The number one job of an aid station is to keep track of runners. They check you in and check you out. The second mission of the aid station is to supply runners with food and hydration to keep them in the race. The third thing aid stations do, is encourage the runners.
Aid station volunteers are remarkable people. They stand out there all day and all night and all day making sure runners get through and resupplied, regardless of the weather conditions. They don’t have to be there. They are donating their time.
Many aid stations have a captain who teaches new recruits the ropes and manages the running of the aid station. There is a system and assigned roles, in the most proficient aid station.
Aid stations have come a long way over the years. Not too long ago, and still with inaugural races, there was a lonely volunteer in the middle of nowhere with a tarp on the ground and some food and water set out. Sometimes if you weren’t in the lead, there wasn’t much left when you arrived.
Now a days, they are a runners dream buffet. Most aid stations have tents or canopies with heaters or fires at night. They set up stoves to cook food like quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, coffee, and broth. And of course, there is coke, mountain due, and ginger ale among the water and electrolyte mixes.
If you can’t find what you want at the aid station or you know that the race doesn’t stock your favorite running fuel, they will haul it out there for you in your drop bag. Drop bags allow you to have everything you need at the aid stations including food, gear, and clothing.
When my running team sets up an aid station for a 100, we bring out a full kitchen. We make breakfast including eggs, bacon, and pancakes. We also have a pizza oven and bake fresh pizza for any runner who wants it. We can make hot drinks as well. There are heaters, chairs, a cot, and blankets in our tent for any runner to use.
Volunteers at the aid stations come from every area of life and many volunteer year after year. Some of them have become experts in assisting ultrarunners just from their experience as volunteers. They can make suggestions on dealing with the various issues runners deal with and tell you about what is to come in the race. Some of them are ultrarunners themselves and can be invaluable when things are getting really tough out there.
Being a volunteer is something I recommend to all runners. It’s good to stand on the other side. You appreciate the aid station crews even more when you have done it. All the volunteers ask in return is a smile and gratitude, which is easy enough to give even at mile ninety-five.