Ask the Coach: How to Ace Aid Stations
Aid stations can be a help or a hindrance, depending on how you approach them
The Grouse Gulch aid station during the 2015 Hardrock 100. Photo by Paul Cuno-Booth
How should ultrarunners manage aid stations? —Robyn Reed, Minneapolis, MN
Depending on how you use them, aid stations can be an oasis or a mirage. They can provide much-needed fuel and human support after lonely hours on the trail, but, if you linger, your momentum may flag.
Approach aid stations with a purpose. The athletes I coach use a three-step system. First, fill up your hydration system at every single aid station if the race is more than three hours. Inadequate hydration is how people end up in med tents instead of finishing chutes.
Second, grab gels or other food you’ll need for the next section of the course.
Third, if you supplement gels and chews with “real” food, save it for this final step. Your respiratory rate should be closer to normal, allowing you to eat or drink without the risk of it coming back up. Then, you can enjoy the pickle juice, chicken broth or whatever other vile-yet-life-sustaining concoction the aid station may have on tap.
Sit down only if you have a reason to. Changing shoes or socks counts, as does a one- or two-minute timed break. What doesn’t count is sitting down for an indeterminate amount of time, hoping to feel better when you get up; you’ll only tighten up. The exception is if you’re in real trouble, or plan on sleeping.
David Roche works with dozens of adventurers, including top-5 finishers at prestigious trail races like the Way Too Cool 50K and The North Face 50 Mile, through his Some Work, All Play coaching service.