How to Be an Effective Crew Member
Tough, but not too tough, love
Photo by Tom Sperduto
Twenty-Four Hours of Absolution—sounds like a catchy name for a new ultramarathon.
It’s not. In the case of Devon Crosby-Helms and her support crew, it applies to her upcoming run in California’s Western States 100 Endurance Run. When the race starts at 5 a.m., June 26, Crosby-Helms will have 24 hours in which she will not be held responsible by her support-crew members for crankiness, neediness or acts of selfishness. It’s a rule she also employs when she crews for others—as she did for another top female ultrarunner Krissy Moehl at last year’s Western States.
“By giving the runner ‘absolution,’ it takes out the interpersonal conflict or hurt feelings that could arise,” says Crosby-Helms.
An ultrarunner and his or her crew face sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, potentially inclement weather and other stresses inherent to competition. While such conditions can bring out the best in a person, they can also bring out the worst. In short, a thick skin is vital. But that is just one of the important attributes of a good ultramarathon crew member.
What a Crew Member Does
Most ultramarathons (primarily 100-milers) offer access to racer support crews at pre-determined points, usually aid stations, where they can tend to their runners’ needs. A crew member is part nutritionist, part psychologist, part medic and part motivational speaker.
“My crew members swap out my water bottles, and give me my nutrition and any change of clothing or gear,” says Crosby-Helms, who holds the course record for the
JFK 50 and is among the favorites at Western States. “They treat any contingencies such as blisters and stomach upset.”
But those are just the physical needs. When an ultrarunner is 30, 50 or 85 miles into a race, he is vulnerable mentally and emotionally. A good crew recognizes and addresses those issues too.
Caleb Chatfield of the Kansas City Trail Nerds says his crew members “are responsible for helping me keep my head on my shoulders and giving me something to look forward to at aid stations.”
The importance of a crew to an ultrarunner cannot be overstated. Veteran endurance athlete Lisa Smith-Batchen of Alta, Wyoming, who is midst of an effort to run 50 miles in all 50 states puts it succinctly, “Your crew is your life line.”