Here is my take on crewing on an ultra. Purely based on how I do it and how I think it should be done. Obviously others will crew differently especially as the person they are crewing will have their own needs.
I also have to declare that the only person I have crewed is my wife Sharon. This has been on various events of various distances and over various terrains and in various weather. I think the shorter the distance the easier it is to crew someone but on the 100 mile and more events is when it gets serious. So as I write this I have events like the Arc of Attrition 100 and the most recent the GB Ultras Race across Scotland 215 miles in mind.
The number one rule is YOU ARE THERE FOR YOUR RUNNER.
From the moment you agree to crew the runner its wise to remember this rule. You are not there for a jolly, your there to crew your runner, so crew your runner. This rule has to be remembered to the time you get home.
KNOW YOUR RUNNER, LISTEN TO YOUR RUNNER
By this I mean know what they want and expect of you, so therefore listen to their wants and needs. I dont get involved with Sharon getting her kit ready, that's her department, at most I'll say are you sure you got this or that. But by the time your ready to leave all kit is packed away, normally in various boxes. A box for food, socks, electronic stuff, trainers etc. Its no good having all this stuff mixed up. You will know if they like to change socks or want more gels etc so be prepared. Because you know and have listened to your runner you will know where everything is as and when its needed. They should not be explaining these things to you on the day as you know your runner. Pack the car carefully.
GET TO AGREED MEETING POINTS ON TIME
On some events this is only allowed at checkpoints, but normally you can meet up at other places along the way. If for instance its 30 miles between checkpoints your runner may request you meet them inbetween. All this kind of thing should be worked out before you even get to the event.
Wherever you have agreed to meet it's your job to be there on time, in plenty of time, BEFORE your runner gets there. Have a checkpoint list / itinerary on hand always.
On virtually every event I have crewed on, at some point at some checkpoint I will see another runner arrive and look around for their crew, they look all over the room, they ask Marshall's and then discover they are on their own. This is not good enough.
Let's say its 10 miles till your next meeting point, you can work out your runner will be there in 2 hours. You make sure your there at very least half hour beforehand.
Getting there early can be boring to some extent as your sitting around doing nothing, especially if it's bad weather but there are also benefits to getting there early. For instance parking can be a nightmare at some checkpoints and lots of other crews will be fighting for the parking places, and when your competing with mobile homes believe me, getting there early and a prime parking spot makes you feel like a winner. You can also get to chat to other crews and Marshall's etc, share stories, talk about your runners etc. Chances are, once you've met up with other crews a few times you'll be cheering their runner on also. You also get to see other runners coming in, cheer them on, you will get to know them.
Most importantly though, early means you will have everything ready for when your runner arrives, can sort them out with no faffing, because your ready for them.
So get there EARLY.
These can be vital to a runner but not expected. You have agreed where you will meet but if you have time, which you will have, get yourself to a road crossing where you know your runner will pass. Turn up unexpectedly with a cheery smile and a wave. If it's a hot day, get them an ice cream or a hot drink if it's cold. Just little things will make your runner a tad happier.
I am very lucky with Sharon, she is so easy to deal with at meeting points. Always happy and knows exactly what's she wants and needs. In and out of checkpoints normally very quickly and normally with a smile.
But things can go wrong out there for your runner, they may arrive upset, angry, or a bit snappy. If your a runner you will know these feelings so should be aware that your runner can suffer with all of these things. If your runner is snappy with you, dont worry about it, let it go and move on. And it also works both ways, for whatever reason, don't get snappy with your runner.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Before we even leave home I check out the checkpoints on the map. Know how far it is by driving between them. Is it going to be an easy drive, often not due to the fact your in the middle of nowhere. Learn names of places you will pass because at some point you will lose satnav signal. Dont rely on postcodes, look up names of roads where the checkpoints are.
Shops, find out where they are, will there be any open in the place the checkpoint is, at night they wont be. Many places wont even have a shop. And at some point, you will need a shop.
Crewing is tiring. If you are also a runner you will come away from crewing wishing it was you that was running the event because you soon find out crewing is just as tiring as running it. Mentally I think it's even more tiring. You worry about getting to a meeting point on time, your constantly dot watching the tracker, you try to sleep in the car but can't. Your driving between checkpoints when tired.
You've probably been awake a few hours before the start of the event and are probably going to be awake for 24 hours plus. All the things I've mentioned add up and you end up feeling battered. Coffee, coffee, coffee.
If your out for 24 hours and longer and living out of the boot of your car it doesn't work to take noce fresh healthy meals as you may not have a way to keep them fresh or you may not have time to cook stuff. I find it better to take stuff that you just add water to, pot noodles for example. Even if you do intend of cooking something healthier on your portable stove the weather is so bad you can't. Luckily in this instance the checkpoint staff will normally let you use the kettle.
Once you realise the nice pasta meal you have in a box has gone off you then start picking up stuff in shops that are instant eats. Pasties, pies, sweets, crisps etc, diet cen go right out the window.
Make sure you take clean clothes, you probably won't use most of them though. Towel, washbag, toothbrush and toothpaste etc. When at checkpoints or by a stream, wash and change. You will feel better for it.
And don't forget loo roll, you will need it.
I dont know how other people feel when they are crewing but I certainly suffer from different emotions while crewing Sharon. Some of them are a worrying type. I suffered most on the Arc of Attrition, weather was rubbish, checkpoints is in a tiny car park and its pitch black at 1 am
, you can hear the waves crashing against the rocks, the wind is howling and your looking for a head torch in the distance praying it's your runner, in my case, my wife. She arrives and it's a relief she is ok. You want to know how they have got on etc, your sorting them out and then off they go into the blackness. Believe me, watching your wife disappear in the space of a minute, disappearing into the atrocious weather and blackness of the night, is worrying. But you need to let it go, try not to think about it or you'll drive yourself mad. I tell myself that if it was me out there I'd be ok so why would your runner suddenly not be. Muppetry can happen at anytime, day or night so just let go of the worrying.
THE STRUGGLING RUNNER
You will at some point see your runner struggle. Not through injury, but just struggling. Hopefully it will just be a one off but it can be throughout the event, it can accumulate. They maybe be getting slower all the time and the cut offs are getting tighter and tighter. You can lie to your runner and tell them they are amazing, your doing brilliant etc or in my case, you just shut up and let them get on with it. They will know how they are doing and will know they are struggling, you just let them do their own thing.
Know what information to give and when to give it.
Running and maths do not go together, running, tired and maths definitely do not go together. Also, your runner or you will probably get your times wrong. A leg may take longer than expected and throw all your wannabe times out the window. Therefore you need to decide what info to give your runner. If they ask then you can tell them everything they need to know, or dont want to know.
If it's a simple case of getting maths wrong you can tell them, right, you've got x amount of time before the next cut off etc. If their maths are wrong then you can give them good news and it will help them chill.
Your runner may or may not want to know what position they are in. If all is going well and they are in the top 3 it may spur them on to keep going as they are. In general Sharon doesn't want to know where she is so I keep quiet.
You just have to judge what and when to tell them. They will have a good idea anyway.
This is what no one wants, the runner don't want it and you dont want it, but it happens. You can be in the best shape ever at the start line but a wreck by the time you finish. In our case feet have proved troublesome at times, you see your runners feet deteriorating before your eyes. It can also be a number of other things of course. If an injury is to occur In some ways it's better for an instant game changer to happen. No one wants to see an injury of course but if your runner fell and twisted their foot its game over there and then, we all know it.
It's worse if your runner says at mile 20 into a 100 mile run that their leg hurts a bit. Because at the next checkpoint it's the 1st thing you ask and you see them treating the issue or wince when they take their shoe off. As the event progresses you see they are not running properly and will at some point resort to walk only. It's the accumulator.
You have to be careful here because runners can be a stubborn breed. They have trained for this event and felt the best ever on the start line, then they see this injury eating into their plan and ruining their race.
They will probably tell you they are fine, it's just a scratch and will be determined to finish. Though you can see plainly that they should be stopping before things get worse.
I have had this happen to me while crewing. Because you know your runner it should be easy for you to say something or not. Recently it was hours and hours of knowing things probably wont end well but but nothing was said except a little, are you sure your ok to carry on. You have to hope your runner has the brains to know when to stop. Unless it's the instant game changer injury, then let them do their own thing, it's their race. But also, be prepared to put your foot down if its obviously needed.
This is going to be one of two cases. Your runner has had a good race and they reach the finish line and your all smiles, happiness and even tears. Or, it's the injury that brings it to an end. At this point you hope it's at a checkpoint but often you will be at a checkpoint but your runner is miles away when you get the call. Either way, listen to them and get them whatever they want. Make them comfortable and always have some nice comfort food and drinks for them. But be prepared for an early ending.
You will need to pack stuff for your runner that they haven't mentioned and you don't need to worry about mentioning.
Towels, take extra for drying feet, you will need them.
Bin bag for stinking kit, you will need it.
Bin bag for soaking stinking shoes, you will need it.
Nice food and drink for the finish, they will want it.
Money, always have some cash, you will need it.
Portable Chargers, you will need them and you need to keep them charged in case your runner needs them.
Pictures, take lots of them, your runner will thank you for it, though you may end up with lots of similar pictures, ie, in and out of checkpoint pictures.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
From start to finish you also have to look after yourself. Try to sleep if you can. Remember hygiene, it will freshen you up. Have a walk, look around. Bring a book. Talk to others. Try to keep yourself busy. You will be no good to your runner if you haven't looked after yourself.
All in all, try to enjoy the adventure. Yes it will be tiring, very tiring. But crewing brings it's own rewards. You will know you helped your runner reach the end and it will also help you when it's you being crewed. You will know what your crew is going through.
But always remember the number one rule.
YOU ARE THERE FOR YOUR RUNNER.