Friday, May 21, 2010

A Hypochondriac's Adventures in Hydration

I've read that distance runners are supposed to keep tabs on their water needs by weighing themselves before and after their long runs. The idea is that once they see how many pounds they've lost, they're supposed to pound water until they get back to their pre-run weights. I'm oversimplifying, but bear with me.

So after running 11 miles in about 2 hours this afternoon, I discovered that I'd lost 5.5 pounds. Clearly my body needed me to mainline water, and right away.

I guzzled two pints and then jumped back on the scale hoping to see a two-pound gain that matched the 32 ounces I'd swallowed in a heroically quick fashion. Instead I was down another .7 pounds.

So what the scale was telling me was that 32 ounces of water had netted into a roughly 11.2 ounce loss. Interesting. It occurs to me that if I could find a way to make scales work like this with chocolate, I'd be so rich I could set up a trust fund for Grub Street and bag this whole marathon thing. But back to the scale.

Because two pints of water didn't do the trick, I downed a third. This time the 16 ounces I drank showed up as 4.6 pounds gained. Encouraged, I tried to drink a fourth pint, but my stomach gave a mutinous flip about halfway through, so I sloshed over to the scale to see the bad news: defying the laws of physics, I was down and additional .1 pounds. I tried to force myself to keep drinking, but by the time I finished my fourth pint, I seriously needed to sit down or risk puking up the half gallon of water I'd poured down my gullet over the last ten minutes.

Sitting at my computer to see whether I could fight off my stomach's urge to eject all that water, I got to thinking. Hadn't I heard somewhere that too much water can kill you just as easily as too little? A quick Google search on the totally objective phrase "can too much water kill you?" confirmed the worst of my fears right there in the headline:

The facts you need to save your life

Here was a whole page devoted to hyponatremia. The scoop? Basically when you drink way too much water you wash the salt right out of your system, your brain swells up, and you die. But that's a loose translation. And I'm a hypochondriac.

So never mind about my dubious research methods or my total failure to try and confirm that this Web site was anything approaching a trustworthy source. One quick look at the symptoms at the top of the listNausea! Vomiting!and I was convinced that I may well have drunk myself to a watery death.

But then I let out the most ladylike little burp, and the nausea passed. Phew! My brain was probably not gonna swell up on me any time soon, but I decided to be liberal with the salt in my post-run meal just in case.

Now, it's pretty clear I was in no danger of actually developing hyponatremia, but I did lose 5.5 pounds of water weight while I ran today (and yes, I'm willfully ignoring the possibility that my scale may be a wee bit wonky). Which means I'm just not drinking enough while I'm running. But I knew this. The training book I'm following recommends that runners drink 6-8 ounces of water for every 20 minutes they're out. But that seems absurd to me. What do they expect me to do? Swap out my Red Sox cap for a beer hat I can use to sip water? A few weeks ago, I bought a belt for a bottle that holds maybe 24 ounces, and I consider that purchase a coup.

My compromise so far has been to drink as much as I can before and after a run and make my way through one bottle of water during the longest distances I do in a week. Is it dangerously naive of me to hope that's enough? And that's not a rhetorical question, either. I'm honestly asking for advice...

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at


  1. I drink 3 quarts a day of ionized water. You sure can’t drink this all at once. Our family has an IE-500 unit from Hydroanalytics. I recommend kangen ionized water for effective sports hydration. This is a site on Facts & Fallacies which may be of interest
    Proper hydration doesn’t drain your purse and can help with joint problems too.

  2. And I thought figuring out how to carry the water was hard enough! Now I have to worry my tap water isn't space age enough. Who knew running was so complicated?