Last updated: 24-Aug-18
By Susie Chan
Many ultramarathons allow crews and in the US it is very much encouraged. Crewing can mean either running alongside the racer (race regulations 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 through 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.
Personally, however, I enjoy running with crew. It provides extra distance goals: “They will be there at mile 68!”; someone to distract me from the miles which are slowly destroying my legs; or someone to stop me falling into the River Thames (TP100, 2015).
I’ve also crewed many times. Crewing, or volunteering at races not only helps out, but provides 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 up to 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.
3 What happens in the race, stays in the race
So here it is… running an ultra can have its moments. Wild highs and lows. It’s your job to keep the runner in best spirits. If that means to shut up and not say a word… just being there for hours, then that is what you must do.
If that means making sure they are drinking enough, then you have to do it. They might be extremely grumpy and be overly 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 you 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 if you left your head torch at home.
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.
Your reward is seeing your mate get there, and that in itself is the best.