I love to run races, but I also really enjoy helping Robert successfully complete his goals by crewing for him. He loves to say that I could rent myself out for races as someone’s crew because I am so efficient, however I think it is just because I know him so well that I can anticipate his needs and have that planned for before he gets to the next aid station. Crewing for someone can present potential challenges, but can really make a race much more enjoyable and manageable for a runner if it is done correctly. Here’s my top ten list of tips to be a helpful member of a race crew to make the day or weekend a success for your runner while keeping your own sanity.
- Know the course (and more importantly the aid stations) ahead of time.
- Talk nutrition goals and plans with your runner before race day and have a back up plan.
- Have a fully charged watch and approximate times of when your runner should be arriving at each aid station you are planning on meeting them at.
- Pay attention to the runners who are coming into the aid station before your runner.
- Make sure you are in decent shape.
- Get your workout in.
- Prepare for the terrain and environment around you.
- Bring a book, chair, and snacks for you!
- Take pictures (if you can have someone else there with you to be your photographer it is the best scenario).
- Don’t forget your job ends at recovery NOT at the finish line.
Tip #1 Knowing the race course ahead of time is important for a lot of reasons. One is to know where aid stations will be located and how accessible they will be to get to as a crew member. This will also be really helpful when you are planning what your racer is going to need. A large climb or technical trail without any tree coverage… have a refilled bottle ready and something cold for them to eat like watermelon or orange slices. A large flat up ahead- know they might not need as much. You need to know your runner and what certain types of terrain does to them. For example I know Robert will need a refilled bottle no matter the aid station, but after a long climb he also is going to need actual food whereas a flat he might just grab a handful of pretzels or half a banana and keep moving. Knowing where aid stations are ahead of time and how to get to them (if you can) not only will prevent you from wasting time and energy on race day, but if you CAN NOT get to certain aid stations because of their location (which does happen) your racer needs to be prepared to go that extra distance without being able to stock up from their personal supply. Being prepared is key!
Tip #2 Making a plan for nutrition ahead of time is really important when you start running long distances and gets even more imperative when you factor in trails. Knowing what your runner’s nutrition plan is ahead of time is crucial. This weekend I crewed for both Robert and Andy during the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race. They have different mentalities on their race nutrition based on what works for each of their bodies. For Robert solid food is important, Scratch hydration, and lately I have been getting him some fruit purees as well to eat during a run. He will eat things offered at aid stations, but he really likes to have his own supply of nutrition on him while running between stations. There is also the risk of something you want not being at an aid station this weekend Robert was sad to discover bananas at only one of all the aid stations throughout each stage of the race. However I had banana purees for him which helped keep his potassium level in check and cramping down… back up plans are important. Andy eats a lot less solid food during his runs and relies more on Tailwind as his complete form of nutrition so crewing for him looked much different than for Robert at each aid station. Alongside with this I try to make sure I am paying attention to what aid station commodities Robert is grabbing at each stop besides what I have to offer. This weekend pickles were high on his list. That indicated to me that he was trying to manage cramping with the salt and pickle juice so I made sure to check that sequential aid stations had pickles and if they did not I grabbed salt pills from the car to have on hand just in case Robert needed them.
Tip #3 Robert is phenomenal at making me race plans with estimated distances for each aid station, his goal time for making it to each of those aid stations, and the cut off time he would have to be at those aid stations by in order to make race cut off. He will also provide me with a column of the time of day for each of those things to make my life as simple as possible. This way I know when I need to be at each aid station, how much distance he has covered, and how much he has left to go. Based on when he comes in I can assess if he is feeling good or bad, or if a section was a lot more difficult terrain wise than expected. I can let him know if he needs to pick it up a bit to make sure he is meeting his goals or if he has a little wiggle room based on how he has performed so far in the race. Lastly, it allows me to help him to self-assess how he is he doing both mentally and physically. In his first ultra attempt it took him about double the time he had anticipated to get from a specific point to another because of a cramping issue. At that point we both realized it was time to call it for that day. Knowing overall time of the race as well as time of day (consider if the sun is going to set before the next aid station… does your runner need to have their head lamp before they will see you next?) is extremely important when thinking about crewing.
Tip #4 Paying attention to other runners when they are arriving at an aid station before your runner can be extremely helpful whilst you are crewing. If the runners are coming in extremely fatigued I can prepare myself a little better for what Robert is going to look like after that specific section of the race. I can then prep myself better to meet his needs before he gets to me. I also can then get ready when I start seeing the people who are a few minutes ahead of him and assess how he did on a section based on when he arrives in relation to them.
Tip #5 Sometimes you may have to work to get to an aid station, or if an aid station isn’t accessible for a long section of a run you may want to create your own. No matter what you most likely be moving around and on your feet for a lot of the day and therefore need to be in somewhat decent shape. You do not have to be able to run the same distance as the person you are crewing for, but be able to at least walk a few miles without being completely exhausted. This weekend there were multiple aid stations that allowed me to drive right up to them. There were some aid stations that were completely inaccessible and therefore I created my own. This coincides with Tip #1. Day 3 of Robert’s race this weekend was on Signal Mountain which we have run countless times and allowed me to have such an upper hand with crewing. I was able to make a pseudo aid station for Robert in between the first and second aid stations which I was unable to get to because it was only about a 1.25 mile hike down to Mushroom Rock where I knew he would pass me by. Being in good shape allowed me to get him a filled up bottle of Scratch which he was extremely grateful for during the next section of climbs. Without being in somewhat decent shape I would have been unable to do this. I also was able to get some really nice overhead shots of Robert and Andy running by because I hiked out onto some rocks. At one aid station I realized I forgot something they needed in the care which I had parked about a quarter mile away. Being able to just quickly jog back made me less worried that I would miss them at the aid station than if I would have had to walk all to the car and back to the aid station. Once again being in okay shape will help you be a better crew! This also helped me take care of Tip #6. Each day of the race I managed to squeeze in a short run for myself. This not only helped me to pass the time, but it also helped me get a small view of what the guys were going through in the specific weather conditions of that day. It also helped me to deal with the immense FOMO I was experiencing crewing instead of running the race.
Tip #7 Know where you will be throughout the day. In the woods on trails all day- bug spray and decent shoes are a must. Like I just said I ran down on the trail for a bit in order to meet with Robert so I actually wore my trail shoes on day 3 and high socks because I was trying to avoid ticks. I made sure I had bug spray day 2 but completely failed to do so day 3 and now bug bites all up and down my legs to help me remember next time. If you are going to be standing out on pavement all day a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are a must. You cannot be helpful to the runner if you are not taking care of yourself. This coincides with Tip #8 make sure you have somewhere you can sit, something to do (I prefer reading a book and completing crosswords), and snacks to get you through the day. Do not eat the aid station food- it is not for you it is for the runners and race directors budget for racers not crewers. You also cannot expect to eat the post race food. Once again the race directors plan for food for the runners not all the people they bring with them. If you are going to be out all day and get hunger pains like I do you need to make sure you have sustenance for you as well as your runner.
Tip #9 Take pictures if you can. Your runner will greatly appreciate it. If you can have a friend come with you to take pictures while you crew it will make things a lot easier. It is hard to be snapping pictures while checking your watch to note what time your runner is coming in to the aid station, switching out bottles, and checking on food intake. I did manage to get some shots at the start, during the race at non aid stations when I could figure out where they would be passing by, and at the finish line each day. However more is always better especially out on beautiful trails and even more importantly when your runner is accomplishing a big feat for themselves, so if you are lucky enough to have an extra set of hands there for you definitely take advantage of it.
Tip #10 Remember that when your runner crosses the finish line their job is done for the day, but yours isn’t! Have a protein shake waiting for their arrival. That chair I mentioned in Tip #8 now becomes theirs to sit on. Getting them hydrated and refueled is important and sometimes they are so exhausted they need a little coaxing to do so. I have gotten into the habit of just making Robert a plate of whatever is hot and bringing it over to him to eat because I know that he will say he isn’t hungry but will nibble on solid food if I bring it to him. I also make sure he is carefully coming down from the run in regards to heart rate, his color, and later on asking him if he has peed- need to ensure those kidneys are still working! Once you are home (or at the hotel) you can relax, but being the crew for a runner means taking care of them pre and post race as well not, just during it. Don’t worry your turn to be the runner will come, and if your runner is anything like mine he makes it easy to want to do everything in your capability to get him successfully across the finish line.