Crewing - Words of Wisdom

By Rachel Smith...

At time of writing I've supported Traviss at 8 of his 100 milers (or more). Since that very first one we/I have learned a lot and have got a fairly good idea of what works for us and what doesn't, and these are just some of my rambling thoughts to share with you if you are thinking of getting involved in this crewing/pacing malarkey. As with all things it can be a steep learning curve and perhaps sharing my experiences will lessen the steepness of that curve!

Of course the supporting strategy differs with the actual logistics of each event. Some courses lend themselves better to different types of support than others, and some not at all (such as Bear which was largely inaccessible without a 4wd and experience of challenging offroad driving so I left him to it and went and found my own race to run instead!).

Our ideal scenario is where I can crew for the first 50/60 miles meeting maybe 2 or 3 times until night fall, then a period of rest for me for a couple of hours, then crewing/pacing Traviss home to the finish. This we have found to be the optimum set up for us to give Traviss the support he needs and for me to get some sense of the course experience too! When you crew/pace as many times as I do its nice to have the opportunity to get something out of it for me too - I'm not a totally unselfish saint - haha!

For the uninitiated I'll explain the terms.

Crewing is where you have all (or most - they may still have dropbags) of your runner's gear and you meet them at various points along the way to give them what kit, sustenance they need including of course encouragement! On a looped course you may in fact be in the same place for the entire event. Ideal for non-runners. Can slow the runner down as there is a tenancy to stop and chat if only for a few minutes which over the course of 100 miles can account for an hour (or more) of stationary time.

Pacing is where you meet and run/walk along side for part of the course, potentially carrying extra supplies and kit for your runner if required which is known as muling. This is banned in some races so do check beforehand if this is allowed. Most races allow pacing from the halfway point whereas crewing is almost always allowed from the start. As a pacer you have to make sure you are fully equipped - know the course, wear adequate kit for the conditions and have means of hydration and food for yourself as well as your runner. In my fuddled head state for TP2013 (in March) having been up for 24hrs plus transporting/crewing/volunteering on the Saturday through to Sunday morning I went out and paced Traviss for the last 20 miles with no jacket, just a long sleeved running shirt and no bottle or food. I was frozen to the bone, tired, hungry and thirsty. It was a miserable experience and totally self inflicted and I suffered in relative silence as of course I was meant to be supporting him not the other way round so no whinging allowed!

Crew/pacing is our preferred made up combination which consists of me parking somewhere along the route, running back along the route with pre-agreed supplies for him, and then walking/running with him back to the car, restocking if necessary and walking on for a mile or two with him before heading back to the car and driving on to the next spot a few miles further on to repeat the process. It works for us as enables me to get some experience of the course and have a run myself, gives Traviss company for a period of time, and also something to look forward to (meeting me again) in another couple of miles after I've left him. It also means the car and supplies of kit are never far away and more importantly is at the finish! This method means he never has to actually stop but I get what he needs and go track him down and if he needs a change of shoes or jacket it is never far away.

Whichever strategy you go for though there are some basic essentials that you can do to ensure your runner gets maximum benefit from you and gives you a relatively stress free experience.

1. Understand that supporting is, in many respects, more stressful than running the event. Your runner just has to worry about getting him/herself along the 100 miles. You have to think for both of you, especially if your runner is inexperienced or suffering. It is tiring and can be physically demanding especially if you are doing some pacing too. You think you will have lots of 'down time' but in reality that time is spent wondering have you missed them, checking which runners have gone past and do you recognise them as having been before or after him. It really can be quite stressful though our newest bit of crewing 'equipment' is the incredibly useful Find a Friend App! We used it in Berlin and NDW recently and it meant I knew exactly where Traviss was, and whether I was ahead or behind him and by how much which in turn meant a lot less stressing about the unknown location factor!

2. Prepare prepare prepare.
Study the route, know it as well as your runner does, possibly even more so! Work out potential meeting points before hand, write them down, mark them on a map, if driving put the GPS coordinates into your sat nav and label them in numerical order. In the depths of a long dark night it is so much easier to get back in your car at the 11th meeting point and just tap in NDW12 on the sat nav than trying to think of the name of the next place. Familiarise yourself with aid stations - where they are, are you even allowed there. Don't rely on the postcodes given on websites - check them out on google maps and find the exact location for your sat nav as in remote places a postcode may cover a large area and you may be looking for an obscure farm track. If using public transport such as in Berlin familarise yourself with the routes, timings and know where to go once you've arrived at the train station/bus stop. Trust me, the more anal you are beforehand the less stressful it is during the race. I was anal about the SDW100 route preparation and so when Traviss called me at 4am to say he and Foxy were lost I was very quickly able to locate exactly where they were and direct them back on course. Same with NDW100.

3.Read the race rules and understand the strategy!
Your runner will not be happy if he/she gets disqualified because you broke the rules! Know the cut offs. Know your runner's Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Get round strategy and agree before hand on what the quitting strategy is. Know what the motivation is for your runner to complete the event. Try to ascertain if any quitting talk is just talk because they are cold, fed up, tired and can't be arsed any more, or is it more serious talk especially if there is an injury involved as almost DNF's are linked to an injury or something hurting. Is it a real injury that is likely to cause long term damage or a temporary hurt - they will at some point hurt during the run - 100 milers are tough! This is also the time to use the knowledge of why your runner is doing the event and use that to alleviate any quitting thoughts! Often the battle is getting out the aid station so encouraging your runner to try and make it to the next aid station and then review the situation, or just get them to leave the aid station and see how they feel in a few minutes. If the quitting talk occurs in the few hours before dawn then assure them that things will be better when the sun comes up. Sun up really does make a difference! Make a note of your runner's nutrition and kit change plans - what, where and when. Be prepared to be flexible though as this may well change depending on weather, and how they are feeling.

4. Race Day
Get your runner to the start in plenty of time. Allow them to doze in the car if they wish! This is not the time for being chatty and sociable - get used to it! This is the starting point to being uber sensitive to your runner's needs.

4. Be organised
Organise your car as much as you can. Have separate boxes/containers/bags for kit, medical supplies, night gear, food, drink etc. Have a torch - its no fun in the middle of the night trying to find a pair of black gloves in a mess of a car boot! Pack kitchen roll, several black bin bags for dealing with wet/muddy gear. A chair to sit in and perhaps a book to read or something to occupy yourself as there may be long periods of hanging around or maybe not! Keep your car topped up with fuel. Its no fun to be looking for an open gas station in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I've done that and it cost me an hour or two of potential sleep time, not to mention unnecessary stress.

5. Remember to look after yourself.
Consider what you are going to eat/drink during the course of the race. On a remote course access to petrol stations, corner shops may be limited. Take warm clothes for yourself and if you are pacing then of course remember your running gear, warm jacket/top (you'll most likely be walking a lot and that doesn't generate much heat), head torch if its a night section, food and drink, and definitely be familiar with the actual part of the route so you can help with navigation if required. If you're supporting the whole event make sure you build in some rest/sleep/doze time for yourself - you will deal with your runner much better if you do!

6. Stay cool and calm
In a crisis, real or imagined, try and stay cool and collected! Your runner may at times be short or grumpy with you. They're tired and feeling crap. Yes you probably are too but this is the time to remember this race is about them, not you so to a degree accept it and move on. Of course it depends on your personality and relationship with your runner, but its a miserable experience to get sulky with each other when there's enough misery at the back end going on already! If you feel it was unacceptable behaviour from your runner then the best time to deal with this is after the finish when you've both been fed and watered and had some sleep. (Just to clarify we've never had to do this as we're both pretty amenable and laid back but that would seem the sensible way to tackle it rather than in the middle of the race!)

7. At aid stations
Fill up your runner's bottles, get them food. Use the aid stations as a reminder for have they taken electrolytes, ibuprofen etc. Get them out quickly! Know what plan they are on and what that plan consists of. Remember to thank the volunteers in case your runner forgets in their befuddlement! You can literally save hours with good aid station discipline - and conversely lose hours with slack discipline! Its useful to carry a little plastic bag that you can carry bits of food from the aid station in, either for you or your runner to graze on along the way.

8. On the course (if pacing)
Open gates for them, assist over stiles etc. Pick up things they drop, get stuff out their packs so they don't have to take them off - it all saves vital minutes over the course of 100 miles. You may be wet and cold and tired but you won't be suffering as much as they are! Ascertain before hand who is taking responsibility for navigation. You don't want a situation where you are thinking the other one is taking control. Even though Traviss takes responsibility for navigation I do keep an awareness of markings and signs as a fallback. Ask them periodically if there is anything else you can do or change. At Berlin during the darkness I started off being a few yards ahead of Traviss to keep the pace up but the reflective glare off my backpack in his headtorch soon started to irritate so I stayed alongside or behind him to alleviate this. This only came up because I checked in with him - otherwise me might not have said anything for a good few miles. Keep them moving forward at all times. Ultras are generally a display of comradeship amongst both runners and crew - if crewing or crew/pacing you will over the course of the event see other runners a number of times - its a nice gesture to check with them if there is anything they need especially if they are alone, or offer a word of encouragement. You'll almost be friends by the finish line! Take pictures of your runner/the scenery as they may not feel inclined to, or be bothered to get their phone/camera out. Your runner stopping to take pictures again adds minutes on to their time.

9. At the finish
Its customary at 100 milers for you to cross the finish line with your runner. Its a team effort and you'll have done a lot to get your runner to the finish line. Enjoy the moment! Help your runner find drop bags, get something to eat/drink etc.

10. Drive home
Don't underestimate the effect of the lack of sleep and your levels of tiredness if you are driving home. Take frequent rests, stop for a sleep in a service station, get home safe. I know that sounds common sense but when you're exhausted common sense goes out the window and you just want to get home. When you've been on the go for 30+ hours its amazing what a 10 min nap in a lay by will do for reviving concentration levels and freshening up.

11. Finally, very few people other than your runner, and possibly other crew/pacers will recognise the contribution you have made. Do it for love, do it for the experience, but don't do it for public recognition and kudos because you'll be sorely disappointed!

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