Friday, 8 November 2013

The Importance of a crew in Ultra Marathons

Crews can be the make or break of an ultra. sometimes you are allowed them and sometimes not. In the cases where they are allowed I consider them a vital part of the experience. When they are disallowed you can still generally see your crew at aid stations for moral and mental support.

Don't underestimate how vital they can be towards your race. A crew is not just a person or set of people who can gee you up and throw man the Fuck up pills at you when required! Crews have many other attributes which are often overlooked by the runner.

Not only does the crew have to be awake the whole time you are running but they also have to endure long periods of boredom while they wait for your arrival at a checkpoint. They have to travel to places that are difficult to find and often just an ordinance survey area. They have to put up with you stinking of sweat, urine, mud and any other variety of smells. They have to endure the cold, the rain, the sun, the wind as much as you. They get nothing at the end, just a thank you, a smelly hug and sweaty kiss and maybe get tom listen to the tale of the race again and again as you relive it to anyone within earshot.

So how do you pick a crew? Personally I like to have people I know, I like the ability to talk how I normally would at points of extreme stress, swearing like crazy, crying out in pain and generally being a pain in the ass. A person who knows me understands that I'm often like that anyway and won't take it personally. Make sure if you choose your partner that they know what you are about to endure. They will be protective and will not want you to suffer. But you will need to suffer to succeed (see post about DNF, you don't want that!).

A good crew member will have prior knowledge of Ultras or other endurance events and will possess a similar crazy sense of humour and tolerance of pain. They will be able to assess you and make decisions that you might not be capable of. They will know when to kick your ass, when to empathise, when to tell you to shut up and have a great tolerance towards your ranting and selfish ways that will come out in the race.

You must prep all crew members in advance. Tell them what to expect, if you don't know what to expect just thin k of the worst case scenario and make it even worse. Articulate this to them so they can see the magnitude of what you are undertaking and that they are ready for the unexpected. Make sure they know the drills in aid stations and what they can and cannot do. Tell them about your food preferences, likes and dislikes and make sure they know this could change at a moments notice. Suddenly that bar or gel you love could be like poison so they need to have great flexibility.

They must know when to ask relevant questions and know when you need to be left alone. They must show enthusiasm at all times and cheer other people who they will never see again or care about.

These people are VERY hard to find, however they are everywhere, they just don't know it yet. so don't despair if you can't think of anyone. In my first big Ultra I choose my crew wisely. I had a mix or personalities and abilities and made sure they all knew each other a little, they soon got to know each other a lot more.

A crew will give you everything and more but only if they know what to give and can adapt to the situation as necessary. Preparation is everything, for you and the crew so ensure you don't neglect this. Don't forget your crew can also provide support to other runners so encourage this as one day you might need similar support.

Here is the outline of my crew for the South Downs 100 in 2012

Julie - my ever loving wife, falls apart when I'm in pain, cares for me and will rally me when needed and provide love and nurture. I cannot contemplate finishing an event without her. Julie brings a passion and madness that only the Italians can give. Memories of her screaming "COME ON BIG BOY!!!!" will stay with me for years.

However I learnt in my DNF that I need to ensure if I'm in a mess that she is not there to give me the easy option of withdrawing!

Burti -crazy wine drinking all round bundle of irreverent fun. Burti has embraced endurance races and continues to astound. Brings a wealth of craziness and laughter to any situation. Burti even had an asthma attack at mile 98 whilst running the last 8 mile stretch with Julie and me. I had to say to Julie "Don't let her die! I've got to finish this fucker and I can't be doing with her dying". Luckily she was fine and suffers from them all the time, but I didn't know this and it showed her true dedication to getting me to that finish line.

Dean - my stepson and a personal trainer. Dean brings the hardness to the situation, he knows the job needs to be done and won't take any shit. Dean makes you forget the pain as he reminds you that you have been through worse.

Ollie - fellow Ironman athlete and all round good guy. His all round attitude make you smile even when things are so tough you want to crawl up and die. He knows when to take the mick and when to pick you up as he has suffered in races too.

These 4 people endured me running for 24.08 and saw me crying, swearing in church, laughing, running 6 min miling at mile 99 and crawling over the finish line. They suffered as much as I did and enjoyed the triumph equally. I had them running 8 mile sections from the 50 mile checkpoint one pacer at a time and I'm quite sure that without them I would not have finished.

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