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It's been drummed into us so long, it's become a mantra for every runner: drink water, eight glasses a day. Drink before, during and after a run. Stay hydrated. If you wait until you're thirsty, you've waited too long.

Well, guess what? It turns out that if you follow all those instructions, you can run into trouble during a long run. You can develop something called hyponatremia, or low levels of salt in the blood.

The latest edition of Running & FitNews warns of this malady, and compares it to a pot of soup that's been diluted with so much water it doesn't taste like soup any more.

If you run for three hours or more, a likely occurence during a long training run for a marathon or the marathon itself for most people, and you drink water only, you could turn your blood supply into a pot of thin, watery soup.

You're losing all kinds of sodium through perspiration, but replacing it only with water.

"So while the outside of your body gets saltier and saltier," the newsletter authors write, "the inside of your body gets blander and blander. And this is a recipe for disaster."

The symptoms? Malaise, confusion, nausea and fatigue. And if these symptoms continue, it can lead to seizures, coma and death.

And the scariest thing is these symptoms mimic dehydration. In which case, the victim would be given even more water, making things worse.

The answer is drinking a sports drink that contains sodium, if you're going to be exercising for three hours or more. Sports drinks in the past have been touted for replacing carbohydrates and keeping you fueled for a long run. But just as essential is the sodium.

Milk for health

And while we're on the subject of liquids, sports nutritionist Nancy Clark puts in a good word for the guys with the cows: drink your milk.

"Both adult men and women need a calcium-rich diet to help maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis," Clark writes in her latest nutrition newsletter.

"Men used to die before age 70, before osteoporosis became a problem," she writes of the condition in which bone density decreases and bone fractures are more common. "Many of today's baby boomers think 70 sounds young. They want to live as long as the body stays healthy. Milk can help!"

Recommended calcium intake for those 19 to 50 is 1,000 mgs. a day, and 1,200 mgs. for those over age 50. That's about three to four glasses of milk a day.

Clark also dismisses some myths about milk -- it's not mucous-forming, it's not hard to digest unless you're lactose intolerant, and it's not fattening. Research, she said, shows milk drinkers are not any fatter than milk avoiders.

"If you prefer Coke or Pepsi, be responsible," is her advice. "Soft drinks are sugar water, nutritional zeroes. Milk is life-sustaining and nutrient rich. Stop cheating your body; drink milk with meals and enjoy soft drinks for a treat."

ChampionChip Part II

News that the Turkey Trot race committee voted to bring the ChampionChip scoring method to this year's race is no reflection on the job that Emery Fisher's crew or Don Mitchell's Runtime Services does at the finish line.

Mitchell has kept Western New York races up to date with the latest computer scoring over the years. He's handled huge races outside the area, and has used ChampionChip scoring as well.

But the biggest scored race in the area deciding to try something different, by using a computer chip in runners' shoes, is no insult to these crews.

Fisher's crews have kept as many as 250 runners a minute moving through the three chutes without the sort of gridlock that once plagued this race. But ChampionChip eliminates any backup in the chute, because there are no chutes.

Upcoming races

Shea's 5K Run, downtown, 11:30 a.m., today, 847-1410, ext. 127; Joanne Severin Cinelli 5K Memorial Run, South Buffalo, Botanical Gardens, 6:30 p.m., Fri., 878-7713; Daniel W. Feather Memorial 5K Race, Jamestown, 11 a.m., Sat., 483-7537; Wyoming Community Hospital Foundation Autumn 5K Run, Warsaw, 10:30 a.m., Sat., 786-8940, ext. 4467; Linda Yalem Memorial Run, 5K, (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), UB North Campus, 9:30 a.m., Sept. 26, 645-3141; United Way Northtowns 5K Run, Williamsville, 6:30 p.m., Sept. 30, 843-2937; Nickel City Duathlon, (2.5 mile run, 15 mile bike, 2.5 mile run) and 2.5 mile road race, Beaver Island State Park, 10 a.m., Oct. 2, 689-2493; Erie County Salute to Autumn, 5K European style run, Sprague Brook Park, 10:30 a.m., Oct. 2, 858-8355; Thundering Herd Distance Run, 12 K (7.44 miles), downtown Buffalo, 10:30 a.m., Oct. 3, 893-6269.

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