Getting fluids in without choking, inhaling too much air or spilling most of it down your front whilst running is not an easy task! Here’s a bit of practical advice on how to overcome the issue of drinking on the move during your next marathon…

Starting well hydrated really helps – but that doesn’t mean drink tons of H20!

It’s important that you set off properly hydrated. This can reduce the need to drink during the run itself and it gives you a reservoir of fluids and electrolytes to draw upon when you start sweating.

But starting “well hydrated” definitely doesn’t just mean you should drink loads of water before a race.

Over-drinking can actually cause you to start with your blood electrolyte levels diluted and with a lot of fluid sloshing around in your stomach/bladder. All of which are unlikely to help you race well!

Take this free online Sweat Test for advice on how to start hydrated. 

Master drinking at the aid stations

Most marathons have regular aid stations on the course, enabling you to run without carrying your own drinks. In major marathons these tend to be at least every 3 miles (5km), sometimes more frequently in very hot conditions. These stations tend to offer both sports drinks and water.

Here’s how to nail drinking on the move…

1) Line up on the correct side of the road

No-one benefits from a last minute sideways surge across the path of other athletes, so move across with a couple of hundred metres to spare and try to establish yourself in a gap in the traffic if you can.

2) Slow down for the grab, and make eye contact

Whether volunteers are handing out the drinks, or you’re taking them from a table, it’s a good idea to slow down a bit as you approach ‘the grab’. The loss of time is insignificant but it massively reduces the risk of simply spilling the drink all over the aid station workers, yourself and the pavement!

If you’re being handed a drink by another person, it’s a good idea to make eye contact with them on the approach, maybe even pointing to them to signal your intent so they know they should give the drink to you. A breathless ‘thank you’ as you run off is an optional but often appreciated gesture if you can muster the energy!

3) Squeeze the top of the cup to stop liquid escaping and create a funnel

More and more major events use bottled water and sports drinks on course, which makes the job of drinking on the move much simpler. But, many smaller events will still use paper cups and, if you’re not careful, taking half a dozen steps with an open cup in hand will just result in you throwing the contents all over the place.

Instead of leaving the cup open, an old pro trick is to crush the lid of the cup together to make a very narrow “funnel” opening, from which little liquid can escape, but which allows you to carefully pour some of the fluid into your mouth in a more controlled manor.

4) Don’t rush

Many athletes feel the need to drink the contents of whatever they pick up from an aid station within about 10 metres of collecting it. TAKE YOUR TIME!

Once you have the drink in hand, gather yourself, calm your breathing and take in small sips of fluid over a few hundred meters until you feel you have had what you need.

Do be mindful of where you end up dumping the cup or bottle (different races have different rules and clean up processes) so you’re not littering.

5) Dump the leftover water on your head

There are a few potential benefits to dumping water on your head, especially in hot conditions. If you end up with spare water after an aid station pickup, it may be better to dump it on your head rather than throw it away.

Doing the same with a sports drink is not recommended though, as things can get a bit sticky…

Make sure you rehydrate properly once you’ve finished your race. 

You’ll should be able to top up on the fluids and electrolytes lost in your sweat through the food and drink you normally eat in the hours after the race.

If you struggle with cramp, or feel particularly dehydrated, some more deliberate fluid intake and sodium supplementation might be necessary. Here’s some advice on how to speed up your recovery by rehydrating more effectively.

Written by Andy Blow.