Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Crew-tial Success Element for Succeeding at Western States

In the last few days, I've developed a special appreciation for one of the crucial elements to success in a 100-mile race - my crew. I haven't done too many of these 100-milers, so like many, I often read a list of finishers for a race and think "good for her/good for him". I tend to forget there is an army of people behind each name making sure they get to the finish in one piece.

The Western States 100 looks especially trying for crew members. Not only is it point to point, but you've got to hustle up and down crazy roads, hike miles into aid stations with coolers of ice, stay up all night, and somehow managing to stay just a bit more level-headed than your runner. Just reading Laurie Thornley's advice shows you how much effort is going to go into the planning, execution, and troubleshooting of a 20-30 hour event. It takes a village!

I've been working with my crew, Brian and Dan (my brother-in-law and his neighbor), over the last few weeks to iron out the details. And there are a LOT of details. I had conveniently asked them to crew for me after about six beers months before the event, receiving a resounding "hell, yes!". Now I was wondering if the hangover was going to sober them right up and realize this was actually going to take some work. The crew guide I wrote for them is five pages long, details how to change my socks and shoes when I can't reach down to tie them, and ends with "by the way, I'm likely to be a complete asshole the last six hours". Dude. It's one thing to ask a fellow ultrarunner, but yikes. My spidey-sense is telling me I'm asking WAAAY too much from these guys but they are just too nice to admit it.

The guilt got to me, so I suggested an easier day of crewing and some options to opt out. The conversation went something like this:
Scott - Perhaps I could drive myself to the start, and you guys can check in on me at Robinson Flat...that way you don't have to get up too early and your day starts around Noon.

Dan - Perhaps you should let your crew decide what is best. Where's the first aid station we can be? Then that's where we'll be. That and every aid station from there to the finish where your crew is permitted.

Scott - Well, maybe you could just hit the aid stations that are easy to drive to, like Foresthill.

Brian - Dude...half the fun is trying to figure out how we're going to get all this stuff down to these crazy places before you get there. It's a complete adventure! And there's no way we're missing the River Crossing. That's photo gold, even if we have to trudge a few miles.

Scott - I would completely understand if you want to just meet me at the finish if this all gets old at some point.

Dan and Brian - Oh, we'll see you at the finish alright. Because we'll be waiting for you at Robie Point and telling you to move your ass so we can get our free breakfast.
Then it dawned on me...they REALLY want to do this! They want all the adventure, fun, spills and thrills of a 100-mile adventure. It's frankly, the closest they ever want to be to running an ultra, but gives them a great taste for what it is.

Just knowing how excited they are to be a part of this event has boosted my spirits and nearly eliminated any remaining doubts I have about the big day (nearly, that is...always a few lingering doubts, no?). If anything happens, my crew will be there for me, and we'll figure it out together. Phew! What a relief.

Damn. This crew thing sounds pretty cool. Maybe I should give it a try!

- SD

My fellow synchrobloggers are chiming in with their last minute thoughts/advice on Western States, so be sure to read on:

Craig Thornley talks about pacing
Bryon Powell takes bets on the top finishers
Sean Meissner gives kudos to his teammates
AJ Wilkins gives his last-minute thoughts


  1. Good luck man. I will follow you up on! Have fun and be safe!


  2. Good luck, sir!

    I'll be following along on my phone while attending a wedding. My friends tried their best not to interfere with any major sporting events. Little do they know... :)

  3. Crewing and pacing at WS is great - you get to experience the race without the months of training and without all the pain of actually running 100 miles. I even get to run the river crossing!

  4. You've got some great friends. I always feel bad asking my friends to help out on my races but they usually don't seem to mind either. I thought it was because they were just good dudes but maybe its the adventure they get out of it...I should have known they really weren't that nice. : )

  5. Your crew sounds awesome, Scott! No doubt they will have the time of their life...well, or close to, anyway.

  6. Ever since my first crew/pacer experience in 2004 (what was 2 100 milers of my own later) I figured I love this thing more than being in a race itself! I get to kick butt and be a drill sergeant (suites my military personality), cater to runner (suits my medical profession personality), run on great trails last 20-50 miles (suits my trail runner personality), be fresh at the finish (suits my female personality for photo-opt), and get lots of glory (because my runners always exceed their expectations, duh!). In fact, now that I kind of plod with no particular goals, I love crewing and pacing as my primary job, and intend to turn it into full time hobby! Dude, leave your crew alone, don't spoil the fun!!!

  7. Sounds like the perfect crew! All the best, Scott. I hope to see you (and your crew) at the Michigan Bluff AS.

  8. I love reading your blog Scott. Sounds like you have a good team. :) I can relate. I am manning an aid station for a 100M race this summer and I SUPER excited about it!

  9. Enjoy yourself and experience the moment. I will be following you on the livecast. Have a great day!

  10. Great stuff Scott. Your crew is right. This day is one HUGE adventure if you are crewing, spectating or volunteering doing safety patrol or aid station duty.

    You have spectacular remote places, the best of the best elite runners and crowds so big it's like being at the superbowl - in some places the crowds even are in the hundreds! How's that for a trail ultra!

    Did you warn your crew that they might be putting their names in a lottery in the near future? This is how the obsession starts for many.

    Cheers, Paul

  11. Great post. Good luck to you and have fun!

  12. Sounds like your crew will be having and good time, and doing a good job. Just make sure they don't start in on the beer until after you cross the finish line! ;)
    Good luck, Scott, and have fun!!

  13. I am so excited for you! Best wishes to the entire "team." Look forward to meeting you at the end. My company will be drawing for electrolytes/ cardiac enzymes.

  14. Scott,
    I can relate to your crew. I will be volunteering at the finish, since I did not get in this year. I am so looking forward to helping out I said I would do two shifts. I ran WS in 2007 and it is an AWESOME experience.
    see you at the finish.



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