The culinary art of the trail runner’s aid station

Mile 30 of the Way Too Cool 50K

JW to the volunteer, “Is that…really…soda…”

The volunteer to JW, “Yes. It’s Pepsi.”

JW, “No. Really?”

The volunteer, “Yes. Really. It’s Pepsi. Have some.”

JW, “I love you.”

The volunteer moved on to the next runner.

There is a never-ending debate in the running world: trail running vs. road racing. Personally, I like them both.

Yet, there is an area in which the trail run clearly reigns supreme. It is the aid station.

Here is what most marathon aid stations have: water.

A few have Gatorade or Powerade, and a couple have GU.

Here is what a trail run / ultra marathon aid station has: water, salt, potatoes, gummy bears, jelly beans, bananas, oranges, pretzels, chips, ice, soup, peanut butter sandwiches…

A typical PCTR Trail Run Aid Station
A typical PCTR Trail Run Aid Station

This works well for me.

Grab some grub, refill my water, stretch, chat about the last leg and what’s ahead, stretch again, wait for a partner, regroup. All good. As I travel mile after mile, hour after hour, knowing jelly beans await is oddly motivating. I mean, runner’s eat a lot. Food…not GU…is on our mind all the time.

I fondly remember back to the Way Too Cool 50K, where the more I ran the more I filled my time with dreams of the next aid station. Would I eat Oreo cookies or go the straight and narrow and have fruit? Would they have Jolly Ranchers? (A personal favorite as they take so long to melt in your mouth.) Sure an orange slice would taste good, but then I’d go for the goods.

After five or six hours running, let me tell you what you doesn’t sound exciting at an aid station, water.

Yes, you want to replenish your water (of course…don’t get me wrong…I’m not an idiot), but seeing Pepsi soda at mile 30 was the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing an oasis-like mirage after days in the pelting desert sun. It was as if the heavens had parted.

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