AUTHORS: Andrius Ramonas and Gediminas Grinius (Trail Running Factory)
With major international (Transgrancanaria Ultra, Hong Kong 100 Ultra Marathon, Tarawera Ultra and 100 mile Endurance Run) and local NZ races (The Ultra Easy Ultra, Old Ghost Ultra, Motatapu Ultra, Northburn 100 miler) just weeks away it is time to think about how you will deal with transitions through aid stations during your race.
1. Go gourmet! First start with the pretzels, then move on to the jam sandwiches, followed by grapes, gummy snakes, then wash down with coke. Repeat at all aid stations.
2. Pull out your cocktail shaker and Worcestershire sauce to fix yourself a Bloody Mary for your hydration pack. You’ve got to take hydration seriously.
3. Hide the critical gear your support crew is supposed to be ready with in the bottom of your bag so they can't find it.
4. Assume that your crew have studied the course map in minute detail and has a superhuman recollection of every part of the course.
5. Pose to all photographers and cameramen and give short half an hour interview, be the star, this is why you started trail running, isn’t it?
6. Go totally mad on your support crew and/or volunteers if they mix things up and don’t have your favourite snack - dried Antarctica monkey kidneys, because you are the BOSS and they are working for you, right?
7. Aid stations are warm and sheltered, so it is the best place to wait while the rain or snowfall will stop and running conditions will improve.
8. Explain in great detail to anyone who will listen how you took a wrong turn from the course.
9. Change shoes and socks at every aid station. Because you like to keep your feet dry.
10. Pray for trail running gods and ask for the autograph of every Jim Wamsley you meet.
11. Whip out your iPhone and call your friends to inform them of your progress, and post your on-trail selfies to Facebook and Instagram.
12. Perfect skills with the gear you have never trialled before. Didn’t learn how to operate your headlamp or use your poles? The aid station is an ideal testing ground!
13. Number 13th, really? You should ask for the new number at each aid station, as it is the unlucky one and you are damn slow and tired because of it.
Ok. Seriously. Here you go:
The fastest way to get through aid stations
1. Have a nutrition plan and know precisely what foods you are going to be eating during the race. Know three natural foods and three processed ones (e.g. gels) that work for you and stick to your choice during the race. It is not the best time experiment with your stomach. In the months leading up to the race, train your gut to tolerate higher carbohydrate intake. Stomach comfort while ingesting higher amount of foods during long running events can be trained, and frequency of gastrointestinal issues reduced.
2. Rehearse your race plan before race day with your support crew.
3. If your support crew are crewing you for the first time, educate them:
- Familiarise them with your aid station routine
- Show them which pocket you prefer gels to be put in
- Teach how turn on and switch on headlamp for easier transition
- Teach them how to make an ice scarf and how and when put it on your neck (useful in hot-weather races)
4. Don’t stop at the aid station if you don’t need to. However, have a good reason for not stopping. If you are compromising your hydration, you will likely pay the price later in the race.
5. The aid station is not the finish line, so don’t relax too much. Stay sharp and focus on what you need to do. Have a mini action plan for each aid station and rehearse it in your mind before arriving. For example: “I will hand my two soft flasks to fill with water, while these are being filled, I will drink another cup of fresh water, empty pockets from trash and will put two gels into my front pocket. After taking filled soft flasks I will grab a piece of banana and eat it leaving the aid station.”
6. Open your handheld bottles before you enter the aid station so that they can be filled even quicker. If rules allow and volunteers can help, don’t fill your flasks by yourself. Use that time to do other things.
7. In some races, you may be permitted to exchange bags. If so, consider having a twin bag prepared to that you can make a quick exchange and keep going.
8. Have your most important compulsory gear (waterproof jacket/pants and head-torch) at the top of your bag, because it is the most likely gear that could be checked for a compulsory gear check. Or put it in a transparent bag as it is easy to pull out and show all the mandatory gear.
9. During the race and between aid stations carry only as much as you need:
- Don’t fill all the bottles and don’t take all the gels you possess in first aid station
- Use flasks rather than a hydration bladder if there are frequent aid stations
- Estimate your water and calorie intake and remember that your digestive tract can only tolerate and absorb approximately 1 – 1. 5 l/h and 60 to 90g of carb/h (depending on composition of carbohydrate meal or supplement), so don’t take unnecessary weight with you
- Trash (used gels etc) weighs several grams, so don’t forget to get rid of it at each aid station
- The lighter you are the faster you can run and the higher your VO2max :)
10. Be grateful to your support crew, as they are doing an important job. Your smile and positivity will boost their confidence, which probably means that fewer mistakes will be made and your run through the aid stations will be quick and smooth.
11. Having a nutrition plan and supporting race plan is important, but things can go amiss, so it is wise to develop a contingency plan:
- what if your support crew isn’t at the aid station? Should you wait in hope that they arrive soon, or continue and meet them at the next one? What if the nutrition that you expected to have isn’t available? It doesn’t matter what your decision is, but you must know it in advance.
12. Thank the volunteers before you leave the aid station!