Crewing a Race
I recently crewed a friend in a 100 mile race, and will be doing it again in a couple of week. With the increasing popularity of ultra marathons, I thought I would share some thoughts on crewing and pacing.
Ultramarathons generally allow crew(in normal non-corona times..) In the US in many ultra marathons crewing is very much encouraged. Crewing can mean either running alongside the racer (Race Regs usually dictate where this is allowed from) or being a mobile Aid Station. Crew take pressure off the official race checkpoints, and keep their runners on the go with a variety of pacing, encouragement, and bespoke mobile stops.
I know runners that prefer to go the distance alone, relying purely on themselves, and what’s on offer from the race organisers. I, however, enjoy running with crew. For me there are many positives to having crew. It provides extra goal for the runner “They will be there at mile 68!” I find it helps distract me from the miles which are slowly destroying my legs. Or someone to stop me actually falling into the River Thames (TP100, 2015) I’ve also crewed many times.
Crewing, or volunteering at races not only help out, but provide you with the opportunity to learn, observe and of course, get your mate to the finish line.
Here are my top 5 rules of Crewing.
1) Know the race. When the runner is getting tired, you need to be the eyes, the thinker, the one who knows which bridge to cross, if it’s left or right. Any extra steps deep into an ultra feel like a very long way. If you are in a car, and meeting the runner, or making an aid station, know exactly where to stop near the route. Where you can park, and how far that is to the route. It’s for you to be one step ahead, letting the runner just keep it simple with one foot in front of the other.
2) Have a pre-race plan of action. Between you and the runner, have an A, B and C plan; that is a dream pace, probable pace, and survival pace. This will help dictate timings (especially if you have a car that needs to be in a certain place) Figure out how you are getting home from the finish line. Discuss and know what nutrition, how much water, and pretty much all preferred mid-race options. These conversations are easier pre race rather than 75 miles in. Be prepared.
3) What happens in the race, stays in the race. So here it is… running an ultra can have it’s moments. Wild highs and lows. It’s your job to keep the runner in best spirits, and if that means to shut up and not say a word.. just being there for hours, then that is what you must do. Or to make sure they are drinking enough, then you have to do it. They might be extremely grumpy, be blunt with you, they might be deliriously happy or hallucinating, whatever state they are in, you are there for them, and you don’t hold any of it against them.
4) Kit list to end all kit lists. If you have a car and are the mobile aid station, then you can knock yourself out with a fine smorgasbord of delights for your runner. Appetites can change during races, so if you have the luxury of boot space, then might as well bring everything you think they might vaguely fancy. If you are running do not forget you’ll need enough for yourself. You’ll be no good pacing if you run out of water, or your head torch has run out of battery power.
5) Never, ever complain. Legs sore from running at a slower pace than normal? Tired because you’ve been running for hours? Hungry? Not even going to get a medal despite running through the night? Tough. This isn’t about you, this is about your runner. Crewing can be a hard gig, and you’re going to have to be mentally prepared to tough it out silently. You don’t get the finish line, but you know what? You’re an absolute gem of a person for crewing. YOU ARE THE BEST MATE EVER. And your reward is seeing your mate get there. And that in itself is priceless.
If you are still interested in crewing.. here is a video of one of the longest crew gigs EVER. Badwater 135. Basically its us all unraveling over the course of 40 hours over 135 miles in Death Valley….