Aid Stations can be both chaotic and confusing. If not adequately prepared this can lead to slowing down unnecessarily or worse, missing items and blowing your nutrition plan. With these tips everyone can navigate aid stations like a Pro.
1. Know exactly what you need.
Write your plan out before the race. You should know exactly what you need to get out of every aid station on the course. For Ironman Whistler I knew that the first aid station I would take a gel so I would need to drink two cups of water. The second, I would need 1 cup of Powerbar Perform or Coke and 1 cup of water. The third aid station I needed 2 cups of Perform or Coke. I repeated this order until the race ended. There should be no confusion or game day decision-making. I will take a few extra cups along the way if I feel like it, but I do whatever I need to do to make sure I get what I need. For me that has meant walking, stopping and doubling back. One time I even had to lift and chug straight from a water cooler jug when an aid station wasn’t fully set up!
2. Know the layout of the aid station.
Knowing the order of aid station items can help you get through efficiently and avoid having to double back. For most big races you can find information for how aid stations will be organized in the pre-race briefing. It also helps to look over the course map and make a note of where the aid stations are going to located.
3. Take your nutrition before you enter the aid station.
If you are taking gels or bars eat them before you enter the aid station. This will give you two free hands and one less thing to focus on when you try to navigate the pandemonium that aid stations can be.
4. Yell one word commands.
It is very important to yell exactly what you want and to be blunt. If I want Perform I yell “Perform” if I want Coca-Cola, I yell “Coke”. More than one word usually leads to confusion. The only time I deviate from this is if I want multiple cups of water then I will yell “Water!” and “Lots!”. Pay attention to what the volunteers are shouting and use the words they are using. If they call Perfom Gatorade, call for Gatorade. Likewise if they call it “Sports Drink” or “ISO”. In Mexico they are pretty serious about there brands of Pop. When I yelled, “Coke” they wouldn’t give me Pepsi they were holding. At that point of suffering, brands made no difference to me! I gladly would have taken, Mountain Moonshine, Dr Buzz, RC Cola or whatever type of caffeinated sugar water they were holding!
5. Practice makes perfect.
Whether it’s your first race or you’re trying to qualify for Kona, Boston, or win your age group, we can all benefit by practice! Find some paper cups that resemble those found in aid stations and practice grabbing them at race pace before the race. Some people find pinching the cups helps while others find grabbing them from the top helps. I like grabbing them straight on near the top and drinking them as quickly as possible. Regardless of your grabbing and drinking method, things will get messy (and possibly sticky…I’ve been known to mistake Coke for water and found myself having a Coke shower a few times). I have also measured out different amounts of liquid into the cups to know from a quick glance in the cup how much nutrition and hydration I am getting during the race. On average you every gulp is an ounce. Gulps are a great way of keeping track of your nutrition quickly and accurately.
6. Say thanks!
After you get your nutrition a quick thanks go along way! Remember the volunteers are out there donating their time so you don’t have to run with a camelbak or lug around a 4 liter milk jug of water. A quick thank-you goes a long way into having the volunteers come back next year. More selfishly, it will result in better service the next you run through that aid station!