It was a long, fun, hyped up weekend in California last week while Justin ran The North Face 50-mile Endurance Challenge. We were really lucky to have a place to stay in Mill Valley, which was basically as close as possible to the race. Thank you, Eileen!!
I wanted to write a few notes from my perspective as the crew because I had a really hard time finding particular details that I needed in order to be in the right place at the right time for Justin. We were lucky to run into a fellow Salomon athlete and his wife who had formerly crewed at TNF and they shed some very helpful information. Whether or not you are crewing for an Elite runner I think there are some important things to note.
It was very exciting to be on the sideline for this race and watch all the action unfold from an incredibly competitive men's side. I liked seeing everyone's style of crewing as well as the tactics the racers had as they flew through the aid stations. Crewing for Justin previously was a piece of cake at the Vashon 50k and White River 50M. The attitude was mellow at both and there wasn't a ridiculously competitive field. There was plenty of room at aid stations when Justin came through because he was alone in the front. TNF50 was a completely different experience with traffic and strict rules.
Here are a few tips for future crewing:
1. Less is More. This was a smart move on our part to keep the crewing between the two of us for Justin's first high-profile 50 miler. We knew exactly what to expect from each other and Justin was confident in having me assist him. If something was off, there would be no post-race annoyance or anything of the like. I wouldn't have to tend to anyone unfamiliar with ultra-running or crewing and we could have our own system to work out the kinks.
2. Organization is key. The most anal decision I made ahead of time was choosing the smallest possible rental car. I knew parking was going to be hairy from hundreds of crew and spectators so we rented a Chevy Spark. When I entered each parking lot flooded with cars (particularly the finish) I just squeezed in on the end and wha-la, parking space. On the flip side, if you have to park far away then pack your running shoes and you can get your miles in from point to point, which I saw other crew members doing.
Also noteworthy is the necessity to not only plan the runner's nutrition ahead of time, but the crew's nutrition! Crew needs to eat too, so buy meals ahead of time for the entire day because you never know what might happen on the course. One thing I would also pack for the future would be a fold-able chair for myself to sit on while waiting on the course (2 hours at one point). The chair also could have been used for Justin to sit down when he came through in case he wasn't feeling too hot.
Lastly, a lot of these races occur in areas without service. Don't rely on your phone's map app to get you from place to place. Justin and I drove my route the day before hand so I knew where to go in the dark. I also printed out directions and a map.
3. Track the stats. I really wish I had done this more closely. I assumed things would not go to awry but I should have had more back-up nutrition for Justin. He strained both of his hamstrings around mile 30. I hadn't a clue what he had already taken aside from what I packed him but I should have asked. A salt pill might have benefited him. Its a good idea to write down exactly what the runner has ingested through the race. I was also tracking time behind the leader but in the future I will track time between each runner, which means you might want a pen and paper.
3. Optimism is a requirement. I mean, duh. Remove yourself entirely from the runner and find a new crew member if you can't be 100% positive. This was especially important during TNF50 since Justin was straining to get through the second half of the race. Every ounce of encouragement should be shed on the runner to get them to the finish line.
4. Nurture your runner. But don't be too soft. I was there to help Justin but the second he mentioned dropping out I reversed my mood. He said he was just going to jog it in, but I pushed for him to stay focused and find a second wind if it was there.
5. Crewing shouldn't stop at the finish line. Justin could barely walk after the race so I was happy to get him food, carry his stuff and circle the car around to pick him up. As my dad likes to say (when referring to DOMS), "The check is in the mail, it just hasn't been delivered."
I have so much more to learn as I continue to crew for Justin, but one thing I know for sure is that crewing is a blast! Don't forget to have fun while you're out there and take lots of pictures. Last year I definitely over-raced which put me out near the end of this year. I was so eager to race every few weeks because I so badly wanted to stay involved in the community. The beauty of the situation is that there are other ways to be involved, either by crewing, volunteering, trail maintenance, hosting, etc. I look forward to many more races in the future, whether or not I am the racer.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.