Races of any size need to be prepared for all emergencies, so water stops and sports drinks are available for most 5Ks. Under ideal race conditions, most runners should be able to cover 5K without needing water or sports drink.
However, the need for these is dependent upon so many other factors – weather, the difficulty of the course, the hydration level of participants going into the race, various health and medical conditions, and how long it takes a participant to cover the distance. Even short races need to provide water and sports drink to help ensure the safety and well-being of all participants.
The longer it takes someone to complete the race, the more they will need water. You might not need water if you can finish a 5K in 17 to 20 minutes, but for someone out there 45 to 60 minutes, water becomes critical.
It’s best to go into any race hydrated and adequately nourished, so several days before your race, make a special effort to drink adequate fluids, like water, sports drinks, fruit juices, and even tea or coffee.
Your urine can be a good indicator of your hydration level. It should be a very light yellow color. If it is dark yellow, increase your fluid intake. If it is completely clear, back off a bit and consider taking some additional electrolytes or consume a sports drink. Taking in too much water can also be problematic. It can leave you feeling bloated and may even result in hyponatremia, a dangerous condition in which sodium levels drop too low.
Try drinking 500mL. of water two to three hours before the start of any race. This gives your body time to process the extra fluids, meaning time for you to use the bathroom before the start. You may choose to sip some water up to the start, especially on a warm day.
If you feel thirsty during a race, drink! If you intend to stop or walk through a support stop, take the water or sports drink from the volunteer and move to the side of the road as quickly as you can to avoid a collision.
Research has shown that sports drinks limit dehydration, provide much needed electrolytes, and supply muscles with an extra source of energy. Sports drinks become critical for long runs or races lasting longer than 90 minutes. However, research also seems to indicate that sports drinks are not necessary for runs less than 90 minutes.
This is not to say that sports drinks are bad or not necessary.
What’s most important is to learn what works for you. Finding the balance between adequate hydration and appropriate fueling for training runs and race day while avoiding any gastro-intestinal discomfort or issues is the key.
Listen to your body, drink when you are thirsty, watch the color of your urine, and know that the race will have water and sports drink available should you need it.