Although the core of our sport, the act of actual running is just part of the formula for your race day success.
If you’re like most runners in training you’ll spend the majority of your time running. It’s what we do. If you choose to enter a few races the act of running will take up around 90% of your race day experience. Success or failure can come down to what you do with the time within the race when your not running. Race day success can be and often is dependant on your race day strategies, namely on your aid station tactics. As you approach an aid station keep these three simple strategies in mind and practice them on training runs.
Make Your Intentions Clear – Similar to driving on a multi-lane superhighway you wouldn’t dart across four lanes of traffic without signaling your intentions. (Well… at least most of us wouldn’t) In a race, if you intend to move towards the aid station tables, the support zones, use your hands like the turn signals on your car to call out your intentions. I’ve used this tactic very successfully and have received positive comments from runners around me. If I plan to divert my path left or right I signal to the runners around me before I alter my gait.
I was running the Silverstone half marathon in the United Kingdom when the pack I was in approached an aid station. We were approximately 10 yards from the support zone when out of the blue a runner three to four strides in front of us made a sharp and unexpected move. Caught off guard, the runners behind him took evasive actions. A heel was clipped, a stride was thrown off course and a pile up occurred. A runner went down in front of me, with only seconds to act, it took all the athletic ability I could muster to not run over the top of him and potentially go down myself. A simple indication of intention would have prevented this mishap.
Get What You Need and Get Moving Again – The support zones are not a hang out. Be courteous to other runners coming up behind you and get what you need, water, a power drink or GU, and get out of the way.
On more than one occasion, most recently at the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run when I’ve been running a good race, on my time goal and approaching the aid station table only to find that I can’t get to the water cups or the aid tables. It is frustrating beyond belief to be blocked from aid because runners are hanging out BSing about the race, the World Series, or the newest Hoka shoes and clogging up the support zones. In some extreme examples I’ve seen the aid zones stacked up two or three deep.
You Must Slow Down to go Faster – Although our ultimate goal is against the clock, to travel from point A to point B in the least amount of time. The aid stations are a place where you can make up time by slowing down. Or they can become a place where you can lose time if in your quest to get in and out as fast as you can you forget something you need, spill the drink, or cause yourself to choke. Any one of these unintended consequences will cause you to lose more time then you would have made up by going fast.
During a number of races I’ve witnessed a few runners double back because they forgot items. I’ve also notice runners struggling because in the haste to chug down a cup of water they choke on it or spill the needed aid before they could get the refuel they needed.
In the 17 years, I’ve been running and racing, I’ve either made these mistakes or witnessed a runner come apart and mess up their day by not having or following their race day strategies.