Should you stop at aid stations during a race

[00:00:00] They’re a staple at every single race you’ve ever been to. Whether you’re doing a running race, you’re doing a triathlon, any kind of endurance race, you’re going to see aid stations. Now, maybe your race director doesn’t every mile, every half mile or sporadically. And you can’t seem to find them. But you want to know, should I be stopping at them or is that dumb?

[00:00:31] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running, including today’s topic, should you stop at the aid station? Should you get something there that’s supposedly going to aid you? So if you like running, you like endurance-related activities. Subscribe, stick around. More episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:53] Now, like all of my videos, pretty much this is a it depends situation. Now, first, you might be saying if you’ve been around on the channel, Jesse, you sell a sports drink. Clearly you’re going to say never stop at the aid stations. Not entirely true. There are going to be situations where you do want to stop at the stations and there are going to be situations where you don’t want to stop at the aid stations, or at least that’s my advice. So let’s get through when you should and shouldn’t, at least in my opinion, stop at those aid stations.

[00:01:25] The first situation where you really don’t want to stop at the stations is if you’re not going to be out for very long. So this can be a case of I’m doing a 5k or 10k and it’s not going to take me very long. So like me in particular, I didn’t really stop at aid stations for these short distances because for 5k I’m going to be running, say these days, 17, 18 minutes. But faster than that. Slower than that. But even if I was going 20 minutes, really not necessary to stop at the aid stations, especially when you’re trying to maximize time.

[00:02:03] Similar with the 10k, if I’m trying to finish in 35, 36 minutes, don’t really need to stop at the aid station. But this comes with a big caveat, and that is if you are hydrated before you get to the race. So if you went in like pre-game somehow the night before your race, for whatever reason, and you’re are very dehydrated and now you’re going to be going slower, you should probably stop at the aid stations and use what’s there or use what’s tolerable.

[00:02:35] So it depends on the race, what they have available, what brand of sports drink or whether they have soda or whether they have just water, if they have food, had the distance. All the things depend on the race you’re at, but usually the race director will let you know ahead of time, “Hey, this is what we’ll be at the aid station”, so you can try that ahead of race day and figure out, “hey, does this thing work well with my system?” And that’s ultimately what it comes down to when you’re taking anything in. Does this work for me?

[00:03:07] There are obviously emergency situations where you need to take things in. I say emergency with air quotes where you need to take things in, but those are particularly for longer races. So here’s my general rule of thumb for these short races, if you are going to be finishing in less than a half hour and you already come to the race hydrated, the aid stations are probably not worth your time. The exception being if it’s very hot and you need to cool down, if you can get some cold water, make sure it’s water adapt.

[00:03:43] I’ve done sports drinks on my head a number of times over the years with participants giving their volunteers giving me the wrong thing on accident. But you can use that to cool down, cool your brain down. It will give you a little bit of a boost for a minute, but that’s the exception. You don’t really need the aid stations if it’s under one half hour.

[00:04:01] Now, if you’re getting into that like 45-minute plus range, that’s when you need to start thinking about I should be stopping at the aid stations and when is a good time to stop. So this is particularly of need if you’re doing half marathon marathon or if like me, you’re racing, say, Olympic or 70.3 or Ironman distance triathlon, then the aid station has become a much more crucial importance, especially as those longer races go on you’re more apt to carry your own stuff with you.

[00:04:36] I would carry nutrition with me for those longer run portions, and then I would use the aid stations to get my liquids. I would use a gel and then use the aid stations to get the liquid down instead of carrying my liquid with me. But the reason you need to go to the aid stations or should in the longer races is because one hydration becomes more important replacing water, replacing electrolytes and replacing fuel in that order.

That’s my opinion of the importance one, two and three, because we have to use water to cool us down, thus sweating. We lose electrolytes when we sweat, but we use those to operate from between our brain and our muscles. So we need to replace those and then fuel is also necessary the longer we go on because our body only has roughly 2 hours of readily usable glycogen. Which needs to be replaced as you go on to these longer and longer races.

[00:05:34] Again, half marathon up for most of us is going to be the time to start thinking about that. The general cutoff I suggest for fuel is about 90 minutes again because we have that about two hour window. So you don’t want to go to 2 hours and then go, all right, cool. Now I need to take some fuel in because you’re already empty. So that’s why you started about 90 minutes. So your body has time to digest and get those carbs into you to use this fuel before your tank is empty.

[00:06:05] Now, I think the next question is, if you have a race director who’s placed aid stations at every single mile, should you stop at all of them? And this is a little bit dependent on how much time is it taking you between each aid station and how much fluid are you losing per hour? So I’ve done another video in the past where we talk about how to calculate your sweat rate. That is how much liquid you lose per hour. So we’ll link that to link to that at the end of this video. So check that out if you want to figure out how much water you’re losing per hour.

[00:06:44] But if you’re losing at least a liter or more, which would include me, your body can typically only absorb up to a liter an hour. And if you’re running, it’s easier for cyclists. If you’re running, you often have a lower tolerance than that because of the jostling motion. So this is something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself using that leader for, let’s say, a maximum gauge and then going down from there, just trying to drink by thirst and figuring out, “hey, you know, how much can I take in and not feel slushy” and at race speeds.

[00:07:27] So you want to figure this out in the middle of, say, a speedwork session that you’re doing prior to the race, whatever it is that you’re doing to practice your race speed, practice your hydration at the same time, and then I’ll give you a better indication of, “hey, I can take in maybe it’s 20 ounces in an hour.” It’s not full 32 or 33.6 I think it is. Maybe it’s 33.8. Anyway, literally, you have to figure out what it is the amount is you can take in an hour without upsetting your stomach.

[00:07:57] So you’re trying to replenish but not bothering yourself. One way I do this kind of on the fly at a race because things can be adjusted if, say, your race is hotter or colder than what you practiced in is doing what I refer to as a hydration check every 5 minutes you can set a timer on your watch or you can use the aid stations to check if you know, “Hey, every aid station is 10 minutes apart”, so maybe you do that or you see the half miles and you go, okay, do a check. It’s just basically where you go. Let’s take the bottle out and take a sip. Am I thirsty? And that’s a question you ask yourself. 

[00:08:37] Because if you’re like me, you might get very, very focused on I just got to drive forward and move forward and keep going. And then you find yourself in a hole. So if you have this practice of let’s just take a sip, we’re not trying to take a lot in in that initial check. We’re just saying let’s put a little bit of liquid in my mouth. And what is my body telling me? Is it saying I’m thirsty? If so, drink a little bit more? If not that little bit that you took in, probably not going to be harmful and it’s going to replace a little bit of what you’re losing.

[00:09:10] So that’s kind of the way I do a double check to make adjustments on race day, depending on how hard I’m working. Again, the temperature up or down, those are my kind of key tips on whether you should or shouldn’t stop at a station and how to go about hydrating during your race.

[00:09:29] So do you have any questions for me about running, about racing, about nutrition strategies while you’re racing, whatever it is, leave them in the comments below. And as mentioned before, if you want to calculate your sweat rate to figure out how much liquid do I lose per hour because it varies by individual. So you’re going to be different from me is going to be different from your neighbor. That video will be coming up on the screen shortly.

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