Making the Leap into the Ultra-World: Crew and Pacers

making the leap 4

Crew and pacers are unique to the ultra-world and not everyone uses them even for the one hundred mile distance. I recommend that first time 50 and 100 mile runners have a crew. First time 100 mile runners should have pacers as well. Once you have some experience figuring out how you run your races best, you can do whatever. So what do they do? Your crew and pacers can make or break your race.

Crew: Your crew is your support team. They wait for you at each aid station and help you with anything you need as you come in. Wait, isn’t that what the aid station is there for? Yes, but they have all the other runners to attend to as well, and you may need more than just a refill on water. Some aid stations will have volunteers who do more than just fill your hydration pack and guide you toward the food, but you can’t count on it.

You have to plan for the “unexpected” in a 100 mile race. Your crew is there to handle those issues and the planned issues beyond the refill. Your crew will help you change clothes, restock your supplies of food, salt tablets, and anything you carry in your hydration pack. They make sure your headlamp is working and that you have extra batteries. They take care of blisters and massage your muscles as needed during the race. They wait at the aid station for hot food and broth to be prepared while you take care of other things.

Your crew provides you with information and updates. Since they are hanging out at aid stations they hear about trail conditions and weather patterns. They also hear about placement, if you’re interested in where you are in the race or another particular runner.

An essential thing your crew provides is encouragement and tough love. It is so refreshing to come in from a difficult, physically or mentally, section of the course and see friendly faces waiting to help you in every way. They tell you things like, “You look strong,” “You’re doing great,” “Your on target for your goal finish time,” and other beautiful things. They also get tough. If you are whining and complaining they tell you to suck it up. If you feel like dropping out, they push your ass back out there. One runner recounted a story to me about a time where he wanted to drop at mile 80 of a 100. His wife was his crew. He told her he was quitting and he headed to the car. She beat him to the car and drove off calling, “See you at the next aid station.” Now that’s love.

Finally, your crew makes decisions when you cannot. They constantly evaluate your physical and mental status when you come in and go out of aid stations. When you are exhausted physically and mentally you don’t always make the best decisions about what you need. But as a prepared ultra-runner, you’ve had this conversation with your crew about important decisions such as when to drop and what to do with body functioning issues. So, even when you are falling asleep on your feet and hallucinating, they have your back. If you can’t think straight because your electrolytes are out of balance, they are there to recognize that and balance you out.

Pacers do many of the same things as crew, only they do it on the run. They are going to make decisions for you and evaluate how you are doing physically and mentally as you shuffle/crawl along down the trail. It’s important that you choose pacers who run under the conditions of the race. Their training should mimic your own in most way other than distance (unless they are training for the own 100). They need to be able to deal with crazy weather and technical trails during the day and night. They need to have their own gear to do this. They need to be able to keep pace with you.

Most 100 mile races allow pacers after mile 50. Some of the more difficult ones allow them at 40. Pacers make sure you stay on the right trail as you become more tired. They provide you company during the night. They are also added safety from larger animals that see lone runners as dinner.

Choosing: Take care who you ask to crew or pace for you. Many runners immediately pull in loved ones and close friends, but these are not always the best choices. It can get ugly out there and your crew has to be able to send you back out when you are not in the best condition and when you are hurting (a lot). Parents, siblings, and children cannot always do that and asking them to do it, is not very nice. Having experienced crew is ideal, but not always possible. You may have to learn/teach as you go. You need people who will stay positive even when you are grumpy, short, and negative.

What they can’t do: Crew cannot provide aid outside of aid stations. Pacers cannot carry (mule) things for you. They can hold your gloves or pack while you use the bathroom, but that’s about it.

Important: your crew or pacers violation of rules or unruly behavior can get YOU disqualified.

For more information on crew and pacers see my page titled Ultra Crew.

The Ready of Ready, set, go!

run 100

Other than training, how do you get ready for a 100-mile run?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll tell you how I prepare for a 100. First, you need to read all the rules on the website. Also on the website, the race director will tell you when or if you can have a pacer. A pacer is usually allowed after the first 50 miles. You want to find out what they will have at the aid stations as well. You will need to train with that stuff if you plan to use it during the race.

I start looking for pacers and crew shortly after I register for a 100. You will need to find people who are pretty tough because they may need to watch you continue even when you look like you could fall over. Not only that, they have to send you back out there when you want to quit. I take my training partners, friends, and my dad. I took my son once and he asked to never be asked again because he had such a hard time watching me continue when I was hurting.

The other thing I try to do is predict when I will be coming into each aid station. This does a few things. It helps me keep on track to hit all the cut offs and finish. It also lets my crew know when I will be coming into each aid station.

To do this, I create a table in Microsoft word. It has a column with each aid station’s name, the mile the aid station is at, whether or not I can have a drop bag at that aid station, whether or not I have access to my crew at that aid station, whether or not I can pick up a pacer at that aid station, the cut off time, and what time I expect to arrive at that point. I’ve included my most recent chart at the end.

I estimate my time to the aid station by experience, distance between aid stations, and the elevation profile of the race. I know that I slowdown in the last 40 miles both in my ascents and descents. So in those estimates, I try to be generous on my time frame.

Once I have times, I can plan my drop bags. I usually put a drop bag in every twenty miles. There are things I put in every drop bag such as stomach medication, blister first aid, food options that the race doesn’t provide, a long sleeve and short shirt, and two pairs of socks. In my night bags, I put in a head light and extra batteries, long pants, gloves, and an extra long sleeve shirt. In my day bags, I have sunscreen and my long sleeve shirts are lighter in color usually white. There are things I leave with my crew too. My trekking poles, extra shoes, extra food, clothing for rain, extreme cold and snow, and pedialyte.

I have my crew at every aid station possible, unless they can’t get to the race until after I start. I really need them there after mile 50. Sure I could do the race without a crew, but it’s so nice to have a someone you know there to help you do whatever you need them to do. The aid station crew will help, but if they are not experienced ultrarunners, they can’t help you much when you are really struggling.

A pacer is helpful because they can keep your pace up when you are tired and hurting. They work as a distraction and encouragement. They can help find your drop bag and dig through it searching for what you need. They can massage aching muscles and help you change clothes and shoes when are off balance. They help you stay on the right trail. They CANNOT carry any of your gear.

My pacers do anywhere between 20-30 miles depending on their experience as a runner. I don’t want my pacer to slow down. Nor do I want them to have stomach issues, blisters, or anything else that will impact my race, so choose pacers wisely and don’t use them beyond their experience.

The final thing I do is have a crew/pacer meeting. At the meeting, I cover the possible weather, all the above information, and any strange behave I predictably have during a race such as I get really tired during the hours of 4-6 am but come back once the sun comes up. I also cover how they need to prepare. They need their own food, running gear especially for the weather conditions we expect to see. They need to be able to entertain themselves for hours while waiting for me to come in. How they can address problems that I am having and encourage me to keep going.

The bottom line is you really need to be prepared for every possibility because these races tend to be in remote areas where you cannot easily get something you forgot to pack or suddenly NEED to have. You do need to figure out where you can go to get stuff if really really really needed.

In my elation, I neglected to tell you I was accepted in to the Bear 100! At the beginning of this year the Bear was my goal race. In March, I found out it was full so I put my name on the wait list. Low and Behold, I got in and just found out a few weeks ago.

Bear 100

Where mile Crew allowed Drop bag allowed Cut off Pacer allowed Expected time in Ascent

From last aid

Start

Hyrum Gibbons

1400 E 350 S

0

10. 5 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 6:00 a.m.  
Logan Peak 10.52

9 to next aid

No No   No 11: 00 a.m. 4600
Leatham Hollow 19.66

3 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 1:30 p.m. 300
Richards Hollow 22.50

7.5 to next aid

Yes No   No 230 pm 200
Cowley Canyon 29.98

7 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 5 pm 2100
Right Hand Fork 36.92

9 to next aid

Yes Yes   Yes

Robert

7 pm 800
Temple Fork 45.15

6.5 to next aid

Yes Yes   Yes

Robert

830 pm 1100
Tony Grove

5$ fee

51.84

8.5 to next aid

Yes Yes 7:00 a.m Saturday Yes

Robert

10 30 p.m. 2700
Franklin Trailhead 61.48

7 to next aid

Yes Yes 9:00 a.m.

Saturday

Yes

Robert

1 30 a.m. 900
Logan River/Steep 68.6

7.5 to next aid

Yes No 11:00 a.m.

Saturday

Yes

Change to Steve

3 a.m. 1350
Beaver Lodge 75.82

5.5 to next aid

Yes Yes 12:30 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Change to Erin

6 a.m. 1500
Gibson Basin 81.18

4 to next aid

No No 2:00 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Erin

730 a.m. 200
Beaver Creek CG 85.25

7 to next aid

Yes Yes 3:00 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Erin

9:30 a.m. 1200
Ranger Dip 92.2

8 miles to finish

Yes Yes 4:30 p.m.

Saturday

Yes 11:30 a.m. 600
Finish 99.7 Yes Yes 6:00 p.m. Yes 3:30 pm. All down hill