By Emily Booth
4 a.m. on August 16 — the start of the 2014 Leadville Trail 100 Run presented by New Balance — looms near. After months of training, anticipation and planning, the big day is almost here. You’ve done the miles and now, as they say, the “hay is in the barn.” While ultimately the only one who can get you to the finish line is you, the last “step” you can take before that first step onto Sixth Street is to ensure you have created an optimal plan for your crew and/or pacer(s).
Although some intrepid souls choose to take on the challenge without the assistance of friends or family to aid and/or pace, you can dramatically increase your odds of success by having a crew and pacers to provide support. I reached out to a number of veteran runners and crew for their best advice to make your day go as smoothly as possible. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Have a plan.
Take time to analyze the course and your projected pace from aid station to aid station. Leadville has nine major opportunities for crew access: May Queen, Outward Bound (formerly Fish Hatchery), Half Pipe, Twin Lakes and Winfield. Obviously, on the out-and-back course you can see your crew at each of them twice with the exception of Winfield (the turnaround). Determine an estimated time range (be realistic) when you plan to arrive at each station, as well as a list of what you anticipate needing when you get there. If you would like to have specific items at each aid station, make it easy on your crew by detailing and clearly labeling each item, as well as designating separate bags both outbound and inbound. Consider creating an “Essential Info” sheet with key phone numbers, insurance info, projected times by segment, what you need at each aid station, what you want them to take from you at each aid station, and potential problems and fixes.
2. Clearly communicate your plan with your crew.
Once you have your plan, if at all possible, have a brief crew meeting in the week or days before. Go through your “Essential Info” sheet and provide copies to all. Ensure all crew contact information and a schedule has been shared.
Crewing can be a very fun and rewarding experience but also very stressful and tiring at times. Remind them to take care of themselves, too. You need them on their game, so make sure they are also as rested, well fed and hydrated as possible. (This may also be a good time to thank them and perhaps warn them and apologize in advance if you pull a “Jekyll and Hyde” at some point during the race).
Finally, let them know there is a crew meeting that immediately follows the athlete meeting on Friday. It is a great idea to have them there to hear essential information and helpful tips directly from the race organizers.
3. Provide specific driving directions from aid station to aid station.
Few things can be more stressful on a crew than getting lost looking for an aid station. Review the Athlete Guide (including the sections on “Support Crews” and “Race Rules for Crews and Pacers”) as well as the Pacer/Crew info on the website, and write out specific directions from one station to the next. Even in this age of GPS and navigation systems, cell service may not be consistent and phone batteries can die. Include possible traffic, parking and walking time within the schedule you provide, and suggest a time at which they should try to arrive at each aid station to be prepared and relaxed.
4. Prep your pacer(s).
Your pacer can be an incredible support to you in the most challenging points of your 100-mile journey. Ideally, they have prior experience with ultrarunning and the course. However, that is not always the case, and even if it is, each runner has unique needs and desires from his/her pacer.
Specify ahead of time what you perceive to be your most important attributes in a pacer. Do you want someone who is chatty and will keep you entertained? Or would you prefer a “drill sergeant” who is there primarily to keep you moving, eating, drinking and giving you splits? Maybe a little of both? Do you prefer that they run ahead, beside or in front? Even if you think you know what you want, all of that could change depending on how your race is going, so be prepared for that, too. Things happen in a 100-mile race that don’t happen in many other events — even in other long-distance running or triathlons — so if your pacer is new to ultra, make sure they are aware that there will almost certainly come a time when it gets rough, and potentially really rough. Talk with your pacer before the race about how you would like them to deal with those rough spots, because decisions made in the moment can come back to haunt you (e.g. “Just how committed to finishing are you really?”).
Ultimately, it is the pacer’s job to help get you to the finish line, so clear communication up front regarding potential nutritional or physical issues will go a long way in making sure they do what you want.
Finally, one somewhat unique aspect of Leadville is that your pacer is allowed to “mule” for you by taking some of your gear if you choose (pack, water bottle, etc.). If you plan to do that, decide what that will entail so they can plan their own gear accordingly.
5. Be prepared to be self-sufficient.
Here’s the part where I contradict it all. You know the saying about “the best laid plans?” Well, in the unlikely event something unforeseen happens, you cannot blame your crew or pacer. Be aware of what is at the aid stations and be prepared to go it solo if something goes wrong. The aid stations are well stocked with nutrition/hydration essentials, and your drop bags should contain everything else you really need. This is your race, your journey and in the end — while it may not have been possible to get to race day without the love and support of family and friends — once the gun goes off it really is you, your legs and your “grit, guts, and determination” that will get you back to the red carpet on Sixth Street in less than 30 hours. You can do it! We do this for fun, remember?
Best of luck to all. I have enjoyed sharing a little of this experience with you and look forward to seeing you all on the course in a few weeks and, if all goes well, at the finish line.
Note: If you are still looking for crew and pacers, many of the local Life Time members as well as lots of local runners and enthusiasts may be willing to help. One great option may be to post on the Leadville Race Series Facebook page or reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t make any promises, but I can surely get the word out.