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I Learned A Ton From Being An Ultramarathon Support Crew

If you've been enlisted by a friend to help aid them as part of their ultramarathon crew, here's the six things you need to know.

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ultramarathon crew

An ultramarathon is a huge undertaking. If you aren’t familiar, when a runner is competing in an ultra, there is typically a small group of people who meet the runner at checkpoints throughout the race—the ultramarathon crew. This is crucial since the race is so long, because the runner will need food, changes of clothes and other supplies (like band aids, bug spray, a headband, more water and many other things).

When one of my old high school teammates approached me with this idea, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I love running, but the farthest distance I’ve conquered is 13.1 miles, which doesn’t call for the same amount of support. Therefore, the biggest mistake we made: I was a one-woman crew. An ultramarathon crew should definitely comprise more than person! However, my first piece of advice will help you tremendously no matter the size of your crew.

Find Another Experienced Ultramarathon Crew

This could drastically change your experience. If you are a newbie, connect with a veteran crew as soon as possible. Runners are the nicest types of people! If you reach out, someone will help you with whatever you need. I approached a group of people who looked like what they knew what they were doing. After explaining to them that I was by myself, they immediately “adopted me,” and let me follow them throughout the entire course. Without their knowledge and kindness, our experience would have been much different.

Do Your Research

While finding friends at the race could prove invaluable, gathering as much information as you can is also important. You should study the course map, get familiar with the supplies that are needed and talk to your friend in detail about their expectations. We realized that the race took place in a time zone one hour behind us. Thankfully, after reading the race info pack one last time before we went to bed, we set our watches correctly.

Be Flexible

It’s very important to plan for this event, but that isn’t always easy. Pack everything you think you might need, and be as flexible as possible as the race takes place. You could be driving across the countryside or camping out in a mountainous area; things will happen that you don’t expect. That is part of the charm of the ultra experience. We were flexible when realized that my friend’s watch battery wouldn’t last the long period of time it took to run 50 miles. Our solution was to keep my watch charged and we switched out halfway through the race.

Understand Your Runner’s Mood Swings

Remember what you’re there for: to help your friend or family member. At the first checkpoint, they might be in a great mood, but then something could happen along the course to dampen their attitude. I’ve known my friend for a long time; he definitely isn’t one to keep his feelings to himself. His disapproval wasn’t hidden when I tried to take a picture of him to send to his mom. However, his gratitude showed when I borrowed some Moleskin from my new crew friends after a very blister-inducing stretch of trail.

Bring More Than You Think You Need

This applies to everything. Clothes, food, sunscreen, gas money and anything else you need. And as all good runners know, dress in layers! Temperatures will vary throughout the long race. I was bundled in a long parka in the morning, rocked just a thin, long-sleeved shirt in the afternoon and donned the long coat again once the sun set. A picnic blanket or lawn chair could come in handy too. You also want to invest in a portable battery to charge your devices because you’ll be going for hours at a time.

Pack Supplies For Yourself

While you certainly aren’t the focus of the event, keep in mind you will have a lot of time to yourself. There will be some really exciting moments when your runner comes though your point. You hand them a granola bar while they give you their jacket and off they go again. Then you will have quite a bit of downtime. Don’t forget to pack food for yourself. Bring something for entertainment too, like a book or a deck of cards. I packed mostly snacks for the roughly 9-hour stretch of time I was out there, so I was overjoyed when my other “adopted” crew offered to split a pizza with me.

The experience of an ultra crew is very fun. You meet a lot of people, get to see your friend complete an awesome race and learn about a niche running world you may have never been exposed to. Who better to help a runner complete a race then another runner? The community built around this form of race is one you’ll want to continue to be part of.