Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Crewing article


“Prior Preparation prevents poor performance” – This quote has been bandied around in work cultures and environments for the twenty-six years of my working life. The Five P’s can also be applied to ultra running in all contexts and types.

Over the last few years I have seen quite a few ultra runners not perform at their BEST because they have not had a crew to assist them and they have not planned on how to run their race prior to the Starters Gun going off. This is a shame as they are only cheating themselves. On the other side of the coin – I have seen many competitors perform at their best because they did have a crew and they did plan prior to the start.

I do not claim to know everything about crewing and planning, but I would like to share some of the things that I have learnt over the years with the wider Ultra community. The ideas may not work for everyone. These ideas may lead to the exchange of other crewing and planning ideas. This can only be good for the sport. I invite others to publish their ideas in writing for others to read.

Any reference to males in this article also refers to females.


By track races I refer to any Ultra races held on a certified 400-metre track. These can range from 50 kilometres through to 1000 miles.

Most races in this day and age will provide a water drinks table by the track. Unfortunately there is more to crewing than providing water for the runner every fifteen minutes. Here are some areas that I feel need to be considered. Whilst preparing yourself for crewing at a track race.

· What does the runner want to achieve? What is his plan for various stages of the race and what’s the alternative plans if the race doesn’t go to plan. (Discuss this with your runner prior to race day)

· What does your runner like to eat and drink during a race? Remember if this is your runner’s first ultra he might have to educated in the “little and often” principle

· Time and location of the race

· Any specific rules for the race? The crew can get the runner into trouble by not compiling with the rules

· The crew should be aware that the weather can change several times during a race and take extra clothes to be ready for a weather change

· Can the crew get something to eat during the race?

· If the runner is running to a strict plan and wants his crew keeping an eye on the lap times, you might want to consider getting a second crew member. It is impossible to feed, drink, motivate your runner and record their lap times at the same time.

· Shelter for the crew during a race. Consider taking a tent. It helps to keep the crew warm, keeps the runners spare clothing dry, food and drink dry and the runner can have a rest if necessary.

· Has the runner got a basic first aid kit to bring? Even if there is First Aid at the race, the runner should consider bringing his own supplies. These supplies include Vaseline, sports tape, icepacks, sunburn cream etc

· Get to the race at least an hour before it is due to start. This helps to have the crew area and runner organised before the start. Everything in the crew area should have a place. Two minutes isn’t long to prepare a half strength drink, get half a dozen jellybeans and get the favourite Nike shirt for the runner.

· Consider hygiene. Have something in place to keep bowls and bottles clean during the race.

· Consider other runners when passing food and drink to your runner. Causing accidents on the track is not a good move.

· Talk to the crews that are close to you on the track. Track ultras can be a very sociable occasion

· If you have to leave the track for any reason let your runner know where you will be and how long you will be. If necessary leave some drinks and food out on the table for him

· If your runner comes off for any breaks it is imperative that you keep him warm. Body heat can be lost very quickly – especially of a nighttime! Make sure that the runner layers with extra clothing as well during the night.


Along with the above information the following should be considered for a Multi-day race:

Planning is even more important in a multi-day race. The runner should have several plans and the crew should know them and have access to them as well.

The ideal crew size in a multi-day is at least two or three people. A single person crew for a multi-day Ultra is only going to be able to function properly for 18 hours a day at the most. A single crew will start to make mistakes after 2/3 days which can effect the runner. It was two years ago at Colac when I was crewing for a Journeyman who was struggling to make the cut-off for the day. I made some calculations and told him what his target was. One hour later I rechecked my calculations and realised that he had another nine laps to complete his target. I was very lucky that the runner concerned took the “bad news” in his stride and got on with the job!

Your runner will have sleep breaks in his plan. Make sure he takes them and make sure that he doesn’t sleep in past the allowed breaks off the track. This could mean that the runner is disqualified from the race.

The race will probably provide some food and drink. This along with the food and drink that the runner brings should provide for his dietary needs. But be prepared at nine o clock at night when your runner runs past and asks for fish and chips along with a double malt milkshake. This is when you need to know the location of every fast food shop in the town before the race starts. It’s also a good idea to know the location of the supermarkets and laundrette in the town.

Look after your own health and welfare during the race. Apart from sleep, make sure that you have regular meals, some clean clothes and look after your feet as well. A crew person with blisters wont be any good to anyone!


Tactics and psychology are a very important part of ultra running. The successful ultra runner must have a good grasp on successful tactics and a good crewmember must be able to use tactics at the same time. The crew person must know when to use a tactical ploy to motivate his runner out of the doldrums or into a winning position. A word of warning though – the crewmember must know the runner he is looking after.

I don’t think that ultra tactics can be listed in an article as such. They have to be witnessed at an ultra first hand. Ultras have often been described as a human chess match with the placegetters battling it out, every runner pushing towards a personal best and even the last two places battling it out so they don’t get last in the event. One of the best ways to pick up on tactics is to go to and watch a couple of track ultras from start to finish and watch the battles and tactics that are employed throughout the race.


This list can be endless. Here are a few of my suggestions:

Drink esky and food esky. More eskies the better for multi day events
Ice packs and ice
Food and drink for runner
Food and drink for crew
Camping stove and gas bottle (if no cooking or hot drink facilities at race)
Clothes and shoes for runner
Spare clothes for crew
Sleeping bag and blankets (crew and runner)
Basic first aid kit (blister treatment, headaches, multi vitamins, sunburn treatment)
Bucket for cleaning
Bucket for ice treatment
Cutlery and crockery
Music for runner and crew
Torch for night time
Hammock and bed for resting
Clipboard, pens and calculator
Shade cloth for food and drink if no protection in heat of day
Pegs to hang wet clothes up to dry
Favourite book for the crew
Plastic water bottles for drinks. (The tomato sauce squeezy bottles are my favourite)
Spray bottle for hot days.
Big alarm clock for multi day races

As I said the list is endless and I’m sure people will suggest plenty of other necessary items for Track ultras.


No one has all the answers in ultra running. This article certainly won’t provide all the answers to the crewing aspect of ultra track races. But I hope that it is used as a springboard for future discussion on the subject or it is used by a runner making his debut into ultra running. We might not be a professional sport as such, but we can still approach our sport in a professional manner and make sure that we all do the best we can at each race. If the crew side of the house can be organised and prepared properly prior to the race it will go along way to ensuring a successful race for the runner.

Phil Essam
February 2005

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