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Sage Canaday's Top 5 Tips for Hydrating During a Trail Running Race

Trail Running

, by Greg Heil

All photos courtesy of CamelBak

Sage Canaday is one of the most decorated runners alive. With a storied career spanning road racing, ultra mountain runs, and everything in between, he's proven to be a diverse and successful competitor across a multitude of disciplines.

Even after dealing with tremendous setbacks, such as a pulmonary embolism in both lungs that had him at death's door, Sage has continued to persevere. Last year, he set a new FKT on Hawaii's Haleakala volcano in January 2022, with a stunning round-trip time of 7h 6m 29s. This effort also includes an additional FKT on the ascent route to the summit. 

With a long racing career spanning decades, Sage has had ample opportunity to fine-tune his nutrition and hydration needs. He's taken his expertise and turned it into a coaching business, which he runs with his partner Sandi Nypaver: Higher Running.

We caught Sage between brutal runs up Colorado's 14ers during his prep for the ultra-technical TDS UTMB race to get his top 5 tips for hydrating during a trail running race:

1. Drink Early, Drink Often

No matter the distance you're racing—whether it's a half-marathon or a 100-mile ultra—Sage recommends beginning to drink before you've even felt the first pangs of thirst. He recommends starting "with small sips and not ignoring that even in the first half hour, first hour of a race." 

If you wait until you're thirsty to begin drinking, you risk dehydration and reduced race performance. So, drink early and drink often.

2. Add Electrolytes to Your Water

Most people can't get away with drinking plain water if they want to perform at a high level through all of the rigors of a trail running race—and especially at ultra distances. So, Sage recommends adding an electrolyte mix to your water—specifically, a "drink mix that has sodium [and] potassium—those essential electrolytes."

Depending on your personal needs, a sports mix with calories could be a great benefit, too. "In ultras, it's a good way to get in some extra carbohydrates and calories while you're running. So you're hydrating, but you're also fueling."

RELATED: Sage Canaday Is Bringing his Tenacity to the Grueling TDS UTMB Race

Many races will only provide one particular type of electrolyte mix at their aid stations—often, a brand that has sponsored the race. To perform well in different races, Sage recommends experimenting with a variety of popular mixes so that you know how you'll react to different formulas. If there's a key race that you're planning to compete in, look up their hydration sponsor and then train with that product.

If you're choosing a drink mix for training, Sage uses and recommends Spring Energy. But you can also select a product based on your particular tastes. For example, Tailwind Nutrition is known to be much saltier than other mixes. If you like salt, that could be a great choice. And if you like a sweeter mix, look elsewhere.

3. Pick the Right Water Carrying Gear with Adequate Capacity

Different trail races have different hydration requirements. First, you'll want to research the distance between aid stations to determine how much water you'll need to carry. From that starting point, you can work backward to decide which hydration vest is the right choice for your race.

For example, the TDS requires racers to have enough capacity to carry at least a liter of fluid, in addition to emergency supplies such as two headlamps, a survival blanket, food reserves, a waterproof breathable jacket with a hood, warm layers, a hat, gloves, waterproof pants, and more. 

"My CamelBak vest [is] great because I could put two half-liter bottles right up front," says Sage. "They're easily accessible. I have the capacity to fill up at each aid station. I could carry a liter." Instead of carrying a hydration reservoir in the back of the pack, he'll instead reserve that space for the required emergency gear and clothing layers.

However, some "other races are big adventures. Like when you're out in the mountains, and you don't have a water filter, and you're gonna go dry for a long time, you might have to carry two or three liters of water. CamelBak's also great because they have 2-liter [and] 1.5-liter reservoirs that you could also easily put in your pack." With these options, you can easily customize your fluid carrying capacity to your expected needs.

RELATED: Five Rules for Fueling Long Runs

"You don't want to be carrying jugs of water in your hands because that's going to be inefficient, whereas the CamelBak packs are ergonomically designed. They're form-fitting so that the water doesn't bounce around too much. And you can carry several liters—[which is] what I'd usually recommend," says Sage. "If you have the capacity, it's always good to have more fluid than to run out of fluid. You don't want to be running dry. So on these big mountain adventures, I'll fill up the reservoir and my soft flasks." 

For an additional backup on epic adventures, Sage will also pack a CamelBak water filter. "Especially in the backcountry in Colorado, It's nice to be able to have some streams to just pull from," he explains."

4. Practice with Hydration and Gear on Long Training Runs

Whichever electrolyte mix and gear setup you choose, Sage highly recommends practicing with your chosen setup on your long training runs before race day arrives. "When Sandi and I coach people in training, we have them do long runs that mimic the course conditions. Part of that is practicing with all your gear on you." 

"If you go out to the race and all of a sudden you have this five-pound pack on, and you're not used to running with a five-pound pack on," you won't be prepared to perform well, he adds. 

This practice includes drinking the same amount of fluid per hour that you expect to consume on race day, practicing your calorie consumption, and figuring out how much you'll actually need based on the conditions. "If it's really hot out, someone might have to drink a liter of fluid an hour. Whereas if it's not as hot out, maybe you're only drinking a half a liter of fluid." This also includes practicing sipping from your CamelBak vest and learning how to use it efficiently. 

5. Freeze Your Drop Bag Bottles

On hot race days, your aid station drop bags will often spend hours baking in the sun. There's nothing worse than getting to your aid bag and looking forward to a refreshing drink, only to choke down a hot electrolyte slurry. 

"I've found that it's better to freeze your bottles [before putting them in your drop bags] or put a bunch of ice cubes in them," says Sage, "I'll do this even when I go out this afternoon [on a training run]. It's pretty hot here on a run, [so] I'll just put a bunch of ice cubes in half my CamelBak soft flask or even in the reservoir. That way, it'll start melting in the heat of the day, when I'm running, or when your drop bags are transported. But it stays cool for longer."

However, if the climate is colder and/or the bottles will be sitting in a drop bag during the night, you might not want to freeze them solid. You'll need to estimate how much they may melt before you get to them. 

With these five key tips, you'll be able to plan your fluid carrying capacity with critical CamelBak products, plan your hydration intervals, dial in your electrolyte consumption, practice like you'll race, and have a bit of refreshing coolness to your drinks!

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