Readers Roundtable: Time to Give up the Hand-Held Water Bottle?

The trusty water bottle.

Yesterday marked my tenth marathon. In everyone of those marathons I carried my own water. I used a belt for my first four marathons, but then switched to a 20-oz hand-held bottle.

I think I drink more than the average runner, and I’ve always liked not having to worry about having water when I want it. I have a hard time getting much liquid into my mouth using those paper cups. I usually trained with my bottle, so it wasn’t been a big deal. It eased my fears about getting water up my nose and down my shirt, rather than in my mouth where I need it!

 Now that I’ve stopped breastfeeding I don’t think I need to drink as much and I’ve been training without my hand-held and really enjoying the freedom. While I packed for NYC I found myself wondering if I should leave the bottle at home, or downsize and carry a smaller bottle for emergencies. And then I decided to ask you!

Do you race with a water bottle? Why or why not?

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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  1. I never ever have carried water in a race and I don’t think I ever will (road race, anyway). Here’s my theory: if we want to race our best, we need to look at the pros for best practices. Granted they don’t usually have to drink from crappy cups these days, but not that long ago they did and survived. I believe that, unless it’s really hot or something, we don’t need much more than what we can get in the cups to perform well. If we’re really concerned about the cups, then we should train to drink from them while running at race pace – this is fairly easy to do. The reason not to carry the water is weight. If you’re racing 26.2 miles the weight of that water bottle or belt is going to wear on you even if you’re drinking from it.

    Obviously, if you or anyone else knows all of this and still wants to carry water, go for it! All we can do is weigh all the pros and cons of these things and figure out what makes the most sense for ourselves. I just wouldn’t carry water, personally.

    1. When I ran into Craig Leon (8th place at NYC, 2nd American after Meb) at the airport last week, my friends and I started asking him about fueling, drinking, etc. He gets a special bottle of his elixir handed to him every 5k. He didn’t tell me how many garbage bags he was bringing to the start to huddle under. . . haha.

  2. I don’t carry water either. I like to have hands free and feel unbalanced with something in one hand and not the other; or I’d switch back and forth, which is awkward and I lose concentration. Like Salty, I don’t drink that much (maybe I should) but also am not doing marathons so cups are okay.

    1. I don’t carry for 10k’s, but do carry my small bottle (10 oz) for half-marathons (I take a gel midway and want to make sure I’m good to go with water at the same time). I push my daughter in the stroller all the time, so just holding a bottle seems like nothing at this point!

  3. I never carry water during a race, although I do for long runs during the summer. I agree with Salty about not wanting to deal with the extra weight during the race, especially a marathon, and in general I like things as streamlined and simple as possible on race day. I practiced drinking from cups during shorter races so that once I got to my first marathon I already had the hang of it. Now it’s not a big deal anymore — almost second nature!

  4. Three years ago I landed in the ER after the Akron marathon from severe dehydration. So bad that I was coded as life threatening in the ambulance from the stadium to the hospital. Since that awful experience I literally carry water with me (or Nuun for longer runs) on anything over three miles. I am currently still nursing my now one year old, so that is an added reason. I hate carrying water, so I will use a hand-held on shorter runs and will use a fuel belt with anything that is 10 miles or over. I am so used to the fuel belt that it doesn’t bother me. I have forgotten water in the past and have almost had a panic attack – it’s mainly mental – but the thought of going through the dehydration experience that I did is worth the hassle of carrying water and appeasing my anxious mind.

    1. wow! That’s got to be an incredibly unusual circumstance. The average marathoner could probably not drink a drop during the race and finish without that happening, although performance might not be as good if she drank along the way. Was it really hot or were some other extenuating circumstances going on?

  5. I live in Texas so throughout the summer I usually carry water on all longer training runs. I have never carried water to race until I participated in a cupless trail race a couple months ago – it was so nice to have water to sip on whenever i wanted to without having to rush the poor volunteers for water. It also kept the course really clean. I never thought I would like carrying the water, but it was worth it for the clean course and the ease of having a sip whenever i needed it.

  6. I would never consider carrying water in a race that had aid set up. . .unless it was a trail race and then I’m all about carrying everything ; )

  7. I often take a 500ml bottle with me for a 10k or longer. I like to be able to drink when I need it and I like to avoid the chaos of the water stops.
    For a half or marathon, having a bottle allows me to avoid the first 3-5 water stops. By the time my bottle runs out the water stops are not as crowded.
    I do hate to have anything in my hands, but I’ve gotten used to the water bottle and found that it helps me race better.

  8. I don’t carry during a race, because quite frankly I hate it. I feel like it throws me off (totally mental). During training, I do on my longer runs when not on treadmill (extreme heat and extreme cold I have no issues banging out a 20 miler on a mill). I’ll map my routes for workouts or other runs where if I need water there is some along the way (public stops) or can swing by the house. During the race, I just use what is on course, and feel much more confident that way (having less to carry).

  9. It seems like the more races I have under my belt, the less compelled I feel to WEAR a belt. For my first marathon I swear to god it was like I was packing for a week long vacation. I had two water bottles, ibuprofen, gum, and 80 varieties of gels with me (not actually 80, but for sure an excessive amount). I think as I’ve become more comfortable with races, I’ve scaled back what I *actually* need. I never felt like the water weighed me down much, and there has certainly been a race or two when I’ve run without and have thought it would be nice to have my own handheld with Nuun rather than waiting for a congested water station that only has lukewarm water or blue powerade (gag). I guess I’m neutral on the topic. I think part of the reason I don’t carry as much as I used to is just sort of laziness…. 🙂

  10. Road I typically don’t carry ever. Definitely never have at a race. But in the winter, once the water fountains along my route are turned off I’ve carried. But I hate it so try to avoid. For marathon training I just try to find a group with set water stops or try to get my spouse to meet me somewhere. Since I don’t think carrying is necessary in a road race I’d rather not train that way.

    I suggest frequenting some 5k/10ks to practice water stops.

    For trail running I use a water pack for all my runs. Even the short ones. I try to follow the rule re: doing things exactly like a race. So for trail running might as well practice carrying.

    Although you might not get extremely dehydrated with no water I think drinking during all runs (no matter the distance) is important for overall recovery. So I like to have some kind of access… (I’ve scoured out all of the water fountains that are NOT turned off in the winter).

  11. I’ve never raced with a water bottle. I’ve never even taken one on a long run. I know for sure I ran a 20 miler in September with no fluid at all, for example.

    I know I drink less than my running friends. And I do tend to run routes where water fountains are available so that plays into the choice a bit.

    1. I’m with you. I rarely drink on long runs outside of the summer time and even then it’s a couple sips at a water fountain once or twice usually. I used to use the promise of an ice cold gatorade in my car as motivation to finish my long runs faster!

      Only time I needed to drink a lot was during summer runs while I was pregnant and then I astonished myself with how much I could drink while running and still feel thirsty!

  12. I don’t race road races with water bottles. Trail, yes, because I have yet to evolve the necessary camel hump to store water. I have two thoughts if you are concerned about water in races, though.

    First, most people seem to want to carry water because they have a hard time drinking. An old coach had me practice by running a 12 mile loop with 10 at pace a couple of times. In the loop, you find some poor sucker to stand outside with cups of water and hand them to you like the would in a race. (My suggestion is the husband, and I suggest beer as an adequate bribe). It’s a safe way to learn.

    Second, if you just don’t like the crowding in early miles, find a disposable water bottle on the small side (8-12 oz). Use it through the first few miles and chuck it once it thins out.

  13. I usually carry at least one water bottle on any run that I am likely to sweat. One of the rules is that if I go through a full bottle before the fifth mile, I turn around and go home. But racing… no water bottles.

  14. I broke one of the golden rules of racing and use a handheld water bottle for the first time during my BQ attempt a couple of weeks ago. It was my fourth marathon and during training finally was able to figure out how much water I needed to take in in the first couple of miles in order to not bonk at the end. I felt more confident at the start of the race with my gatorade/water combo and was able to get in all of the necessary fluid I needed to get a good start and beat my BQ standard by over 8 minutes! I used the aid stations for the remainder of the race tossed the bottle to my husband when I saw him along the course.

  15. I like to carry a disposable water bottle on race day and chuck it around mile 9 (for half marathons) or mile 15 (for full marathons). It helps me pace my drinking (a sip or two every 2 or 3 miles) – I’ve suffered in races where I drank too much (cuz I’m always so dang thirsty and a sweat A LOT). And I’ve found that if I drink during longer runs/races I feel so much better a few hours after than if I don’t.

  16. I have never run a full marathon. But I have run about 15 half marathons in my 5 years of running. My fastest 5 half marathons were run with no aid at all. No water. No Gatorade. No gels. No candy. Nothing.

    That’s partly because if I feel good in a race, I keep going. If I feel lousy, I stop and grab some refreshment from the aid stations. Also, here in Indianapolis, our half marathons are in the cold spring or the cold autumn. So, I did not sweat like I would in the summer.

    There’s a guy in my running club who has been running for decades. He says that he sometimes races a half marathon on an empty stomach and only grabs a little bit of water during the race from the aid stations.

    I can tell that there is a big range of opinions about how much water and other aid one needs in a half. But in a full there seems to be more agreement. But have your read that decades ago people set world records in the full marathon without drinking a drop? A guy from Czechoslovakia and another guy from Kenya?

    On the other hand, maybe I could run half marathons faster if I did consume water and gels. I’m just too lazy to train for that stuff.

  17. I always carry a handheld when I run. I’m a thirsty girl. I don’t ever carry during a race (trail races are the exception). I love the freedom and light weight feel of shedding that water bottle race day. I also trust that the race will have enough water. However, I recently did a race that recommended you carry water. The were 10-12 stops which you would think would be sufficient. However, there locations did not coincide with when I wanted to gu. Also there were no water stops for the last 4 miles and it was 83 degrees. I momentarily considered tackling another runner and taking her water bottle because I was so thirsty. If I were to do that race again I would carry water. So I think it all depends on the course…never say never.

  18. I typically start a marathon with a water bottle and then drop it after a few miles or when it is empty. This lets me skip a few water stops and helps ensure that I drink enough early in the race. I’m a real salty sweater and need a bit more liquids than the average joe. I will never carry anything for a shorter race.

  19. I have a different take on things, because I’m a BOTPer (back of the pack).

    I, too, started out with a fuel belt. I do kind of miss it, because I could carry as much as 40 oz with me. But I got tired of the chafing & the bouncing.

    So I switched to handheld water bottles.

    And then I forgot to take it to a half. So I relied on water stops for the first time & it was a PR (and a really well organized race).

    At another race, I brought a 10 oz handheld with me because it was going to be a hot & humid day. Thank God I did, because they ran out of cups at one station & were out of water at another (not the first time I’ve encountered that, either, which is why I like to have water with me).

    The next race was going to be quite cool, so I didn’t carry water with me again. And again it was a PR.

    These are halfs, btw.

    I love the freedom of not carrying anything, but there are times it’s too long between water stops in smaller races, too.

    I keep thinking about camelbaks; people seem to love them.

    1. I’ve yet to run with my camelback, but I keep telling myself I’m going to try it. Maybe I’ll test it out during a shorter run, something 10 miles or less, to see if I want to tolerate it for a longer run.

      To answer the post: I don’t carry water to races, but I study the course map pretty hard to make sure they’ll have enough aid stations set up for me (I get nasty GI problems if I don’t fuel quite right).