How to “Roc” an aid station like #TrailsRoc does

This weekend #TrailsRoc manned the “Hurt Locker.” An aid station at the Virgil Crest Ultrasthat came after (before) the toughest stretch of trail – and after (or before) the toughest hill in the course. #TrailsRoc is known for aid stations at local races. People love them – The vibe is insane – Race Directors request them and ask them to go into the most difficult places on the course. This weekend, they were on a ski slope – It seemed fitting.

greekpeak

This monster was 650 feet of vertical and a half mile long straight up the ski slope.

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So what are the keys to jamming an aid station so awesome that folks literally send you thank you emails after they have destroyed themselves in a race? I listed 10 things we know below.

1. Be organized. This is the most important piece. Have an order that makes sense. What food types go where – What drinks are in what order. This way if anyone comes to volunteer with you, you can clearly explain it to them and no one will miss a beat and any runner who comes in gets a quick and easy sense of what is going on.

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2. Have a lot of options. When you go out to eat does everyone at your table of 5 order the same thing? I can honestly say I have never seen that happen. So why would 200 runners all want exactly the same thing?

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This year we offered bacon and quesadilla in addition to the regular aid station food. We also offered beer and pizza, which many runners loved.

3. Be energetic. Bring more energy than you think you can have. We cheer in every single runner from the minute we see them until the minute we can no longer see them. An ultra can be a long and lonely event for runners. Your energy will lift their spirits.

4. Have humor – People love to laugh. Trail runners are no different. Laughter lifts your mood and gets you in a better mindset. This is clutch at mile 60 somethin’ in the middle of the night facing a hill that seems impossible.

While funny to us - giving the finger to racers would not be part of my list

5. Know when to step back. Realize when runners are in “that place” and be calm and collected with them. Some folks come in and just want you to shut up. These runners need to put their head down and grit through it. Be what they need at that moment.

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6. Do everything you possibly can for them.

-Take water bottles and refill them – If they are this far in fingers and hands (especially in the rain) will be struggling. Do this for them.

– Take packs on and off for them – or at least assist them.

– If they sit help them get back up.

– Clean up for them. If they drop something pick it up. Don’t make them spend an ounce of extra energy while with you.

– Use names if you can – Remember faces and stories.

-Do everything you can to not let someone drop out. If they are hurt it’s one thing, if they are simply tired…. Well let’s say this – My theory is they can drop at the next aid station… Chances are they will feel better if we do our job. I try to get every runner to the next aid station if I think they are healthy enough to make it. No one has ever regretted it.

7. If they need to drop – Try to get them to move on, then relent. This is their race after all. Support them. Once they do drop, reassure them it was the right choice and get them smiling again. Never let them know they will regret it, that they should have moved on, that is not for you to say. I wait as long as I can to make the radio call on a drop because many times we get runners back on the course.

Mark here is an amazingly strong runner who had stomach issues - We wanted him to go on, but he let us know he couldn't he was right in his decision!

8. Have the little things on hand that the RD might forget to put in your kit. First aid stuff, extra anti chafe, tylenol, etc.

9. Do the little things. We had a campfire, we had runner specific chairs, we had lights for the night time hours we had places for families to cheer, we took photos and posted them from a location on course where no course photographer was, we remembered what people liked and had it ready when they came back through.

nighttimesetup littentfiresign

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10. Treat families and support crew as your own. Use them to help runners and give them a space to be. Try to not yell at them. Remember the aid station is for all runners, but they will feel like it is for them. Be respectful when you need to remind them of that. They are as focused as you are but they are looking for one runner. The happier the crew, the happier the runner – You want them bragging about you after their runner leaves, not shooting you dirty looks.

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So there you have it – 10 tips to manning an aid station like the #TrailsRoc crew does. What did I leave out?

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