Runners, should you carry your own water or rely on hydration stations? Here's how to decide.

Race Tip: Plan Ahead for Hydration

Staying hydrated when exercising isn’t just important for your health and comfort, it’s essential to workout performance, too. Whether or not you actually feel thirsty, dehydration can sap your strength and energy. And when you’re planning for a running event like the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon, 10K & 5K, it’s important to decide on a water strategy ahead of time.

“Personally, I don’t wear a water belt, because I don’t like the bulkiness of a belt, and I stop at every water station,” says Jodi Thirtyacre, leader of the Kaiser Permanente team for the half marathon. “However, I’ve worn one at some races and the advantage to wearing a belt is that you have water available whenever you’re thirsty and you don’t have to stop at the stations with everyone else. It’s a personal preference, so do whatever is easiest for you.”

There are many kinds of gear that make it easy to keep water or other hydration beverages handy. These include handheld bottles, single-bottle waist packs, double-bottle waist packs, backpacks with “bladders,” and hydration belts.

Understanding the difference between the options will help you choose the product that works best for you. Start by asking yourself these questions:

•How far will I be going and how much liquid do I need?

•Am I comfortable wearing or carrying this long distances?

•Will this water carrier affect my gait or alignment?

•Does the product include other features that will be useful?

Remember, no matter what you carry it in, water is heavy, so go with the smallest gear that supports your needs.

When planning for an event such as the upcoming Kaiser Permanente half marathon, 10K & 5K, find out ahead of time if there will by hydration stops, and how many. If water will be available, then you can make a choice about whether to utilize the stations or carry your own.

Lastly, pay attention to comfort – it’s important! Always try out gear in the store before buying. If it’s for running, walking or hiking, jog a little while wearing it to see how it feels while moving. If it’s for biking, see if there’s a bike in the store you can sit on while you try it out.  You want your hydration-system to so comfortable that you almost forget about it.

Here are the most popular options:

1. Hand-held Bottles

These are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and nozzle types. For most people, gripping something in your hand is going to be annoying after awhile, so experiment with wrist straps.

1. Single-bottle Waist Packs

These come in numerous styles, such as with the bottle resting vertically at the base of your spine or at a 40-degree angle.

3. Double-bottle Waist Packs

These may be useful for longer workouts and hotter weather, though they will be too big for most endurance events. Also, the two-bottle design can get in the way of arm movement, which in turn can affect alignment and result in shoulder pain.

4. Hydration Belts

These waist belts hold two to eight small bottles so you can alternate between water and performance drinks.

5. Backpacks and Vest Packs

Best known by the brand name CamelBak, these products were originally designed for cyclists and hikers. Now more streamlined with lighter weight materials, flat bladders attach across your torso and spread across your back to distribute the weight. Because they allow you to drink from a straw or spout, CamelBakare best for any sport like cycling where your hands are busy. They’re also are popular with ultra-runners, who need the fluid capacity to sustain their mileage and don’t want to stop to open a bottle, but may cause too much shoulder stress for the average runner.

Many hydration-products include other features such as a pocket for your phone and key or a larger pouch for a nutrition bar or gel. Another useful feature is a strap or elastic cord to secure an extra shirt.

Don’t forget to train with your hydration product as you get ready for race day. Make sure it’s easy to use and meets your needs, and you’re ready to go.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.