I decided the other day when I was out running and planning for my next big race, the 52 mile Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run, that aid stations shouldn’t just be for runners. We need aid stations throughout our lives and need to learn how to maneuver aid stations so we can continue on in the race of life.
When I break down an ultra marathon with my strategy I break it down by the aid stations. I know in my upcoming race that Spring Marsh is only eight miles from the start line and this will be my first aid station. At this aid station I’m not stopping, just getting a good pause to regather myself for the next phase. There are a total of ten aid stations in this race, none of which is more than nine miles from the other. Two of the aid stations are only a little more than three miles from the last one and you can lull yourself into easily thinking that portion will be easy. That is until you realize you have a 2,000 foot ascent and a 3,300 foot ascent to get to these aid stations. That will keep you from falling asleep.
People Serving People
Each one of these aid stations is staffed by local northeastern Wyoming friendly people that give up an entire weekend just to serve the crazy runners pushing their bodies to do more than most people think you can. Each aid station has it’s own unique flavor. Spring Marsh is known for their hot chocolate which is perfect to warm you up after an early 5 AM start in the mountain cold. Sally’s Foot Bridge has our own special aid station tyrant who is the sweetest lady you will ever hope to meet, except race weekend when she is in your face if you sit down too long telling you to get off your lazy ass and get back out running again. Cow Camp is world famous as the bacon station as the smell of bacon draws you in more than a mile out. Dry Fork is the stress station as this is the last timed cut off and also has the infamous 2,200 foot ascent where for a mile as you trudge up this incline you can see the aid station and all the people anxiously awaiting your arrival. Upper Sheep Creek is where you better remember to fill up on as much water as you can carry as this is the longest stretch between aid stations and finally every racers favorite aid station, Homestretch where they serve icicle pops and sprinklers and the coldest water on the planet to cool you down for the last three miles to the finish line.
Setting Markers Along the Journey
The point of all this description is to tell you that there are markers along your race route that even if it is your first time running a race you can set up your race strategy according to these glorious stations that pop up in the middle of nowhere and have water, soda pop, food and most importantly somebody to encourage you to keep moving strong. No aid station in any race is ever the same except for the incredible attitude of service and encouragement.
And this is something lacking in today’s culture. I mean, how awesome would it be if you knew that you had to navigate a certain distance through life’s challenges but once you had covered that ground there would be something refreshing and somebody encouraging to help you move on to the next marker?
There are days at work where we’ve just come off an incredible month of sales and growth and you just want to cruise into an aid station where you know somebody is going to say “great job” and “keep on getting after it” but instead you’re faced with the first email of the month being “overall as a company we’ve fallen short…..need to pick it up some…blah, blah, blah”. Wouldn’t an aid station be perfect right there?
But instead we’re faced with a culture that always asks why you didn’t do more, always faced with your best isn’t good enough.
Reversing Today’s Culture
I believe we are long overdue for a reversal of this culture that says your best isn’t good enough and I believe we could adopt some aid station and running characteristics in our every day life to move forward together to make our world a better place.
1. Realize we’re all running a race. Paul said it best in Philippians 3:13b-14, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us”. (New Living Translation)
As we run the race be cognizant that there are other people running the race right alongside you. They may not be running the same race as you but running they are. Admire their effort and find ways to encourage them to continue to run the race with perseverance.
2. As you run through life formulate a plan for where you are going and set up some markers along the ways so you’ll know how you’re progressing. I have time goals set with each aid station. I know about what time I want to be getting there and how quickly I want to be in and out. Having these goals doesn’t mean when I miss a time goal I panic, it means I reassess and study where I can make some time up if need be. Not having markers is sort of like shooting an arrow into the wind. You’re not really shooting at anything so you have no idea whether you are on track or not.
Understand though that there are people around you who are just running. Pause long enough in your race to lend a hand to them, help them understand what is ahead on the trail and know that maybe they could hang with you for a while and pick up the pace a bit. It’s okay to slow down long enough to make sure your fellow racers are running strong also.
3. Serving others is a fantastic way to better understand what you need along the race. One of my favorite experiences was volunteering to man an aid station at a bike race. I have no interest in racing on a bike but I wanted to be able to give back to other athletes attempting great things. I spent an entire Saturday handing water to people, making sure they were eating, giving out salt tablets to help the re-hydration process and generally encouraging people and finding ways to make them smile. After a long hot day in the sun I felt fantastic.
There is something about serving others that enables us to take our eyes off ourselves for long enough to become somebody else’s cheerleader and helper. Many people are just looking for an encouraging word along their race and you may be the perfect person to supply them with this.
4. I’m not really sure what it is about a nice, cold cup of water out of an aid station bucket that is so refreshing. All I know is that when somebody takes my collapsible cup and fills it up with water at an aid station and I drink it down that cup of water is absolutely the most perfect thing I have drank that entire day. There is nothing different than the water I drink out of the tap or water filter or bottle I buy at the store. So it must be in the fact that there is another human involved in pouring me a glass of water that is refreshing.
Become that person pouring water for another. There is power in pouring somebody a glass of water and watching the bliss beam from their face as they ride or run off to the next marker on their race. We need to become people that are not only refreshed on our races by the kindness of others but are busy about being kind to others as they continue on their race of life.
Be An Aid Station to Others
It is so easy to become people who can find fault with everything and everybody around. I listened last year during the Bighorn race as racers complained about the mud and whined about why the organizers didn’t do anything about the conditions. It’s easy to be that person. What was really difficult was after a eight mile stretch of running, muddy hell to come into an aid station and be gracious and kind to the people serving there. It would have been so easy to join with all the whining and complaining (trust me I wanted to lay down in the middle of the trail and throw a tantrum at one point) but every time I cruised into an aid station I realized these people had been there over 24 hours at this point, through the rain and snow and sleet and hail, and they were just as tired and frustrated as I was. The difference was I was running the race, they were just serving at an aid station. So I took the time to thank the people there, shake a couple of hands, make eye contact and make sure those people realized that the only reason I was able to continue on my race was because they were giving of their time to help me.
And that is why I believe we need aid stations in the race of life. Or maybe we just need to become living, walking aid stations for other people because if we start doing this, then maybe other people will have the foresight to become living, walking aid stations for us.