This article covers hydration – pretty important subject and one easily overlooked – not a great idea unless you wish to be face down, doolalley and showing all sorts of nasty side effects which could just end your bid for the 2018 title … and no one wants to end it all that way.
So simply, I guess; you need to drink. However it is easy to overlook just how much, what and how often.
Let’s look at your horses first – we covered some of this awhile ago but we're due a recap.
This photo is from an FEI endurance ride; where the more buckets you can claim as your own, the more scared your opposition will be. In Mongolia, most horses would rather die of thirst than drink out of a plastic bucket, so a spot of re-education required...
This is pretty simple; there are water holes, rivers etc en route (all marked on your GPS), and you can expect to cross water on almost every leg; if it’s hot do drop by but do remember you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Do offer though and even if he only dips his muzzle in, wait a little; they will rarely guzzle away initially, remember horses are flight animals and need to check all is ok before being in the vulnerable state of head down and drinking. Still no luck?
The Mongolians will always slip the bit from the horse's mouth to encourage it to drink if they stop at a well. If you're worried about the state of your steed, and it's your last water stop before the next station, this is well worth a try - get off, loosen the bridle, the bits are very long and it's pretty easy to switch the bridle to a halter and back quickly. If he does drink, let him have a pick of grass as well; this will keep him hydrated for longer and keep those gut sounds healthy.
The wells are tricky as you may have to draw the water – the bucket is generally there and attached to something – try not to lose it – it’s a long way down! Generally the trough is a split tyre, and if you do pull up water, you can expect a stampede of every cow, sheep, goat, and yak in the vicinity to come and have a drink with you. All very festive, just make sure you keep hold of your horse or you'll have to ride a yak to the next station, bareback and bridleless.
Guys, please don’t be alarmed that the horses are not offered water immediately when you come into the urtuu – horsemanship is different in Mongolia and water is precious. (A point of etiquette while we're on the subject - don't waste a drop of the stuff at an urtuu, it's extremely bad manners.) The horses are watered as a herd when on the line and taken at regular intervals to the river or well. They really don't drink out of a bucket, though we are trying to bring them round to the idea. Also, remember these horses are local to their environment - if you have ridden through a very dry section, bear in mind that these horses are probably well-used to going a long time between waterings. We'll go over this extensively at the course briefing.
While they are on the pony line in the mornings, they are turned out for grass and water in the afternoons, and herded in a la carte as you approach the urtuus. We work hard to make sure the horses are well hydrated at the start of their 40kms, and you may well find they do not choose to drink while under your care. Conditions on the day and your rider weight will be big influences on how quickly your horse dehydrates.
Now onto you.
READ, RETAIN and ACT.
I think you may be getting the idea that this bit is important and frankly, we, the
crew, actually mainly me, are getting a little tired each year of picking up some dear
Derbyist who missed this section or simply didn’t think it applied to them and
therefore went bonkers, fainted, got lost or what ever because they didn't drink. There are so many exciting hazards to fell you on the Mongol Derby that I consider it totally inexcusable to be felled by something so simple, fundamental and avoidable as dehydration.
Yes this applies to you.
I mentioned in the piece about fitness that you should include drinking (water) as part of your programme and I really mean it must become part of your routine – once you’ve got dehydrated, a headache, or gone bonkers (though I am sure most of your family and friends believe you are by the mere fact that you are racing in the Derby), it’s too late. Dehydration creeps up and then takes a real firm hold, which in turn will need medical intervention and certainly a delay, if not the end of your Derby.
So drink often, keep sipping from your hydration pack – make refilling part of your urtuu routine. Ride in, get vetted, choose your next mount and then fill your water pack – at every urtuu you will find an urn of boiled water. This is for you. Even though boiled I strongly recommend you purify in some way – pills, potions, UV whatever you fancy but do it. It won't taste like Evian so if you struggle to stomach that boiled flavour, mixed with iodine or your purification tabs, bring something to mask the taste. Don't just stop drinking.
Once you’re refilled do whatever else you need. You will get tired and the more tired you are the more likely you are to forget so a set routine makes it less likely that you will forget to drink and forget to fill up. Don’t wait till you’re thirsty just keep drinking.
Don’t over-electrolyte but do make sure that you are taking electrolytes daily, my suggestion is that again you routinely take your electrolytes at the same point in the day.
Make sure you know what brand suits you and bring the right amount for you not enough for the entire Mongol Nation.
Finally, whilst vodka, airag and beer are liquid they will not hydrate you. In fact after a good night with your Urtuu family, make sure you electrolyte and drink lots ... of water.
So a little recap of this important topic:
- Offer your horses water but don’t stress if it doesn’t drink - we have a big team taking care of the horses
- Have a plan for when you electrolyte yourself
- Make it a habit to refill your hydration packs at every Urtuu, it you’re not filling it you’re not drinking enough
- Use some sort of purification even though Urtuu water will be boiled, don’t ever drink from the rivers; dodgy tummies and riding wild horses just don’t go well together. Most of the water is pristine in Mongolia but you just cannot risk being downstream from a dead animal and getting sick.
Please do get this bit right, I might just have a sense of humour and kindness failure if I get called out to find you madly staggering around, clutching your stomach or head and telling me you were eating your electrolyte powders but they don’t seem to work. Oh and yes I just brought them at the airport...