Iíve seen it dozens of times, usually while watching the Olympics. Some graceful marathon runner pads over to the side of the road to reach a volunteer holding a cup on an outstretched hand. Without breaking stride, he drinks the contents, never spilling a drop. Or maybe he intentionally dumps it on his head. Either way, itís a smooth, seemless transaction.

So of course, thatís how I imagined my first-ever pass of a water stop, an opportunity offered to me at last Saturdayís trial run of the Akron Marathon National Interstate 8k course. I would glide past the table without slowing, one hand deftly swiping the cup and lifting it to my parched but grateful lips. Perhaps I would take second cup and sprinkle myself before flinging the containers to the side. A gentle breeze would flow through my lightly moistened locks as I maintained my record-breaking pace.

Ah, life is so much prettier in my head.

I can still hear Akron Marathon staffers Carrie Washnock and Lauren Hoyer shouting words of encouragement as if desperately pulling me up that brutal hill on Broadway. (Okay, the hill didnít look so brutal when I drove by it yesterday, but clearly some road crew has lowered it since Saturday.) Behind them, Beau Polen, son of race director Brian Polen, was rapping a Blue Line Beginners serenade into a mic. Or so I'm told. I missed it because all I could focus on were those red cups lining the table. I had spent the last mile dreaming of them.

When I finally reached them, I came to a dead stop. I was breathing hard from that hill when I grabbed the first cup and gulped the water. It burned going down. I choked on it, wondering how people drink while gasping for air at the same time. I took a second cup and dumped it on my head. I instantly regretted it. It was so cold when it hit my neck, it knocked what little breath I had left right out of me. I took a third cup of water and sipped it tentatively. Thatís when I realized I was dallying. How long had I been standing there? The walkers were catching up to me! Good lord, was I the only one who found this fluid station so complicated? I fled the table as if from an abusive relationship. And the gentle breeze had no impact whatsoever on my now-matted head of hair.

On June 24, there will be one more slight complication. The tables will be stocked with water and Powerade. For most of us, the choice should be water. Water maintains the bodyís fluid balance and helps cool you down. Itís all the hydration an average person with a slow-to-moderate pace needs to get through a 5-mile run or walk. Powerade is more of a consideration for those who run fast for long distances, as it replaces electrolytes lost through heavy sweating. But even then, donít let June 24 be your first sports drink. Itís full of sugar and can upset a tummy that isnít used to it. If you think youíre going to need a sports drink, experiment by drinking a little during a training run to see how you feel. If you need it race day, also opt for a sip instead of a gulp, and finish off with water.

Unlike Saturdayís trial run - when it would have been a littering offense (not to mention rude to Carrie and Lauren) had I actually flung my cups to the ground - it will be okay on race day to toss your cup to the side, off the course. Volunteers and city crews will be cleaning up after the event. If your grandmotherís spirit is following you and shaking her head, you can always carry your empty cup to the next fluid table or find a roadside trash bin. Better yet, come join me for a leisurely break at the table, where Iím sure Iíll be lounging and wondering how much time Iím losing because I donít know how to drink, breathe and run at the same time.

There are no fluid stations along the 1 mile course (after all, youíll be toasting with your rootbeers inside the stadium in less than 20 minutes) but there will be two along the 8k route. The first will come up a little after the two mile mark, on Main Street less than a block after leaving West Market Street. The second is right about where we had it during our trial run on Broadway, just before the turn onto Exchange Street.

To learn more about the difference between water and sports drinks, you can check out this story: https://runnersconnect.net/coach-corner/sports-drinks-vs-water-when-its-best-to-use-each. Itís more information than most of you will care to know, but if your intent is to keep getting faster and doing longer distances, itís probably worth a few minutes of your time.

Cheers, and may the fluid stations be kind to you!

- Paula

The first fluid station (water droplet) after the 2 mile marker. Pink square notes portable toilets.

Second fluid station (water droplet) before the 4 mile marker. Pink square notes portable toilets.