Monday, June 25, 2012

Hydration: Bottles or Packs?

Bottles or Packs? Packs or Bottles? Both? I decided to put together a list of the things I've found most noticeable, in terms of the pros and cons of each.

Handheld Bottles
Pieces of one of my handhelds.

I've been loyal to my handheld bottles for some time.  They've taken me through many runs, both 25K's and 50k's.  I've specifically utilized the 20oz Amphipod handhelds, which feature an ergonomic design and a pouch where you can store a couple gels or keys. In races, I've used two bottles at once, and have also used just one.  This usually depends on how hot it is, and how far apart the aid stations are.  I use bottles consistently in my training runs, as weekday runs are in usually between 1-3 hours.

  • Quick to refill at aid stations. Unscrew top, fill 20 ounces, screw top on, go.
  • Flexibility with handling (one bottle). I can switch hands, hold different ways, and place the bottles in the back of my shorts if I want to free my hands.
  • Flexibility with filling. Fill with water between aid stations, switch to electrolyte drink at the next, and move to soda the next.
  • Two bottles become heavy on my arms after awhile, and slightly annoying.
  • Noticeable difference, for me, between a full bottle, a half-full bottle, and empty bottle. That also applies if the pouch has gels in it or not.
  • Spouts stick (Amphipod only?) and I have to bite down to open and then pound them closed. Not dentist approved.

Conclusion: I don't mind bottles, especially the Amphipod, for training runs less than 3 hours.

Hydration Pack
In my quest to improve my times, a friend passed along this article to me recently, and the analysis certainly shifted me to entertain running with a pack.  In short, the study examines the impact on performance if you've got the option to run with two bottles or a pack.

As well, I'll be running the Angel's Staircase 60K in August, and the race requires runners carry two bottles or hydration pack, hat, gloves, and jacket.  A pack seemed like the best option considering I had to carry all of these things, but may not end up using them. Otherwise, I need to be carrying a fanny pack, along with two bottles.

I just recently purchased the Ultraspire Surge, and used it in the Beacon Rock 50K last week.  The pack utilizes a 70oz bladder (vs. 40oz if you're carrying two bottles), has multiple compartments to store everything from electrolyte pills and gels, to larger  items such as a hats/windbreakers/bear spray. I normally keep gels in one pocket, Clif Shot Blocks in the next, electrolyte pills in a nifty electrolyte pocket, and then contacts/wipes/socks in some of the back pockets. This still leaves me with room for some more stuff as well.

I personally found the pack to be quite comfortable. Maybe the best way to describe this is to think back to high school and carrying books.  If you have to carry one book here and there to class, its not that bad, and your arms don't get that tired. You make multiple trips to your locker, and move along.  Two books also requires trips to your locker, and your arms probably get a little more tired.  But if you have to carry your books by hand all day, you're going to wish you had a backpack.  That's how I view the difference of the pack vs. the handhelds.
Back of Ultraspire Surge
Front of Ultraspire Surge
  • Hands are free to stop from falls, grab a gel and go at aid stations, or give high-fives mid-race. Either  way, having free hands is quite comfortable.
  • Easier to carry more stuff. I don't feel the need for a drop bag or fanny pack. 
  • Easier to move through aid stations.  During my last race, I only stopped once to refill my bladder.  The rest of my aid station stops consisted of grabbing a S! Cap, Gel, and then a cup of Ginger Ale.  Probably in and out in less than 15 seconds.
  • Water level difference wasn't annoying.  This may be due to the fact the weight is distributed over the back, but I simply didn't get annoyed by an empty bladder compared to a full bladder.  
  • You're carrying extra weight with full bladder and slightly full pack.
  • When you have to fill up, its going to take a little longer.
  • If you like the being able to go shirtless, its probably harder to take off a pack and then put it back on, and I can't speak to chafing if that decision is made, because I have yet to wear this shirtless.
Conclusion: I'll be utilizing the pack for long races, and long training runs. I like having my hands free, more than anything, and also enjoy not having to fill up but every four hours or so. 

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