What it's Like to Crew an Ultra Marathon
Author: Becca Jay
Crewing an ultra-marathon is like a NASCAR pit stop. The cars come in, the crew gets to work as efficiently and quickly as possible and then off the car and driver go.
Super-fast and organized. Dialed in.
It’s a good analogy for me because the same preparedness and organization is involved in crewing for an ultra-runner, like Luke Jay. It’s not rigid, but you want to have a solid game plan so you are ready if something unexpected happens. The crew never knows if the runner will come in feeling amazing or sluggish, maybe even injured or in the midst of a mental tug of war. So you are at once the medic, the nutritionist, the psychic, the masseuse, the cheerleader, and the counselor.
Preparation is Half the Battle
And it’s all about anticipation. Sometimes the crew will wait a few hours for their runner to arrive at the aid station. That’s a lot of down time to get ready and lay out your spot. It’s also a lot of time for your mind to wander to worst case scenarios. We have a good guess as to when our runner should arrive at the aid station based on his current pace, but it is just a guess. That means, the crew has to be ready before the planned time, in case our runner crushes it and comes in early. It also means we need to come to terms with the fact that our runner could be in his low spot and we won’t see him for another two hours. That’s the hard part: we don’t know and we just have to wait.
Muscling Against the Waiting Game
That's where I struggle. I am not good at waiting. I tend to get bouncy and goofy, especially when I am at the I-woke-up-at-2am-and-it's-midnight, aid station. But when our runner comes in, the timer in my head starts. I have a quick burst of adrenaline because I’M SO EXCITED MY RUNNER IS HERE!!!!!!! I'm in the zone and razor-focused: NASCAR pit-stop focused. I want to make sure that our runner doesn’t have to think about a thing because we have talked about the plan pre-race and I have reviewed it about fifty times and have gone through all of the fuel and items twenty times and we are dialed in (note: these numbers are slightly exaggerated…??).
Unpacking the Kitchen
When we first get to each aid station - after driving anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes - we scope out the best spot to set up. Where will my runner come in and be able to find me quickly? Then we build a little crew area. We don’t take up too much space, just enough so our runner will be comfy upon entry. We have a mat laid out with just about everything but the kitchen sink, including wipes, Tylenol, Vaseline, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, an extra hat, extra socks, extra shoes, gloves, and headlamps. Next to that we have a chair for him to sit in so he can chill for a few. Just below the chair is a towel for his feet if he needs a sock or shoe change or maybe a pedicure. Hey, why not?
Of course our “kitchen” is stocked with water and about four other liquid options because you never know what your runner will feel like eating or drinking. Sometimes you have to get bossy and just tell them “drink this” or “eat this.” After all, the gut and mind do some funny things when you are running distances of 50 or 100 miles.
My experience has been a quick five minutes or less of caregiving in the aid station. Our runner comes in and gets what he needs. We check his status and off he goes until we see him again and redo our efforts in another few hours.
It’s all worth it, though. When your runner does cross the finish line, especially at his target pace, there are hugs and top gun high fives all around.
Basically, the crew is a pretty big deal. It takes a village. And yes, I would like a giant belt buckle.
Becca Jay is the better half of Ultra Runner, Luke Jay, as well as a Personal Trainer, Mom, and Ultra Crew Chief Badass. Follow their adventures on Instagram @theadrenalinproject