Acing Aid Stations
Use them to speed up your next race
Photo by Luis Escobar
For the tired trail runner, aid stations are tempting oases replete with food and drink, a social atmosphere and accommodating volunteers. Many runners get sucked into dawdling, but when used efficiently, aid stations can speed up your race.
Lighten Your Load
"If you're racing, have a plan," notes Jason Bryant of Elkin, North Carolina, who was third at the 2011 USATF Trail 50-Mile Championships. Knowing what you will carry from the start and pick up at each aid station is the first step to optimizing your strategy. Heed the mantra "Light Is Right." Simply, the less weight you carry, the faster and more nimble you will run.
For instance, if you rely on energy gels, you are likely to eat one or two per hour. In longer races, that could mean carrying a hefty pile of gels from the start. However, if you research and find a race's aid stations provide gels you tolerate, you will not have to carry more than a few at a time, which means less weight and less needed storage capacity. If you do not do your homework, you are likely to err on the side of caution and carry more than you need.
Remember, water/fluids are the heaviest part of your kit. If aid stations are close together or the race is short, you might be able to drink only in the aid stations and not be burdened by carrying water. Planning around aid-station separation, weather conditions and race distance allows you to forego fully filling up for shorter spans.
If aid stations are close together, consider carrying enough water to get you through two aid stations. After all, the quickest aid station is the one you do not use. Top New England trail runner Amy Lane of Westfield, Massachusetts, points out, "At a race like the Vermont 100 with its 29 aid stations, spending just two minutes at every aid station adds nearly an hour onto your time!"