The River to River relay race is coming up this weekend for all the hardcore, dedicated runners from all around the Midwest, and probably the biggest topic discussed about running is injuries – both acute and chronic – although for runners, chronic injuries tend to be the most prevalent. Whether you have dealt with Achilles’ tendonitis, plantar fasciitis or other chronic injuries, getting back to running is key for not only physical, but mental and emotional health, too.
Other issues runners deal with, and have developed method after scientific method to try to prevent, involve hydration and nutrition. I’ve written before about some tried-and-true methods of fueling for your race, but not about relays – where one member may even be running multiple legs, separated by rides in a 15-passenger van with a quick bottle of water or energy gel before hitting the road again.
Like everything else, there is no singular “right” way to do things, and often it takes some experimentation in the training stages. To minimize the chance of injury, the best practice is to prepare!
1. Make sure you are properly hydrated before starting. If you’re dehydrated before running your first leg of the race, your body will be trying to play catch-up all day, and that’s not a recipe for your best performance.
2. Make sure you have fueled up with a good breakfast. For some people, it’s a bagel with peanut butter or a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Whatever it is that works best for you, make sure you don’t skip this most important meal of the day.
3. Rehydrate and refuel between legs of the race. For some people, that means a Clif bar or a GU energy gel with water or Gatorade. For others, it’s a Subway sandwich or a banana with Pedialyte or coconut water.
Again, I can’t stress enough that practicing and refining your strategy during training sessions is the best way to make these decisions and design your fueling plan. Many athletes choose to drink sports drinks – like Gatorade or Powerade – during their sports, but endurance sports – like running or cycling – have different demands and stresses on the body during competition. Yes sports drinks replenish electrolytes, and they provide much needed carbohydrates, but the concentration of sugar in them in relation to the water and electrolytes may actually slow the absorption, and can cause belly-aches in some people.
Does that mean you should kick your sports drink habit to the curb? Not necessarily. Some folks do just fine with it, and if you’re one of those people, then more power to you! If you are one of the people who can’t drink Gatorade during endurance events, there are other options. A lot of athletes swear by Pedialyte – you know, the drink you give to kids when they have a stomach virus. This is just like a sports drink in that it will help replenish your spent electrolytes, but it doesn’t have all the sugar that makes you feel sick. The one drawback is that it’s a little expensive – even if you get the generic brand.
Another option some athletes swear by is coconut water; in fact, coconut water is kind of the trendy thing to drink right now. No, not coconut milk – that’s from the meat of the coconut, scraped out and pressed, and full of fat (and often sugar). Coconut water is the stuff on the inside of the coconut that spills out when they cut it open. It is roughly the same pH as blood, and was used as a war-time IV fluid in World War II. Coconut water is great for replenishing fluids and electrolytes without all the unnecessary sugars, and it’s cheaper than Pedialyte.
Whatever you choose to use to stay hydrated and fueled – whether this weekend or any other – make sure you’ve got a plan. If it’s race day, and you don’t have a plan, good luck! I would recommend you give coconut water a try, and bananas are a pretty simple snack that give you some more carbs and electrolytes.
Shout out to Jim Olsen, who I consulted for this blog, and good luck to the Yellow Donkeys this weekend! As for me…maybe next year…
Chris is a Southern Illinois transplant from Beckley, West Virginia. He attended Radford University in Radford, Virginia, and received his Bachelor’s in Athletic Training in 2008. Chris has several years experience in various industrial and occupational healthcare settings including injury prevention and management within the coal mining, tire manufacture, warehouse, office, and hospital industries. Chris has additional certifications and specializations in ergonomics assessment, physical demands analysis, essential functions testing, and corrective exercise. In addition to his professional certifications, Chris also has specialized training in Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization and Fascial Movement Taping.
Chris provides athletic training coverage to Southeastern Illinois College, Eldorado High School, Gallatin County High School, Galatia High School, and Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, disc golf, and finding creative ways to work bacon into healthy dishes.