Feb 21, 2020

No Bottlenecks Key to Fluids at Trials

By Caryn Lamphier

On February 29, 2020, Atlanta Track Club will host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon and the largest personal fluids operation in history. Yes, every marathon supplies fluids to its runners, but with only a minuscule number of elites allowed personally tailored fluids. At these Trials, every runner will have that option. And with a previous high of 364 starters, in 2016, even past Trials have never seen anything like the almost 700 entrants expected to be on the starting line in Atlanta. How to make sure every runner can find his or her bottle, and then grab it safely? Here’s an inside look.

Technical Planning

Kicking off the planning and development phase really began more on the technical side, with number crunching. Using fancy projection models, historical data on previous U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon and lots of brain power, staffer Holly Ortlund was able to provide an estimated number of entrants that proved to be pretty spot-on. We began planning for “worst (most awesome) case scenario:” the largest field ever.

Aware that we could have as many as 800 qualifiers, planning commenced. We began to locate the best areas on the course – long, straight and as flat as possible – knowing that we could have personal hydration stations that were 100 tables long. Key locations were identified and measured. We developed an estimated number of tables for the men’s field, the women’s field, and for our neutral areas (of Dasani water, Powerade, CLIF SHOT energy gels and sponges) and supply lists for all of them.

Knowing that we could see thousands of bottles discarded with each loop of the three-loop course, we developed a plan to get them off the course for runner safety. We interviewed elite athletes about their experiences and preferences, and we traveled to the TCS New York City Marathon to observe and shadow part of their elite fluids team.


Finally, we created a plan to collect thousands of bottles from athletes the day before the race, refrigerate them overnight and make sure that each gets placed at the exact mile mark on the exact position at the exact table. Most athletes decorate their bottles with things such as pipe cleaners, pom-poms or colored tape to make them easier to spot. Some athletes bring their own bottles, but the race also will supply bottles and craft items to customize them the day before the race.


Equally important, we began building our volunteer structure. We landed on 33 crew chief (volunteer leader) positions, leading 17 distinct areas of hydration, with a total of over 500 volunteers assisting in hydration alone.

Reality and Execution

We worked to think of the unthinkable, and address potential problems early:

• If it’s really warm? Enough neutral fluids have been ordered to cover all athletes if temps are higher than usual.
• If it’s really cold? Spilled water could make things slippery, so we worked with the City of Atlanta on a salt/sand plan should temps be below freezing.
• If it’s windy? We’ve done wind testing using a variety of bottle types filled to various fluids levels, and will use a light layer of adhesive on the tables if necessary.
• If it’s crowded? When the athletes approach their first personal hydration station, at Mile 2, they will still be densely packed. Volunteers will be trained to handle the multitude of issues that may arise. They’ll be race-ready, with the tools in their toolbox to get the job done.

Photo: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun

Caption for photo: Personal fluid station at BMW Berlin Marathon