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It takes a village: how to crew an ultra

Tips for crewing an ultramarathon

When B.C.’s Becky Bates crossed the finish line of the 2017 Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run as first Canadian female, she immediately stated, “It takes a village.” Despite running being an individual sport, athletes know the benefits of having an excellent crew to support them mentally and physically in longer trail running events. As CREW (Cranky Runner; Endless Waiting), here are some tips to keep your runner positive and happy when times are tough.

Ultra bonding. Ultrarunner Pargol Lakhan supported by crew Katie Mills at 2017 Fat Dog 120 mile endurance run

RELATED: How to crew for an ultrarunner, by a Barkley finisher

  1. Know your runner. Do they benefit from having a cheerleader or tough love? Know what makes them move and what makes them stop. Have these conversations before the start line. 
  2. Read the race rules beforehand. Know which aid stations and checkpoints allow for crews, and how to access them.
  3. Delegate tasks for multi person crews in longer events. Alex Lea (winner 2018 25km Sky Pilot race), recommends having a ‘crew boss’ to ensure efficiency and that crew members practice self care. One person can be in charge of pacing and timing to next aid station, another for liquids and electrolytes, calories, feet, clothing, etc. 
  4. Arrive early to aid stations. The earlier the better. Find your runner’s drop bag and lay out the items and food options for them to see.
  5. Be efficient with tasks as your runner arrives to an aid station. Focus on restocking calories, filling bottles and bladder, removing trash, and getting them out of the aid station quickly. The less your runner has to think or make decisions, the better. “They are like a baby – trick them into eating, even when they don’t want to,” says Kathryn Drew, Deception Pass 50km course record holder.
  6. Mind your words. Focus on moving forward, and limit small talk. “You are strong, and look so fresh!” trumps “How are you feeling?”  Ask, “Sweet or salty?” rather than “Do you feel like eating?” Yann Bernaquez, Finlayson Arm 28km winner recommends that crew “Force feed [their runner] bananas while lying about how fresh they look.”
  7. Bring extra essentials such as band aids, batteries, wet wipes, cell phone charger, ginger chews, or a slice of warm pizza to surprise your runner.
  8. “Be prepared that your runner might not take anything, say anything, or express how much they appreciate you. Wear something ridiculous to make them laugh.” says Tara Berry, 2nd Canadian at UTMB, 2017.

    Salomon athlete Cat Bradley’s drop bag laid out by crew Ryan Lassen at UTMB’s Lac De Champex aid station

If you are asked to crew, the runner likely considers you someone who can help when the going gets rough. Keep the mood light and have fun to guarantee lifelong memories.

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