you want, you won’t have to slow down to get a cup which you inevitably spill over yourself, and you can always refill it at the stations should you need to. One other thing I do to stop the choke/splutter thing is take a deep breath, hold it briefly, and then take a mouthful of water - this reduces the chances of it going down the wrong way! – NickL
  • ... or invest in a camelbak
    I just bought a two-litre water bag which is worn either around the waist or across the back, and comes with a drinking tube. The concept seems sound - carry the water with you and drink as necessary using a handy straw, no fear of water shortages or need to wait for water stations. – Petedaddy
  • A simple bottle lid can go a long way
    One trick that served me well at London this year - I took the squirty nozzle off the top of a Lucozade bottle and carried it with me. I screwed it onto the water bottle at the drink station and hey presto, I had a bottle I could easily drink from, carry and squirt over myself!. – Edward Collier
  • Experiment on training runs to see what suits you
    I don’t like carrying water, so on a long run I will set out plastic cups of water just outside the house front door and then do laps. It must look odd to see me running up to the house, drinking some water and then running away, but I don't care, it’s better than carrying water. – Wallsend Wanderer

Knowing when to drink

  • Top up your tank before you start
    You should not be taking on water during a 10K, unless it is a searing hot day and you need to splash it on your head. I seem to remember it takes 90 minutes for water you have drunk to actually be available as sweat so you need to drink *before* the race. – B(Ewok’s Mate)
  • Be careful not to drink for the sake of it
    I think you can get too much into a routine of drinking while running even shorter runs. I think the body is more than capable of coping with a little less water. As long as you keep yourself well hydrated in normal day-to-day life a long run should be easy. – Tenderheart Bear
  • Adapt your strategy to suit the conditions
    Drinking during the race will depend on how hot it is. I did one race at 30C and stopped to drink every mile and still lost 2 litres of fluid. I did another in winter, didn't drink anything during the race and was fine. – SleepyLion
  • Everything in moderation
    Moderation and specificity is the key. Drink too much when you're not used to it, and you risk hyponatraemia or at the very least having to stop to pee. Drink too little and you run the risk of dehydration and all that entails - muscle cramp, disorientation... – 99%Chimp
  • Understand what your body needs
    You need to know how fast you lose fluid, which will vary according to conditions. Weigh yourself (naked) before a run, then straight after - the loss of weight will be fluid loss. Do this on a couple of runs, in different conditions/distances and you will know your maximum and minimum requirements. Make sure you drink enough to pee about 300ml pale, straw coloured urine six to eight times during a normal day, and possibly once at night if you are really well-hydrated. It can take up to 24 hours or more to rehydrate if you are not. Your diet (if you eat lots of fruit and veg etc.) will also comprise about 20% of your fluid intake. – TootieA
  • Excess fluid will go straight to your bladder
    I'm not a fan of drinking while racing or when doing a hard fast run. I tend to hydrate well beforehand and stop a couple of hours before. The experts would probably say to take on more, but I find it does me sod all good as I end up having more pee stops, which begs the question how much of it I actually use or need en route. – Little Lizard
  • Trust your instinct
    I work on the principle that if I'm running so hard that I can't grab a cup of water and take a good gulp without spilling it all or choking, I probably don't need the water. For longer races I usually stop drinking a couple of hours before the race, then have a bottle of isotonic drink within 10-15 minutes of the start. This means it doesn't have time to end up in my bladder before the start of the race, and will often be sufficient to see me through a half-marathon. For longer distances, I'll be going more slowly and won't mind slowing down to take a drink. – Velociraptor

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during training I haven't been taking water with me, as I've not been going that far (longest run to date was 80 minutes) and i don't want to carry anything whilst running. Instead I've been making sure i'm topped up and then downing a couple of pints on my rturn.

In my first 10K at the weekend, I went for water at the water stations. Felt I ought to rather than because I was desparate for it. And I just couldn't seem to drink it. I slowed to a walk and still coudn't seem to find the co-ordination to get the water from the cup into my mouth and then to swallow.

The best way to dexcribe it was that I was having to breathe so hard that I couldn't spare the time/energy to get the water in. Resorted to throwing it at myself and managing to swallow what driblled into my mouth.

I don't suppose I'm the first person to have come acoss this, but it did seem a bit odd to say the least. Seeing I intend to keep running, it's something I think I ought to work out how to do! Any words of wisdom?
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:02

No - you're not alone. I, for one, have nearly drowned myself in cups of water while racing on a number of occasions.

Only advice really is not to try and drink when you're breathing so hard its impossible - the good news is that if you really need a drink, it'll be in a longer race when you probably won't be going so fast. Slowing down into the water station helps as does having a brief walk if you really need the drink. You can also squeeze the top of the cup to form a sort of spout to stop it going everywhere which helps.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:14

...simple piece of advice...take your own bottle with water in if you are likely to need it.

You can then drink when you want, dont have to slow down to get a cup which you inevitibly spill ove ryourself, and you can always fill it at the stations, should you need to for subsequent drinks?
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:25

Best thing for a 10k is don't bother - unless it's really baking hot you don't need water for that kind of distance.

If you are running longer and need a drink then walk through the water station - you'll lose about 3-4 seconds but if you need a drink then it's worth it. If it's bottles then you can drink on the run.

Some people will say you can squash a cup and then drink from it whilst running.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:35

i heard on someone who carries a straw and sticks it in the cup to sup it up!?!

id give that a go myself as i usually end up flinging the water in my eye and running on.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:39

I'm in the choke, sputter, spill then don't bother camp, guess I need more practice
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 12:53

if I get a cup of water in a race and need to drink on the run then I generally tip out half of it, squeeze the cup in the middle and make a spout and sip a couple of mouthfuls and then pour the rest down my back if its very hot.

For marathons I would generally slow to a walk (you only lose a few seconds) and make sure I drink more.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 13:02

Thanks for the replies, so glad it's not just me. Blackbird, you've described it perfectly!

I felt like a bit of an idiot, spluttering with a cup of water, but it felt really odd. I did slow to a walk, and it still felt difficult.

I don't want to have to carry a water bottle, little things like that tend to put me off quite a lot. Looks like I'll have to add drinking practice in if I start going any further! Thanks for the tips.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 13:18

If you can manage to pour a little water under your tounge, you can then release it into your mouth when you are ready to swallow (i.e. in between breaths).

Otherwise, learning to absorb water through your nose would be a good trick! :o)
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 13:24

you should not be taking on water during a 10K, unless it is a searingly hot day and you need to splash it on your head.

It takes 90 minutes, I seem to remember for water you have drunk to actually be available as sweat etc.

You need to drink *before* the race.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 13:27

I'd not bother in a 10k really, and only in a half it was hot.

If i need to take some water though and its in cups - walk thru the aid station and drink calmly. I've learned its quicker to do that than choke yourself on the water and lose more time that way.

A squeezable bottle can work too - so you jet the water into your mouth rather than suck it. Cant see the straw being useful if you wanna breathe too ?
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 13:36

I only drink on very hot days at 10k races - usually dehydration isn't a problem for the time and distance.

I once inhaled (by accident, not co-ordinating breathing and swallowing) a whole cup of water at a water station in a 10k - and lost a minute coughing my lungs up aferwards.

Not recommended :(
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 14:58

I just bought a 2 litre water bag which is worn either around the waist or across the back, and comes with a drinking tube. I haven't received it yet but the concept seems sound - carry the water with you (2 litres isnt much) and drink as necessary using a handy straw, no fear of water shortages or need to wait for water stations. Anyone else used these?
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 15:16


helenliz, you may find it easier in a race when there are bottles at the water stations. They are a lot easier to drink from without getting soaked ;o)
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 15:22


i also dont like carrying water, so on a long run i will set out plastic cups of water just outside the house front door and then do laps. It msut look odd to see me running up to the house, drinking some water and then running away, but i don't care, its better than carrying water.

alternatively carry money and buy some water on route.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:18

I get a dry mouth due to 'mouth breathing' and carry water to help this even on short runs. I do wonder if some of this not being able to rn with a dry mouth is psychological. I carry a middle sized donot.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:22

to clarify a donot is a donut bottle.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:23

2 litres is 2 kilos to carry.

I've used the backpacks for 20 mile training runs in the summer, but its a bit unnecessary for races in the UK normally.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:32

Worth bearing in mind that the guy who died at FLM suffered from hyponotraemia or whatever you call it.

He'd taken on too much water, essentially.
I think people get too het up about taking on water.

I've gone through plenty of halves without taking on a drop of water.
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:54

I agree !
Posted: 08/05/2007 at 16:56

definately agree with B and cougie


most people drink way to much.

especailly at marathons, where you find people standing on start lines lines with so much water sloshing around in their stomach they are like water bowsers. Then they are gulping down loads of water at every station they come to. Not good.


I guess the need to drink is dependant more on time on your feet and the heat than it is distance, and if pschologically taking a drink in a 10K makes a difference to you then its worth doing providing it is just a few sips and not gulping down litres.

Posted: 09/05/2007 at 12:01

Hi Helenliz

Good question - in fact I've pinched it as this week's Reader to Reader!

Keep the advice coming guys...
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 11:31

One other thing I do to stop the choke/splutter thing is to only swallow when your lungs are full of air...so take a deep breath, hold it briefly then take a mouthful of water...i find that it stops or at least reduces the chances of it going down the wrong way!

Dont hold your breath for too long though (obviously!)
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 11:51

I'm not a fan of drinking whilst racing or when doing a hard fast run. I tend to hydrate well beforehand and stop a couple of hours before, otherwise I'll end up needing p stops.

Only when doing a marathon I'll take on small amounts of water with my gels but not much. At FLM this year due to the heat, I took some on, though ended up pouring most over my head and upper body. I doubt I took on much more than a couple of pints.

When doing a leisurely steady run I may take a 500ml bottle of water, and on a long training run of 20 miles+ I only take about 750 ml to go with gels.

The experts would probably say to take on more, but I find it does me sod all good as I end up having more p stops, which begs the question how much of it I actually use/need en-route.
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 12:15


I took on more water than usual at a half marathon because I didn't feel my training had gone well so I wanted to compensate. Big mistake - too much water meant that I was feeling nauseous towards the end of the run.

I agree with Cougie, B et al. Best to take plenty of water on board well before the race. If its hot take the odd sip or two but tip the rest over you to cool down.
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 13:08

Where did I read - it might even have been RW mag - that it's normal practice now among the elite Kenyans to race slightly dehydrated?
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 13:43

I drink very rarely when running, as I get stitches very easily.

When it's really hot I carry a circular running bottle, but I tend to get pain in my forearm later in the day where I've been sub-conciously gripping the bottle too hard!
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 14:38

Also useful is to learn thru training. I would agree with others that in a 10k race water is not needed. That applies up to a half, except as Cougie and others have pointed out, if it is hot weather, or you are over say the 2 hour mark. I only take liquid if I am training over the 12 mile mark.

On the hyponatraemia thing I suffered from it at Lochaber 2/3 years ago and learnt a valuable lesson. DON'T DRINK TOO MUCH! I would also rather be slightly dehydrated than go through that again! Scarey!
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 14:42

Stitches and water - have others found that too?

I got a really bad double-sided stitch during my fastest half marathon last year (and it was hot), just after downing some water.

I assumed it was the water - but glad to hear others have same experience. I had to stop and do all the anti-stitch things, which thankfully got rid of it in about 20 seconds.

No water in a 10k, unless it's from a hose, or from a cloud!
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 15:27

Surely it really depends on the person and how they've trained.

Like a lot of others forumites, I carry some water with me on long runs, but only about 500mls (in a plastic bottle with a sports bottle top, which I can dump in a bin when empty, saving the top for another day) but it's not usually enough and end up dehydrated like the dead sea scrolls. I don't bother with water on runs less than 75 mins.

In 10ks it depends on the day, but I usually like a sip or two to refresh my mouth and wash all the gunk away (think of a dozing boxer dog and you get the idea).

In halves, I usually take a few sips but one long drink with a gel at the mid point.

Marathons - about 4 long drinks with gels but lots of sips. But I do find it difficult to resist the temptation at well provisioned runs (Like London or NYC)!

Never had a problem with stitches and drinking, but then I do train to drink on the run.

Moderation and specificity is the key - drink too much and you're not used to it, and you risk hyponatraemia or at the very least having to stop to pee. Drink too little and you run the risk of dehydration and all it entails - muscle cramp, disorientation, waking up to St Johns bod looking at you etc (and stomach cramps if you use gels).

Golly, it's dangerous this running lark...
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 16:58

Chewing Gum!

Like many people have already said, there's not much point in drinking water during a 10K race. The only time I use it is to throw it over my face!

I've found that chewing gum during 10K keeps moisture in your mouth and thus you don't feel dehydtrated.
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 20:00

In races I use the spout approach if its a cup. Bottled water's ok with a sports top but I've found it impossible to drink on the run if they give you an open-topped bottle. A friend suggested tipping the water into my hand and then putting in my mouth but I haven't had to chance to try that yet.

I also don't like to carry anything and have found that a waist belt gives me backache while the bottle is full (I think I change my posture slightly. Now I'm up to 14 miles for my long run I'm beginning to consider shoving water in a hedge ahead of time but then I've got the problem of disposal unless its dustbin day (no litter bins out in the lanes).
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 21:51

I bought a running water bottle out of JJB sports to replace the last water bottle I had as I have to carry water when training in case my dog needs a drink. It was £3 and its dinky enough to hold just enough water without being cumbersome like some bottles. It slips over your hand (and it washes okay in the dishwasher)

After hitting two water stations in the GNR with no water a couple of years back I'd rather carry it with me. Its easier to learn to get a drink out of the sports bottle than cups. If you don't spill it down yourself you nearly drown in it!

I take inhalers for asthma and no matter how much I take in board before a race I always need water before a water station. Side effect of one of the inhalers I think.
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 22:26

The water bottle seems to have become something of a fahion accessory to many runners. I have never found a drink necessary on a run of less than 10 miles unless the weather is very hot, and by missing out the drink stations in 10K's you usually gain a place or two!
Posted: 15/05/2007 at 23:31

I naturally need a lot of water during my normal daily activities otherwise I get headaches. So hydration for me is a big issue.

I have never trained with water and I usually only use the cups to wet my mouth (and chest as my aim isn't too good when running) during 10K races. However, I want to complete a half this year which will take me 2 hr 30 min at least at my current speed, so I feel that I must try water.

I don't want to carry a bottle in training as it upsets my gait but races aren't the best time to try something new. Any suggestions?

I add a pinch of water to my post-run water if it is hot. This helps replace lost salt without having to resort to energy drinks (I don't need the energy for the distances that I am currently doing).
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 08:34

Supercaz have you tried a water bottle belt? They do feel a bit strange at first but you do get used to them.

If you are training for a half this year, then most half marathons will have 3 to 4 water stations about 3 miles apart. You could do loops and return to a set point and take water then or leave water along a route if you couldn't stand repeating loops.
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 09:19

i've always found carrying water difficult and end up with lower arm cramps. on my longest training runs of 20+ i do a double loop around my home and leave a water bottle outside. i pick up the bottle, run up and down the road whilst sipping and the plonk it back again. the neighbours are used to it now. i think you can get too much into a routine of drinking whilst running even shorter runs. i think the body is more than capable of coping with a little less water. as long as you keep yourself well hydrated in normal day to day life a long run should be easy.
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 09:25

The only advice that I can offer is to check what is in the cup before you use it. At the Bristol half a few years ago I poured what I thought was a cup full of water over my head. It turned out to be Gatorade and stung like a bastard when it went in my eyes.
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 09:33

I work on the principle that if I'm running so hard that I can't grab a cup of water and take a good gulp without spilling it all or choking, I probably don't need the water.

For longer races I usually stop drinking a couple of hours before the race, then have a bottle of isotonic drink within 10-15 minutes of the start. This means it doesn't have time to end up in my bladder before the start of the race, and will often be sufficient to see me through a half-marathon. For longer distances, I'll be going more slowly and won't mind slowing down to take a drink.

At FLM this year I probably had about a litre of Lucozade Sport and rather less water, and that was plenty.
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 10:03

I hate stopping in a race, I can never get started again, and those lost seconds all add-up. For halfs + I carry a bottle on a belt of about 500ml of juice (any more and the weight starts to be an issue). I supplement that with getting a couple of sips from a cup of water at every station using the spout approach, then pouring the rest over my head. My feeling is that if it reduces the amount I have to sweat even just a bit, then that's less fluid that will be lost, and so less is actually required. BTW, I learnt to my cost it's not such a good idea to pour cups of juice over your head...
Posted: 16/05/2007 at 11:39

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