Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Crewing an Ultra Race

The first taste I ever had of an Ultra was crewing one. I had no idea what it meant at the time so I thought I would write this blog to give people an idea of what is involved. 

What is an Ultra.?
An Ultra is defined as any race over marathon length, 26.2 miles or 42km. They usually come in the guise of 50km, 50 mile, 100km, 100 mile or more. But there are also some which follow certain routes, such as long distance paths. The one I have crewed for twice is the West Highland Way, which is 95 miles.

Every Ultra will have checkpoints; some of these are mandatory, where the runner will need to clock in, some are not, some are official, some are not, some of them the crew are allowed in and some they aren't... Checkpoints are also where runners can get timed out. Most races have cut off times at each checkpoint, meaning if the runner isn't quick enough they will not be allowed to continue. 

If someone asks you to be their crew for an ultra race, then you probably know each other well, which could well be very important, as in the later stages of a race you may have to make decisions for them, which doesn't always go down well... I'll touch on this later..

The first thing to do is sit down with your runner and set out a plan. Get the runner to give you details of their expected timings, nutrition and anything else they might expect you to do at each checkpoint, such as keeping spare clothing or shoes for them, looking after blistered feet or giving a sore muscle a quick rub.. It's important you know what is fully expected of you. 
You will need to find out where all the checkpoints are and work out the logistics of getting to each. A good tip is to check each area on Google Street View prior to going. You will get an understanding of the road layout and how much space there is at each checkpoint. Some checkpoints aren't big enough to hold all crews.

On race day it's important that your runner has everything they need. They will most likely have nerves and will have other things on their mind so it's down to you to make sure they have all the mandatory kit and they've given you all they may require during the race. 
Once your runner has left, get to the first checkpoint in good time and make sure you have everything prepared. Depending on the distance of the race and the distance to the first checkpoint, there's a good chance your runner will only be there for a minute for so. So then it's off to the next checkpoint...

If possible it's better if 2 of you can be crew. This is certainly beneficial on longer races where your runner might be out for over 24 hours and you can share crewing duties. Either way it's important to make sure you get rest. Depending on the distance between checkpoints and the time of day, there could be a lot of hanging around and you will get tired. 
It's important to stay alert besauce as the race goes on your runner will get tired and you might need to make decisions for them. You will also need to find your runner at each checkpoint. This can be helped in part by using GPS tracking such as Strava Beacon. This will help you know when your runner is entering the checkpoint and you can get on the racing line and wait for them. Some checkpoints, especially early on in a race, can be very busy and your runner might not want to hang around so make sure you have everything ready for them, and where possible be very visible for them. If the race goes through the night it might be worth getting your runner to wear a certain coloured glo-stick; it just helps with identifying them (it can be hard identifying someone in the middle of the night).

As the race goes on, especially races lasting longer than 24 hours, you may see your runner becoming a little incoherent or asking for random things at the checkpoints. This is where you might have to start making decisions for them. You may need to make sure they eat or drink at checkpoints, as runners need a lot of calories during ultras and they rarely eat enough, so make sure they are eating. They can also get dehydrated so make sure they get enough water. They might not want either, but it's important that they get the nutrition they need, so if you have to be, become very insistent... In the latter stages you might have to do some physio work for them, rubbing sore muscles, treating blisters etc.... so be prepared. You should also check that they have appropriate clothing, has it been raining, are they wet, do they need to change socks? Are they wearing the correct shoes, is the terrain changing from trail to road? Do they have dry waterproofs? Do they need a headtorch? Are the batteries fresh? The runner might not be thinking of these things so you need to.
You might also have to pull them out the race. It's not a nice thing to do, especially as they would have commited a lot of time, effort and money into it, but if they are behind schedule, obviously not looking good or they're injured you make need to make that decision for them.

No matter what happens it's important as crew to put the welfare of the runner first and help them as much as possible to finish the race. But above all have fun... Yeah it can be stressful and tiring but enjoy it...

Its important to get rest

Always be prepared

Runner taking a well deserved rest

Make sure you have everything ready

Time for a coffee break

Enjoying the sun without the midges

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