Tri Coach Tuesday: Hydration on the Run

by Justin Chester, Tri Coach Colorado


Hydration on the Run, An Overlooked Race Strategy


I have a question for you.  How much do your running shoes weigh?  It’s OK if you don’t know the answer – I don’t know either, I’d have to look it up.  But what if I asked you to add a pound and a half to each shoe during a race, would you do it?  My guess is no.


A few weeks ago, I was out spectating on the run course of an Ironman distance race and I was just amazed at the number of people carrying, not just one, but two 24oz. water bottles in specially designed running vest.  There were countless more athletes that were carrying other hydration packs with bladders that were between 1.5L (50oz.) to 3L (100oz.) in capacity.

At eight pounds per gallon, 48oz. of water weighs 3lbs, and with whatever contraption is being used to contain the water, we’re talking a little over 4lbs.



My question to all of you is why are you choosing to carry so much extra weight with you?

In an Ironman race and as in most triathlons, aid stations on the run are approximately 1-mile apart.  To go between the aid stations that are stocked with water and Gatorade, it will take the fastest athletes about 6-minutes while athletes that may be reduced to walking, about 15-20 minutes.  What I find troubling is that athletes are carrying all of these extra provisions with them as if they’re going to be out for hours without sight of an aid station when in reality they are less than 20-minutes from one (and that’s if they just left one!).


There are some athletes that, through training have found they need special hydration products and since that hydration product isn’t offered on course they need to carry it along.  I still take issue with the amount that they’re carrying and not utilizing the special needs bags effectively (i.e. race strategy).  According to Andrew Dole (friend, Registered Dietitian, and owner of Body Fuel Sports Performance) the majority of people need to consume anywhere between 24-40oz per hour to stay hydrated and I have yet to see an athlete perform that hydration level solely using a sports product.  Instead, they consume some of their hydration product and make up the rest with water.  So again, why would you carry all of that weight along?  Carry one bottle, and then pick up the second bottle at special needs.  At least that saves you a pound and a half.

If I haven’t convinced you to take a long look at the way you hydrate on the run, consider this.  What do you do when the bottles or the bladder is empty and you’re in the final miles of the run, or if it starts to chaff or otherwise become annoying?  During that Ironman, I saw an athlete with a vest take it off and give it to a spectator – this actually is against the rules (abandoning equipment).  If you take it off and put it in special needs bag, you may not get it back (depending on the race, some special needs bags are not returned to the athlete).  There is the option of throwing it in the trash, but we love our equipment and that’s just not palatable for most.

Here are a few things athletes can work on to ditch the water bottles or at least minimize the amount of weight that they’re carrying.

  • Do your research on what the on-course nutrition is and do your best in training to assimilate to using it. Personally I’m not a fan of Gatorade Endurance, but if it’s between that and carrying 4+ extra pounds, I’m choosing to go light.
  • If you have to carry your own special blend, determine if that manufacturer makes the equivalent of their product in a gel form – if so, then you can use the gel with the on-course water to get the same effect. Carry gels weighs less than carrying hydration.  And gel wrappers go in the trash and do not constitute abandoning equipment
  • If you absolutely need the special hydration, come up with a plan to carry only the amount necessary to get you to the special needs where you can refill. Don’t carry it all at once.

The running vests and hydration packs are wonderful tools to use during training where rest stops cannot always be planned.  And of course they have a use in ultra-running events where aid stations are rare in numbers and typically spaced out much farther.

I know that triathletes typically are a very meticulous bunch, but my guess is that many didn’t appreciate the tradeoff between carrying their own hydration and using what’s provided on-course.  Hopefully this helps make that decision a bit clearer.


Coach Justin Chester resides in Parker Colorado and is a USA Triathlon Level 2 certified coach.  He also works as the Head Coach of the Parker Triathlon Team. Justin has been involved in sports his entire life having swam in high school and playing golf at the collegiate level before entering the endurance sports world in 2003.  Along with completing four Ironmans, he has also done countless half-Ironman, Olympic, and Sprint distance triathlons. He began coaching after writing out a plan for a friend competing in a Half Ironman event. Coach Justin takes great pride in the interaction he has with his clients and works with athletes of all levels and abilities.