Let's delve into some of the do's and do not's of crewing Ultra-Trail Australia and how to make race day a fun day for both runner and crew. Before race day, set aside some time pre race to sit down and plan with your runner. What are we planning? Isn't crewing just a lot of rushing around to wait for hours to see your runner for a couple of minutes? Pretty much, but read on for some tips on how to get the most out of your day as well as some visuals from the wonderful people at Ultra Memes.
Mostly do's and a few do not's.
Find something to place all your necessary gear in, and on. This could be a box or a bag, a small set of drawers with labels indicating specific sections ('gels', 'tape' etc) or a blanket to display all your essentials. Out of sight, out of mind is something to keep in mind for race day - if your runner can't see it, there's a good chance they wont think about it.
Load up the race day app and track your runner digitally. Prepare to be in areas of minimal or no service throughout the day.
Make sure you've got directions to each crewed checkpoint and allow yourself enough time to get there safely. Unless your runner is on the back of a horse, you'll have lots of time between checkpoints so don't rush. Remember that part about rushing around to wait for hours? Have some rough time frames in place and prepare to be adaptable on the day.
Break each section down so you know what to carry into each checkpoint for your runner. Have your runner write a brief description of each section of the course so you know what they've been through and what is coming up. Eg: 'lots of stairs and short climbs' or, 'lots of open fire trail'. Prepare to be asked 'how far to the next checkpoint'.
Keep it simple and avoid 21 questions. Have your runner write down a series of questions that you can ask at each checkpoint. Something as simple as 'ask me if I have enough gels to get me through the next section', or, 'ask me if i'm chafing' is both a simple and glamorous way to stay on task. What a great job crewing is right!? If you need to, don't ask questions that require any level of complex thought. Directions are usually better than questions.
Plan your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. It sounds simple but it can be very easy to miss meals, forget to drink enough and end up in worse shape than your runner. Plan your sleep too if your runner expects to be out overnight. If you have multiple crew, make sure someone is always rested enough to drive safely.
Ever wanted to be a part of a Formula 1 crew in the pits? Now is your chance! Assign a single task to each member of the crew. One is responsible for water, one is responsible for food, the other is responsible for taking the photo where you look half dead as you enter the 78km checkpoint. This avoids confusion and doubling up on tasks, it also keeps your checkpoints efficient.
Let's talk about efficient checkpoints. Unless your runner is in terrible shape and needs medical assistance, your job is to get your runner in and out of the checkpoint as smooth and time efficient as possible. 15 minutes at each checkpoint adds up over the course of the day. See that heater over there? That's bad news! That blanket and the lush camping chair can also be bad news. Appreciate that you're in the Blue Mountains in May and your runner is running a long way. It's cold and it's difficult and any comfort outside of a hug and a hello at checkpoints can be the difference between finishing and a DNF.
Today is a great day to lie. Tell your runner they look amazing. You can literally say this to every runner you see on the day whether you believe it or not. A simple, 'you look so good' can lift your runners spirits despite them feeling 3/4 dead. While you wait for your runner, shout out other runners names by squinting in the distance and reading their bibs as they approach. This makes them feel equal parts special and equal parts confused, as by now they've forgotten about their bib and are busy wondering how so many people know their names.
Anticipate that there is a good chance your runner may look a little worse for wear. This is an element of this niche sport that is normalised in race circles. If you've never been to an ultra marathon before, expect to see your runner is various stages of physical and mental wellbeing.
Tough love is good. You didn't get out of bed this morning to watch your runner DNF half way through because things got tough. Be the voice of reason and remind your runner what they're capable of and what everyone has sacrificed to be in this position. Plot twist, everyones legs hurt at some stage during an ultra marathon! Remind them of this if they start to complain too much.
Get to know the other runners in front of and behind your runner at each checkpoint. This is a decent way of predicting when your runner will be rolling into the checkpoint. Introduce yourself to other crews around you as there's a good chance you may be spending a fair amount of time near each other if your runner is at the same speed.
Don't take things personally if your runner snaps at you or appears to be moody and angry. This is usually due to fatigue, pain or a low point in the race. Some food and some positivity is usually enough to get them moving again.
Enjoy the finish line vibes and post up with some drinks and food while you watch runners finish. Above all, enjoy the experience, don't stress and remember to have fun!