Ultrarunning is an extraordinary feat of endurance that requires not only the physical and mental strength of the athlete but also the support and guidance of dedicated crew and pacers. Two experienced individuals in the world of ultrarunning, Amelia Boone and Alex Hildebrandt, share their invaluable insights on crewing and pacing for ultrarunning adventures. As we anticipate the 2023 Western States Endurance Run, where Amelia will be pacing top contender Meg Morgan, their wisdom transcends the specific event and proves to be evergreen for any endurance pursuit.
Assembling the Perfect Crew Team:
One of the fundamental aspects of successful ultrarunning is having a crew team that understands your needs. Both Amelia and Alex highlight how crewing needs differ between athletes: assembling your perfect crew starts with you, the athlete, understanding what you want from your team. From logistical assistance to gear and nutrition support, cheerleading to pacing, there are many different roles crew members can take. Whether you’re a runner or a crew member, Amelia and Alex emphasize that clear communication and robust pre-race planning is at the heart of every effective support system.
Guidance for Crew Members:
Being a crew member is no small task, and considerable pre-race planning is required to increase the likelihood of both crew and athletes having a successful race experience. Amelia reminds all crew members and pacers to prioritize their own needs -nutrition, hydration, sleep- in order to best support their athletes. Athletes need to communicate with their crew ahead of time about crew expectations, fueling and hydration, aid stations, timings and logistics, gear, additional supplies and more: Alex advises athletes to provide crew members with this information via a spreadsheet. Race day navigation for both athletes and crew teams need to be thought through, taking into account race rules and the availability of cell service. One idea Amelia has tried before, avoiding road closures and traffic, is crewing by bike, and she highly recommends!
Dealing with Challenges:
Ultrarunning is not without its fair share of challenges, including the dreaded Did Not Finish (DNF), something that needs to be discussed between athletes and crew ahead of time. Crew teams may also be thrown curveballs, such as getting lost themselves, road closures, missing their athletes, and not meeting the athletes’ expectations. Amelia’s advice is to accept that these things happen and not to take athletes’ in-race reactions personally: stay calm and do your best, it’s enough! Many challenges, such as athletes dropping their pacers, can be avoided by crew members taking care of their own needs like remembering to eat and sleep!
Ultra Pacing 101:
Pacing is a crucial aspect of any ultrarunning adventure, and Amelia and Alex delve into the essentials of ultra pacing, again coming back to pre-race planning with their athletes. Consider who wants to lead, athlete or pacer; anything in the race rules regarding pacers; trail etiquette; in-race communication and moral support; what athletes want pacers to say and (more importantly!) not say; and other things athletes need or expect from a pacer. Amelia advises pacers to chat contingency plans with their athletes, as well as real-time response strategies to adjust to the ever-changing and unpredictable race conditions.
Navigating Aid Stations and Race Plans:
Aid stations play a pivotal role in ultrarunning events, and Amelia and Alex share their wisdom on navigating these crucial points of support. The race duration often influences athletes’ approaches to aid stations: do they want to be in and out as quickly as possible, are they needing to change clothes or take a nap? Crew members should also think about their athletes’ fueling and hydration plans, potential gear changes, cooling or heating strategies, and communication. Pre-race planning is again essential for helping athletes and crews optimize their time at aid stations for maximum efficiency and race success.
Running, especially ultrarunning, is far from an individual sport, and the support of crew and pacers can make all the difference between finishing or not. One clear theme that runs central to both Amelia Boone and Alex Hildebrandt’s podcast episode on crewing and pacing is the importance of thorough pre-race planning and communication between athletes and crew. Athletes need to be clear on their needs and what they hope for from their crew, while crew members need to fully understand the athletes’ expectations of them.
Key planning points include: nutrition and hydration, equipment and gear, navigation, timings, aid stations, DNFs and injuries, goals, and all other things logistics! Whether you’re a seasoned crew chief or a rookie pacer, curveballs will be thrown your way, and doing your best is always good enough! Remember to take care of yourself too, not just your athletes, and enjoy the experience: how cool that you get to share your athletes’ goal race with them!