Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Crewing the Western States 100 - My Rules for Crewing

I have a good reputation as being a pretty darn good crew chief and take my job seriously. I was giddy when Martin asked me crew his first 100 miler, which also happens to be the epic Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

I'm the more emotional, excitable one of the two of us and this was clear the day before the race when I was bouncing around singing, "tomorrow is race day, race day..."while Martin chuckled at my adolescent behavior in nervousness.

Day before the race. I think I'm more excited than he is. 
My dear friends Josh Witte and Andrew Harding were also running States. And through North Texas Trail Runners and my new gig with the Dallas Morning News covering trail and ultra running, I had a few other Texas runners to cheer for at States.

Take a peak at the story I wrote for the Dallas Morning News Running Blog.
Don't mess with Texas: runners and their pacers!

Martin's dear friends Janet and Doug joined us. Martin has paced Doug the last two States and it was Doug's turn to return the favor. Janet was my experienced States crewer and had lots of hints and tricks for me.

Team Martin at 3:30 a.m. race morning. Before coffee, yes, I look tired.

Nick Polito and Martin minutes before start. 
This was anything but a typical Western States. Known for hot temps, the race started with temps in the 40s, hail and wind. Martin started with a short sleeved shirt and jacket. Worried at the start about it getting colder, I tried to convince him to wear a long sleeve shirt, but he said he was fine.

Crew Rule 1: Know When to Push and When Not to
Early in the race, your runner has veto power. Later in the race when they've been up for more than 20 hours, you can argue with them.

Janet warned me that the Robinson Flat aid station (mile 29) is a mess. You have to take a shuttle in and it's crowded. The race guide said to allow an hour for the shuttle.

The rain started coming down hard and then the hail hit. I made the executive decision to get Martin's only long-sleeve shirt, the one he was saving for night time and his only other jacket and bring it to the aid station.

Crew Rule 2: Think One Step Ahead
You are your runner's brain. You need to think strategically and ahead for them. Regardless what their race plans say, you may need to improvise. Think about what you would want in those conditions and tell them when they come into the aid station why you are changing things..."It's cold. You need a long sleeve shirt and a new jacket now. I'll handle the rest later. Don't worry."

Crew Rule 3: Do NOT Overpack
I see tons of crew with basically everything and the damn kitchen sink, 5 plastic tubs of crap, a suitcase of clothes. Don't do this. Seriously. You have to ride a bus with hundreds of people who are also going to the aid station. If it doesn't fit in a backpack, you don't need it. They aren't going to want that short sleeved shirt if it's hailing. Leave it in the car.
Janet and I with no less than 6 layers of clothes on and my best $1 spent ever - the disposable poncho with hood!

With new dry clothes, Martin headed out. I told him I'd see him again at mile 55.7.

Getting Martin in dry shoes.
Crew Rule #4: Flexible and Flowing
The round trip to and from this aid station was three hours! Much longer than I thought. I now have a pacer I need to feed and get ready, wet clothes that were going to be saved for the night time and a ton of other things I needed to do to get ready for his arrival at Michigan Bluff.

I fed Doug and we headed to Auburn Running Company so I could buy Martin a new long sleeve shirt. I got the last Auburn Running Company shirt and headed to the hotel where I knew they had a dryer that I could use.

I quickly threw his clothes in the machine, put money in and set it to go. That's odd, what's that water sound...SHIT, I started the washer, not the dryer! And there is no way to STOP the washer once it started. Worried about time, I tried to figure out what to do next. Well I could unplug the machine, risking breaking the whole thing or just wait. So I waited. Finally they were washed and I threw them in the dryer. Love the fact tech material dries fast.

We rushed out to Michigan Bluff and waited Martin's arrival. He had one drop bag before he saw us and I figured he would shed his jacket and put on his short sleeve shirt. He can running down in the black long sleeve. Luckily the shirt he started in was "washed and dried" and I put it back on him.

The next time I would see Martin would be at Forest Hill, mile 62 where Doug would pace him. He had picked up the pace a bit and I figured he would be at Forest Hill sooner than plan.

Martin heading into Forest Hill, Mile 62. Doug on the right ready to pace. 

Changing out his shoes. 
Martin sailed into Forest Hill, picking up time. Doug met him up the trail and headed into the aid station with him. I ran to the car to wait for them.

Crew Rule #5: Be ready before your runner arrives
Before Martin got into Forest Hill, I had all his items laid out and ready to go. The object is to get them in and out of the aid station as quickly as possible. I had his shoes and new socks laid out. A long sleeve shirt, his jacket and gloves out and ready for him.

Crew Rule #6: Know the aid station cut off times
I never had to do this with Martin, but I have with others...you may need to kick them out of the aid station. Pay attention to the cut off times and if your runner is close, kick them out.

The next time I would see Martin was after the river crossing at mile 79. To get here, I had to take a shuttle and hike down about 1.25 miles. There was an option to hike down another 2 miles to see him at the far side of the river after he crossed.

The shuttle broke down and the race was down to one van. I knew he was speeding up and Doug would be pushing him hard. I finally got a ride to the drop off point and ran with his backpack down hill for over a mile. Just as soon as I got to the trail to head down, I got a text from Doug that they were on the far side of the river.

While I wanted to head down to the river and hike up with him, it was more important for me to get his gear laid out so he could quickly change socks and shoes and get dry clothes on.

Other than sleepy, he was running very strong. I gave him a kiss and sent him off. Not knowing the bus situation, I was concerned about how long it would take me to get back to my car. So I power hiked/ran UP that hill, with all that wet gear.

It was so damn dark and creepy out there. I was alone. After being up for nearly 24 hours, I swear I heard creatures in the woods. Maybe some voices. Some growls.

Thankfully I saw people hiking down. I asked if the busses were working again. They were! Yay! Just as I get to the top, the bus is heading out. I wave. Shine my flashlight. It leaves. Lovely. Now I get to sit in the dark by myself with the growling things in the woods.

Praying nothing eats me, some people finally arrive from Green Gate. No longer alone. Phew!

I rushed to get to the next aid station, mile 93. The announcer calls "Marin Guthrie 204." Wahoo! He's back on 24 hour pace. Holy crap, he's moving fast. He looks great. Doug was pushing him hard. He didn't need anything from me at this aid station, but I wanted to be there for him.

Crew Rule #7: Encouragement 
Regardless if your runner needs anything at a later aid station, go there anyway. Sometimes all they need is a smile, a hug, a friendly familiar face. Your job is to keep them motivated. They may want to scream and complain. Let them. Give them a shoulder to cry on if need be.

The next time I would see Martin is at 98.9. I planned to run with him and Doug from here. Janet and I zipped to the finish line, parked the car and I ran to the aid station from the high school while she waited at the finish line with cameras.

I met up with a gal who was waiting for her friend. We were all praying our runners would come in soon. It was getting close to that 24-hour mark.

It's 4:15 a.m. We both decided as long as they come in before 4:45, all is well. The trip back out is a lot of hills on the road. So anything faster than a 15 minute mile may be really hard to pull off.

4:37 a.m. I see an aid station volunteer call "204".

"MARTIN!" I scream in excited. I see that big smile. He looks fantastic. You would have never have guessed he had run 99 freaking miles.

Doug, Martin and I know a sub 24 is going to happen.

After the hill, I ask him, "You want to run?" He says, "Yes." And the three of us are off. Running a little ahead, he says, "Nice butt." We all laugh.

There's another little hill. I scream back to him, "This is the only time I'll ever be ahead of you on a hill, after 99 miles!"

We enter the high school and I tell him to take his victory lap.

It all ended after 23:53:31.

Home now for 24 hours. I'm having ultra crew withdraw.

I feel compelled to look up my friends' progress on ultralive.net.

I feel like I should be updating FB every hour.

I have a desire to drive around in the middle of the night.

I want to organize my day in ziploc bags.

I keep asking everyone how they are feeling and what they need.

I want to lube something.


  1. Woo hoo! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! And what a great crew chief you are! Huge congrats to Martin, and to you for being so on top of it! Wow!

  2. wonderful! that was fantastic to read!

  3. Thank you for this post - it's a wonderful overview of how to do it right! I've crewed many a races, including Badwater, and each is a new experience. My hubby just got into WS 2015 - thanks for the great crew review. It will come in handy. ;)

    -Marilyn Sizemore