After a 10-year hiatus from routine physical healthcare, I recently scheduled an appointment to see a primary care physician. The impetus of the appointment had less to do with any actual concern about my health and more to do with flexing the sweet, government paid health care that I now had.
I like my primary care doctor. In our first meeting, he burst into the room like a cyclone, forcefully sat himself down on his doctor’s stool, whipped himself around and dove right in to our appointment. Having been working in a primary care clinic for the past year, I tried my best to be a good patient – quick, explicit, honest and only speaking in yes/no answers.
Do you smoke?
Do you drink?
Do you drink more than 5 times a week?
Our dialogue had a machine gun rhythm. He paused shortly into our meeting and said out loud to nobody in particular, “man, this is an easy one.” He scheduled me for bloodwork and a one-month follow-up to review my results.
At the follow-up, my doctor stormed into the room with the same gusto I appreciated before and announced, “my easiest patient of the day.” He flipped through my lab results.
Normal..normal…normal…cholesterol lower than mine…normal…normal…
This was horrible news. I was being rewarded for neglecting my personal health for the past 10 years. I told him that and he laughed. “Well, it’s not all good news. Your BUN is pretty low. All it means is that you are pretty dehydrated.”
I was devastated. What did this mean? How could this be? I drank plenty of coffee. I ran with a water bottle and sometimes remembered to drink it. On the weekends I okay, I could see it now.
“It’s fine, really, just drink a bit more water.”
Being a good patient, I took my doctor’s advice and started researching means to improving my water intake.
This is the first of my efforts to become a better, wetter person – a review of my latest hydration gear.
Diana recently told me that I rarely ease myself into things. Rather than testing the waters and toeing my way into something new, she thinks (and is correct) that I tend to dive in and go whole hog with new things. My thinking is, why go half hog when you have the whole hog right there? Wouldn’t that risk the other half of the hog spoiling? Maybe I wasn’t understanding the metaphor.
A week after my lab results, I took a trip to Fit2Run and looked to see what type of water bottles they had. At the time, I ran with an oddly shaped, small bottle that tucks into my running belt. It is an okay bottle but somewhat hard to access. I often end my runs with just as much water as I started – due to both the difficulty to access and open the bottle as well as the fact that I often just forget to drink water. After playing around with different options, I made two selections…
There she is – beauty in bag form
The first thing I set my mind to was getting a hydration pack. As someone newly diagnosed as dehydrated, I couldn’t risk not carrying enough water with me. Also, as my weekend mileage starts to creep up into the high teens and low 20s my need for water is going to (hopefully) grow with it. Prior to my trip to Fit2Run, I did some online research and found a few different packs that caught my attention. The problem, however, was that I couldn’t try any of these on. If you trust reviews, then these packs simultaneously run too big, too small, narrow and sagging all at the same time. With the cost running upwards of $200, I didn’t want to go through a similar ordeal that I went through with my headphones.
I also noticed I was falling into the trap of stuff. The packs online all had neat stuff to them – extra pockets, hooks, whistles, straps for poles, anything you could ever imagine. I was dazzled. With these, I could easily run 100 miles and be fine, I thought to myself.
Then, I came back to earth. I am only running 20 miles at most. Why do I need these hyper specialized bags? And wouldn’t the extra stuff just be more to carry?
At the Fit2Run, I spotted a small, black bag made by Nathan (not the hotdog people) – the Quick Start 4L
Water Specs – The bag came with a 1.5L bladder and a drinking hose attached to the shoulder straps. There was also a pocket on the front shoulder strap that could hold an additional water bottle. In all, someone could carry nearly 2L of water.
Storage Specs – In the backpack part of the bag (where the bladder is stored), there is a waterproof divider and then a storage area. This could easily store (and keep dry) a change of shirt, paper directions, and/or food. There is also a zip pouch on the non-water bottle shoulder strap that fits a phone with some room to spare. Along with fighting dehydration, my larger training goal is to be better about fueling while running. All this storage could help me carry food as well as keep my phone dry and bring whatever else I may need (keys, credit card, etc.)
Fit – The bag, without water, felt good and secure. There are two pull straps across the chest and then an additional two straps on each side of the bag. The water hose also nestled across my chest with the opening near my mouth. I could see it being easy to both remember to drink as well as access my water.
Cost – This was the biggest plus for the bag. Coming in at $65, this was easily the cheapest bag I saw. I was also drawn to the minimalism of the bag (a cognitive reframe to help me get over the ultra-specialized, ultra-costly bags online).
After setting my mind to buying the Quick Start, I realized I didn’t have a water bottle that would easily fit into the front storage area. Scanning the wall of options, I saw and immediately decided to get the Exoflask – also by Nathan.
Specs – The Exoflask is a modest 12oz bottle. What is unique is that the body of the bottle is made of soft plastic. While empty, the bottle collapses into the cap making it easy to store. The cap is made of rigid plastic with a soft spout. Rather than having to open and close anything, the spout dispenses water by pinching it with your teeth and squeezing the body of the bottle. Seemed easy enough (and, spoiler alert, it is easy enough). The bottle also comes with a soft, removable hand strap that wraps around the bottle (with a bonus storage flap) and wraps around your wrist.
Cost – At $40, the bottle is costly but seems to perfectly fit what I need – something to fit into my hydration pack for long runs as well as something easy to bring on shorter outings.
The next morning, I woke up at 5am and prepared for a 15-mile run (diving in with an entire hog). I filled my 1.5L bladder with water (after cleaning it, of course) and the Exoflask with an electrolyte drink. In the bag, I stored a hand towel (for drying my hands to use my phone) and paper directions for my run. I also slipped in an Rx bar and a peanut butter sandwich.
Early into the run, I realized I made a crucial mistake. I fitted the bag to my body without anything in it. Now, one mile into my run I kept fiddling with my straps. Too tight – can’t breath. Too loose – it’s bouncing. Oops, too tight – my arm hurts. Too loose again. This went on for the next three miles. When I finally ended up with a good fit I realized I needed to knot my straps to keep them in place. Not a big deal as long as the bag fits well.
Once the straps were all where they needed to be, it felt good to run with the bag on. There was no bounce, I was able to breath despite having straps across my chest, and the hose was rigid enough to sit tucked under a strap and not bounce around. I found myself drinking much more frequently with the water now so readily available.
Between the third and forth mile, I turned to run along the Hillsborough River. It was barely 5:30 am and the world was still asleep. The moon shimmered across the river and I debated stopping to take a picture. I didn’t, not wanting to risk a disruption to my good running flow
I cut through a park to stay close to the river. Half way through, the lone street lamp lighting the backside of the park died and I was suddenly in near-total darkness. It was only now, of course, that I noticed somebody walking on the path about 200 yards ahead of me. In the darkness I couldn’t tell anything about them or even if they were walking towards me or away. I felt uncomfortable and unsafe. It made me sad, feeling totally at peace running at night until the moment I saw another human. Also, if I felt this way as a 32-year old, relatively fit man, how in the world does any female ever run in anything less than perfectly lit, crowded areas? This is some messed up society we live in.
I managed to run through the rest of the park without ever seeing the person. Getting back onto the road, I questioned if I had even seen a person at all or if it was a bush, blowing in the breeze, that made me fearful for my safety and the safety of our society.
Another mile later, I crossed the bridge over the Hillsborough and turned to take the West Bank Riverwalk towards downtown. I love running in the dark. The air was still cool and crisp. The lights of the Riverwalk, blues purples and reds, kept the pathway well lit and made the water glimmer. And, best yet, at such an early hour there was nobody out on the walkway. During the day, the Riverwalk is absolutely littered with walkers and runners, people who seem to be riding bikes for the first time ever, pan handlers and people practicing the unicycle, glamor photoshoots and rogue children trying to trip you. At 6:00am on a Saturday, there is none of that.
By the time I reached the end of the Riverwalk and turned onto Channelside, the sun was coming up. I pulled out my Exoflask and took a mouthful of electrolyte drink. It was a nice change of pace from water and (likely a placebo effect) felt like he helped perk me up. Working my way up around Channelside, through Ybor and finally to Seminole Heights, I noticed that I was feeling stronger and more confident than I normally would so late into a long run. By mile 13, my shoulder started to feel sore. I realized that with the weight of the pack, I was overcompensating by holding my shoulders higher than I normally would – fighting gravity’s pull on the pack. After two hours of compensating, a dull ache starting to fill the socket of my shoulder. No matter how I stretched or swung my arm, the pain steadily increased. I set my mind to the fact that the pain would just be there and all I could do is try to relax my shoulder and finish the run. The pain was also a good reminder that the more I drank the lighter the pack would be.
I hit mile 15 well before my house. I laughed to myself and said out loud (too tired for inner monologue), “well, Saturday 16 has a better ring to it anyways.”
When I finally reached home, I threw off my pack and collapsed into a chair on our porch. Exactly sixteen miles down and I felt good, elated even. I had all the glow of the hard work endorphins without any of the sting of the usual post-run dehydrated desperation. The pack and flask combo worked fantastic. I noted to myself that I didn’t eat any of the food I brought and decided to make that the challenge of the next run – can I eat something, anything while running?