As you begin to dive into the final weeks of training for spring ultras, consider which of your running compadrés might need a crew or pacer this season. With the pacer request page recently launched on the Western States website, there’s no guarantee all registered runners will be able to bring along someone to support them during the 100-mile adventure, so consider lending your time to help out a fellow ultra runner in need. Whether it’s a complete stranger or familiar face, pacing and crewing (or both) at an ultra is one of the most rewarding experiences the sport has to offer.
Just like volunteering at an aid station, crewing or pacing at an ultra is a time commitment. Getting a runner from point A (start) to point B (finish) may take longer than 24 hours and requires a lot of coordination as well as a good amount of waiting around. But if you’ve ever competed in a race supported by family or friends, you know how great it feels to see familiar faces. Which is why having crew and pacers as support during a long ultra can be so important. In her book, Running Your First Ultra, veteran ultra runner Krissy Moehl states, “If your entire crew sets out with the same goal of getting you to the finish line and has the best intentions to achieve your magnificent finish, then the experience will be magical.” That can often be said for both the runner and the crew/pacer’s experience.
So where do you start? Finding a friend who’s got a race on the calendar is probably the best way to hook up with a crew/pacing gig. Unless they’ll be making an extended vacation out of the event, there’s a good chance they’ll need a crew. And as the old adage goes, “the more the merrier.” Having a full team of support can also be beneficial when the hours get long and the sun begins to fade. Depending on the course, crewing can also entail a lot of back country driving to get to aid stations, and having someone to help navigate unfamiliar territory is key. Especially in the dark. If you don’t have a friend running but have a favorite race, reach out to the race director and let them know you’d like to help. Reliving a race through another runner can be an awesome adventure, and you’ll likely be able to offer up useful advice.
Finally, remember that while you’re supporting someone else, taking care of your needs is also key. Fuel, hydration, sleep, protection from the elements and rest are all important factors when considering your stint as a crew or pacer. Thinking about how you’ll identify your runner at the aid station in the dark when it’s pouring down rain (while trying to stay warm), is just one example of a number of situations that might arise. What’s important is that you’re prepared to care for your runner or pace them into the night, no matter what the conditions. Your commitment to their success reiterates a deep, unspoken bond that ultra runners have with one another, and acknowledges the miles completed and the finish line that lies ahead.
Witnessing your runner finish their race is an emotionally gratifying experience that sits deep in the soul. While the intense emotions might be a by-product of sleep deprivation, it’s more likely a sense of relief that your job is done and you’ve helped someone reach their hard-earned goal. One that you’re probably all too familiar with.