Race water stops are both a blessing and a curse when it comes to race day. For one, you don’t have to worry about carrying your own fluids (bonus) but when you are running a longer distance, race water stops can cause quite the traffic jam and might even slow your pace.
So for one, if you decide that you will be drinking water during a race at race water stops (I think you should always assume that you will have a few drinks from race water stops), there are a few things that you can do to make sure that you aren’t part of the traffic jam:
There are usually a ton of signs indicating that a water stop is coming up… kinda hard to miss. And you will see a mass of people and cups on the ground. Start thinking about getting to the side where the water stop is (if it’s a one-sided stop, some races have it on both sides) and get into position before you get there (otherwise, you’ll be stuck cutting over in the middle of it, which messes with your cadence AND requires you to add more distance — it sounds minor, but it adds up and is exhausting).
Watch the people in front of you
Granted, you can never tell what a person will actually do… but you can have a pretty good indication and I always prep for the worse. If you are in a bigger race, you will likely enter the race water stop with someone in front of you and just assume that they are going to stop, grab the water and start walking. That happens more times than not, and you just need to be prepared for it. This is important because otherwise you end up running into them, or having to stop yourself.
On the same token, make it obvious that you are getting water so people around you know. Generally if you start moving towards the line and extending your arm, most people can tell –> it’ll give them a heads up of what they can expect from you so they don’t barrel into your back.
Slow down (a bit)
I think it’s definitely worth it to slow down at least a bit as you go through a race water stop. I know some people who actually walk through water stops because it’s just easier and not such an energy waster. Do what works best for you. I generally slow down for about 3-4 seconds as I grab my water cup and get out of the way, and it doesn’t make that big of a difference since it’s such a minor slow down. It makes it so much easier to grab a cup and navigate the people around you if you don’t come in at full speed.
Don’t always go for the first cup
This is so tempting because it’s like OOH FLUIDS! and you just want to grab the first cup that you see… but so does everyone else. If you get close to the water stop and wait to go in for a cup towards the end of the line, you have a better chance of not running into anybody and grabbing one. BUT, also be prepared if there’s a snafu –> you may miss the cup or like I did at Twin Cities Marathon, spill it everywhere before it even got close to your mouth.
Make eye contact with the volunteer
I feel like this makes a big difference, especially when I am later in my race and getting really tired. If I stare at the volunteer (maybe creepily, sorry if that’s the case), and move in towards where they are, they can do a better job of handing the cup off to me because they know that it’s coming. Sometimes if you take them off guard, they don’t realize that you are coming in to grab it so this is usually when the cup gets dropped/spilled/etc.
Watch where you throw your cup
Done drinking out of your cup? You just want to smash it on the ground and move on, right? Well, that’s not really fun for everyone around you. You don’t have to hold it til you see a trash can (although it is strangely rewarding to make it in when you are mid-race), but at least throw it so it’s off the course and out of people’s ways. And if you are going to throw a cup that still has some water in it, try not to throw it at a fellow racer. 😉
Not getting a drink at the water stop? Move away
This is one of my pet peeves —> people who run right next to the cups they are holding out at water stops, and they never even grab one. If you aren’t stopping at the water stop, move to the middle or the other side so you are out of the way. It will make a difference for everyone in the race.
It’s such a minor thing –> drinking at a race water stop, but it can make or break your race. I’ve definitely been elbowed, yelled at and even had to skip water stops because it’s been such a disaster (dropping cups, not being able to get one from a volunteer, etc.). The most important thing is to be aware of the people around you and to get ready for your water/electrolytes early.
Any other tips for mastering race water stops?
Do you carry fluids with you, or depend on what they have at the race?
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