This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Tips for Aid Station Use”, please leave it below in the comments section…
Aid stations are the oases along an ultramarathon course. They don’t just provide respite for the physical difficulties. They could be a much needed break to the loneliness of the trail. They are apparently necessary in helping you stabilize your physical and mental condition in order to overcome the ultra distance. But aid stations can be just as much pitfalls as pit stops if you don’t plan ahead and use them properly. The following are a few guidelines for maximizing the benefits that aid stations provide.
Plan before you get there
It should go without saying that aid stations already figure significantly in your overall race strategy. You know how far apart they’re spaced, what nourishment or first aid is available, and where your drop bags, crew members or pacers are located if you have any. When you’re out pounding the trail however, the fatigue can make you forget the details of your plan.
It may help to visualize exactly what you need to accomplish at the approaching aid station. Prepare a mental to-do list that may go something like: 1) refill water bottles, 2) eat salty potatoes, 3) take rock out of shoe, etc. This way you won’t waste time getting confused in trying to recall your tasks.
Keep focused on your plan
Fatigue makes it hard to think but the sight of food and drink after a grueling section of the race can be just as distracting. Then there’s the aid station staff or your crew probably asking you several questions at the same time. Keeping focused on your short checklist will make your actions efficient and interactions productive.
Get useful information
If there are any gaps in your initial race plan, aid station pit stops are the best time to clarify them. There’s nothing wrong with asking some of the staff what you have to look forward to in the upcoming section. This will enable you to make more accurate adjustments like if you need to change your clothes or carry along more energy gels. Is it really 10 miles to the next station or is it more like 15? That’s a big difference if you didn’t adequately refill your fuel supply.
To sit or not to sit
Occasionally it might be necessary to actually take a 2 or 3 minute breather. This is the biggest temptation you’ll encounter in an aid station and you’ve probably heard a lot of “beware the chair” advice. It can certainly be difficult to recover your momentum after an overextended rest but there are ultrarunners who report that they even take cat naps at aid stations. The decision will ultimately depend on your personal approach to ultrarunning and your specific strategy for the particular race you’re on. Know the risks and be honest with yourself.
Double check everything
You need to save time but don’t be in such a hurry that you forget to check your bag and end up crawling the last 2 miles to the next aid station due to lack of some supplement or gear. There are few things worse than finding out in the middle of the trail you forgot to bring along the proper supplies.
Finally through all that, don’t fail to be courteous and express gratitude to do those wonderful people manning the aid stations. Their job is to basically help you finish the ultramarathon.
Do you have questions about aid stations and their best use, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.