Hydrating for the long haul: YiOu Wang’s race-day tips
In the past few years, runner YiOu has made her mark on the trails of Northern California—she boasts back-to-back wins at the competitive Lake Sonoma 50-miler and made a strong debut in her first 100-miler at the 2016 Western States 100. According to YiOu, her running performance really took off once she figured out a smart race-day fuel and hydration regimen. While shorter races are usually scheduled during the cooler morning hours, ultra events force runners to compete during the hottest hours of the day (temperatures at Western States regularly soar into the 100s). As a result, runners have to balance their need for hydration with their need for speed—carrying too much water can slow you down, but dehydration can send your performance into a tailspin. Below are some of YiOu’s race-day pro tips.
In the week leading up to your race, pay extra attention to your water consumption. Just like with sleep and nutrition, what you do in the days leading up to the race can have a big impact. I always make sure to have a reusable water bottle on me the week before a race. I keep a bottle at my desk at work and also put one in my commute bag.
Don't Show Up to the Start Line Thirsty
In the rush of getting things ready on race day, driving to the start, getting your bib pinned on and standing in line for the porta potty, hydrating often falls by the wayside. I fill a water bottle the night before a race and put it in the bag I am taking to the start area. This way I have a bottle to sip water from as I complete the pre-race tasks. This also means I am not depleting the water supply I need to use during the race.
Drink Early and Often
The gun goes off and everyone sprints away from the line. In the early miles it can be easy to get so wrapped up in running and enjoying the scenery that you neglect your hydration. You're feeling fresh, the temperature is still cool and it's so exciting to head off onto the course. I make it a point to start drinking as soon as I've settled into a good rhythm on the course, about a mile or two in. You might not feel very thirsty yet but starting to sip on fluids gets your stomach primed to accept hydration and nutrition.
Know the Course and Conditions
Make sure you know where the aid stations are and approximately how long it will take you to get to the next aid station. Also know what the weather will be like on race day. A high of 80 degrees and sunny means you'll need to carry more water than a high temperature of 50 degrees and cloudy. I usually have the capacity of 1 liter of water on me and try to fill up completely at every aid station. On super hot days like the usual conditions at Western States, I try to carry 1.5 to 2 liters.
Set a Reminder Alarm
I have a recurring alarm on my watch that sounds every 40 minutes. When I hear the beeps during a race, it means I need to take nutrition and fluids. Having the external reminder is extremely helpful when you are focused on continuing to move forward, especially in the latter part of a race when you are fatigued.
I lose a lot of salt in my sweat and need to replenish electrolytes often. To avoid hyponatremia you need to ingest some sort of electrolytes during a long endurance effort. I take salt tabs, two every 120 minutes during a long race. Other people like to use drink powders that are mixed in water. Experiment with different products before race day to see what tastes or methods work best for you.
Practice Practice Practice
Every training run is an opportunity to practice and fine tune your systems for race day. Do not use something brand new and untested on race day. That swanky new bottle or pack you got at the expo will have to wait until the next race! Every long run I do is like a dress rehearsal for an important race. I use the same vest and flasks I will use during the race and practice taking electrolytes and nutrition.