Navigating the Ironman Aid Station

Aid stations in Ironman races can be very dangerous places. The majority of crashes on the bike occur at or right around the aid stations.  Between dropped bottles, wrappers, bottle tops, and riders trying to move left and right, there’s a lot of movement – like bees buzzing around the hive.  Long before you get to an aid station, you should make a clear decision as to whether you’re going to take some nutrition or pass the aid station by. If you are going to pass by, be sure to stay well to the left to allow those grabbing nutrition ample room. If you plan to take a feed, here are some simple tips to help you:

  • Slow down, sit up, and stay right.
  • As you approach the aid station, let your needs be known – this is not the time to be shy. If you want Gatorade Endurance, make eye contact with the volunteer holding a bottle of Gatorade, point at them, and yell “Gatorade”.  This way, they know that they are going to hand their bottle up to you.
  • You will be grabbing a bottle, with your right hand as you go by. Remember back to when you first learned to catch a ball, and you were taught to “give with the ball” otherwise it would bounce out of your glove? That same principle applies here.
  • If you have never taken a bottle hand-up, don’t let the first time be during your race – practice ahead of time.  Have a friend stand of the side of a quiet street and have them hand a bottle up to you.  It doesn’t take much practice to become proficient, but it does take some thought until you develop that muscle memory.

Know that the aid stations at most Ironman races tend to repeat. So it may go water, Gatorade Endurance, water, Gatorade, and then solid nutrition, such as gels and bars at the end (at select aid stations).  Read the athlete guide and be sure to know what will be available at each station.

The aid stations are staffed by volunteers, not professionals.  These volunteers are mainly triathletes hoping to do next year’s race, family, friends, and locals. They are given a brief introduction on how to hand a bottle or food up to a cyclist and then are essentially thrown into the fire. Don’t misunderstand me, they do an incredibly amazing job!  They stand out there tirelessly and all kinds of weather – from cold rainy sleet to 100+ degrees in the burning sun. The most important thing to remember is that they are volunteering their time and want to help us as racers – treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve.  Oh, and be sure to smile and thank them throughout the day!

Jeffrey Capobianco

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