October 20 2017
Coach Hillary Kigar offers tips to an athlete who's preparing to run her first trail race.
A couple of years ago, I set out to run a half marathon in hopes of scoring a shiny new PR (personal record). I desperately wanted to break the two-hour mark and invested a lot of time in training to increase my overall speed. I had my eye on the prize and knew nothing was going to stop me from celebrating sweet victory. What I didn’t realize was how one small change of plans mid-race almost ripped my dream right from under my feet.
As I waited anxiously at the start line of the race, I glanced over my entire body to take stock of my running gear:
-Favorite sports bra. . . check
-Shorts that don’t ride up. . .check
-Perfectly broken in shoes with double knotted laces. . .check
-GPS watch. . .check
-Hat to absorb sweat and stave off the sun. . .check
-Fuel belt. . .check
Before the race I decided that carrying my own hydration and nutrition was the best decision for me, in terms of being as fast as possible. Being self-sufficient allowed me to avoid congested water stops and bypass potential stomach issues caused by drinking or eating something I hadn’t during my training runs. The only issue: the further I run, the less I want touching me. So I made a plan. Since wearing a belt in the final miles of the race historically caused me irritation, I made sure my husband was stationed at specific points of the race in case I decided to ditch it.
Sure enough – at the halfway point of the race I spotted my husband, unclipped the belt and threw it at him for safekeeping. An immediate sense of relief rushed over my body as I went about my run, fuel belt-less. As I approached the final water stops throughout the race, I battled the crowds and slowed my pace to take water safely.
As I bounded towards the finish line in the final mile of the half marathon, I glanced at my GPS and knew I needed to pick up the pace a little to reach my goal. With fast legs and a driven mind, I crossed the line of that race with a time of 1:59:59. Though I had only one second to spare – I accomplished my mission!
When I returned home from my victorious day, I downloaded the data from my GPS watch to analyze my run splits (yes, I am that kind of running nerd and proud of it!). What I saw was eye opening. From the graph, it is easy to see that stopping at water stops after ditching my fuel belt robbed me of precious time. In fact, if I had kept my fuel belt on – I could have been two minutes faster overall! It’s safe to say this experience made me a fuel belt believer. For without my beloved belt, my PR wouldn’t exist.
Still not convinced? Check out the top reasons you should try running with a hydration belt:
–Saves time as you zoom through race water stops.
–Allows you to carry your preferred hydration and nutrition instead of being at the mercy of the brands the race provides. Sensitive tummies will thank you.
–Keeps you prepared in case of emergency. Have you ever gotten to a water stop that ran out of water or wasn’t properly prepared? It happens.
–Supports your thirst or hunger on your time. You won’t be locked into waiting for the next stop – the belt is always with you.
And finally, here are some tips to help make running with a fuel belt successful:
–Practice makes perfect. It takes time to acclimate yourself to running with a belt. Make sure you practice running with the belt on your long training runs.
–Find the perfect mix. I have a belt with two flasks and a zippered pocket. I usually carry a sports drink in one flask and water in the other. In the pocket, I stash my favorite chews for a punch of energy. Play around with different options during training to find your own perfect combination.
–Weigh your options. As a middle of the pack runner, most water stops are pretty crowded by the time I get to them. If I was an elite or top age grouper, this might be different. For me, it is better to keep my pace, run past the stops and take hydration on my own schedule. You have to make the best decision to fit your race strategy.