What To Do and Not To Do in Aid Stations



This is a big week for CTS Support Crews. We have athletes racing the Breck Epic MTB Stage Race in Breckenridge, and then this weekend we shift over to support a ton of CTS Athletes racing the Leadville 100 MTB Race. And then next week we head off the USA Pro Challenge Race Experience! We send our coaches to event to support athletes, and I’m proud to say that CTS Athletes have consistently beaten the overall race finish rates at every event where we provide support. Whether you’re planning on being in an athlete’s support crew at an event, or you’re the athlete coming into aid stations, here are some tips for improving everyone’s experience.

 For Athletes:

  1. Stay Calm: the key to a successful stop is getting back on course quickly. You need to get new bottles, grab some food, maybe swap some equipment; but none of that will happen any faster if you’re frantic. Just like when running or riding technical sections of trail, aid stations are a place where you should go slow to go fast.
  2. Have a plan: You should know what you need before you get to an aid station. Do you want water or sports drink? What food items do you want? How much food do you need to pick up for the next leg of the event?
  3. Don’t linger: Get what you need and get moving. Time in the aid stations is lost time that’s very difficult to make up on course. Think about how much harder you’d have to go to make up 5 minutes on the bike or on the run. Now realize that’s the cost of lingering in an aid station for an extra five minutes. You’re better off jogging or spinning slowly while eating/drinking than you are sitting still in the aid station.
  4. Smile: You may be having the crappiest race of your life, but don’t take it out on your support crew. They are out there for you, to help you, because they care about you. Be nice to them, no matter what. And if you’re having a great day, tell them and let them share in the fun!

For Crew Members:

  1. Don’t overwhelm the athlete: Endurance competitors spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts. Sometimes coming into an aid station is like stepping back into civilization. When 5 well-meaning crew members swarm an athlete it can be overwhelming. A better strategy is to have one crew member interface directly with the athlete, and let that lead crew member direct the others.
  2. Give support, and a kick in the ass: If you spend any time in an aid station you’ll see some athletes who are totally in control and others who are consumed by self doubt. Some athletes will be struggling with fatigue or nutrition/hydration problems. You want to be encouraging and supportive, but with a focus on keeping the athlete moving forward. Help them work the problem, but get them back on course.
  3. Know when to push and when to be the bad guy: Some athletes will want to push on when they shouldn’t. No one wants to give up, and we don’t want you to give up, but health and safety trump race day performance. If an athlete is going to be a danger to himself/herself, or a danger to other competitors or race staff, then a support crew should proactively help the athlete understand the reality of the situation.
  4. Don’t let the athlete sit down: Once an athlete sits down, the probability that they’ll reach the finish line declines dramatically. For cyclists, don’t let them get off the bike. For runners, don’t let them sit down; ideally don’t even let them fully stop. Moving keeps an athlete’s mind in the game, and keeping an athlete’s mind in the game is absolutely essential for getting their body to the finish line.

Over the years in aid stations I’ve seen just about everything. Manic, high-strung, type-A’s losing their minds (and wasting a ton of time) over the wrong flavor of sports drink. Completely bonked riders coming back from the dead to reach the finish line. And unbelievably cheerful athletes 11 hours into a long, hard slog.

I’ve also proudly watched coaches restore confidence for athletes who had long since lost it, and provide race-changing advice to athletes right when they needed it most. CTS Athletes beat the overall race finish rates because our crews understand how to comprehensively support athletes, not just because we’re there to hand them water bottles. So, if you have the opportunity to be an in an athlete’s support crew, use some of the tips above to give your athlete a better chance of success.

Good luck to all the athletes racing Breck Epic and the Leadville 100!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

6 Responses to “What To Do and Not To Do in Aid Stations”

  1. Anonymous on

    I don’t know what it is like where you are, but around here, the events emphasis “It is NOT a race.” Much of your advice does not seem to apply here.

    If you want to enjoy the food and drink that you paid for when you signed up for the event, you have to get off your bike, hang it up in the racks provide, line up at the tables providing provisions, line up for the toilets, etc. etc. You might as well sit down for a couple of minutes to eat before getting back on your bike to carry on. As T. M. Herbert once said in a different context, “Enjoyment is the keynote.”

    If you are so obsessed with getting to the end as soon as possible, carry what you need in your pockets or fanny pack and don’t stop at all.

  2. Ed Poll on

    I agree. Jim and Jason both, at different camps, gave me physical and psychological “pushes” that allowed me to finish a major climb. But for that, I would have given up. CTS is the greatest!

  3. Jay Kilby on

    As an endurance racer, this was good. Agree only one crew chief and make sure crew understands it is always about the rider, not the crew. Have an agreement ahead of time on who does what and for making decisions on what to do if the rider is unable to make them for themselves. As a rider, be honest and plan ahead on what you want, let them know you will be angry, sad, emotional and for them not to take anything personal. Have the crew meet other experienced crew members to understand what to expect. The crew would ask me questions all the time to make sure I was on top of my game or just going out of my mind.

  4. Randy Profeta on

    One more tip for the crew: there is only one crew chief! Listen to what this person wants to do, even though it may not be the strategy you would opt for or use yourself if you are a racer. Talk to the crew chief offline and share your concerns, but the chief has the final say. This is not a democracy.

    I was part of a crew for RAAM this year and we had a large support team for our solo rider. There was some disagreement in the crew ranks about nutrition and bike setup and this caused unneeded discord. The crew needs to be focused on their rider; dissent means that the rider is not receiving the crew’s complete focus or, worse yet, is getting mixed messages from the crew.

  5. jay james on

    The conversations I shared and support I received from CTS coaches Jane Rynbrandt and Daniel Matheny at Leadville 2013 were significant contributors to my demeanor and outlook when I left their stations.


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