Summertime is here (at least for those of us north of the equator) and some of the temperatures are already getting up there pretty fast! For runners, at least this means no more running in snow and also not as much rain. But, it also means that we need to be more attentive to our personal hydration. So, should you run with a water bottle?
Should You Carry a Water Bottle on the Run?
Note: No matter which method you use (or don’t use), always make sure you have some system for staying hydrated, especially in warm weather. If you wait until you are really thirsty, you have waited too long and may start experiencing cramping or other signs of dehydration. Other signs can include no longer sweating in hot weather and headaches so keep an eye on your body!
Why I No Longer Carry a Water Bottle on the Run
For the first 11 years of my running life, I ran with a water bottle. For about the last 8 of those years, every single run that was over 4 miles saw me with a water bottle in my hand. For me, it worked out pretty well.
However, last year, I stopped running with a water bottle for one main reason – my right arm started having some muscle tension. It became uncomfortable to run holding the bottle after that. This wasn’t due to my arm being that weak but more because of the gripping motion with the up and down motion for miles at a time.
So, I stopped running with a water bottle and I have now been through one whole marathon cycle (and now beginning another) without carrying a water bottle on the run. I know there are others that wonder “should I run with a water bottle” so I thought I would give a look at reasons to carry one and reasons not to carry one – and then some alternative options to handholding one.
Reasons TO Carry a Water Bottle on the Run
- Never need to go hunting for water on the run
- Stay hydrated according to how your body feels and not where there happens to be water
- Helps to skip early water stations in a race
- Can be used to spray water on you if it is really hot
All of those reasons are good ones – especially races! I have been in some marathons where it was much hotter than organizers had planned for and runners were having a hard time in between water stations. Having your own water bottle not only lets you skip some of the earlier, more congested water stations but to also have water when it gets tough.
It can also save time to carry a water bottle. If you are running over 10 miles, chances are pretty good you need water in the summer. Unless you have your own personal aid station at the right spot, it is going to take a couple minutes (at least) to grab some water from someplace.
Reasons NOT to Carry a Water Bottle on the Run
Now, the reasons NOT to run with a water bottle!
- No muscle cramping in your hands or with your arms
- No over hydrating on the go (simply because you have it with you)
- Slightly less weight to carry (it does add up!)
There is another reason I was happy I stopped running with a water bottle but it takes more than a bullet point to talk about. I found that, with a water bottle, I was still stopping on a 10 mile run to fill it. That meant I wasn’t really saving as much time but was drinking more because I had it with me.
I ended up drinking more than I really needed on a run with the bottle. Sometimes, this caused some cramping in my stomach. Without a water bottle, I only drink water when I know my body needs it.
Alternatives to Carrying a Water Bottle
Thankfully, there are plenty of solutions for anyone that wants water on the go (especially for “just in case” scenarios) but doesn’t want to hold a bottle.
Backpack Hydration Packs
Of course, there are hydration packs but unless you are running longer distances, I wouldn’t think it would be beneficial to do all the time. If the weather is that hot, it will cause that part of your back to become even more drenched and hot from carrying a pack.
Also, unless it is a smaller bladder, chances are pretty good that it will be pretty warm water halfway through (unless you pack it with ice). But, I am only mentioning this for everyday runs of shorter distances.
For runs over 15 miles or so in the summer, hydration packs are a great option.
Next we have belt options. I have done this over the years as well and, though it is convenient, I’ve never been a fan of the added weight in my middle (I kind of already have as much of that as I want to run with!).
Plus, you have to make sure you get a running-specific belt as other ones have too much bounce with them. Here is one nice option from Nathan that can be had for just over $20. All that being said, some models are really good at providing a secure, snug fit and distributing the weight in a way that doesn’t make it uncomfortable.
If you are someone who can get by with a small amount of water, SPIbelt sells a 8oz flask that works with their belts which is a great little thing to carry along. It does not weigh much and it is always there for you if you need a sip on the go. This is something that I actually will carry on hot days.
Belt options are probably the best for runners that want to have water with them on every run but not as much water as a hydration pack/vest would carry. The belt water bottles are likely the best way for most runners to have water with them on the go everyday.
I am fortunate that most of my longer running routes take me past street stands or mini markets where I can grab a cold bottle of water for 50 cents or less. This makes this a preferred way for me since it will only cost me a couple of minutes and I will get a bottle that is very cold.
If you can plan runs to go past places like this, it can give you a chance to duck into an air-conditioned environment as well! Plus, it also helps you to prepare for a race with aid stations spread apart.
One of the things I do on long runs is to plan routes that will take me past a water stop like that every 6 miles. That is when I take my GU gels during long runs and marathons so it helps me to practice exactly how my hydration and gel plan will work during a marathon.
Should You Carry a Water Bottle in a Marathon?
Having carried a water bottle in dozens of marathons, I would have always said “yes” it is a great idea. But, now that I ran a marathon without carrying a water bottle (for the first time!), I do have some reasons I will likely not carry one again in a race.
Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Carry a Water Bottle Last Marathon
First of all, this last marathon was my fastest yet and I actually attribute some of that to not carrying a water bottle. In the past, my strategy had always been to stop when my bottle was empty and fill it at an aid station. This would typically involve a volunteer giving me a jug and letting me fill it up.
Now I see the problem with that with a couple of points – first was that this took valuable time (even if it was only 30 seconds per stop) and second was that I was doing more of these stops later in the race and those stops were causing my leg muscles to freeze just a bit.
Instead, during this last marathon, I just made sure I grabbed water at every aid station and drank what I knew I needed. This saved me at least 4 minutes from how I used to fill my bottle as well as saving me from the muscle cramps during stops.
When It is a Good Idea to Carry a Water Bottle in a Marathon
With all of that, there are some times it is good to carry a water bottle in a marathon. Here are the scenarios where I think it is a good idea to carry a water bottle:
- If the weather is warmer than previously expected
- If your anticipated marathon finish time is over 4.5 hours (some marathons do not do a great job of making sure there is enough water after the earlier runners go through)
- If you are running a new marathon or a smaller, foreign marathon (I have found both of those kinds to under estimate the amount of water they need so having your own bottle is a huge saver)
A Happy Compromise
If you don’t want to carry one the whole time but do want to have one for the first several miles to skip the busy aid stations, a happy compromise is something like a disposable sports bottle of water (sold in most stores next to normal sized water bottles). They cost like $1.50 or so and you can just toss it in a waste area at an aid station when you are done with it.