After all the prep, discussions and planning, we’ve finally made it to race day!!
A very stressful, but fun part of being an ultra runners partner, is crewing them on race day.
Some races definitely need their own blog entry like The Alpine Challenge (for those that don’t know, this is a 160km race through the Falls Creek alpine region), but for this blog post, it will be more generalised post on the races I’ve crewed.
Crewing a race involves three main areas; Pre race morning, Aid stations and the Finish line.
Race morning usually starts with Brody’s alarm going off, and him “sneaking” out the bedroom and me trying to get back to sleep while he stomps around in the other room. This is all done at stupid o’clock in the morning because Brody insists on getting to the start line WAY before he needs to.
For some of the colder or earlier events, like Tower Trail in Mt Gambier, I don’t bother getting changed out of my PJs; this is trail running not a fashion show. I just put on Brody’s dressing gown over my pyjamas, and drop him off like that. In fact, you may have seen me at the start of a race or two before dressed like that (and luckily, I’m not always the only loving spouse dressed like this).
So after a quick kiss for good luck, you see them off and then what do you do?
You start your very long day…
Your day now revolves around timing every aspect of what you are hoping to fit in around some very lose time windows (“I might be here at this time if things are going well, or much later if they have started to go badly”). As Brody has gotten more experienced these time windows have shrunk considerably, but they can still vary by over an hour. I’ve also stopped getting to the checkpoint quite so early (having used to be at each checkpoint at least half hour to an hour early). With this, I am getting better at working out travel time, aid station time and what can I actually do in between.
Now, if a race is closer to home and, depending how far apart the checkpoints are, you might be able to come home for while. However, usually its not feasible, or just not worth it. This is where it gets tricky because as I said, it all comes down to timing.
I have found that often getting out and going for a walk nearby the checkpoints is a great way to see a little bit of the course but still feel like you aren’t too far away from the action in case you need to race back. But even when you’re walking, you’re constantly stressing about time, how far you can walk for, what time you need to get back to the car etc. So usually if I can fit in one walk I’m doing well.
Thinking back to Tower Trail Run, I remember going for a walk, panicking that I wouldn’t have enough time, hooking it back to the car (despite being injured), only to actually get back with over an hour to spare… Also on Tower Trail, it was so cold that I ended up walking a total of 15km in between checkpoints just to stay warm! I was surprisingly sore the next day, but because Brody had run an ultra, I really didn’t feel like I could complain!
Crewing when you don’t know a lot of people can occasionally feel a little lonely, but as I’ve crewed more events (usually I have to introduce myself because Brody is terrible at introducing me), I have met more people and am slowly coming out of my shell. This has been hard, because I’m naturally quite a shy person. I’ve often felt like I don’t fit into Brody’s running world either, because I’ve never considered myself as a runner (now that’s another blog post). It’s also hard, because everyone is constantly telling me how amazing Brody is and how much they love him. And I get it! I think he’s amazing and love him too!
However, now I know a few more people, I love cheering everyone on as they go past, and have even had a few people come up to me at the finish line to thank me for my encouragement. This is why I really love trail runners; they’re all so friendly!
Now, getting to the checkpoint at the right time is one thing, but knowing what your partner will need at the checkpoint, is just as important.
This I’m pretty comfortable with now because I’ve done this quite a few times. I’ll always have two soft water flasks ready with dirty water (this is what Brody calls his electrolyte water) so that he can give me his empty two and I can give him two fresh ones straight away. I’ll also have a few gels ready, a few lollies and depending on what checkpoint I’m at, I’ll also have salt tablets ready (in case he’s started cramping). Then in the boot of the car, I’ll spread out a few miscellaneous items that Brody might need so that they’re ready to grab if needed. This might include fresh socks, muesli bar, sunscreen, Band-Aids or a fresh t-shirt.
I must admit that initially I thought that Brody would want to stop and chat, sit, have some food and I got quite upset (?) when he would be in and out like a flash. It wasn’t until I did a long hike one day and Brody met me at checkpoint (the one time he needed to crew me instead) and I just wanted to grab a couple of things, and then be off as quick as I could, and I think that moment helped me a lot.
Your runner will often be in pain when they get there or in a rush to get out of the checkpoint as quickly as possible. This means they will be grumpy, short and often not very considerate that you have been waiting 2 hours for them to turn up. Unfortunately this is part of the gig, they don’t mean to be like that and will return to themselves either at the finish line or when they can walk normally again.
My mum (such a bloody good egg) has also come along to keep me company for about 5 races and I really love these days. We get to spend the day together; we might have a coffee or go for a walk together. As she is an avid hiker, if the race is in an area she is familiar with, then she’ll often know where the checkpoints are, how far apart they are, and I don’t have to stress quite so much.
Brody’s parents have also crewed about 3 races with me and these days have been fun too. Usually I’ll do the start line and the first couple check points and then they’ll join me for the next few, which is great, because I know I’ll never starve! They pack food, a table and chairs and we’ll often play cards or games at the checkpoints while we wait for Brody.
With all the parents, we’ve got a system down pat and have worked out it’s much better if I’m the one who organises what Brody will need and am the first point of contact when he comes in to judge just how poorly he will behave.
Once you’ve done the final checkpoint, its finish line time! There’s still some stress about when to get there, but finally you can take your tired body (although you can’t say that aloud because your partner has been running all day) to your own finish line. Usually it’s wet (don’t know why) or at least cold, and I’m rugged up in all my layers waiting for my superman to finish.
You get nervous about what physical and mental state they’ll be in, but being at the finish line makes you feel like you’re really there for them and I know it means a lot to Brody when I am at the finish line. I like to think the other runners appreciate the partners being there as much as he does and usually you can see a few tears on both sides of the fence at the finish line of an ultra.
Usually I have no idea what to say to Brody at the end, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing at that point that can help, so I just give him a big hug (yes, he’s sweaty and disgusting at this point but I don’t care), point him in the direction of the brownies (or let him collapse) and tell him that I love him and that I’m super proud of him.
He is after all…