Disclaimer: This is in no way meant as a criticism or displeasure with my crew’s effort during my first attempt at completing a 100-mile race, despite subtle sarcasm here and there. On the contrary, I was extremely pleased with their performance and care, especially considering the huge lack of planning. However, being a rookie 100-mile runner with a rookie crew it would be strange if there had been no room for improvement.
On the plane over to the UK, where my first attempt at a 100 miler was to take place, my sister, who was coming with me to crew, shoved a book on book on ultrarunning into my hands. I was open at a page where the author discussed the role of his crew during ultra races, and stressed the importance of giving the crew clear and concrete tasks during the race. I was at a bit of a loss as to what I would need my crew to do for me, given that I had never attempted this distance or had a crew before. In the final weeks leading up to the race I probably should have thought this through, but an inconvenient knee injury just a month before meant that I was busy with physio, and debating with myself whether to start at all. I did attempt putting together a list of instructions, and sent it to my wonderful crew the day before the race. Here is the revised post-race list:
- At least one crewmember is to accompany the runner to the start. This person should check the compulsory kit list beforehand and bring all items on said list, just in case the runner has managed to tick vital items off the list, without actually packing them. Other tasks include safekeeping of shed items of clothing, soothing pats on the back, and taking photos. It is probably also a good idea to make your runner eat a clif bar or sandwich while waiting for the start.
- Crewmembers attending checkpoints should make sure they know where these are located and how to get to them, the goal being to arrive before the runner. A map would be useful to accomplish this.
- When arriving at checkpoint with crew access, you should first scout out all vegan items provided by the organizers, in order to help your runner select appropriate food items. If the vegan selection is meagre, non-existent, or just not according to your runner’s taste, make sure you have desirable foods ready. These are likely to be salty foods and fresh fruit (See list below for more suggestions).
- When runner arrives at checkpoint you should make him/her list everything he/she has eaten and since the start. Your runner should have planned his/her eating before the race, and the crew should be familiar with this plan. If your runner has not followed his/her eating plan make sure he/she is told off, and do not allow him/her to leave checkpoint before eating what you consider an appropriate amount. Also, make sure your runner stays adequately caffeinated.
- Show tough love. If your runner is in pain or discomfort, be caring, but do not let your runner drop out unless struggling to stay on feet, having a funny skin colour (green, bright yellow, grey, or white-white), slurring his/her speech, or experiencing major blood loss, or breathing problems. If any of these symptoms develop, the race medics will probably become concerned and make the decision for you. If experiencing minor injuries, or just a bad day, your runner should have to make at least three requests before you allow him/her to drop out.
- If (one of) your function(s) as crew member is to be a pacer, make sure you bring trainers, tights etc., as failure to do so might be interpreted as lack of faith in your runner. Other useful items include first aid kit, head torch, map, and extra food and drink.
- Pacers: make sure you remind your runner to eat and drink, especially if runner is in pain, discomfort or is considering dropping out (and therefore thinking he/she only needs enough energy to make it to the next checkpoint).
- When your runner has made it to the finish line/dropped out of the race, and after you have finished congratulating/consoling your runner, please give him/her something to eat and drink. If your runner lacks an appetite, make sure he/she at least takes on some fluids. Hint: giving your runner a beverage of some sort is a useful first step in accomplishing this.
- If taking your runner out for a celebratory/consolatory post-race meal, remember that his/her mobility might be slightly impaired. It is not cool to drop your runner on your way to a food-dispensing establishment.
- Finally, the crew should make sure their runner makes it safely back to his/her lodgings. If using public transport, it is probably a good idea that a crewmember transacts the purchase of tickets, and accompanies the runner on the journey, in order to make sure that the runner travels in the correct direction and disembarks safely.
Proposed checkpoint menu (be prepared for kitchen duty!)
- Boiled/salt baked new potatoes
- Mini spring rolls and/or samosas
- Baked sweet potatoes
- Crisps (plain salt) or marmite rice cakes
- Fresh fruit such as oranges, watermelon, apples, bananas (must be ripe), sliced if possible, or in a smoothie.
- Chocolate soya milk
- Scandinavian style hot fruit soup (if cold/during night)
- Vegan fruit flavoured/sour jellies such as Biona Sour Snakes