Drinking too much water is bad?

I was brought up in the old school thinking that one must drink water as much as possible.  My mother hammered me the adage of drinking more than eight glasses of water a day.  It seemed like sound advice.  Besides, whatever excess water you drink will eventually be expelled once you urinate, so I figured there was no harm in over-hydrating.

It comes out that, during moments of intense exercise, there is a danger of over-hydrating.   The condition is called hyponatremia and it is described as “a metabolic condition in which there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body fluids outside the cells .”

Sodium is found mostly in the body fluids outside the cells. It is very important for maintaining blood pressure. Sodium is also needed for nerves and muscles to work properly.

When the amount of sodium in fluids outside cells drops, water moves into the cells to balance the levels. This causes the cells to swell with too much water. Although most cells can handle this swelling, brain cells cannot, because the skull bones confine them.  Brain swelling causes most of the symptoms of hyponatremia.

I found more worrisome info courtesy of Runaddicts:

Hyponatremia is a condition where the body over hydrates itself and believe it or not it is more dangerous, and in some cases fatal, than dehydration. Since the fluid intake is more than one has lost during the event, the body is low on sodium level. The symptoms are similar to dehydration, and cause vomiting, perplexity or muscle weakness. Adding more liquids to hyponatremic runners can only worsen the situation. It will dilute the blood salt level further and result in coma and also death

Think this is an exaggeration?  Read the story of Michele Burr.  On July 20, after finishing an ultra-marathon, she was disoriented, did not recognize her husband, was vomiting uncontrollably,  had a seizure, and went into a coma.   Ok, you may think that hyponatremia will only hit ultra-marathoners, but consider that the symptoms hit Michele at mile 18 (or after 29 kilomters).

The last thing I clearly remember is going into the mile 18-aid station. I can’t remember anything at all between miles 18 and 68.

Or how about the story of 28-year-old Cynthia Lucero, who, at the 22-mile mark (or after 35 kilometers) of the 2002 Boston Marathon, she felt nauseous and “told a friend she must be dehydrated.”

Then in the next breath the friend watched as the walk turned to a wobble and she collapsed. Going into seizure, worried spectators called for an ambulance but by the time she arrived at a hospital Cynthia Lucero was in a coma. Two days later she died.

So how do you prevent water-intoxication?  There may be no one answer for all types of people.  Obviously one should not be guzzling liters and liters of water.   Thirst may in fact be the best indicator on whether one should begin drinking water and it may be a myth that one should drink copious amounts to ward off dehydration.  The belief that dehydration begins even before one feels the pangs of thirst may also be just a myth.   And since hyponatremia is a result of excess body water diluting the serum sodium, it may also be adviseable to consume sports drinks during high-intensity runs.  I checked a few brands like Pepsi 100 and Gatorade and these drinks do have sodium.

Recovering after a 21K

It’s 24 hours after I ran a personal best in the 21K, and I am not suffering any of the post-race pains that I had suffered in the previous races.  There is a slight tingling in my thighs, but it seems more of muscle fatigue than the joint pains I described in an earlier post.  I am also not as exhausted and I was able to get through the day with just a few hours of nap time (in the previous 21K, I was knocked out for most of the day!).

So what explains the improvement? Here are a few possible reasons:

Vibram Five Fingers.  I am beginning to believe the hype surrounding that barefoot / minimalist running craze.  In my last 21K, the Yamaha Run For Heroes, I wore running shoes and, the day after the run, the hip pain was debilitating.  For the Rexona Run I wore the VFF Bikila LS,  the same shoes that I wore in the Mizuno Infinity Run, where I also did not experience any hip pain the day after.   I read somewhere that one cause of hip pain is poor running form and over-striding.  If there is one thing that minimalist shoes prevent, it’s over-striding!  You end up taking smaller but quicker shuffling steps because over-extending your legs could get painful.

Strength and flexibility exercises.  As I wrote earlier, I started doing a couple of exercises targeting the ili0tibial band, that thick band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the leg.  I also added some core strength exercises like crunches and “planking.”  No, not that silly fad but this kind of planking.

Post-run nutrition.  After the run, I took an energy gel, downed the Powerade sports drink that came with the loot bag, munched on  a protein bar on the way home, and then downed a protein-rich breakfast.  Running depletes the glycogen stores in the muscle, and many experts believe that you have a short-window after a run to replenish those stores.   “Ideally,” this health counselor/marathoner/triathelete wrote, “you should eat within 15 minutes after completing your workout. It’s in this short window that the enzymes responsible for making glycogen are most active and will most quickly replace the depleted glycogen stores.”

Energy gels

Energy gels
Three weeks ago, I ran my first 21K. I thought that all my training, all that long slow distance running and interval runs, would get me through that half-marathon. I thought I was running a decent pace and I thought I was keeping myself well-hydrated. But by the 18-kilometer mark I was exhausted and fatigued.  I was gasping for breath.  I felt the calves and my toes stiffening.  Was this the “bonk” that runners talk about?

I read somewhere that glycogen, which supplies the fuel for long periods of exercise, gets depleted after around 2 hours. To maintain energy levels and avoid “hitting the wall,” the advice is to maintain glycogen levels by consuming some calories during the sports activity.   So, in preparation for tomorrow’s Yamaha Run For Heroes 21K, I purchased a couple of energy gels.  I even purchased a running waist pack so I can stash these gels.   So will it work?  Will I avoid the bonk?  Will I beat my last 21K time of 2:27?  I’m eager to find out.