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April 11, 2012 Comments (4) Journey To A First Ultra

Choosing Your Ultra Crew

I get asked quite often, “who do you have for a crew?” Usually the question is asked in the context that someone is trying to figure out whom they should ask to be their crew for an upcoming race. This is after all a very important decision to make. Who do you choose to be in your crew? We often joke that CREW is an acronym for Cranky Runner Endless Waiting. This isn’t too far from the truth, but crewing isn’t all about dealing with a cranky runner, it can be so much more than that. In this post, let’s take a closer look at how to choose your crew and what they mean to others beyond what they mean for you.

1.)   Ask only those who are the most positive people you know.

Cranky Runner Endless Waiting. It takes a special person to sit around for a day, to a day and a half, waiting for your cranky butt to get to each and every aid station. Choose only the positive people in your life who you know for sure will remain and speak positively for the duration of the event. Your brain cannot adequately translate negativity during an ultra.

2.)   Stay away from asking Mom and/or Dad; or Significant Others.

“When the going get’s tough, the tough get going”.. unless of course one of these aforementioned are waiting for you in aid stations. Typically, when you start suffering during an ultra-marathon (and you will), these are the folks who are going to coach you into quitting. These are the folks who can’t stand to see you suffer needlessly and will turn from supportive towards a finish, to supportive towards calling it a day, helping you justify that you “gave it your best.” You want people who are going to lock the doors on the car, yell at you for being a baby, and push you out of the aid station and out into the abyss known as the course.

3.)   Choose those you know can hack it.

Let’s face it; waiting around for you to come to each and every aid station is not the most glorious of jobs. Most times, your crew is going to be awake for just as long as you are. Crewing for a 50 or 100 miler can be as tough as actually running the 50 to 100 miles itself. So only choose those whom you know are up for this arduous task from beginning to end.

4.)   Your crew members are ambassadors.

I have to tell you… that I choose my crew not just because of what they can and do do for me during a race. I choose a crew for what I know they are capable of doing for others. Your crew is not just there to cater to your every need. Your crew acts as an ambassador for yourself while you are out running on the course. I specifically instruct my crew, every race, to cheer for and assist any runner out on the course. If someone comes into an aid station and they need something that we have and their crew doesn’t, my crew has been directed to give it up. This is in line with the very spirit of ultra-running, that we’re all in this together, from point “A” to point “B.” Instruct your crew to enhance our ultra-community just as you would.

5.)   Assign a Crew Chief.

Your crew is going to be spending the entire day driving around middle earth in tight quarters. Then, they’re going to sprawl out under shady tree to battle oppressive heat or setting up a shelter to stay out of a cold windy rain. As a group, they’re going to go through all the stages of group development without them even knowing it (forming, storming, norming, performing). Assign a crew chief to run the ship, keep everyone level headed, and to manage your needs when you enter the aid station. Work with them to arrange a pre-race meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

6.)   Thank Them!

Asking someone to crew for you at an ultra is the absolute worst thing you’ll go through as an ultra-runner. You selfishly ask your closest friends to cater to your every need, drain themselves mentally and physically for two days, and you’re like to snap and yell at them at various points during the event. You need to say thank you. Typically, I buy a case of beer for my crew to enjoy during the event. I buy them all tickets for the post-race dinner or, feed them on the way home. But one of the best ultra-traditions is buying your crew members a shirt from the race.

Nothing makes me happier then to come home from a race and have quite a few e-mails of thanks for me to give to my crew. From cheering other runners, to helping other crews “get it.” From the sharing of our beer to just being great people, my crew not only acts as great ambassadors for myself.. but ambassadors for the sport. Not once have I heard a tale of my crew bragging about my success in a race. My crew sticks to the basics, having an amazing time drinking beers, playing Frisbee, having one hell of a party and when I come into the aid station… they’re right to work helping me accomplish our goal of making it to the finish line.

Notice how it’s our goal and not my goal. Running ultra’s with a crew is a Team effort. Never once will you hear my crew bashing a runner on the course, or not even in attendance. Not once will you hear my crew bragging about how my run is going. I am proud to know that after all these years, I have a crew that always acts with dignity, respect and class towards runners present and absent… and they’re always willing to help all reach their goal whatever it may be.

So as you move forward in choosing your crew in the future… remember that it’s much more than filling bottles, mixing drinks, popping blisters and dealing with your tired cranky ass. They are YOU when you’re not around. What they say and do reflects on you… for good and for bad. They’re not just there to help you, they’re there to help other runners… they’re there to make a PB&J at an aid station that lacks race volunteers… we’re all in this thing together. Your goal should be their goal and everyone else’s goal. This sport has a community rich in support of each other. When the going gets tough, they’re tougher then you. When you’re down and out, they should be there to keep you up and in. Quitting is not an option.. and their positive energy should flow freely through you.

Happy Trails


4 Responses to Choosing Your Ultra Crew

  1. Great piece Sherpa…. couldn’t agree more. -EnduranceJer

  2. mkreuzer says:

    Good read Sherpa. There’s a lot of great stuff in there. Applying some it already.

  3. Ajwellman says:

    I only kind of violated one rule on here — my wife is part of my crew, but not the alpha dog! She is the one that I fear will encourage me to quit if things get really bad (and a wife probably should!). My sister is my chief and she is well prepared mentally and emotionally.

  4. Yanni says:

    Does anyone have a list of which ultra-marathons where support crews follow along with you, similar to Badwater?

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