The Iron Distance Marathon Aid Station

Whether you are a first time iron distance racer or are a vet, the aid station on the run is something that can be devastating or super helpful depending on the day, temperature, and what has transpired earlier in the race. The most detrimental thing you can do is eat something or drink something without knowing WHY you are taking it in. Here’s a bit of a cheat sheet to understand how to manage the aid stations when your run nutrition plan goes out the window.

“Wait, LU, I have my race plan! I mean my super awesome coach gave me a race nutrition outline and I have been training with it and it works! Why would I need to know anything about what is at the aid station?” Good question dear pupil, here is why. Sh!t happens. Think about it. I’m sure you’ve been out on a long ride and about 2 hours into it you realize oh crap, I’ve not had any of my hydration product or any of my calories. A cold coke and one long conversation with a cow in the fields of Ohio you’re finally moving again. In the event you start to feel like crap or your race nutrition plan is not working on race day you have to be able to roll with the punches!

These are typical items at an iron distance triathlon aid station: ice, water, some hydration product depending on the sponsor (Ironman Perform, Gatorade, etc), cola, gels, chews, chips/pretzels, cookies, fruit, and eventually broth.  WHY would you want to eat ANY of this especially if you’ve not trained with it. Lots of reason, you could have lost your nutrition in transition, you could just not feel like eating what you’ve practiced with, you could have been really nice and handed over your nutrition to another person suffering on the side of the road (what! You mean I would stop my race to help someone?? yes, it has happened before and hell didn’t freeze over).

What to Use When:

  • Water – whenever you take a chew/candy/fuel source take water to dilute it and help the body break it up. Water is your ‘diluter’ yeah that’s not a word but I don’t care. You use it to ‘tone down’ everything else at the aid station. During exercise water does not do a great job of hydrating you. Remember you need a little bit of carb and a little bit of electrolyte to help the body absorb the fluid.
  • Sport Drink – in the major iron distance races the sports drinks they use have too high a sugar content and can cause stomach bloating and cramping. IF its hot and you are low on your own hydration drink CUT the sport drink with ICE and WATER to help keep your fluid levels up. Remember you need a little carb and a little bit of electrolytes to enhance fluid absorption in the body.
  • Cola – LIQUID GOLD- caffeine AND sugar. Never take it straight. Always cut it with water. If it is hot out also add ice. This is a great way to get calories in if you’re normal race nutrition has gone to the crapper. Once you start with coke stay on it.
  • Salty treats/pretzels/chips– if you’re not getting calories and/or if it is hot out, you may start to crave salt. The salt on the chips and pretzels (and drink a small amount of water) will help provide calories and replace some sodium. Remember that its not necessarily sodium itself that is the ‘key’ to maintaining proper hydration levels but it is necessary!
  • Gels – Ew. Stay away. But if you’re my athlete you already know my thoughts on liquid nutrition and gels…my stomach is queasy already
  • Chews – if you’re a sugar ‘sipper’ meaning you rock a small piece of candy or chewy sugary treat every 10 minutes or so on the run you can grab some for calories. Always take with water.
  • Ice – I highly recommend icing any drink you take in. Whether it is water, diluted cola or sport drink it will help keep your core temperature down. NEVER ICE YOUR HEAD!!!!!
  • Broth – once broth comes out (usually later in the marathon miles 15+) drink it if you’ve been lazy on your hydration drink or if its really hot out. Some people love the taste of the salty liquid and others feel like its gonna make them yack.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of why you would start to eat something or drink something that is not part of your race plan.