A championship-style marathon like the U.S. Olympic Trials is full of race strategy and tactics that are deep and layered. But the strategy extends well beyond the two-plus hours out on the looped course in Los Angeles this Saturday.

It even goes into the water bottles that are prepared ahead of time.

“I have been thinking about the fluid situation with the weather, and how it’s going to go with 400 runners, each with eight bottles on a very contained course,” says Becky Wade, a 2:30 marathoner. “It will be interesting.”

Typically, tables are set up about every 5K along a marathon course, giving elites up to eight different spots to have their preferred fluids available. With Saturday’s race having 373 runners who are all elite, the number of runners expected to have their own fluids could make for crowded tables. Wade joked that it’s “the biggest elite fluid operation in the history of the world.”

Runners have to turn in their bottles mid-day Friday, and have been hard at work getting things prepared.

Jared Ward, one of the men’s contenders, grabs a roll of duct tape, a bunch of gels and eight water bottles, and gets to work.

The process is a detailed one for Ward. He will fill the bottles with water and a bit of GLUKOS powder depending on how hot the weather is supposed to be (with warm temperatures expected, Ward’s bottle will be more diluted with water). He will screw the lids on tight, then take six inches of duct tape and stick it to the top tab of the gel. He will then wrap the duct tape around the water bottle, right at the seam where the cap meets the bottle.

Voila. A water bottle with a gel taped to it. The meticulous work has many reasons behind it:

  • With the duct tape pinching the top tab of the gel, he can just rip the gel off the bottle and it’s already open for him to consume.
  • With the duct tape wrapped around the seam between the cap and the bottle, it assures that no one can tamper with his bottle (and he knows his bottle won’t leak if it falls over).

And the gel? “It gives me the flexibility to have a little less concentrated drink in the bottle,” Ward said.

This is how deep the strategy can go for some—but not everyone spends a lot of time on it.

Fernando Cabada, for one, doesn’t put much thought into it.

“I’ve run a marathon in 2:18 drinking water cups,” Cabada said. He will have his eight bottles set up, but “if my training is going good, I don’t need to worry about fluids too much. If I skip a bottle or it falls, I’m not going to (stress about it).”

Desiree Linden posted a photo on social media of her bag, packed with eight Nathan water bottles and four PowerGel Double Latte gels. Alana Hadley tweeted a picture of her bottles, wrapped in a decorative, multi-colored tape with a zig-zag pattern to make it stand out. Addie Bracy taped a flagstick with a mustache flag on her bottles so she can find it with ease.

Ward said he always prepares the maximum amount of bottles allowed, even if he doesn’t use them all. But not everyone thinks that way.

Nick Arciniaga will have black and blue bottles made by his sponsor Under Armour, with a PowerBar mix diluted with water inside. But unlike several others, Arciniaga only takes seven to the race.

“I never put one at the last table,” Arciniaga said. “At that point, I’m racing.”