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Hydration 101

As we start moving into Spring and everyone is thinking of the big rides they have planned for the Summer, one of the key things to consider is your hydration game plan while on long endurance rides.  In 2015 as I was preparing for the Death Ride, I had dialed in a hydration system that worked well for me and kept me out of trouble.  The Train for the Tours (TftT) series leading up to the Death Ride let me make some mistakes, try different options and gain confidence that I had solved this part of my riding tool kit.

A recent ride, the 2016 TftT #4 to Plymouth, Union Mine and Prospector, served as a reminder that following that plan is vital as I was a little over confident and a tad arrogant about this key preparation and I had a near miss on the climbs up Union Mine.

My time tested plan for hydration is relatively simple.

  1. I like to use large, well insulated water bottles.  I have the 24oz Camelbak Podium and the 20oz Camelbak Podium Ice bottles.  The Podium Ice bottles are worth the extra few dollars.  Last year, Rob Pucci showed me this bottle and, more importantly, he showed be the unmelted ice cubes still in the bottle after a 50 mile ride.  On a hot summer ride, cold water is an amazing treat and actually helps you to drink more frequently.  Warm water is not very quenching.  Add a lemon-lime flavoring from a Nunn table to that warm water and drinking becomes a real chore. 
  2. I use  Nunn or Osmo as an electrolyte supplement.  The Nunn tablets are very portable and I will have extras in a “pill purse” or a plastic baggie.  The Osmo also comes in single serving containers for easy handling.  I am sure there are other excellent products.  For me, these two options work fine and I have not found a reason to try anything else.  I like any flavor other than lemon-lime.  This is what I used for the Carson Pass TftT ride.  I still remember that taste.
  3. The most important thing is to actually drink from your bottles.  I’ve read a lot about how much you should drink and various factors impacting hydration.  The important point is to figure out how much YOU should be drinking.  Everyone is different and reacts to the cycling conditions differently.  For me, I found that I should be consuming about 1.5 – 2 bottles an hour depending upon the cycling conditions.  
  4. The route is an import influence on your hydration as well.  I like to look at the stops and see where I can refill.  I’ve had to take 3 bottles on rides where there were larger gaps between stops.  This also helps me gauge my water consumption.  For example: if there is about 25 miles between stops, I know both bottles should be empty when I get to the rest stop.  If they are not empty, this serves as an “alarm” that I am off the plan. 
  5. Water stops are a good place to actually drink water too.  I know this seems obvious, but people will start explaining how their brake was rubbing during the last climb, using the facilities, cleaning their sunglasses, or eating a snack.  Then, before you know it, that sadistic ride leader is yelling “60 seconds” and you barely have time to get your helmet and gloves back on and you haven’t had any water.  So, make drinking water and refilling your water bottles a priority at a water stop – after you adjust that rubbing brake, of course.
  6. While on the bike, you obviously need to drink.  It important that you get comfortable grabbing a bottle, taking a drink, and returning the bottle to the cage while maintaining good order in a group.  This includes keeping your pedals turning so you don’t make the rider behind you nervous (see Paceline Skills).  If you are not comfortable drinking while in a group, then you run the risk of skipping vital water consumption and run the risk of getting dehydrated.  So, practice this valuable skill so you stay hydrated in a group situation. 
  7. One “trick” I like to use is to have my Garmin 520 remind me to drink on plan.  I set the Garmin’s Auto Lap feature to beep every 5 miles which prompts me to drink.  As a general rule, I want to consume about a 1/2 of a bottle every 5 miles.  This helps me stay on plan, especially early in the ride, to avoid problems later.
  8. I also like to use Hammer Endurolytes.  I usually take 2 tablets at each stop and carry them in a pill box or plastic baggie.  To be honest, I am not sure these tablets do anything.  But, I haven’t  cramped while using them so I hate to mess with a successful formula.
  9. Preparation is an equally important component to good hydration.  I have a spreadsheet I use that helps calculate how much fluid I will probably consume.  This uses a formula based on your weight, ride distance, and climbing.  I use this information to identify the number of water bottle refills I will need so I can make sure I carry enough electrolyte supplements.  The day before the ride, I will get them all counted (with a few extras) and packaged and then put them with my cycling gear.
  10. Be well hydrated before the ride.  I like to ensure I am well hydrated the day before and the morning prior to the ride.  I will make a concerted effort to drink plenty of fluids and continue this all the way up to the ride start.  I don’t overdo it so that I am constantly heading to the bathroom.  A few hours before the ride, I will drink 16 oz with an electrolytes supplement. There is little benefit in being behind on fluids even before you start the ride.
  11. Cooler riding weather can be problematic as you can be fooled into drinking less than you need.  We always think heavy sweating is how we become dehydrated.  However, exhaling is a big source of fluid loss and cooler weather actually makes your perspiration evaporate more quickly.  So, don’t get careless about hydration when it is a cool day.
  12. Test your plan and make changes to optimize it for your needs.  Get the knowledge you need and test your hydration plan.  What works for me may not work for you – maybe you like warm lemon-lime flavored water.  One thing I would caution you on is making big changes in a targeted event.  The Death Ride, for example, is not a good place to try something new.
  13. Finally, watch for subtle signs that you are dehydrated.  Dehydration will degrade your performance and failing to replenish your electrolytes can lead to cramping.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t follow my plan during the last TftT ride.  I had turned my auto lap feature off and the cool weather tricked me into not drinking enough.  By the time I got to Plymouth, about 30 miles into the ride, I should have consumed both water bottles.  Instead, I had almost 1.5 bottles of water remaining.  Thus, I had only consumed about a half bottle.  I felt fine and didn’t worry about the big departure from my plan.  Shortly after the stop in Plymouth, we were heading up one of the steep grades on Union Mine.  I happened to look down at my Garmin and noticed an unusually high heart rate. My first reaction was my chest strap was not aligned or the sensor was not snapped in well.  The next part of the ride was mostly descending and my heart rate quickly declined but not down to normal levels.  After thinking about this for a few minutes, the two data points clicked – low water consumption and my slightly elevated heart rate.  I was starting to dehydrate! Fortunately, I was upon a rest stop and was able to take a long break while we regrouped.  I drank a healthy portion of water and relaxed for a while.  The remainder of the ride, I was very diligent in drinking on plan and recovered from my mistake.  I was lucky.
On a final note, don’t forget your post ride hydration.  A pitcher of beer at Pete’s will make that ride more memorable when you share your epic effort with your cycling mates.  Hey Chris, did I tell you about my brake rubbing on the Union Mine climb?

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