Searching for an Ultra Crew

...or woman. I'm not fussy!
…or woman. I’m not fussy!

My long races are looming in the not too distant future!! It is exactly 2 months today until the 50 mile saga along the North Downs, and now a little less than 5 months until the epic 100 mile undertaking. This may still seem a long way off, and there are plenty of miles still to be run in training, but I guess there are some important considerations that need to be made.

I still don’t feel comfortable with my nutrition, either as part of my running strategy, or my regular diet on the whole. I have read a lot of information recently about the Low Carb High Fat ‘diet’ as discussed by the eminent sports nutritionist Tim Noakes, and many articles about the growing popularity of the Paleolithic (Hunter-gatherer) diet, so much so that I have just taken delivery of the Paleo Diet for Athletes, which I look forward to reading. So that is in hand, and surely a story for another post one day.

In addition, I am still not entirely settled on shoe choice either. There is still plenty of time, and hopefully the ground will have firmed up by May, but the current deluge that we are enjoying is not helping allay fears that I need something more substantial than my ‘door-to-trail’ style shoes – but then what do I do on the road sections? My Brooks Cascadia 7s have seen me through a tough 30 miles in almost 7 hours of wear with little punishment of feet and toes, except for that caused by the slippery mud which made my quads, hams, calves and hip-flexors do even more work than was expected of them.


My biggest concern though at the minute has become the assembly of my CREW

Crew: Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting

In the 50 mile race I don’t have the luxury of Drop Bags, or indeed Pacers. But I can have a crew to support me throughout the race (though they can only access two of the six aid stations.) But the question is, who to ask?

I talked briefly with Lynds about it a little while ago, and I must admit I had assumed she would not be interested. With little knowledge about what was involved in the role, I had a vision in my mind that it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable job, but doing some research highlighted the difficulty in being an ultra-crew member. In fact, most web articles that I read suggest that I’m going to find running easier than my crew will. Now, I am not sure I want to put anyone through that experience. I don’t think I even fully appreciate how bad it’s going to hurt me (very bad), so to put someone else through the mental anguish is a toughie.

Lynds isn’t a runner and she will happily admit, I am sure, that she can see no sense in what I do, or why I do it. Andy Mouncey starts his book with an excellent quote, one which I see lots of truth in:

If you have to ask the question ‘why?’, you wouldn’t understand the answer

MMUR Cov Artwork


I feel bad enough when I drag her out to a 10km or even a parkrun, especially on a day of inclement weather, and these events take far less than an hour. With a target of 24 hours, and a total cut-off of 30, I want to resist asking her simply because I will feel horrendous putting her through something from which she will gain absolutely no satisfaction at all. I would be quite happy to have her see me at the finish, and indeed at points throughout the race, but perhaps without the stresses of chasing me from aid station to aid station, setting out supplies of food, drink and clothing; seeing her for a brief moment of inspiration, rather than her having to be mean and kicking me out of an aid station. Knowing that I would be seeing her at 20 miles in the Hardmoors race was a real boost when the Abbey wasn’t getting any closer, the hill wasn’t going downwards, and the wind simply wasn’t abating. The problem is though, even if I didn’t have Lynds out by the side of the road at 3am, by her own admission she would be sat at home worried senseless that I was passed out in a ditch somewhere, so would feel no better about me running the race!

They say family members shouldn’t make up your entire crew – or at least they shouldn’t be your crew-leader. It is far too difficult for a close family member to disassociate themselves from the job of crewing and when they see their husband/wife/son/daughter struggling at mile 50,60,80… it will be all too difficult for them to tell their runner to get up and get on with it, rather than suggesting that if something hurts maybe they should pull out and try again next time. I think a runner might understand it more, which is why I think about asking my parents. But again, I don’t really want to put them through the hassle of crewing through the night. It just seems so selfish. And I know that Mum, in particular, would quite like to do a bit of pacing, even if it’s only the last three miles from the final checkpoint to the finish line, so maybe that is a better option.


I think I sense a plan coming together...
I think I sense a plan coming together…

Pacers differ slightly from Crew-Members. I can have access to my crew basically from the ‘B of the Bang’, so to speak, but I can have pacers from the halfway point. One at a time, runners can join me on a section of the run. Generally the aim is to guide the runner and offer support and encouragement on the trails, to take a weight off the runners mind, but NOT to take any weight off their back!

Some guys at the club have very generously offered their services as pacers, which is super kind of them. I look forward to taking them up on the offer, but I am a concerned again that it’s incredibly selfish for me to ask someone to come and join me for a run at 1am, at which point I will have been on the go for about 19 hours, and will be no company at all. How do they explain this to their families etc?

Don’t Bother

Perhaps the answer is to not bother with any of it. Be entirely self-supporting. Or indeed, use simply what is available at the aid stations, when it is available. Do I need a pacer, certainly not everyone had one at the 60 mile point when I was volunteering last year. Can I defeat the mental demons on my own? I’m not so sure; I haven’t even managed that in ‘just’ a marathon! Maybe, rather than a crew, I can simply hope to see some friends and family along the route, to know where I might expect to see them will be a mental spur, a quick hug, a glug of whatever beverage is available, and set off again – hoping to see another friendly face soon.

Running Solo
Running Solo

Or of course maybe I just need to hold auditions.

I'm afraid it's a no from me
I’m afraid it’s a no from me


What so you guys think? Anyone who reads this rambling nonsense of mine done an ultra before with/without a crew? Any opinions? How did you put the team together? Do I just stop fannying around and get on with running?


8 thoughts on “Searching for an Ultra Crew

  1. I know absolutely bugger all about ultras, however, I would more than happy to come along and pace you to an 11 minute mile for a bit! I’m good at talking absolute bollocks and getting no response, and quite like running in the dark. I’m sure there will be plenty of other Janathoners who would too…

  2. Hey Chris, way to go – great post, great blog! You can totally do the 100 without a crew (I’ve done a few on my own without anybody to rely on at all), but it’s definitely more fun with help of some sort – especially if you’re an extrovert. Bottom line: you can definitely do it with one friend pacing you for the final 30 miles or so. If you can get another friend to meet you at some of the aid stations and cheer you on – so much the better!
    I’m in Canada, but if I was over there, I’d definitely join you. Sounds like a fun race!

  3. Hi Chris,
    Unfortunately the NDW50 is the week after Transvulcania, otherwise I could maybe have offered my services. Are you on Facebook or do you post in the RW forums? If you put a message on one of the ultra runner groups then you will easily find someone to help you out. Finding a pacer shouldn’t be too difficult – the idea of heading out for a 50 mile run at 4am may not sound appealing to most, but these are ultra runners you’re talking about here! Crew wise, you won’t NEED them in the Centurion races (as you know, the aid stations are manned like well oiled machines… :p), but having your family and friends see you at various points can be really uplifting. I would look for an ultra runner who knows what they’re doing as your pacer, but your crew is less important (for these events at least) so could be more of a cheering squad. Good luck!

    1. Cheers Sam. I had meant to drop you a line about it yesterday actually, but then I fell asleep. Having seen the slick operation at centurion (does every aid station have a Henk?) I figured supporters are probably more in need than ‘crew’. Haha, the midnight run thing is very true, already had a few offers just since posting last night :-) Hope all is well with the new addition! Not long now until the Viking Way, hope you’re ready

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