Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding Water for Trail Runners - Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on water and trail runners.  You can find the first part here.  In the first part, hopefully, I've convinced you to not drink from streams.  So what options do you have?

  1. Bring enough water.  Okay, while this seems obvious, I'm going to tell you to bring extra in your car.  Because if you know you have a couple of liters in your car, you might be more willing to....
  2. Just get dehydrated. Suck it up, buttercup.  You'll run slower, but you won't die.  Oh, you'll feel miserable, and possibly get a wicked headache.  You probably don't need to worry about heatsroke, though - that's a myth.   If you want to learn more about that, read the 2008 Science of Sport coverage on that, which you can find here, here, and here.  But hey, I don't know where you're running, and maybe it's Death Valley.  I'm in New England.
  3. Call ahead and ask.  A park employee might know about sources of potable water that aren't necessarily easy to spot on the map, including wells installed for parks work or at a research station.  They also might tell you where the water is particularly bad.
  4. Ask Bear Grylls.  No, don't do that.  It's gross.

    Okay, very well.  You've decided to drink some water out on the trail anyway.  Let me help you out then. 

    First, pick  your water.  Go for a stream rather than a lake, and don't drink from a green lake.  Some of the algae that can grow in lakes can make a compound called microcystin, and this can cause liver failure.  They even cancel triathlons for microcystin.

    Second, if you can, go upstream from any livestock.  

    What's in the water?  Nothing nice.
    Next, if you see a lot of pipes sticking out of the ground, keep on walking.  PVC or metal.  While these could be a number of things, one possibility is that this is a monitoring well.  Monitoring wells allow hydrologists to periodically analyze underground water.  Why do hydrologists want to monitor the water chemistry?  Hmmm.....  most likely it's because something ain't right down there.  Uranium?  Arsenic?  Who knows?  Well, maybe you if you called ahead.
    Okay then.   So you've picked a stream with some water in it, and you want to try to make it as potable as possible, right?  Now, keep in mind, you're never going to get it as clean as what you've come to expect out of your tap, so we're really looking at lowering your risk of getting sick. 

    Here's what you need to bring out with you on longer runs.  Just FYI, I always carry these, because they are light and damn useful.

    1. A bandana.
    2. A rubber band.
    3. Iodine tabs - these are dirt cheap and easily packable.  Buy them here at REI.

    First, use a rubber band to secure the bandana over the mouth of your water bottle.  You can also put it on the mouth of a hydration bladder, but those are substantially harder to fill.  Why are we doing this?  Well, cloth filtration isn't a great method for purifying water, but it can cut down on bacteria by about 50%, and additionally, has some effectiveness at removing toxic metals as well.  It turns out, a lot of toxins (but not all) and a lot of nasty critters will glom onto small particles in the water.  Filter out the particles, and you'll ingest less of them.  Also, removing particulate matter will make the iodine more effective.  It's not super necessary for the cloth to be squeaky clean, but if you used your bandana, um, 30 feet off the trail, consider using your shirt instead.

    Next, submerge your bottle in the water and wait for it to fill.
    The iodine tabs for scale.  If you've been eating at Taco Bell,
    maybe you should bring along two bandanas?

    Lastly, remove your filter and add the iodine tab, following the manufacturers instructions.  Typically, it will say wait 30 minutes.  You can increase the effectiveness of the iodine treatment by warming the water, so go ahead and stick the bottle down the front of your bra.  Feels good, don't it?  There are a few other chemical treatments available - peroxide and chlorine to be specific, but I recommend iodine over those.  The peroxide and chlorine tabs degrade quicker, and take longer to work.  The disadvantage of iodine is that the water tastes a bit yucky.  So I think it's perfect for stashing in your pack - presumably, for you, it's Plan B anyway.  

    Hope this all helps, and let's end with a pic from my most recent trail run: