Over breakfast tacos and possibly some residual intoxication (endorphins, exhaustion, and beer make for a delicious post-race buzz, FYI) I rambled off three pages of anecdotes about my experience crewing Cascade Crest 100 as Emily furiously scribbled them onto the back of a page from her Runner’s Manual. Some serious, some funny, some just for an excuse to reminisce on the whole EMILY RAN 100 FUCKING MILES thing.
Because you know, that happened.
Conveniently, I think I can tell most of my side of the CCC100 tale through these lessons, albeit not in much of a chronological fashion. So that’s what I’m giving you in lieu of a traditional recap. (Plus, Emily’s is a much better read than mine would’ve been. Check it: Cascade Crest 100 Race Report)
I left the list in its original form, to preserve the randomness in which barely-caffeinated, recently ultra-devirginized Sarah found them most important, with postscript elaborations for each. Keep in mind that means absolutely nothing to the actual validity or importance of them, and that actually you should really never take anything you read here very serious at all.
Here we go!
Lessons Learned from Crewing my first 100 Miler
1. Crewing is equal parts hard work and really fucking fun. Like babysitting at a party. But you know, less “call child protective services.” Being responsible for someone’s well being is stressful. Sitting around waiting to see them once every few hours is boring. Staying up all night is exhausting. But you get a secondhand high from their progress, make friends with the other runners’ crews, and get to run around in the dark wearing a headlamp. What’s not to like?!? Might as well have fun while you’re out there, you know. Plus it turns out most everyone out there is down to have a good time.
2. Never ask “How are you feeling?” I knew this was the #1 no-no and then did it anyway. Somewhere around four miles into a six mile climb at midnight during pacing duty, after repeating to myself all day “don’t ask how she’s doing… don’t ask how she’s doing…” I blurted it out. WOOPS. Sorry, Em. [good news: she was actually feeling really good at that time. Or she was lying. I believed her if she was.]
3. Ultra runners love junk food more than anyone. You want to go back to the days of eating whatever the eff you wanted? Go hang out at an ultra aid station. Pop, potato chips, all kinds of candy, white bread ham sandwiches with mayonnaise, donuts, entire bags of bacon… There was even a mention of Cheez Wiz at one point during the weekend. Whatever works I guess, but seriously, gross guys.
4. Read the driving directions and/or at least put them in the car. It was probably less beneficial for me to read the Runner’s Manual six times cover-to-cover than it would’ve been to look at the crew instructions and driving directions… at all. (To be fair they were in a separate document I didn’t see on the website.) Had an unnecessarily tough time getting to a couple aid stations, but hell if I didn’t know exactly where Emily was supposed to turn at mile 43.5 and what kind of hot food they’d have at each aid station. [sidenote: most times there were enough people heading out when we were to just follow the train, except for you know, the real hard to navigate ones, when I was alone, in the dark, deliriously tired… directions would’ve been helpful then.]
5. There’s no Stranger Danger in ultra running. It’s totally normal to bump into someone on a trail a few weeks before race day, discover they’re also running it, Facebook friend them, invite them to stay in your cabin, and then become best friends forever. And if it’s not, we’re well on our way to making it the new norm. [Hi Gordo & Dan!]
6. The most important and controllable aspect of crewing is being happy. You can impact a lot of the race with a good crew plan. Feed your runner. Know the logistics. Have every imaginable I.C.E (in case of emergency) item on hand at all times. But shit can (and probably will) happen. Tried and true foods betray. The weather turns to shit and your runner refuses to wear a trash bag as a poncho. Trail markers are stolen and everyone runs a million miles off course. The aid station has turkey sandwiches instead of quesadillas.* No matter how you handle these things, a big cheery smile and high energy is easy to provide and pays immediate dividends to your runner, no matter the shit storm going on around you.
*note: only 1.5 of these things actually happened.
6a. The second most important is probably being a good liar. “You look great! The coffee maker’s totally not broken! There’s no way I could keep up walking, this is definitely a run pace! No, we 100% did not stop at that brewery you like between aid stations while you were running through a torrential downpour! Seriously, you look great!”
7. Instead of asking your runner what they need, just start shouting things until they say YES. “What can I get you?” “Uhhh I don’t know, uhhh…” “SANDWICH? COKE? NEW SOCKS? PEANUT BUTTER M&MS? LUBE? APPLE FRITTER?” “Oooohh, yeah, fritter!”
8. When it comes to snacks, spare no expense. Emily took care of all the snacks, which apparently took multiple trips to multiple grocery stores (to avoid judgment when purchasing two dozen different bags of chips) and also took up 80% of the cargo space in the car. I’m pretty sure we ditched a couple pairs of shoes and some sleeping equipment to accommodate a last-minute box of Bob’s donuts. PACK ALL THE SNACKS.
9. If you can make a large cabin with a hot tub part of your race weekend, definitely do it. And then invite enough strangers to outnumber familiar faces, host a post-race dinner party, and sit your tired asses in the hot tub until it’s time to go to bed. Sunday’s taco fest featured our aforementioned two bunkmates, plus two more late adds to their crew team, putting the final tally at Team Emily 3, Stranger Danger 4. It wasn’t weird at all. <— Not sarcasm. Really.
10. Have a safe word. “Citra” = hike break. “Simcoe” = slow down. “Mosaic” = I’m ready to go, let’s run this bitch. So much better than straight up asking for a break. [even if it did trigger some mid-run IPA cravings]
11. Being able to sleep in unconventional settings is an invaluable crew quality. True story I pulled off the side of some random road between aid stations at like 3am and zonked out HARD for two hours – still in my wet running clothes, in the driver seat, seatbelt still fastened. Best power nap ever.
12. Alleviate as much decision-making from your runner’s plate as possible. What fork in the trail to take, which type of salad dressing to get for race eve greens, which leg goes in which pant leg… Which leads to:
13. Get your runner in dry clothes as soon as possible after finishing. Ignore her resistance and/or the fire station’s claim the restroom is “NOT FOR PUBLIC USE.” Now is not the time for decency and shyness, and your time as bossy crewmember is definitely not over. Dig them out from under their pile of blankets, help them out of their comfy camp chair, and take your runner and that post-race bag you so smartly prepped beforehand somewhere private-ish for a costume change. Remember that sports bras require some houdini’ing after running 26 minutes, let alone 26 hours. Be gentle around their feet when removing their stinky Hokas and sweat/dirt/who-knows-what-caked socks. If they have to bend at the waist at all you’ve failed! Perhaps practice on a sleeping toddler a few times if you’re worried about this one.
14. Beware of being hated by your runner, for something, at sometime. Emily actually had a shockingly even temperament the whole time… when I was around. Apparently Chris took the brunt of the lows during his pacing section through the last 50k, including this fine interaction I got to witness after jumping in with them for the final stretch:
“Chris! Quit running in front. Get behind me.”
“You mean you don’t want me up here where I’ve been for the last twenty seven miles?”
“I need you to just not be in front of me right now.”
15. Monitoring the fuel gauge in the crew vehicle is just as important as monitoring your runner’s fuel gauge. Especially if you find yourself driving alone through a remote area at 3am with no gas stations around and 20-some miles until the next crew check in. Dodged a bullet on that one.
16. Make sure you have easy access to you runner’s pump up jam at all times. Additional crew hurdle when the artist doesn’t play nicely with Spotify and cell service is spotty.
“Having the same pump up jam for two 100s makes me respect T.Swift’s timeless qualities.” – Emily ‘Shake it Off’ Halnon
17. If you know your runner has the snacks handled (see #8), spend the time you would’ve at the grocery store on curating the best playlist ever. “Is there anything NOT on this playlist?” No, sir, there isn’t. Please turn up the volume and enjoy the transition from Miranda Lambert to Meatloaf to Ja Rule.
18. Never let a fellow crew member drink alone. A nice parking lot beer makes the hours of loitering around aid stations pass quicker. That’s science, actually. Just make sure you close your tailgate tab with enough time before pacing duties.
18a. Practice your low-level buzz sustainability. You’ve still got a job to do, man! Don’t let those tailgate beers sabotage your role. Neither driving through mountains nor caring for an ultra runner are good things to do while intoxicated. Keep it clean, practice safe liquid carb’ing.
19. Be prepared to talk a lot about poop, and maybe see it. All kinds of trail poop. Animal poop, human poop, who-knows-what poop, plastic bagged poop… It’s like a shitty Dr Seuss spinoff (harhar.) Keep your eyes peeled and some TP on your person at all times.
“Runners should stop being so selfish in only carrying enough T.P. for themselves.” – Emily/Chris
20. Ween yourself from electronic navigation. Maybe practice some old school map-reading. A cool thing about trail running is that you go off the beaten path and see places you can’t get to easily. Which means probably it’s not real easy to get the crew vehicle there either. You know where Siri doesn’t work? One-way dirt paths up the side of a cliff in the middle of the forest. If you’re lucky there will be other crews leaving when you do, but don’t count on it, or a GPS signal. Revisit #4. [tip: iPhones have a compass app. super helpful.]
21. When pacing, know the route with such unwavering confidence that you can tell your runner you are “100% definitely still going the right way” at all times. The directions for my pacing portion were simple. Stupid simple. Literally only two forks to navigate over 16 miles. But when we hit 2.8 miles and were still running on flat pavement along the highway when the directions said we’d transition to dirt and start going up at 2.3, I got nervous. Obviously two microseconds later Emily decided to realize we hadn’t seen a route marker (reflective ribbons hung periodically along the way to assure you were still on course.) I frantically pulled up the screen cap I took of the written directions, tried to get service on google maps, and cross reference the course map pdf through the Ziploc baggie I was using as a cheap man’s waterproof case, all while trying to keep somewhat of a steady pace next to a locked-in Emily. I was terrified. Twenty minutes into my job and I got her fucking lost and off course! Just as I was about to… I don’t know, call someone? run backwards to see if we missed a turn? send up a smoke signal?… a beautiful little life-saving ribbon came into sight, the pavement turned to dirt, and we started climbing. I credit this for my absence from the Trail Squatters Guild, as I’m very confident it scared the shit right out of me.
22. When your runner is walking, SO ARE YOU. And don’t talk about it.
“If your runner is running 18 minute miles downhill, don’t tell her.” – Emily
23. Butt slaps at mile 96 are not as motivational or enjoyable as you think they will be. Actually just avoid any bodily contact at all costs. I really meant well, and admit what was supposed to be an encouraging little tap perhaps came out a little strong. The excitement of leaving the final aid station and getting to run the final four miles to the finish all together got the best of me! Old ball sports habits die hard, I guess.
24. Periodically peeing in toilets instead of the grass is good for hydration-monitoring purposes. After exiting my first porcelain commode in approximately 27 hours I proudly announced to everyone within earshot the clearness of my urine like a giddy potty training child. That’s a happy ending, but it very easily could’ve been a “holy shit I need to drink some liquid ASAP” situation. Bottom line: (convenient lead in to #25)…
25. Everyone says “make sure to take care of yourself, too!” BUT if you start looking second trimester pregnant somewhere along the course maybe it’s time to cut back on fueling your hurry-up-and-wait faux-workouts with Doritos and donuts. Not that this is a first hand lesson, ahem, but let’s just say I accidentally started that 16 mile pacing leg with a lot of extra logs on the fire.
26. Do not underestimate your runner’s ability to rally for the post-race party. The last men standing (er, sitting in the hot tub) with me? Our two in-house finishers. I’ve come to realize this as one of Em’s super powers though.
27. “Get Drunk and Sign Up for a Race” is still one of my favorite games. Reading the course description the next morning was hilariously awful. On the bright side, I have a good excuse to get my ass out onto some fun new (/scary) trails over the next few weeks.
[update since time of original drafting: for some reason the 50k with 7500′ of gain sounded easier, so I switched my registration. guess the Ultra Koolaid finally found its way into my flask. fucking hell where’s my brain?]
If you get the chance to crew or volunteer at an ultra, you should most definitely, 100% do it. The energy is incredible, the vibes totally different from road races, and the feelings at the finish line are warm and fuzzy enough to melt even the coldest of feelingless hearts. So much joy, relief, and gratitude all around, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the sport.
Plus, the snacks.