I have now run a few ultra marathon events myself and they are not easy work. An ultra marathon is a race that is anything longer than a traditional 26.2 mile marathon. The most popular race distances for an ultra are 50k, 50m, 100k and 100 miles. There is a lot of planning, preparation and effort that goes into racing a successful ultra marathon. To accomplish this in a timely fashion you have aid stations every 5-8 miles, carry fuel in between and often have a crew and/or pacer to assist you with your gear and race.
Crewing an ultra is a challenge in and of itself. Yes, it is not running 31, 50, 62 or even 100 miles, but it is staying sane, schlepping gear and driving around for anywhere from 4 – 26 hours or even longer possibly depending on distance, athletic fitness level and mental fortitude. I do not compare my effort to that of the runner that is out sweating it for hours. There is a certain amount of effort that goes into crewing though. Often the crew is stuck in traffic or bouncing between one aid station and another without all the amazing scenic views of the trail along the way.
One of the great challenges of crewing an ultra is the lack of sleep. Staying up to be at every possible crew point can be a challenge. Often you are up early to help your runner get to the starting line then you are waiting at each aid station/crew access point to be sure that your runner has what they need. I have now crewed my wife through two separate 100 mile races. I did not really sleep through either one. There is a constant fear of missing her in a crew point or more critically the finish line. I must stay up to be there for her wherever she may come through.
It is my job to be sure that every piece of equipment is ready as my runner comes through the aid station. This is going through her drop bag to get out new socks, gels, fuel pack, filling up water and prepping food for her to eat in the aid station. When I run an ultra I am fine to take time in an aid station. That is my time to take a minute to rest, get fueled, enjoy the junk food off of the table and take a moment before I get going again. However, when crewing an elite runner they do not want to stay in an aid station. It is mostly a through stop, so I must have everything ready for her to grab and go. A quick aid station is key to keep moving and keeping momentum and position.
I must be thick skinned. Its a good thing that we have a strong marriage! I understand that when she is racing I am going to get yelled at. At times this can be hard, but I am able to be patient and understanding knowing that she is enduring great challenges and can be very emotional. It is important that I am emotionally tough enough to deal with her yelling at me right after I offer encouragement and good vibes. It takes a certain ability to deal with emotional ups and downs.
The last and probably the biggest challenge of crewing an ultra is wanting and wishing success as hard as she does. Sitting in an aid station and waiting for my wife to come through can be one of the hardest things to deal with in crewing an ultra. Ever since she was doing triathlons and we would wait at transitions we have dealt with this. When will she be coming through? She works to give us estimated times, but too often we hold her strictly to those times. If she is a little off the time there is a bit of panic that goes off inside me. As I watch her fall out of place where I expect that she should be then I really get worked up. I just want to wish her through at a given time. I want her to win every time. I want her to hit her goals. It is hard emotionally to deal with it when she falls short, especially when her goals would’ve gotten her into the place or goal that she needed to reach. It can be a challenge emotionally and physically to crew an athlete, especially when it is my wife.
I will never give up on supporting her and hope to crew her to many more successes and goal achievements. I am glad that she chooses me as her crew chief. As you can see in the lead image, we even get to spend special occasions together at races. Last year at the Run Rabbit Run 100 she had a bottle of Martinellis at one of the aid stations to celebrate our 12th anniversary together amidst her run. I love my wife and am grateful to be a part of her crazy passion. I love the ultra community and being around it. It is a blast to bask in the success of these very qualified endurance athletes.
Awesome write up. Love the perspective of an ultra from a crew chief.
Thanks Ed. It is fun to crew and a different paradigm for sure.