When G told me he was going to train for and run his first ultra last fall, I said “great!” And I meant it. He is hands-down the most physically and mentally tough person I know, and a perfect fit for the intense training and racing ultras require. What I couldn’t know is the integral part I would play in the process, or how incredibly inspiring it would be.
Here are my top five take-aways from being an ultra runner’s crew and cheerleader:
1) Caffeine is not optional. I’m a morning person, in general. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of coffee I would require for a 3 a.m. wake-up call, and subsequent drive to a race start. Because the number of ultramarathon participants is often in the hundreds (not thousands), I see the same runners over and over again at different aid stations throughout the day and want to be encouraging and upbeat. When in doubt, grab the caffeine.
2) Being the “planner” finally pays off. My whole life I’ve made packing checklists for trips, checklists for my daily to-dos at work, planned travel arrangements, etc. But never has a checklist been more impressive or more appreciated (YES!) than the ones I make for G’s crew bag and race day must-haves. No one will make fun of your planning skills when you’re the person with Advil, salt tabs, clean socks, and peanut butter at Mile 40. No one.
3) Everyone is SO friendly. I’ve been running distance races for almost a decade, and I’ve met some truly wonderful people along the way. But the ultra community is incredibly tight-knit and welcoming. And I’ve seen some of the same people at each of G’s races, so it’s easier to strike up a conversation while waiting for him to come through an aid station (this can sometimes be a 1-2 hour wait, depending on the distance between aid stations, the terrain and the temperature).
4) A sense of direction and an SUV are bonuses. My dad spent road trips teaching me to read a map (you know, long before GPS), and it has truly paid off in the last 5 months. From scaling a tiny map printed on a magnet to deciphering a hand-drawn course running through the desert, I think I’m good to go. I’m also thankful we didn’t sell my Jeep last summer. Four-wheel drive and a vehicle that sits high off the ground have been invaluable (though, obviously not required). It’s a dusty, bumpy ride between aid stations, but the Jeep and I make it around just fine.
5) I have secondhand anxiety, and I’ve never been more proud. Waiting at each aid station (and at the finish line) of ultras can be nerve-wracking. I know G’s ability, I know he’s prepared, but I always get nervous about 15 minutes before each estimated time I’m supposed to be able to see him. Thankfully, he’s always honest about how he feels, if he needs something, etc. In the end, there is nothing better than watching him cross the finish line. Every time.
Though we have different long-term running goals, I’m so thankful we share a love for fitness and an active lifestyle, which enables us to be supportive of each other.
How about you? Have you supported someone during a race or crewed for an ultra runner? I’d love to hear about your experience!