I had a vision heading into my first very first race – I had this image of myself running slow motion through the drink aid station and gracefully obtaining a cup of fluid to fuel my athletic performance. This would be a crowning moment for me as a runner where I would choose to believe that for a split second that I was enough of an athlete to warrant my very own fluid attendant.
Come race day, the reality of my aid station prowess hits hard as I grabbed water when I wanted a sports drink and found myself staring at my precious fluid leap out of my cup as I try desperately tried to look like a real athlete keeping his pace. All I wanted to do was to look good and instead I got a wet arm complimented by wet shorts which made it look like I had lost fluids instead of gaining them.
So before this happens to you (or if you’re still recovering from when it already has), I’ve compiled a set of simple how-to steps to help you navigate the aid station with grace. Let’s go…
Step 1: Target What You Want
Heading into an aid station, you need to pre-decide on what you want. Do you need a sports drink to replenish your electrolytes? Do you want water for drinking, washing down a gel or just for cooling off? Most aid stations have both sports drinks and water so it’s important to look for and listen to directions as to where each type of drink is. A good friend of mine once told me about the time he grabbed the first drink he saw and splashed it all over himself to cool off only to have volunteer tell him, “That was Gatorade!”. Definitely a sticky situation you want to avoid.
Step 2: Signal and Approach
A run is very much like driving on a multi-lane highway – you need to signal your intention to head into the aid station lest you cut anyone off. Once I know which section my desired drink is, I’ll go towards the end of that area as it’ll be less crowded and these last volunteers are often more than happy that they can help someone. I’ll start by holding out my hand out to the side, check my blind spot and merge on over. I’ll make eye contact with a specific volunteer and hold out my hand towards them, but I keep moving so that they know that I am not planning to slow down. My favourite volunteers are those who move their hands at the same pace as me to enable a seamless handoff.
Step 3: Pinch and Drink
Once you’ve grabbed your drink cup, this is the moment where it’s make or break. The secret to a successful drink on the run is in the pinch. You need to pinch the paper cup on one side so that fluid doesn’t bounce out as your running bobs you up and down. I favour pinching one half of the cup such that a small hole is formed on the other side and allows for a controlled dispensation of the fluid. I simply raise the cup and tip it upside down into my mouth. Elite drinking at its finest.
Finally, please ensure that you make the effort to thank the volunteers for their support – they spend hours on the course to help us keep going.
Step 4: Discard and Resume
Your final step is to quickly discard your drink cup in the trash cans which are usually just after the aid stations. Try your best to discard your cup in or near the trash cans in order to enable an efficient cleanup by the volunteers afterwards. Before you throw away your cup, make sure that the path is clear of any runners so that you don’t trip others up accidentally.
So that’s it – you now have all you need to know to look like a pro athlete navigating an aid station.
Go forth and stay hydrated,
Related blog articles by Andrew Chak:
- Twas the night before the marathon
- How I really want you to cheer for me on race day
- Race day shirt selection syndrome
Follow me: @andrewchak