Crewing an Ultra
by Scott Horns
Ultraman is like any other long race or adventure we sign up for 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 and nutrition. For any ironman or 24-hour mountain bike race you can get by with this last minute planning. But in Ultraman it's 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 two different athletes. If you decide to crew for someone make sure you know the person well and make sure you can handle it when the athlete is at his or her worst.
My first two crewing experiences involved a crew of seven (including a film crew). The athlete was a very good friend for years and I coached him as well. He was the ideal 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. 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 learned were critical 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 on day 3 when my athlete was vomiting for miles and decided to quit early in the run, I certainly did little to argue -- we had realized throughout the first two days that he did not listen to our advice.
What did I learn for these experiences? The most important issue is making sure the athlete has support in the months leading into the event, not just the week of the race. My opinion is that you should 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:
The good news for those that decide to crew:
Scott Horns has competed in endurance sports for 20 years. During this time he has raced in 14 international Ironman triathlons and qualified for the World Championship Ironman Hawaii triathlon. He is a certified USA Triathlon Coach, USA Cycling coach, EMT-B, a graduate of the University of Toledo (Finance) and the United States Sports Academy (M.S.S. in Sports Medicine). He feels that achieving balance in life is essential to achieving goals. Being a quality athlete involves more than just training hard, it requires a certain level of ethics and state of mind. Finding and maintaining balance will result in longevity and success.
Scott is the Sr. Wellness Director for the Downtown Orlando YMCA and owner of Bella Multisport Coaching. Scott and his family live in Orlando, Florida.