The morning of the 2016 Paris Marathon was spectator perfect: starting temperature was in the low 50s; the sun was shining; the sky a vivid blue over the Arc de Triomphe.
I was so disappointed.
With a beautiful, warm clear afternoon in my future, my run was in trouble.
By the time volunteers waved runners through the depleted 7K aid station, I knew things were going to get ugly out there, especially for the 15,161 first-time marathoners who perhaps hadn’t yet learned two important lessons.
- Hot marathons require lots of water.
- Access to water on a race course should never be taken for granted.
One Runner’s Water Evolution
When I first started training for marathons, my goal was always a PR. To that end, I trained hard, worked speed, and aimed to be as quick and light on my feet as possible. For the first few races, I simply relied on water provided at the race. I practiced drinking from a paper cup while running so I’d never have to fully stop at an aid station.
But I realized a fallacy behind this strategy when I had a bad race experience. On an unexpectedly hot and humid winter day, I got nothing to drink in the final half of a hilly 12-mile race; underestimating need, the organizers had run out of water.
That made a lasting impression.
Around that time, I began doing triathlons in the off season. Many of my tri friends wore hydration belts, and I adopted one made by FuelBelt that held four small bottles.
I liked the options this gear provided. I’d fill two flasks with water, one with sports drink, and put gel in the last. That’s about 20–30 ounces of fluid and no messy gel wrappers.
But as I ran longer distances, the belt’s position bothered my lower back. Some chafing occurred, and the caps were difficult to clean. Time for a change.
My running friends and I began carrying bottles. I particularly liked Ultimate Direction’s handheld. Basically, it’s a hard plastic bottle with a fabric hand harness. The harness also has a little pocket, just big enough for some cash, a packaged wipe, maybe a bag of Sport Beans. Unlike my buddies, I never carried two at once. When my grip tired, I switched hands for a break. Because I only carried one bottle, fluid capacity was limited to 20 ounces.
When I embraced trail running, I saw lots of folks with more ergonomic bottles. Thinking a more palm-friendly construction would help my grip, I tried Nathan Sports’ QuickShot handheld bottle. A couple of things made these a real find: bigger pockets and soft rubber nipples. The down side? My secret weapon for success is a late-run Coke, and shaken carbonated liquid forces the nipple open, randomly spraying soda. Surprisingly, the ergonomic shape didn’t help much with grip fatigue. (Handhelds do, however, protect the palms nicely in the event of a fall.)
Taking up trail running leads to ultra distance events and even longer training runs. Naturally, I graduated to carrying a backpack with a hydration bladder.
My first pack was a Camelbak with a 70-ounce bladder. While it took some getting used to (fine-tuning the fit and learning to clean the tube), the vest worked well. I replaced the bladder several times; over the years, I pretty much wore that pack out. However, while it certainly carried the liquid I wanted, I needed more places to stow stuff on those unsupported runs.
For my next hydration pack, I returned to Nathan Sports. Again, I purchased a 70-ounce pack, but I got an additional 50-ounce bladder for more flexibility. The only negatives have been the gear straps on the back stretched with use and the front zipper pocket is too small for my iPhone in its LifeProof protective case. On the plus side, when I’m comfortable wearing my water, I hydrate better.
Meanwhile, Back at the 2016 Paris Marathon
So there I was, toeing the line for a road marathon wearing a trail runner’s hydration pack. To be honest, I’d worried over the dork factor in carrying my own water. Did I really need that self-support at a world-class marathon? Could I advertise my “slower runner” status any more? Was my vest merely a giant pacifier?
I had partially filled the bladder, thinking even those 60 ounces were likely overkill. At aid stations, I grabbed supplemental water — pouring it down my shirt, across my neck, on my head, in my hat. French firefighters sprayed runners, too (for the record, foreign firefighters in uniform are every bit as sexy as Americans).
Shortly after the 30K mark, I’d drained my pack. No water remained on the course until the 40K aid station, a little late in any race (reminder: 26.2 miles = 42 kilometers).
I was glad to finish…and even happier to finish feeling well. The day could’ve gone much, much worse.
Lesson: Even if you’re a speedy runner focused on a fast time, carrying water just might make the difference between PR and DNF.
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
This year was the 40th running of the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris and a record-breaking field of 43,317 runners crossed the start line. 41,708 finished.
I was lucky to be in both groups.
And what happened in-between was fabulous.
Detailed race report coming soon!