What’s crewing? Briefly, crews meet runners at points along the course with food, fresh water bottles, clothing changes, etc., supplementing the support and supplies available at aid stations.
While having a crew can be extremely helpful, it’s neither required nor necessary. A lot of runners from out of town can’t afford to bring crews with them and don’t know locals who can help. Some runners choose to go without crews, preferring to do the race as a solo effort.
Done right, crewing can be extremely valuable to the runner. However, done poorly, it can end up costing the runner time and energy.
Since 1996, I’ve paced and crewed 8 times, raced twice with top-20, sub-23hr finishes, and have coached several runners. I’ve worked with runners from all parts of the pack. I have also crewed at the LT100 mountain bike race twice. I know the race from the inside out and gladly share my knowledge, including some insider tips that you can’t find elsewhere.
While this is written primarily for Leadville, much of this information is applicable for other ultras.
- Crewing explained.
- Making a plan.
- Gear – What to bring and and how to organize it.
- Efficient Aid Station Management.
- Dealing with a troubled runner.
- Stepping Through the Aid Stations. Specific information for each separate aid station, from start to finish.
- Taking Care of Yourself
- Final thoughts.
What’s crewing? Briefly, a crew follows a runner throughout the race, meeting them at designated points, providing them with food, gear, and moral support. Crews can be used in lieu of, or in addition to aid station (AS) supplies and volunteers.
Crewing at Leadville is fairly easy in that the crewing stations are all easily accessible, easy to find, and you have plenty of time to get there before your runner. The downside of that is that they can be extremely crowded and you may have to park and walk from a mile or more away, especially at the start of the race.
Crewing doesn’t require you to be an ultra runner, or even fit, though having that experience of racing can help you better understand and serve the runner.
Pacers can and often do crew. Alternating pacers may be the crew. Or, pacers can assist the crew before/after their pacing leg. Decide in advance whether the pacer(s) is going to ride with you or separately. Riding with you means they don’t have to worry about finding you for when they are supposed to start pacing. It also means fewer vehicles fighting for limited parking spots at AS. They don’t necessarily have to ride with you from the start. What I’ve done when pacing, is watch the start, go back to sleep, have a leisurely breakfast in town, then meet the crew later in the morning at Fish Hatchery, Treeline or Twin Lakes.
Crewing is surprisingly exhausting, even more so than pacing. Unlike pacing, which is a fairly constant output of energy, crewing is a repetition of highs and lows – a short burst of high energy as you get them taken care of and on their way quickly; pack up, drive to the next crew station, get a good spot and set up; wait, and wait, and wait; then repeat again. All that turning up and down can be wearing, especially through the late night and early morning hours before sunrise on Sunday.
In 1998, I was injured and not able to pace, so I was a full time crew instead. Around 3am, as I was driving from Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen, I started falling asleep at the wheel. I had to stop and have the pacer I was ferrying take over driving, and then wake me up when my runner was coming into the aid station.
That leads to some basic guidelines for crewing:
- Take care of yourself. This includes food, clothing (to keep you warm and dry), and things to do while you’re waiting. You’re not much good to your runner if you’re tired, hungry, cold, cranky, or even asleep. There’s more on this below.
- You are there to be of service to the runner. It’s their race. Put your own personal agendas aside and strive to accommodate whatever wishes they have. Remember that your runner will be tired and may be cranky and behave in ways you’re not used to later in the race. This can sometimes strain relationships. Don’t take it personally.
- Know the rules. Don’t get your runner disqualified by doing something stupid. Read the runner’s handbook in advance. Ask questions of race personnel at check-in on Friday, or an official at an aid station on race day.
- The more the merrier. As I said, crewing can be exhausting. Having help makes it easier. Help can mean a second (or third) person the whole way, having pacers help (if the runner has more than one, the off pacer can help), or having a second shift take over or provide added help through the night.
- Stock up, organize and pack in advance. There’s one Safeway in Leadville. With the huge increase in volume for the bike and run, they’re likely to run out of some essentials. Don’t wait until Friday to shop. Don’t rely on finding supplies during the race. There’s limited availability and limited time during the race.
- Have a plan, but be flexible. You need to be able to adapt to changes in the weather, how your runner feels, and other issues that come up. Things happen in ultras that are hard to predict, even for the most experienced ultra runners.
It’s a good idea to plan out race and aid station strategy, and have the runner go over this with you in advance. The plan should include what they expect to want at each station, and approximate time they’ll get there. Write the plan and time estimates in advance and carry it with you.
For time, make sure it’s clear whether you’re using time of day, or race time. For example, does 12:30 mean 12.5 hours into the race (4:30pm), or 12:30pm (8.5hours into the race)? This has confused more than one crew in the past.
Also include the time between stations. Perhaps simple to calculate, it can be hard to figure out for a tired crew, especially one who’s not experienced with ultras. When I last raced, in 2004, I was running a couple of hours behind schedule (due to stomach problems). I had “planned” to get into Mayqueen around 9:00pm, but I was having a bad day, and didn’t leave Fish Hatchery until a little before 9. Knowing that it would take me a little under 3rs, so knew to expect me at Mayqueen sometime between 11:30 to midnight.
Realize that plans aren’t written in stone. As I said above, things happen in ultras that are unexpected. Be prepared to deviate from the plan and improvise to meet your runner’s needs.
3. Orgainzing Food and Gear
I’m not going to suggest specific things to bring – each runner has their own particular wants and needs – rather, I’m going to suggest categories of items and how to organize it.
Put different types of items in different containers – e.g., plastic totes, small gym/duffle bags. This makes it easier to find things quickly when you need them. When your runner comes into an aid station, at night, asking for a specific green hat or peanut butter bar, you want to be able to find it quickly. Label the bags/boxes, and even use different colors, to help you find them quickly. After the runner leaves, put extra items back in their specific container and keep them fairly neat so you can get the stuff you need quickly the next time.
Types of gear:
- Clothing. Possibly keep small items like hats, gloves and socks separate from larger jackets and pants so they don’t get pulled out accidentally and lost. Have a separate container for used and wet clothes. If the runner is using multiple pairs of shoes, uniquely identify each pair (e.g., number the midsoles), especially if you have multiple pairs of the same shoe.
- Lights and batteries, radios, and extra iPods. Bring extra lights for yourself to help you find things at night, and to light up the area for when the runner is there.
- Dry food; e.g., bars, gels, drink powders.
- Cold and wet foods. Most crews will use an ice chest.
- Water. While you can use the water at the aid stations to fill bottles and hydration packs, in most places you’ll be crewing away from the actual aid station itself. It’s often easier to fill bladders, bottles, and mix drinks from your own water containers. Make sure you keep the water away from dry clothes and food, and make sure it’s secured and closed so that it doesn’t spill or leak.
- First aid; e.g., bandages, Vaseline, duct tape, mole skin, ibuprofen, Tums, Rolaids or ginger for the stomach. I usually keep these with the lights and batteries.
- Crew gear. Keep it separate from the runner’s and pacer’s stuff. More on that below.
- Pacer gear (if they’re riding with you). The pacer(s) should be responsible for organizing, maintaining, and getting their own gear. The runner may supply the pacer with food, batteries, etc., but that should be determined in advance. The pacer should have separate containers, but a limited number so that there’s plenty of room for the runner.
Some additional items to bring:
- Small table – e.g., TV tray, camp table – to set up stuff for the runner. There are several places where you are not going to be able to crew from your car.
- Additional bag or box to carry the supplies needed for that particular AS. There are several Ass where you’ll have to park a ways away, and carry stuff to the AS – namely May Queen at the start, Twin Lakes both ways (some can park along the route), and Winfield.
- Folding, camp or beach type chairs.
- Towel(s) to dry off a wet runner, and to clean their feet after crossing the creek and swamp on the way back to Twin Lakes.
- Extra hydration packs. It’s easier and quicker to have a new pack ready to go than to pull out a bladder, fill it quickly without spilling, and stuffing it back in.
- Camp stove and fuel. Allows you to make your own soups, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.
4. Efficient Aid Station Management
It’s important to get the runner out of the aid station and back on the trail as quickly as possible. AS time adds up; even just 5 min in each AS means almost an hour of lost time not moving closer to the finish. If the runner is flirting with the cut-off times, 30 hours, or the big buckle (25), those AS minutes can come back to haunt them.
Start with the plan the runner drafted in advance, but be ready to react quickly to changes. Unexpected things can change during the race. In 2002, I had prepared detailed plans for my crew. However, a bottle of bad Cytomax at the start left me with an upset stomach only an hour into the race. I had planned to take one bottle of Cytomax and one of R4 at Mayqueen, so that’s all my crew had available for me (the rest was in the car 10 min away). Since I knew the Cytomax was bad, I had only one bottle of R4 to get me over the hill to Fish Hatchery. If I had explained the need to have additional items available, I would have had more options.
Get set up well in advance. As soon as your runner leaves, pack up quickly, drive to the next AS, and get set up. Take time to relax, eat, take a short walk, chat with friends, etc., after you’re set up. Getting to the next AS quickly usually lets you find a closer parking spot and better place to crew. Getting set up means you don’t have to scramble when your runner gets there. I would wait until 15min or so before their earliest expected arrival before mixing drinks and taking out perishable foods.
Shortly before the earliest expected arrival time, go to the AS, or where they come into the crewing area (more on this below), find them, and escort them to where you’re set up to crew. Finding them can be harder than you’d expect in the early parts of the race, where the runners are still bunched together, and at night.
Escort them to where you’re set up so they don’t have to waste time and energy looking for you, or worrying about whether you’re there. If there are two or more of you crewing, one can find the runner, find out what they want, then radio ahead to the other; or tell the runner where you are set up, run ahead to alert the other, then back to escort the runner.
Figure out an efficient order of doing things. While there’s no one best way of doing it, the key is for the runner to spend as little time with the crew – i.e., not moving forward – as necessary, and for the runner to always be doing someing (e.g., eating, changing) rather than waiting. Here’s how I did it (as a racer):
- Take off my pack so it can be restocked while I’m doing other stuff, and drop stuff I don’t need any more (e.g., light at Mayqueen, on the way out).
- Eat foods that are hard to carry on the trail (e.g., soup)
- Take some extra gulps of water and sports drink or bites of food from sources I’m not going to take on the trail; I still leave with full bottles.
- Change clothes, socks and shoes.
- Put on my pack.
- Check to make sure I have what I need for the next leg. It can be a good idea for the cres to have a simple, generic check-list to quickly read through with the runner before he/she leaves to prevent missing critical items.
If there are two or more crew, split the duties so that at least one caters to the runner, while the other(s) prep the packs and stuff for the next leg.
Be efficient, but not hurried. Your runner can pick up on nerves and frantic energy, which can drain his/her energy and cause them to worry. Present yourself calmly and confidently, which can translate to your runner being calm and confident.
Most of the time, the runner is better off continuing to move rather than stopping and sitting at AS. Try to get them out of the AS and moving as soon as possible. This is especially true late at night, when it’s cold. Once they stop, their body stops generating heat. They can get cold and start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy. And, it can take a lot of extra time to warm up enough to be able to start moving again.
If the runner also has drop bags, the crew can often get them from the AS in advance (check with the AS staff to make sure they’ll). Remember to return the bags to the AS on the way out, and to keep them on the way back. One of the advantages of using a crew is that the runner doesn’t have to prepare drop bags.
If the runner is using pacers, have the pacer’s gear/food bag available for them. Generally, pacers should be responsible for getting themselves ready – gear, food, clothing. It may take the pacer a little longer to get ready for the next section, especially if they spend some of the AS time catering to the racer. The racer doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t wait for the pacer. The runner should start ahead, and the pacer can catch up.
If there’s a new pacer for the next leg, they should have their gear all ready before the runner arrives. Make sure that the racer’s supplies are transferred to the pacer’s pack/pockets. Simple, but easy to forget in a rush. One time, as a friend of mine was leaving Fish Hatchery on the way to Mayqueen, the outgoing pacer forgot to transfer gels and bars to the new pacer. They were part way up the Powerline before the new pacer realized it, too far along to go back.
5. Dealing with a Struggling Runner
Most runners will probably struggle physically and/or emotionally at some point during the race. In fact, it’s often said that success in ultras depends on how you deal with the problems.
There are not rules for how to handle this. It depends on the situation, the runner’s personality, the dynamics of the relationship between runner and crew/pacer, etc. It may help to be a comforting parent, psychologist, cheerleader, drill sergeant, or all of the above.
The decision to drop is a difficult one to make (unless time cut-offs make the decision for you). Typically it’s the runner’s decision to make, but a tired runner may not be in a proper state of mind to make the right decision, and you may need to intervene. Intervening may mean stopping a runner when they don’t want to quit, or getting a runner to continue when they don’t want to.
Just being tired and sore, or low on energy, usually isn’t a good reason to stop. These and many other problems can be helped with food and fluids. Just like giving a crying baby a bottle, getting some food into the runner often helps them to feel better, both physically and emotionally (though perhaps not quite as quickly as a baby). Once they’re refueled and rehydrated, often they’ll start feeling better after a few minutes of moving along the trail.
If they’re dehydrated and have lost significant weight (runners are weighed at check-in, and several times during the race), take enough time to pump fluids (and electrolytes) into them.
Some of the typical more serious issues that may necessitate quitting are:
- Blood in the urine or stool, or coughing/vomiting blood; can be caused by dehydration or taking too many NSAIDs (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen). Vomiting in and of itself is not necessarily a reason to quit.
- Sprains, twists, sharp pain or significant swelling in or other injury to joints, especially if the pain is getting progressively worse or significantly altering the stride.
- Difficulty breathing, caused by fluid build-up in the lungs.
- Severe headaches, caused by fluid build-up in the brain.
There’s medical personnel at each AS to check runners. They can check the runner and give you advice on whether they think the runner can/should continue.
Otherwise, few problems can be solved by sitting or laying down. Time spent in AS (or otherwise stopped) is time lost not getting you closer to the finish; as little as 5min in each AS adds up to an hour lost throughout the race. Sore muscles don’t recover while sitting in an AS (any relief is temporary). Everyone gets sore and tired, yet it’s amazing what the body can do when it’s tired. Get them fed and get them on their way.
In 2002, after 30 miles of struggling with an upset stomach and cramping legs, when I got off the back side of Hope Pass (you used to be able to crew from there), I told my crew I wanted to drop out. They wouldn’t let me, “There’s no f-ing way you’re dropping out of this race.” My pacer kicked and dragged my sorry butt back over Hope Pass where I rallied mentally, and improved from 41st to 20th over the final 40 miles.
There’s the story of a woman who’s husband wanted to drop out at Mayqueen. Citing all the time he took away from her for training, she got in the car, locked the door, and refused to let him in and drive him back to town. He finished.
6. Communication and Runner Tracking
Knowing when your runner is coming in and what they need can make the AS experience faster and better.
On the way out (first 50mi), you’ll mostly rely on estimated time splits. In the last couple of years, some runners have taking to texting and tweeting from the trail. I think that’s a waste of time and energy, both carrying and using a phone while racing. It’s also unreliable. There are many places that don’t have good, or any cell coverage. So, messages sent minutes out from an AS, might not actually be sent or received until hours later.
On the way back, especially at night, advance notice can be helpful. There are several ways a pacer can help.
Have the pacer carry a walkie-talkie. Radio channels get crowded with so many runners, but all you need is a quick message; e.g., “Runner 264 is 10 min out from Twin Lakes.” You can pick up a 2-pack of radios for $30-$50, and a 4-pack for not a lot more. It’s worth having fully charged extras to get you through the night.
Additionally, or instead, a pacer can jog ahead as they’re coming into an AS. They should find out what the runner wants (e.g., food, drink, clothing), run ahead to find the crew and inform them of the runner’s needs and where they are, then run back to the racer (or wait) and guide them to the crew.
I have seen way too many runners come into Fish Hatchery at night feeling fine, sit down to eat, start shivering within 30 seconds, then end up having to having to lay in a warm sleeping bag for up to an hour. A runner can save time by eating and changing tops while on the move, instead of sitting. Focus your efforts on the runner first. You can hang back to fill their bottles/bladder, grab clothing form crew or drop bags, get what you need, then catch up to them on the trail. The runner doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t wait for you.
7. Stepping through the AS
Start: You can have extra clothes to allow for last minute changes, lights/batteries in case one goes bad, extra food to top off the tank, and to give encouragement. You might also want to take pictures. Of course, if you and the runner don’t think you need to be there, then head out to Mayqueen in advance.
Head out to the AS immediately after the start. It’s going to be crowded and the later you get there, the further away you’re going to have to park and walk. Stage your car at a place you can get to quickly, and that can get you to the AS quickly without having to wait for the runners to get too far down the road.
Tabor Boat Ramp: I strongly recommend skipping it at the start and going directly to Mayqueen.
- It’s very crowded.
- The runners come through in large packs, with no advance warning, and it’ll be dark, so it’s hard to find your runner.
- It’s early enough in the race that they shouldn’t need a crew until Mayqueen.
- It delays getting to Mayqueen, meaning you’ll have to park even further away.
Mayqueen (MQ): Get there as early as possible. I suspect that if you’re not there by 4:20, you may have to walk a mile or more to the AS where you can crew (thus the need for a bag or box to carry things, mentioned above).
If you’re coming from Tabor, it may be easier and quicker to approach MQ from the north (go left out of the Tabor lot rather than right). They don’t let you drive through to MQ itself, but you can park along the road where they head back onto the trail. You might be able to crew there, although that’s not a good idea unless your runner is expecting you there. It’s ~1/3mi down the road to MQ itself.
At the AS, wait for them on the road, on the incoming (east) side of the tent. Don’t crew there, but make contact with them. They have to go through the tent to check in and out of the AS. Then, meet them on the other side of the tent to crew.
This is a quick transition. They’ll drop off lights and maybe some clothing, and quickly swap out bottles or hydration packs. You can walk with them up the road a bit to do the swaps rather than have them stand and wait.
It’s going to be cold – Mayqueen is at a low point and by water – so dress appropriately to keep yourself warm while waiting.
As soon as they are done, head back to the car and to Fish Hatchery.
Fish Hatchery (FH): They don’t allow you to drive the road between the Power Line and FH on the way out. Don’t take the right after the golf course, but continue straight to hwy 300, then right, W up to FH. Parking will be at a premium in the morning, and you’ll have to park where they tell you too.
The ideal place to set up is on the road, where the runners go up and back to the actual AS; it’s 50m or so up from the road. There, you can see them twice. They can drop off their pack and tell you what they want before heading up to the AS. You can get it ready for them when they return. Give them food/drink for them to take while they’re going up and back to the AS.
If you’re able to park along the race route (don’t make the runner go out of his/her way), then you can crew from your car. Still meet them at the spot above, take their pack so they don’t have to carry it, then either tell them where your car is, or wait and escort them there.
It’s a short leg to Treeline, so they don’t have to carry much. When I was racing, I would drop my pack and just carry a hand held bottle, perhaps half full, to Treeline.
Because of all the fish ponds, be prepared for lots of mosquitos.
It’s only 4mi to Treeline, but it’s a quick drive, and there’s plenty of parking. So, while you don’t need to rush, you don’t want to dawdle either at FH.
Treeline: This is a crew spot, not an AS. Park where you can, which should be along the race route. Find your runner so they don’t have to waste energy finding you. It’s 3mi from there to Halfmoon (HM), the next AS (there’s no crew access allowed at HM), and then another 9 to Twin Lakes (TL). If they’re going light from FH, they’ll need to reload packs and gear at Treeline.
You’ll want to be on your way quickly after they leave because of parking at TL.
Twin Lakes (TL): If you get there early enough, you can park in the lot on the left side of the road. The AS is a block up and in to the right, but the runners run through the lot on their way to/from Hope Pass. You’re not allowed to park on the dirt roads above hwy 82. Otherwise, you’ll be directed to park along hwy 82.
If you can’t park in the lot, then set up to crew either in or at the entrance to the lot, or along the dirt road heading up to the AS. It’s usually less crowded and easier to crew away from the AS itself.
Meet your runner up by the AS, then escort them to your crew spot. Carry their pack while you’re escorting them. Bring food/drink for them to take while you’re escorting them.
TL is often the first place runners will stop and take extra time to eat and change. Hope Pass is looming ahead so it’s a good place to do that. However, follow my advice above about getting them out on the trail and moving closer to the finish as quickly as possible.
Have them take a jacket, and perhaps hat and gloves with them over Hope Pass, no matter how warm and sunny it may be at the time. There’s almost always rain, sleet or hail over Hope at some point during the race, and far too many runners have lost valuable time or had to drop out because of not being prepared for the cold and wet.
Although you want to get to TL fairly quickly because of parking, you’ll have plenty of time until your runner comes in. There’s a small store along hwy 82 with a limited amount of food and supplies. You can get some snacks, but don’t count on it to restock your race supplies.
Beware of mosquitos in the lot and by hwy 82. They’re usually not a problem up by the AS.
Winfield: Although you have plenty of time, it’s a long drive from TL to Winfield – 45min for the first crews, 1hr our more for everyone else due to traffic. The last 12mi is on a dusty, and occasionally bumpy, 2wd dirt road. The last 2.5mi is shared with the runners. There will be 2-way traffic for both runners and cars here. You’ll have to go slow because of traffic. Go extra slow and be extra careful when passing runners to minimize kicking up dust. Please don’t make the runners suffer any more than they already are just because you’re late and rushing.
You’ll have to park as directed, and then carry the gear to the runner. The best place to crew is in the actual AS in the shade of the tent. You can walk with your runner along the trail from the road to/from the AS for additional crewing and to save time.
It can be hot and dusty at Winfield. There can also be mosquitos.
You’ll have plenty of time to get back to TL, but the sooner you leave Winfield, the sooner you’ll free up a parking spot for someone else. You’ll also want to take the opportunity to cheer your runner on as you pass them on the road.
Twin Lakes: Parking should be easier, and the atmosphere less rushed on the return trip. It’ll be that way the rest of the race.
Meet your runner by the bathrooms, where they come off the trail (you can go up the trail a bit), or in the lot. Crew for them before they go to the AS, then walk them to the AS. The exception is if they’re close to the cut-off time, make sure they check in and out of the aid station before that time. They’re still considered official if you then crew for them, and they then leave after the cut-off.
Many runners will change shoes/socks here after passing through the river and swamp on coming into TL.
Although the next section is relatively easy (no major climbs), this is often where runners run into trouble. Perhaps it’s something about 60+ miles in the legs, or where food and fluids management catches up with them. Regardless of how good they may be feeling at TL, make sure they eat and drink enough before heading out, and carry enough with them.
Treeline: If you need to go back to town to eat or restock supplies, this is the time to do it. Treeline is fairly close to Leadville, you’ll have plenty of time, and stores and restaurants will still be open.
Treeline can be a bit of a party scene for crew at night. Crews will be waiting there 1-2 hours. There will be camp stoves cooking food, music playing, Frisbee, football, etc. Be prepared to wait. Be prepared to start bundling up against the cold.
It can be hard to find each other at night. There’s usually a couple of race volunteers, one a bit down from the crewing area where the runners are coming from who will radio ahead with race numbers, and another by the crew calling out the numbers. Do your best to keep your runner from spending time finding or worrying about you. Wearing something reflective and distinctive can help. Keep your lights pointed down, away from others’ faces (blinding them).
Again Treeline to FH is short, so again they can go light.
Fish Hatchery: Feel free to slow, and cheer your runner (and others) as you pass them along the road to FH.
Parking should be easier than on the way out. If you can, park and crew by the place they go in-and-out to/from the AS. You can also carry the stuff into the AS building where it’s warm and crew for them there.
For most runners, it’ll be dark and cold. DO NOT LET THEM SIT DOWN (unless absolutely necessary). Shortly after they sit and stop generating energy, they may get cold and start shivering. Keep them up and moving so they can maintain body heat. FH can look like a M.A.S.H. tent at night, and you don’t want the runner to become another casualty.
Mosquitos shouldn’t be much of a problem at night.
Leaving FH, you may be able to drive the road to the Power Line trail. It’s almost exactly 1mi from FH. You can meet them there and cheer them on before they tackle the last major climb of the course.
Mayqueen: You’ll have time to head to town after FH if necessary.
From the AS, at night, you can look up to and see the string of lights from runners and pacers coming down from Sugarloaf; it’s a pretty sight. If you are using radios, they should be able to contact you from the top. However, it’ll take them another 1-2 hours from the top.
There will be someone where they come off the trail, 1/3mi above MQ, calling numbers ahead via radio. Someone at the AS will then relay those numbers to waiting crew so you know when they’re coming. Be patient. It always seems to take longer than you think.
Meet them as they’re coming in towards the AS, and go into the tent with them. It’s warmer and there’s light inside. Again, even though they’re tired and want to sit, the sooner you can get them on their way, the sooner they’ll finish.
Tabor: They don’t let you through the short way, because of runners coming down to MQ from the trail, so you have to drive counter-clockwise. The road diverges from the lake quite a bit, so it seems to be a lot longer than expected. The entrance to the boat ramp can be hard to find at night. Hopefully they will mark it better with lights.
If there’s room, you can back your car down the boat ramp; there’s space for 3-4 cars. However, after sunrise, you may have to leave space, or temporarily move your car to allow boaters access to the lake. Otherwise, park up in the lot and carry gear down.
Runners come in from the right (as you’re facing the lake). You have almost no warning. You won’t see lights or hear runners coming until perhaps 10-20 seconds before they get to the boat ramp.
Remember that it’s cold by the water, and there may be mosquitos after sunrise.
Turquoise Lake trail head: The end of the Turquoise Lake Trail can be another good place to crew. This is about half way between MQ and the finish. It’s easier to get to, and easier to find at night, and easier to crew than Tabor. Although it’s not an official crew station, race management has always been aware that people crew there and condoned it. Check with the new race management.
There’s room to park right near the trail head. There’s also a larger dirt turnout, with room for several cars, on the S side of the road, a bit E of the T road intersection, at the top of the short power line section. This is a lot easier to get to, and easier to find at night than the Tabor boat ramp.
To the Finish: You can meet them and cheer them on a couple of other places before the finish. At Sugar Loafin’ campground, which is at the end of the dirt road they’re running on, and the bottom of the hill on the paved road you’re driving down from the Turquoise trail head. Please don’t drive on the dirt road, although you can park at the end.
At the RR tracks, where they turn off the paved road. Note that the bridge/river crossing just before the RR tracks can be the coldest part of the whole race. Absolutely don’t drive the dirt road alongside the tracks, or the “boulevard” dirt road.
At the bottom of 6th, the top end of the boulevard dirt road. That’s just less than 1mi to the finish. They may choose to drop packs and bottles so the road up to the finish is easier. Extra pacers, crew and family are allowed and encouraged to accompany the runner on this last section.
Walk down from the finish and accompany them the last few blocks. There’s a volunteer at the crest of the hill ½ mile from the finish, who will ask for the runner’s number, and radio it ahead to the finish. The announcer will broadcast that number or the runner’s name to people waiting at the finish. Walk/run with them the last few blocks. Typically you’ll want to stop just before the finish line so they can cross it alone.
The last hour, especially the last 30 min before the 30hr cut-off, there will be huge crowds lined up cheering the last few runners. It’s very moving to witness and be a part of this. I remember one year when two runners finished in the last minute, the final official finisher crossing the line with just seconds to spare. You didn’t think they had a chance when you saw them cresting the hill, but they somehow summoned up the extra energy and fed off the screaming crowd to run across the line.
8. Taking Care of Yourself
When you’re crewing, you’re going to be out there as long as the runner. If you’re going to be helpful to your runner, you need to keep yourself warm, fed, and alert through the long hours.
Food: Bring food and drinks with you. You are not allowed to take food from the AS. There are very limited opportunities to get food during and along the race route. There’s a small market at Twin Lakes, but they don’t carry enough food and supplies to take care of the high volume during the race. You won’t have time to go back to Leadville, to restock at a market or to eat at a restaurant, until Saturday night, after your runner has left Twin Lakes on the way back.
Clothing: You’ll want clothing to stay warm at the start and through Saturday night. Warm weather clothes during the day (depending on weather). Rain gear, and changes of socks, shoes and clothes if they get wet. Hat for sun/rain protection.
- Lights for yourself with spare batteries.
- Camp soap, wipes, etc., to clean your hands before/after handling food for you and your racer.
- Towels to clean and dry yourself, plates, utensils, etc.
- Beach chair, camp chair, folding chair, etc. to sit in while waiting for your runner. It’s nice to get out of your car, and sometimes you won’t be able to crew near your car.
- Mosquito repellent.
- Books, magazines, music to keep you entertained.
- Alarm clock
Pets: If you’re brining dogs/cats, make sure you have stuff for them to get through the race. Clean up after them. Keep them away from the runners; even if you have the sweetest, gentlest dog in the world, the other runners don’t know that, may be allergic to or afraid of dogs.
Getting through the night: The wee hours of the morning, from around 2am – 6am (sunrise), are the hardest on the crew. Adrenaline has long since gone. Your body’s natural rhythms are telling you to sleep, just like a lot of runners struggle with energy during this time. Be aware of this going in, and have strategies to deal with it.
I don’t normally take caffeine, but when I’m involved in ultras, or when I used to do adventure racing, then, as John Lennon said, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”
Take quick naps, selectively. Go to the next AS first. Set an alarm and/or have your crewing partner wake you up. Plan to wake up well in advance of when you expect your runner to come in (every so often, crew has had to be woken up by a racer or pacer, or they just slept through the runner). You don’t need a lot of sleep during the race – as little as 10 or 15 minutes may be enough to refresh and re-waken the mind.
9. Final Thoughts
Crewing can be a lot of fun as well as a lot of work. It’s a great way to experience ultras without running in one. It’s one way to learn about ultras before doing one yourself. If someone asks you to crew, please consider helping them out.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Visit my web site, http://www.runuphillracing.com/