I recently ran in a 5k race in Greenville, South Carolina, and I noticed something out of the ordinary out there. They had no water stations along the route and those who participated did not have water readily available at the finish line. We had to walk a little bit to the refreshment tables to get our water. This got me thinking about how I never needed water while running with my Soldiers, but when in a race, I almost always seek out the water stations.
One of my more memorable moments in the military are the formation runs. For those who don’t know, a formation run is when a unit runs together, usually in a rectangular shape with three to four people in the front and everyone falling in behind them. A unit formation run can be as small as a squad run with only four to twelve people, all behind one person and as big as division with hundreds of rectangles comprising thousands of people if the commander wishes. But usually, a formation run will range from a platoon (about 30 people) to a battalion (between 300 to 800 people). Each rectangle gets a cadence caller, a singer if you will, who is charge of keeping everyone in step so no one trips over another person’s feet. I could go on about some of the songs used for cadences, but that can be for another day.
These formation runs are intentionally slow, too, at least by military standards. Most people like to keep them at basically a ten minute per mile pace, though I have run in some that went at a nine minute per mile pace, and then there were the rare seven minute a mile pace runs. These formation runs can usually go for at least 45 minutes, though I remember a brigade run taking over an hour to do.
There’s no water along the route for a formation run, either. Instead, you’re expected to be already fully hydrated, drink some water before the run, and have water readily available once you’re dismissed from the formation run. I always kept a container of water in my car on days like those. Because the pace was so slow compared to how fast we were supposed to run as individuals, you can say I was accustomed to not having water during a run. Even with the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), while we ran as fast as we could for two miles, there was no water on the course; only after you were done.
Now, when I participate in a 5k race, I’m not running at six miles per hour (the ten minute a mile pace), so I’m going to need some sort of liquid out along the course. And while I could go without water the entire race, I know there is always someone out there who is participating in the race for the first time, underprepared for the race, or have the weather (heat, humidity, glaring sunlight) severely affect them. This past weekend in Greenville, I was actually thirsty along the course while running the Zoom Through the Zoo 5k. I did drink plenty of water the night before and I had several cups up to two hours prior to the race, but for some reason, I still craved liquid refreshment while running. Before I hit some discouraging hills about two miles in, I was working an eight-minute mile pace, which is a little faster than I have been doing, so on the positive side, I’m slowly getting back to my old self. Then I started to run out of steam, figuratively, because I needed to cool off with some water, yet none was nearby. If I was feeling this way, how did the people I passed at the beginning of the race feel? And I wasn’t the only one seeking out water after the race, either; another runner asked me where I got my water bottle from when I walked back to the finish line. This particular race was the first time I’ve ever run a 5k race and there were no water stations set up on the course.
This is one of those perplexing mysteries to me. Why do I not need water while in formation, but if I’m running more than two miles in a race, I crave it? Maybe it’s all the cadence calling and responses of a formation run. Maybe it’s the slower pace. But whatever the case, I need to keep an eye on it.