Aid Stations 101

From the runners standpoint, aid stations at a trail-race / ultramarathon exist so they have a place to get food and water so they can continue running and finish the race.  From the race organizations standpoint, it gives us a place to check on the runners to make sure they are doing ok and are able to continue running – aid stations are also a place from where we track runners progress, record their numbers etc.  Simply put, the primary reason we have aid stations is for the runners safety and to help the runners accomplish their goal of finishing the race.

At times you may go hours without seeing any runners and at other times, you may be dealing with a mass of runners all coming in at once.  Runners needs will differ greatly – some will fill their own water bottles and will be in and out in a matter of seconds – others may want you to fill their hydration backpacks, make them a sandwich and then may sit and rest for 5 or 10 minutes or longer.  Be sure to ask runners what they need and provide assistance wherever you can.  Offer encouragement and generally be of assistance wherever you can.

Working an aid station – simplified:

  • Be sure to spend some time studying all the sections of the website to learn as much as you can about the race – this will help you and will also make you a resource for other volunteers and most importantly, the runners.
  • Try to visit the Race Director and others from the race organization at the start / finish area prior to your shift – you will have to arrive early to do so.  This is a good time to get acquainted, ask any last minute questions and get your volunteer shirt.
  • Arrive early / before the posted time your aid station is scheduled to open or before the time you are scheduled to start. Times posted are estimates, runners may arrive earlier so you should plan to arrive early. Familiarize yourself with all of the information in your aid station manual / folder and with all of the equipment that you have been provided with.
  • Introduce yourself to your aid station mates and to the Ham Radio Operator(s) who are stationed at your aid station as well (cell phones are not reliable in this area, we rely on Ham Radio Operators for the majority of our communications – they can provide communication from aid station to aid station, from your aid station to the start / finish, from your aid station to the race director and in the event of an emergency can call for emergency services.)
  • Get the aid station equipment set-up, put out food, mix HEED and be ready for the first runner.
  • Fill water bottles, help find drop bags, help get and prepare food – generally just be of assistance to the runners and offer encouragement. When not in use, keep food covered, cold, protected etc.
  • If a runner is having a medical problem, notify the Ham Radio Operators immediately so they can radio for help if needed.
  • If a runner drops out of the race, make sure you notify the Ham Radio Operators right away.
  • When runners are come in to and are ready to leave the aid station and continue running, the HAM Radio Operators will record their race numbers and times in and out of the aid station – help to ensure that the runner is heading the right way on the trail when they leave. Please also offer any assistance to the HAM Radio Operators in recording numbers and times especially during “peak” times when there are many runners coming in and out of your aid station.
  • The trail “sweeps” will be shortly behind the last runner on the last loop. The sweeps are there to make sure that nobody is left behind / hurt on the trail, pick up course markings and pickup any garbage left on the trail. When the “sweeps” arrive, that is your cue that you can close your aid station.
  • When you start packing up your aid station, please wash your dishes (if you are able) and pack all the equipment back in one box, pack all food into another and all soda / soft-drinks into another. Fold up your table, take down the tent and leave in a neat pile with a water jug or something heavy to weigh down the food bin. Do not empty full water jugs, this water can be transported down the course to another aid station.
  • If your aid station has a “cutoff” it is NOT your responsibility to enforce it, the only people that will enforce cutoffs are the “heads” of the sweep or the race director – you do not have to worry about this.
  • Be sure to take care of yourself while volunteering. Get some rest from time to time, stay fed and hydrated throughout.
  • Depending on where your aid station is located, there may not be any restroom facilites so runners and volunteers will have to make use of the woods – if this is completely foreign to you, this is a good place to start LINK
  • Make sure you get a t-shirt – if one is not brought to you, please ask for one.