Crewing at the Leadville 100 was the first time I got a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side of a race. Being immersed in the Colorado mountains and experiencing the ultra marathon culture without a bib on was such a fantastic experience with the rest of the Tanri team.
Crewing/pacing your ultrarunner for a race is more than just cheering them on to the finish line - it’s a combination of strategic planning, adaptablity and a deep understanding of both ultras and your runner’s needs/ capabilities.
Here’s 8 things that helped me crew/pace in Leadville that should help you absolutely crush your next ultramarathon experience.
Ultramarathon Crewing and Pacing Tips
Have Logistics Planned Beforehand
Crewing an ultramarathon can quickly (become unpredictable) when you’re running on 2 hours of sleep, a pacer failed to show up, or you missed a shuttle to the next aid station. Preparing a comprehensive race plan on paper and distributing it to the crew can greatly streamline your experience and help manage chaotic situations that arise during a 30 hour run.
In addition, ask your runner to prepare a time table of when they’ll be at each aid station based on expected pace prior to the race.
Keep the stoke high
Your primary role at each aid station is to take care of your runner AND keep morale high. The ultramarathon journey is not just a physical challenge; it’s a mental and emotional one as well. As a crew member your job is to be a beacon of positivity, motivation and unwavering support for your runner. Create a vibrant atmosphere by creating signs, playing energizing music …anything to increase the morale of your runner.
As a pacer, celebrating their progress and being a mental distraction is critical to getting your runner to the finish line. In my opinion, one of the worst questions you can ask a runner towards the end of a 100 mile run is “How are you feeling?” I’m going to guess they aren’t feeling very hot and verbalizing that to you will make it become even more real for them. Instead, I like to make positive observations regarding their pace or how they look! To motivate your runner, make light recommendations on times to pick up the pace or slow it down. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to take your recommendation; be patient and offer further support.
BONUS TIP - when crewing at night bring an item that lights up (we saw a light up pineapple at Leadville) and stick it in front of your aid station. Your runner will save time trying to find you during the night, plus you’ll be an actual beacon of light for them in the sea of darkness they just ran through!
3. Know the course as the pacer
Because ultramarathon courses can be intricate and wind through various terrains, trails and landscapes, It’s critical that you have an understanding of the course as well or better than your runner when you’re pacing them. Your runner will be consumed with extreme levels of mental fog and fatigue when you begin pacing them, so it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t take a wrong turn that would cost them even more time and energy.
4. Hurry Up and Wait
“Hurry up and wait” perfectly describes the paradox of crewing an ultramarathon. In the absence of real time tracking, you never know exactly where your runner is on the course, which means you’ll default to arriving to the next aid station as early as possible. Crews need to be ready to act at a moment’s notice, yet also patiently wait for their runner’s arrival.
BONUS TIP: If your runner has a Garmin Inreach, ask them to turn on the tracking feature so you can get interval updates of their whereabouts to more accurately determine their arrival times.
5. There’s Alot of Downtime.
Because of the hurry up and wait paradox, you’re going to experience a ton of downtime, so consider time for your own well being. Finding productive ways to utilize this time is crucial for maintaining your energy, focus and overall enjoyment of crewing which translates to your runner also having a good time. To avoid boredom, get a workout in on some nearby trails or the road or introduce yourself to the other families crewing!
6. Have Things Set Up
Having a well organized aid station is key to an effective race for your runner. As a crew member you have a broad view of the race and are able to anticipate what your runner needs before arrival which can make a significant difference in your runner’s race experience. Have things they need to grab before they need to grab them: TANRI sunscreen, calories, massage gun, feet cleaning station - anything you think they’ll need at this time of the race.
7. Be aware- you're going to be exhausted
Although your runner will be experiencing less sleep than you, you’ll also be sacrificing hours of sleep yourself, especially when it comes to meeting or pacing them through the night at the 100 mile distance. In addition, the excitement and tension of crewing throughout the day will start to wear on you, however, it’ll magically melt off once you see your runner come through the next aid station!
8. Take video!
Typically the last thing your runner is thinking about during the race is taking videos or pictures to remember their experience. As a crew member and pacer, this is a great opportunity for you to jump in and commemorate this intense experience. Capture the highs and lows throughout the race and I’ll guarantee your runner will thank you tenfold for it!