Friday, June 13, 2008

Running: hydration aids

Hydration aids is my term for any kind of wearable gear that allows the runner or endurance athlete to carry fluid replenishment on the go.

Like energy replacement products, they’re popular among endurance athletes, but for some reason, less well known in Singapore. I have seen with my own eyes runners in the Bay Run or Singapore Marathon carry Nalgene bottles, or jury-rig belts or straps to carry flasks and gels. I remember one memorable chap strapping no less than six single serve Powergels around his waist.

Fuelbelts are without question, the most popular hydration aid among runners in Singapore. They’re available in a number of places. Users of the Fuelbelt claim that the Fuelbelt is comfortable to wear and doesn’t chafe, bump or drag. I can’t claim otherwise, seeing as how I’ve never tried one on before. Maybe those hordes of Fuelbelt-wearing runners are on to something. I’m skeptical though, that the swaying or bumping motion won’t annoy me for the 26 miles of a marathon. What is undeniable however is that the Fuelbelt has a good carrying capacity and the added flexibility of holding different bottles for different things (gels, drinks etc.)

Camelbaks are popular among the extreme trailrunning set. These are the elite runners that are hardcore enough to run self-supported trail races like the Marathon des Sables or the 4 Deserts Challenge. The Camelbak was originally popularized by the trekking community, but found a natural fit with these hardened runners. If you want a large carrying capacity, hands-free drinking through a straw, and don’t mind replacing your Camelbak every so often (I hear they’re impossible to wash, so putting anything other than water in the Camelbak probably doesn’t make it last too long), the Camelbak might be the right product for you. As an added benefit, I can imagine that it would be cooler to run under the sun if you’re carrying a pouch of cold water on your back.

As in all posts, being the unconventional oddball that I am, I ask and answer the question of, what do I use?

I use the Ultimate Direction FastDraw Extreme. Not available in Singapore at the time I bought it, I had to order it online and ship it over from the USA. I haven’t seen it in Singapore yet, but that’s mainly because I haven’t been looking for it.

So why the FastDraw? The Camelbak is overkill for me since I run only marathons.
And as mentioned above, I found the Fuelbelt unappealing because of the possible swaying and bumping motion. The FastDraw is strapped to the hand, so it avoids this problem. In fact, it’s a natural evolution if you’re one of those Nalgene bottle-carrying runners [full confession: I used to be one, but I carried a tiny Hammer gel flask instead and that was a really long time ago].

The FastDraw is comfortable, if heavy, at the start of the run when the bottle is filled to capacity. Even so, it’s possible to switch the FastDraw from one hand to the other if you get tired. The capacity of the FastDraw is limited, but it still packs a punch with my Perpetuem mix. Normal long run training days will see me carrying the FastDraw while stashing a 1-liter bottle of sports drink somewhere along my route. On race day, I carry only the FastDraw while relying on aid stations for fluid replenishment.

The molded polyurethane kicker valve is an innovative feature that allows you to drink without unscrewing any caps or lids. In practice though, unless you have really big strong hands, you’ll need to squeeze the bottle fairly hard to get the contents out. Sometimes with both hands when the bottle is less than half full. And it’s smart to aim the nozzle so that it points under your tongue. The first time I squirted the contents out, the spray came out so strong and hit the back of my throat and activated my gag reflex. Not fun.

As for the neoprene sleeve that’s unique to the FastDraw Extreme model? Genius, in our hot and humid weather. On moderate distance runs when I know I only need a limited volume of sports drink, I fill the bottle only three quarters of the way and put it in the freezer the night before (remember that water expands on freezing to ice). When I’m ready to run the next day, I take the FastDraw out of the freezer and bring it with me. I sip the meltwater as the popsicle in the bottle slowly melts, rationing out the icy liquid. Absolutely revitalizing. And no messy condensation or clammy hands to deal with.

1 comment:

runmondeo said...

Hi there,
very interesting blog you have. FYI I do use a low capacity camelbak (1.5L) and it is certainly not overkill for distances of 20k or more.

Great stuff on running related issues, although I think we differ signficantly on political views!

See you around the SgRunners forum!