Getting hydration right: SOS Rehydrate

Hydration is a key component of every marathon runner’s armoury when it comes to succeeding over 26.2 miles (or even further). I tend to think that for anything up to and including a half marathon, you can get away with being a bit haphazard during the race, provided you are well hydrated before you start (and that doesn’t mean gulping down a pint of water 5 minutes before the gun, that simply sloshes around in your stomach and can’t be absorbed). But for a marathon, especially if you are going to be out for 4 or 5 hours, you need to “Think Drink” (I just made that up, so any hydration brands out there who’d like to use it, you know how to contact me!)

I found out about that to my cost in the London marathon 2011. I was almost certainly a bit dehydrated before I started and it turned out to be a warm day – not stiflingly hot, but as I set off at the 6 min/mile pace that was required for me to hit my target time, I was quickly sweating and losing fluids rapidly.

By 18 miles I was in big trouble – my mouth felt like it was full of cotton wool and I was having trouble swallowing because my throat was so dry. I remember wiping my forehead and it was completely dry – just salt-crusted, but there was no sweat at all. At the big turn in Canary Wharf I came to an aid station and stopped.

The response from the crowd at seeing someone go from close to 10mph to nothing was really hard for me to deal with – everyone was yelling at me to get going again. But I was feeling worse than I had ever felt before. As I walked through the aid station, I took two bottles of water and drank them both completely. Then I took a bottle of Lucozade sport and drank all of that as well – so probably 750ml of liquid in 3 minutes.

At the end of the aid station I started jogging again. Within half a mile I was running. Seven or eight minutes after I stopped running, I was back to nearly 6 minute miles again. I had blown my target time, but I was able to regroup, recalculate and aim for a new target of sub-2:45. I finished in 02:43:37.

I also learned that in future I would have to figure out how to deal with staying hydrated. And you know, there are products for that…

I recently had the chance to talk to James Mayo, Co Founder of SOS Hydration about why hydration products are better than water and what runners should think about when it comes to avoiding dehydration.


Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 09.30.12Me: James, first of all, what was the inspiration behind SOS Hydration?

James: It was a simple lightening moment. Both my brother and I ran at a high level and whilst we had access to hydration products, the simply weren’t working so in a Heath Robinson fashion we would make up something that worked for us. My wife is a doctor and she knows about the side of rehydration techniques used in medicine. Between us we realised that no one had cracked the hydration question. So SOS is based on the World Health Organisation hydration guidelines. The truth is that everyone gets dehydrated – when I was in the Army – at same time as I was a runner – in Cheshire Regiment – where there were also problems with dehydration, so I have seen it from all angles and that inspired me to set up the business.

Me: There seem to be hundreds of hydration products on the market – how is SOS different to, or better than, other products?

James: There are a number of difference, but I believe that the main one are:

  • 27% more electrolytes and half calories and sugar that are in coconut water
  • no artificial sweeteners
  • low osmolarity which means that it’s as effective at getting fluid into the bloodstream as a drip
  • the formulation means you absorb water three times faster with SOS than water on its own – right balance of sugar and electrolytes means that sugar grabs sodium and sodium takes the water into the blood. The balance is crucial.
  • we have really shown that the product works: SOS athletes have swum the channel, won the America’s cup and achieved many, many other incredible feats
  • it is really portable and so great for athletes and people with a busy lifestyle

Me: What are the key reasons marathon runners should focus on their hydration?

James: The answer to this revolves around the fact that a 2% loss in body weight through dehydration can lead to a 20% loss in performance. So shoes and gels are enormously important factors in performing to your best, but hydration is the last bastion of performance that runners need to get right

Me: How should runners use the product? How about in a race?

James: We recently supplied the sailors aboard Oracle Team USA with SOS and they were going through 1500 packets a month between 28 sailors. The low osmolarity means less gastrointestinal distress and we recommend athletes use 1 packet for each hour of exercise, so runners could drink one before the marathon and a couple during the marathon and one after. SOS comes in silver foil packet so you could rip it open, pour into water bottle handed out on the course and drink it as you run. It can also be pre-mixed if you can get access to bottles during your race.


As I said in one of my questions to James, there are seemingly hundreds of hydration products on the market and it is essential that if you decide you use one in a race, you figure out what is right for you by practicing with it well in advance.

For me, I have to say that I like the idea of using something that has electrolytes for ultra races seems like a great idea. For the marathon, the problem is that I can’t have pre-mixed drinks by the side of the course (not fast enough for that) and I feel as though I am running too fast to be able to open a packet of powder, get it into the neck of a bottle and then drink it – at 6 min/mile it is a matter of grabbing a bottle and taking a couple of gulps whilst trying to breathe!

But it is definitely worth thinking about your strategy and practicing what you are going to do on race days. If you want to try SOS it is available from Sweatshop* – let me know if you try it and what you think.







*disclaimer: at freestak, the company I co-own, we do work with Sweatshop on social media marketing campaigns but not as yet on SOS and we don’t work for SOS.




The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part two: Hydration


I don’t think it is possible to race a marathon (I use the word ‘race’ as against ‘run’ or ‘complete’ because ‘race’ to me means pushing as close to your limits as you can) without getting dehydrated.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 21.21.23

As with so many things relating to a marathon, the key here is making sure you get it right in the days leading up to your race, so drink plenty in the few days before the race – and if you have to go to a race expo and walk around for hours looking at the latest gadget or pair of shoes, take a BIG bottle of water with you: a few sample cups of energy drink is not sufficient. Then on the morning of the race sip something like water or a diluted energy drink and make sure that you empty your bladder as close to the start of the race as possible.

During the race

Quite simply the act of getting water in your mouth when you are running as fast as you can, is not easy and at best you are likely to only get a mouthful or so. And even if you can get water into your mouth, your stomach can only absorb a certain amount and you really don’t want water sloshing around inside you as you run. So ‘little and often’ is my best advice here.

It has been reported that the great Haile Gebrselassie was 9% dehydrated when he set the then world record of 2:03:59. And his last mile was astonishingly fast. So dehydration can be managed. Just take a mouthful as often as you think is necessary, don’t drink too much and make sure you are very well hydrated before you start. Now that’s not complicated, is it?


Do as he says, not as I do

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by my coach Nick Anderson, to a group of runners from my club, the Mornington Chasers. The subject of the talk was rather wide-ranging and essentially boiled down to…

Ways to be the best runner you can be

As usual, Nick got stuck in to some pretty specific advice. And I took absolutely none of it on board. It was almost comical.

Amongst other things and in no particular order, Nick gave the following advice:

  • Hydrate well – I had probably drunk a pint of water all day and that evening drank almost exclusively fruit juice!
  • Eat properly – the Chasers had organised a some lovely food, but I actually ate some chips, some pizza and a couple of handfuls of peanuts. Nick told us clearly in that what we had eaten was not enough – that it was a snack and not dinner – but by the time I had cycled home it was nearly 11pm and I was tired. So I had two small bread rolls with feta cheese and a chocolate mousse. Brilliant!
  • Eat within 5 minutes of finishing your run/session – I had been for a pre-breakfast run at 7am but when I got back it was at least an hour before I managed to eat anything. Then the first thing to pass my lips was a cup of tea.
  • Sleep well – Nick talked about the fact that our bodies enter the phase where we are really repairing the damage from training after four hours sleep. I got to bed around midnight and was up at 5am… so that would be one solitary hour in the recovery sleep phase then.
pizza chips
A runners dinner? It is if you’re an idiot.

To top all that off, I went out today to meet a trail race organiser to learn about how to put on a good off-road event (it was a brilliant day and there will be a report on here very soon). By 2pm I was freezing cold – having spent almost 3 hours walking and running around the course with the organiser and a photographer, leaping in and out of puddles to get the perfect shot – and I had not eaten anything since 8am when I had feasted on just 2 slices of toast.

Life gets in the way of perfect training for most of us. But that is no excuse for being an idiot.

Like many people, I suspect, I allow the pressure of life and work to take over. But that is a choice I make. I can always make different choices if I want.

I could have taken a Tupperware box with a homemade pasta salad to the talk last night and done the same for the day out today. I could have ordered two pints of tapwater at the bar last night instead of orange juice. I could have made a sensible decision about not trying to go for a run before leaving to catch my train to meet the trail race director, which might have afforded me an extra couple of hours’ sleep.

What I think happened is that I did not follow my new mantra:

Run the day. Don’t allow the day to run you.

So please, do me a favour. Do not do as I do. Do as Nick says. If you really care about your running and you really genuinely want to be the best runner you can be, plan ahead and make sure you do the right stuff to allow you to eat, drink, recover and sleep well. That way the training will take care of itself and you will arrive at the start line of your race in the best possible shape. Oh and if you remember, can you drop me an email to remind me to do the same? The address is Thanks!

Fuel for thought

Ed: Dionne has written a piece about dehydration that spells out the dangers and importance of preparation. If you have any comments please leave them for us and if you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

The ballot for the London marathon 2012 has been drawn and autumn marathon season is well and truly underway with less than a week till marathoners take a bite of the Big Apple across the other side of the pond…. forget Christmas, marathon fever is upon us!!

This casts my mind back to this year’s London marathon; there I was at the mile 25 mark watching zombie like figures stagger along the Mall. It was obvious to me that many of the runners had ‘hit the wall’ putting every last ounce of blood, sweat and tears to reach the finish line after 26.2 miles of the famous roads of London town and battling through the pain pushing themselves to exhaustion!

Hitting the wall

This got me thinking; what causes this phase of hitting the wall and how can athletes steer passed it so they have a much smoother and enjoyable ride to the finish line?

It was when doing my dissertation whilst studying sports management at the University of Birmingham that I got some ‘fuel for thought’ about one of the detrimental causes which could have such a negative effect on performance.

Research into dehydration

According to research, one of the common causes of hitting the wall is dehydration. When an athlete becomes dehydrated fluid is lost from the blood making it thicker and harder for the heart to pump an adequate supply of blood with each heart beat. This places the body under huge stress as the heart works to supply an efficient amount of oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Just a 2% reduction in body fluid can have a negative consequence for performance whilst dehydration can lead to a 6% reduction in performance and often will have a detrimental effect on the health of the runner, leading to symptoms such as intense thirst, impaired judgement, fatigue, anxiety, headache and in more severe cases, where adequate fluid had not been replaced, it has been known for runners to suffer from strokes or in extreme cases can lead to death.

Many of us are guilty of waiting for the thirst mechanism to tell us when we need to drink, however there is reason to suggest that this thirst mechanism is ineffective, because by the time it kicks in you are already likely to be mildly dehydrated by around 2% body weight. This is the 2% body weight that can lead to a 6% reduction in performance, meaning those that are not keeping hydrated could lose out on reaching their target time no matter how well their training leading up to the marathon has gone. It has therefore been noted that the athlete must be well educated in the advantages and importance of being properly hydrated in order to avoid severe dehydration and the consequential conspicuous impairment on overall performance, specifically when competing in endurance events like the marathon.

Effects of dehydration

As a result of the notable effects of dehydration on performance, specific hydration guidelines have been recommended by the American College of Sport Medicine. They suggest that an athlete needs to consume between 150ml and 200ml every 15-20 minutes of exercise equivalent. This is up to 600-1200ml per hour. However it is important to note that you don’t over hydrate as this could also cause adverse effects on performance, not least the dreaded ‘stitch’. Fuel for thought indeed!

This brings me to my final thought and the famous quote ‘poor planning leads to poor performance’ as it is clearly evident that without having the efficient amount of fluid in place performance is likely to be reduced and those goals you have worked so hard to achieve will be further out of reach, so grab those water bottles, find the drink that suits you and stand on that start line feeling fully prepared, confident and ready to fly. Good Luck!