5 Things I’ve Learned While Crewing for Ultras

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.

I was lucky there was a Starbucks on the way to the SD 50 start line!
I was lucky there was a Starbucks on the way to the SD 50 start line!

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.

Packed crew bag - check!
Packed crew bag – check!

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).

The Mile 20/30 aid station of the SD 50 - great group!
The Mile 20/30 aid station of the SD 50 – great group!

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.

High Desert near Ridgecrest, Calif., offered some fun, off-roading opportunities.
High Desert near Ridgecrest, Calif., offered some fun, off-roading opportunities.

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.

Finishing the OTHTC High Desert 50K in December 2013!
Finishing the OTHTC High Desert 50K in December 2013!

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.

Take care,

C

How about you? Have you supported someone during a race or crewed for an ultra runner? I’d love to hear about your experience!

20 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned While Crewing for Ultras

  1. This is an awesome post! I don’t have a crew for this race and hopefully I’ll be okay – but I definitely want to crew for someone else as well as volunteer this year! The non-racers are so important the the success of an event and every runner!

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    1. Thanks, Laura! You’ll absolutely be OK without a crew (but I would recommend taking advantage of a bag drop if it’s an option). I’ve seen a lot of people leaving bags at bag drops. Also, the aid stations are fantastic sources of motivation and they have A LOT of essentials. My advice would be to make a checklist and go over it several times. When you do get to crew or volunteer, you’ll love it! Good luck!

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  2. Great post! I agree with everything you mentioned. I actually think it’s easier to be a pacer than crewing, because it’s more nerve-wracking waiting at aid stations not knowing how your runner is feeling. Crewing is hard work!

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    1. Thank you! I haven’t paced anyone yet (though G mentioned MAYBE having me pace him for a bit during an upcoming race). But I completely agree about the waiting … so nerve-wracking!

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  3. Awesome post!! Want to crew for me? (kidding) I am currently training for a 50 miler, and last year I crewed for my hubby, so I have seen both sides of the coin. It is amazing on how much being prepared pays off whether you are racing or crewing!

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    1. Haha, thank you! I’m thinking about training for and running a 50K with G later this year, and I’m sure it’s very different to be a runner in a race distance like that. Preparedness is definitely key! Good luck with your training!

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  4. there is nothing better than the ultra community. i’m not sure if it’s just because shorter distance runners far outnumber ultra runners or if ultra runners are just a completely different breed and type of runner but there’s a sense of camaraderie amongst us that you simply don’t find in road races. i’ve run, paced and crewed and all are amazing experiences. you should definitely try pacing G in an upcoming race!

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    1. I truly think ultra runners are a truly different type of runner – the type who like to push their personal limits and run for the pure enjoyment of running. It’s a fantastic community! Thank you!

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  5. This was really great to read! I’m good with maps too actually, I was one of the last people on the planet to get a smart phone-I’ve had one for just over a year! I supported my boyfriend running a half marathon last November but nothing as intense as an ultra. I have to say, it was a lot harder than I expected! I prepped his breakfast so he could sleep and drove him to the starting line. A half is a relatively short time frame so I was only able to find him once on the course before I had to head to the finish. And there were 1000s running so picking him out in the crowd was hard! It was a lot of fun though 🙂

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    1. I think map-reading is an underrated skill in this age of tech! Race support (no matter the distance) is incredibly important; kudos to you for taking interest in your boyfriend’s race and cheering him on. I’m sure he truly appreciated it! 🙂

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  6. Awesome insight, I totally dig it:D I’m looking forward to working up to the ultra level, sometime in the future….far, far, far in the future:D

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  7. Great insight! #2 is highly appreciated and respected by any runner… knowing what is in the race kit, how to use it and anticipating the runners needs are invaluable. Don’t forget the caffeine for the runner 🙂 it’s amazing how a little caffeine and sugar can totally turn around a runners perspective in about 10 minutes. I have not crewed anyone else but I worked an aid station at the Graveyard 100 a couple weeks ago.

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    1. Thanks, Clay! Definitely caffeine for the runner, as well! G has really started to figure out what combinations work for him, and we make sure they are in his pack and in the crew bag I carry. I imagine working an aid station is insightful and inspiring – thank you for volunteering!

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