Ultraman is like any other long race or adventure we sign up where we have that little voice saying “Crap I gotta start training for this race” the second we hit the “submit” button. So off we go training hard until about a week before the race when we finally decide to pay attention to the small details such as packing/ travel logistics/ nutrition etc. For any Ironman race or 24 hr mountain bike race you can get by with this last minute planning. However in Ultraman this is not going to cut it. I am of the belief that you need to line up your support crew before you even enter the race. I have crewed twice in Hawaii and once in Canada for 2 different athletes. If you decide to crew for an athlete make sure you know them well and make sure you can handle them at their worst.
My first 2 crewing experiences involved a crew of 7 (film crew involved). The athlete was a very good friend for years and I coached him as well. The good news was this athlete was the type of athlete every crew member wanted to work with because he listened, executed and was mentally hard as nails. Needless to say he successfully finished both races. The key was that he listened to the crew and I had the responsibility to help prepare him for the event. I was vested in the outcome!
The second athlete I met through other UM athletes and watching him race UM as well. We became friends and he asked for my help in crewing for Hawaii. I gladly excepted because now I knew I wanted to race UM and wanted to recon the Hawaii course again and of course I wanted to help him finish. Upon arrival I realized he was not well prepared logistically. We started day 1 with very minimal bike supplies which we quickly found out we needed before ever leaving T1. I have a personality that does not like being the passenger unless I have had some role in teaching the driver. My previous experiences at UM crewing left me unprepared for this athlete. So when on day 3 when my athlete was vomiting for miles and decided to quit early in the run, I certainly did little to argue as we had realized through days 1 and 2 that he did not listen to our advice.
What did I learn for these experiences? Major point is making sure the athlete has support in the months leading into the event- not just the week of the race. Only crew for athletes you know well. I personally will only crew for athletes I coach from now on. Be vested in the athlete in any manner (family, coach, good friend, spouse) and be prepared to incorporate some of these tips:
Recon all possible back up sources of food/ water/ gas on the course- always have a plan B for every scenario
Have a mechanic on hand and supplies to fix anything, bring extra wheels
Prepare for 16 hr days - for most athletes, with people you may hardly know. This means as a crew you need to keep yourselves fueled and hydrated as well.
Stick to a simple nutritional plan and solve any logistic issues before you arrive. Devise hand signals so the athlete can communicate what he/she needs before the next stop. This will save time and energy for the crew and athlete.
The good news for those that decide to crew:
The 16 hour days fly by.
The race venues are stunning (I really enjoyed the run course at UM Canada)
You will catch the Ultraman bug as well, so crewing is you first step in planning your own race.
Ultra-curious? Check out the following clip from Ultraman Florida where I crewed for fellow Rx3 coach and team-mate, Chris McDonald. Then get in touch with your questions. We will be happy to discuss a game plan with you.