I tried an interesting experiment today. I asked my social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) to give me their advice on hydration and fueling during long runs. Not surprisingly, they responded quickly and enthusiastically with wildly different answers.

My Question: At what point do you carry water or fuel with you on a run? 30m, 60m, longer?

I first learned that my question had too many points of ambiguity that were quickly pointed out by my online friends. Variables such as temperature, season and intensity were not clarified. And, “m” could be miles, meters, or minutes. So, first lesson is to have absolute clarity in the question you’re asking others to answer. My Facebook friends seemed much happier to point this out than did my Twitter followers.

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As the answers came pouring in, Twitter was the quickest to respond. Facebook took a little while to build up momentum, and Google+ will have people answering my query for weeks to come. It seems that each network has its own half-life in terms of relevancy and visibility. Here are some of my first responders:

twithydrate

Assuming I was a newbie, with little or no knowledge of hydration fueling strategy, I’d be more confused than I was to begin with. So, let’s turn to Facebook and see what we can find there. Because of the overwhelming number of responses, I can only share a small sampling of them here.

fbhydrate

After sifting through hundreds of responses and creating a spreadsheet to analyze the data, I found my answer. Since so many people chose to answer in terms of miles and kilometers and not time, I actually have two answers.

Most common answer: Hydrate and/or refuel if you are running more than 60 minutes or 6 miles.

Average of all answers: Hydrate and/or refuel if you are running more than 43 minutes or 7.6 miles.

Crowdsourcing vs. Running Experts

Even the running experts are quick to point out that every runner is different. Things like climate, altitude, intensity, and duration all influence how often, and how much water you should consume while exercising. That explains the wide range of answers from all the runners I polled. However, there are a few general rules that everyone can follow.

  1. Water or sports drinks are a good idea if you are running for 90 minutes or longer.
  2. Drink well all day long, not just during your run.
  3. Water consumed in small doses throughout the run will benefit you more than a single glass chugged all at once.

The wisdom of the crowd is actually quite impressive. My own fueling during this cool time of year in New Hampshire is to start hydrating in the hours before I run with an electrolyte mix, skip the water if the workout is less than 90 minutes, and then refuel with a protein shake and water after my run. In the summer, I shift to a 60 minute threshold for drinking water on the run.

I rarely refuel with snacks or gels unless I’m running for more than 2 hours. I think there is benefit to making my body work more efficiently to fuel itself on training runs. On race day, it’s a luxury to gulp down three or four gels or grab a cool cup of water on the way to the finish line.

What are your tips for water consumption and fueling during training runs? Do you use the wisdom of the crowd or go straight to the experts for running advice?

Thoughts?