Work aid stations like they’re your jobJune 13, 2012
Aid stations. The oasis of fuel in the midst of a long race. On the run they are typically every mile and for most races they provide the fuel you desperately need to help you continue to execute a good race. In bigger races aid stations tend to become crowded as volunteers get athletes what they need, and more often than not it’s a place in a race where an athlete mentally shuts down. Ah…. an aid station….. let me walk through here and take a break.
In an Ironman there are roughly 26 aid stations, in a half Ironman (70.3) there are at least ten. Imagine you take a 30 second break at each aid station over the course of a marathon or half marathon. That adds up.
When I review a race plan with my athletes, I treat the aid stations as part of the race. They are where you can lose valuable time and even make a jump on your competition.
Here are a few tips for making the aid stations part of your race;
1. Work the aid stations like they are your job: One of my athletes came up with the mental framework of “punching in”" and “punching out” of an aid station, akin to punching a time card. That mentality was perfect. Think of this…. if you view aid stations as a break, you slow down, give yourself permission to walk, stop and then you have to get going again. Bu my athlete’s approach, you can feel the difference. He got in… did his job….. and got out. So mentally view aid stations not as a break, but a job that you are going to execute.
2. Know what you need: Most aid stations are set up the same way. In an Ironman you will be told what the pattern will be. For example the order that products are being served may be like this:
Sport drink, water, coke, gel, ice, sponges.
What’s your race fueling plan? At QT2 we promote only taking in fluids that are worth something, sport drink. So I know coming into an aid stations that I don’t need to drink any water. I need the drink and possibly the gel. However, don’t ignore the water and ice, more on that in the next point. But know your plan, have a plan and know what you need going in and out of there.
3. Use the water and ice: It’s summer and races are hot. At an aid station we have the opportunity to cool off. Water on the head, ice in the suit and those GLORIOUS sponges….. all that can do wonders for controlling your body temp in the heat.
4. Have a plan: So here is how I talk my athletes through an aid station. The aid station is your job. Do not slow down. As you approach, know what you need. make eye contact with your volunteer but also be ready to grab it off the table. If the aid station is wicked crowded, as they were in Texas 70.3, and you can…. run behind the aid station. In Texas there were a few aid stations where that was possible. There was so much congestion in front of the table and a clear path behind the table, so I took the path of least resistance.
So here is the plan:
Punch in… sport drink in, water over head, ice in suit, grab sponge, punch out.
Simple. Easy. Fast. No taking a break and stopping. Follow that same pattern every single aid station (your pattern, follow YOUR pattern).
If you can run through, run through. If you need to walk that’s fine. But walk with a purpose. No lollygagging strolling. Speed walking, get through there… let your competitor walk and slow down. You can gain valuable seconds here.
5. Don’t be desperate: If you arrive at an aid station absolutely dying for fuel, you made a fueling error much earlier. Have a nutrition plan, know your nutrition plan, and ace your nutrition plan. The aid stations are simply to top your fueling off.
No matter what level triathlete you are, make it count. Time is time regardless and working the aid stations like it’s your job…. the return on that investment can be well worth it.