12 Items I Want to See On My Next Marathon Aid Station Table

Aid station

Water, a sports drink, GU, and per­haps banana or orange slices; these are the typ­i­cal fair at aid sta­tions in runs from 5ks to marathons (ultra marathons have a rep­u­ta­tion for offer­ing more of a buf­fet). How­ev­er, sports nutri­tion knowl­edge, new prod­ucts, and run­ners’ pref­er­ences have come a long way—wouldn’t it be nice to update the aver­age aid sta­tion table with some more diverse snacks? I am, of course, just one run­ner, but with 16 years of the sport under my belt and count­less aid sta­tions vis­it­ed, here are a few food and drink choic­es I’d be down­right gid­dy to see offered in my next marathon:

Elec­trolyte enhance­ment and replace­ment drinks are a dime a dozen these days, but this one stole my heart for two rea­sons: 1. No sug­ar. My gut real­ly appre­ci­ates this when it’s slight­ly dehy­drat­ed and work­ing over­time for hours on end in a race.  2. Con­ve­nience. Nuun comes in tablet form, so you can sim­ply pack a lit­tle round tablet (slight­ly larg­er than the size of a quar­ter) any­where on your self, and add it to your water source when­ev­er you’re ready for it, as it dis­solves with­in sec­onds. Also, I’m not going to lie, the fla­vors don’t real­ly do it for me, but when a prod­uct works, I don’t care—I’m not out there run­ning a marathon to feel com­fort­able in the first place.

Chia SeedsChia seeds
Yeah yeah, I know what you’re think­ing, “Band­wag­on!” I thought it too for a long time, and then I final­ly gave in and tried them. There’s a rea­son some well known pros have been rav­ing about these stran­gle lit­tle seeds. Once acti­vat­ed by soak­ing in liq­uid (I pre­fer water) for a few min­utes, they take on the con­sis­ten­cy of tapi­o­ca; so as long as you can stom­ach the tex­ture, it could be offered in some­thing as sim­ple as a Dix­ie cup or fan­cy (and con­ve­nient!) as a squeeze pouch, like Mama Chia.

Peanut But­ter
The bananas are usu­al­ly already there, so why not have small cups with blobs of peanut but­ter next to them for dip­ping? It may be a thick, sticky offer­ing, but most run­ners know the quick ben­e­fits a table­spoon or two of peanut but­ter can offer with his quick-absorb­ing car­bo­hy­drates and healthy fats. But please, lim­it it to the nat­ur­al kind, like Adam’s, with no added sugar.

The orig­i­nal portable source of quick absorb­ing nat­ur­al sug­ars for that lit­tle ener­gy boost need­ed at mile 15. This is so sim­ple and afford­able, I real­ly don’t under­stand why I don’t see these on the tables.

The ultra run­ning com­mu­ni­ty is rav­ing about this drink late­ly. It’s a pow­der you mix with water, and it is so sure of itself that their web­site offers to pay your next race entry fee if you don’t like it. That kind of con­fi­dence, folks, is what I like to see in my rac­ing nutri­tion! Worst case sce­nario, I gain a learn­ing expe­ri­ence and a free race!

Nature’s best tast­ing sug­ar source! Clear­ly, Dix­ie cups of hon­ey would be a sticky mess while on the run, but the liq­uid gold can eas­i­ly be found in clean­er and more con­ve­nient sources, whether the old school hon­ey sticks you like­ly enjoyed as a kid or new­er prod­ucts, like from Hon­ey Stinger.

I’m not too picky; no nut would be turned down. My usu­al fair on longer runs usu­al­ly con­sists of: almonds, cashews, and walnuts. 

Nature’s ver­sion of those var­i­ous lit­tle chewy ener­gy sources. Speak­ing of, my favorite non-nature cre­at­ed chew is…

Clif Blok Shots
If Clif start­ed offer­ing these in lit­tle sam­ple pack­ets of 2 blocks (the tra­di­tion­al packs have 6), they would be per­fect to hand out as sam­ples dur­ing races.

Steamed Pota­to Chunks
In the world of ultra run­ning, this is an old sta­ple. Many ultras offer these salt­ed nuggets of ener­gy, but I have yet to see them offered in a marathon.

Soup Broth
Anoth­er sta­ple on ultra run­ning aid sta­tion tables, but rarely (I’ve nev­er seen it) found in short­er dis­tances. Why the heck not? The ben­e­fits of salty soup broths—especially chick­en soup, or miso soup for my fel­low veg­e­tar­i­an or veg­an friends—have been admired, stud­ied, and her­ald for centuries.

Coconut Water
Anoth­er band­wag­on, yes—but one that works. Per­son­al­ly, I have to chug this because I think it tastes like sweat, but many peo­ple think it tastes deli­cious. You could even kill two birds with one gulp by adding the chia seeds direct­ly into your coconut water.

I know that beg­gars can’t be choosers, and I most cer­tain­ly find myself beg­ging (inter­nal­ly, but still…) fre­quent­ly in marathons. At the end of the day, I’m grate­ful just to have an aid sta­tion at all, and—if I’m being honest—I’d eat deep fried bugs if it’s all that was offered because, hey, I’m tired and hungry. 

By Audra Run­dle