If the Ultra-Marathoners and Trail Runners of the world have contributed something positive to the society such as inspiring people to love nature or encouraging people to stay healthy, then surely the way the Universe has repaid us, is through the gift of the CREW.
Most long distance races are extremely difficult to complete without the assistance of a support crew. In fact many races now have a crew as a mandatory requirement. I’ve experienced first-hand on numerous occasions just how critical and important a great crew can be. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they can make the difference between success and certain failure.
A crew can be made up of any number of people but the key factor is the not the number, but the people. If you are considering entering your first ultra-distance run and you need to put a support crew together, here are the recommendations I would make when selecting your crew members:
- Choose people that are runners themselves or at the very least have an appreciation for what you are about to do.
Last year I shared the trail of an Ultra-Marathon with a guy who had a crew consisting of two of his mates that spent the vast majority of the time that we were on the trail, sitting in their campervan getting very very drunk. Lucky for my running buddy, his helpers were sober enough to follow instructions when he showed up at check points. Sometimes.
- Choose people who are happy to do whatever you ask of them but are also proactive enough to think outside the box when required.
In 2008 I ran a 5 day road Ultra with the aid of a very large crew that was led by a good friend of mine. Every day I would go to him with a list of new requests or ideas that I had for the next section of the road and he would invariably have already thought of them and done things in advance. You can’t put a value on someone like that. Pure Gold!
- Don’t choose people that are a bit “precious”.
There is a saying that the letters CREW stand for ‘Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting’. Your crew will need to be a patient lot, and also be prepared to put up with your unstable mental state. Everyone responds differently to the extremes they experience in an Ultra-Marathon, and your crew members need to be prepared to see the best and the worst of you.
Having said this, remember to be kind to your crew when you still have the mental aptitude to do so, as they are volunteering their time to make sure you get your psychotic butt over that line.
- Try to find a crew member that can run and will be willing to join you for a part or parts of the run.
Especially if the run goes overnight, there will be times when not only are you physically destroyed, but mentally you can get very low and night can be a pretty lonely time when you are out in the wilderness for hours and hours on your own.
Once when running through my second night without sleep, one minute I was working my way down some switchbacks when suddenly I noticed a man crouched on the side of the track. I was about 2 steps from him when I realized that I was hallucinating and he was actually just a small rock. To this day I can describe everything about this man in great detail. When I realized that he was all in my imagination, I was VERY grateful to have had someone with me to tell me I was not going insane (even if I was…).
- Last but not least – Chose crew members that you like.
There is nothing better than sharing your life’s great successes with people that you care about. They will enrich the experience simply by being there. They will offer you the best advice because they care about you and they will be there when you need them most.
The crew members I’ve had over the years tend to come back and join me again and again for the adventures I take on. I’m not sure if they feel obliged to help me because we are friends, but I’m hopeful they do it because they enjoy the experience also.
So, Runners and Crew members, be kind to each other. You never know when you will need to return the favor.