We often read race reports from runners to glean some insight into their training, race prep and race execution. These reports usually include a shout out to their awesome support crew. However, we rarely get a glimpse into what it actually takes to be an awesome support crew. Just like the runner, the crew has to prep and execute a plan. Here are a couple of tips for what to do before the race, during the race before you see your runner, and once your runner comes into the aid station.
- Do your homework
Make sure you know how to get to each of the crew to an accessible aid station. Map out how long it takes to get there and consider if you can drive the whole way or if you have to take a shuttle and/or hike in. Ask your runner for a pace sheet so you know roughly when your runner expects to be there. Always plan for for the best-case scenario and then get there earlier than that!
Likewise, make sure you know enough about the race course itself that you can correctly answer the one question that your runner will surely ask you: How long ‘til the next aid station?! If you really want to above & beyond your average crew, learn a bit about the topography of the race course and your runner’s race plan so you can even tell your runner what to expect next: Does the next section include a steep uphill or rolling terrain? How many miles until you see them again? Where is their next drop bag location?
- Be snoopy!
Go through the bag of gear that your runner has given you so you know what they’ve got! If you think they might be missing something, bring it. In addition to the runner’s particular nutrition, hydration and clothes/gear, here’s a list of useful supplies to have available for them:
- Leukotape or something similar for dealing with chaffing, blisters, foot problems
- Vaseline or Bodyglide
- Pocket knife (good for cutting tape or performing surgery on shoes or gear)
- Kinesio tape (if you know how to apply it!)
- Tums, ginger chews, salt pills for tummy troubles
- Extra batteries for headlamps or portable charger with cable
- Cheap plastic poncho
- Little ziplock snack bag with some TP
Once you’re at the aid station but before your runner arrives:
- Get organized
Scout a logical spot near the aid station, in the shade (if it’s hot), and away from the chaos where you can organize your runner’s gear on a little towel/mat on the ground or on a fold-out table. If it’s dark, bring a lantern so you don’t blind your runner with your headlamp every time you look at them. Make sure things are bundled into categories such as: nutrition, clothes, first aid, shoes/socks/lube, etc. and easily visible. It can be very overwhelming to your runner if you just ask them a million questions or verbally run through a list of a thousand options. If your runner can see everything laid out, they can just point and grab.
If you’ve got a whole crew crewing, divvy up responsibilities and tasks, and run through the game plan. Assign one person be in charge of refilling water & nutrition. Assign someone else to be in charge of emptying the runner’s pack of trash and gear they no longer need & restocking it with new gear. If you’re crewing solo, go through the same checklist of to-do’s so that you don’t forget something crucial.
Finally, make sure you know which direction the runners are coming from and which way they head out of the aid station. It seems obvious but sometimes aid stations are confusing! If the aid station is crowded, send a scout to the entrance of the aid station to guide your runner through the aid station and to wherever you’ve set up your little mini-crew station. It can be very overwhelming and stressful for your runner to try to find you amongst all the noise and chaos of an aid station!
- Anticipate your runner’s needs!
Consider when your runner will need to pick up things like warm overnight clothes & their headlamp (when in doubt, have your runner pick up their night gear sooner rather than later). Make adjustments to any gear or supplies now based on the condition your runner was in last time you saw them. If you think they might want some coffee or warm broth, go ahead and warm that up so it’s ready to go and not scalding hot when they arrive. Pre-mix their hydration if they’ve got little baggies of powder.
When your runner arrives:
- K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid!
Try not to overwhelm your runner with a million options and questions when they arrive. Anticipate their needs and make decisions for them. Be assertive! If you’re not crewing solo, then pick one crew person to be the main communicator with your runner. This helps the runner not be overwhelmed with a million voices coming from a million directions. If you’re just standing around crowding your runner and not doing anything, move away or make yourself useful!
Remember, sometimes you’ve got to slow down to move fast! Take the extra 5 seconds to double check that you’ve done everything you need to do for your runner. It’s too easy to feel frenetic and forget something essential like putting their refilled water bottle back in their pack!
- Be McGyver!
Problem solve! Your job is to have solutions for every excuse and issue that your runner brings with them into the aid station. Encourage your runner to take the time to fix small problems while they’re still small. If the problems are no longer small and as long as your runner is not chasing the cut-off, there is plenty of time to reset and work on solving just about anything. If you are chasing the curfew, then help your runner act quick so they can keep on moving.
Finally, improvise! If your runner needs a towel to dry off their feet before they change socks but forgot to pack one, sacrifice your shirt for the greater good. If the weather made a sudden unexpected turn for the worse and your runner needs gloves but didn’t pack any, give them a pair of socks to use as mittens! Don’t let small issues become big dramas just because there isn’t an obvious solution.
One thing I think a crew needs to emphasize is getting your runner in and out of the aid station as soon as possible. Unless the runner is hurting, do not let them relax in the deadly chair – they may become very reluctant to get up. Give them what they need and get them out of the AS. My wife wore a tee shirt at a 100 that sums it all up very well – “Get your butt moving, Candy Ass!”. Even in my semicoherent mental state, that one I could understand. And it is a good laugh.