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How to Efficiently and Effectively Run Through an Aid Station

Posted by Jason Sissel
How to Run Through an Aid Station

During a large marathon, an aid station can feel as busier than a NASCAR pit stop. Your objective should be to move through it as quickly as possible, getting the necessary fluids and getting back to the race. The reality is that aid stations don't always operate like a well-oiled machine, and the slowdown can cost valuable seconds of your time—perhaps even increase your risk of injury.

While you can't control other runners who may slow down or position themselves awkwardly, there are several ways that you can improve your own efficiency. Here are the best ways to make your time at an aid station fast and effective:

  • Anticipate the aid stations. Be aware when you are approaching an aid station and adjust your position accordingly.
  • Know what you want in advance. If you don't want to use the aid station, stay in the center (or on the outside if the aid station is only on one side) and keep moving. If you want something, know what it is ahead of time, so you don't have to pause with indecision, potentially slowing down people behind you or even worse, getting into a collision.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Remember to be aware of the other runners and volunteers around you. Don't pause at the hand-off point, which will increase congestion. If you plan to drink and then get a second cup, move off to the side and out of the way. Avoid blocking other runners and proceed with caution.
  • Slow down. The ground at an aid station may be cluttered with discarded cups and spilt liquids that often make the ground slippery—especially in cold weather conditions. Slowing down will make a handoff easier for you and the volunteer, and help avoid collisions or slipping.
  • Get a good "hand-off" for cups of liquid. Hold your hand out in a curved shape, ready to grasp the cup the moment it hits your palm. If possible, practice hand-offs periodically during training in order to get the hang of it. During the race, it's a good idea to aim for an area near the front of the aid station, so that if you miss a hand-off, you have a second chance to get needed fluids without costing extra time.
  • Practice running while drinking. During training, practice drinking out of a cup while running. If you can, crush the cup into a flatter shape to make a “spout” to pour the liquid into your mouth with minimal spilling. Swallowing incorrectly may cause you to cough up the water again, costing valuable time and wasted hydration. It's a skill worth mastering.
  • Be polite to aid station volunteers. Remember that many of them haven't done this before, and that they are sincerely trying to be helpful. Moreover, they are volunteering their time—generally on a weekend, nonetheless—to help you in your race. Being courteous and thoughtful makes a marathon a better experience for everyone.
Aid stations are essential during marathons, but they are also sometimes causes of traffic and unnecessary slowdowns. Being thoughtful, aware of your surroundings, and as efficient as possible not only speeds your time, but makes it easier on everyone else. With some practice, you'll be hitting aid stations like a seasoned pro!

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