Some say that crewing could be harder than racing itself... Crew members rarely get to sleep a night prior to the event, they obviously get little rest during the race, and too busy to relax cleaning and packing after the finish. Crew main responsibility lies in looking after every possible need of the athlete, providing medical aid and body maintenance tasks; preparing fresh apparel and shoes; managing fluid replacement and nutrition schedules; renting, delivering, assembling and maintaining equipment and gear; laundry; setting up and manning transition and feeding zones; monitoring athlete's mental and physical status; catering to his mind, body, and mental state (by pacing, keeping times and counting laps, massaging, encouraging, and motivating); and managing relationships with race directors, event organizers, other racers and their support. Because of such severe demands on crew (and due to the direct correlation between quality of support and their athlete's successful finish), crew should be selected from the people athlete trusts and/or respects (or from complete strangers, so athlete does not have any prior negative experiences). Close relatives could be a wrong choice for a crew due to an increased levels of empathy for an athlete that may affect rational decision making during the race.
Support vehicle(s) crew is primarily responsible for providing a racer during point-to-point racing segment with nutrition and hydration; change of apparel and shoes; bikes and bike wheels; assorted tech support; navigation; motivation; cooling or warming athlete; a source of light at night; and protection from hostile traffic, humans and animals.
Confidence (or appearance of such) is of primary importance for the crew. As athlete's own mental and physical abilities will deteriorate, he/she instinctively will reach out to the crew to take a role of a parent; for approval, guidance, and support. Do not break a facade of confidence and optimism, hide "issues" to be resolved invisibly behind the back of an athlete. For example, if you are driving support vehicle and are lost or not sure of the directions, arrange immediate feeding/rest stop for an athlete while you look for the correct directions.
Don't let your athlete quit - motivate, trick, shame, and force them to continue. Don't over-empathize with your athlete, be unemotional and removed but coldly evaluative to analyze the reality (should you agree with a final desperate "I can't go on!" or should you forcefully remove your athlete from the course due to the potentially life-threatening conditions). The crew cannot win the race for the athlete but certanly crew can help to lose it.
Summary of what is expected from the crew:
Navigation guidance through the race course
Nurition and hydration provides nourishment
Equipment and mechanical assistance prepare needed gear, provides repairs.
Athlete body and medical assistance monitoring, first aid (for saddle sores, blisters, hyponatremia, and other ailments), massage and ability to resolve medical emergencies.
Resting and sleeping pre-arrange locations (hotel, tent, motorhome, van), preferably quiet, comfortable, and roomy.
Change of clothing discuss athlete needs for apparel and its locations. Anticipate weather/race segments to select and prepare appropriate apparel.
Information is power! Race and race course details, environmental and weather conditions, progress of the race, split times, location of the competition, average speed, and constant analysis to provide advice to augment athlete performance.
Motivation dispensed only if necessary as some experienced ultra racers have to motivate their own crews.
What behavior to expect from your athlete during the race
Simple-mindedness or IQ drop
You athlete will become very childlike during the race. Athlete's all mental and physical resources will be focused on covering the distance and completing the event. So treat athlete gently yet with firmness, and stay away from irony and sarcasm. Some athletes will take pleasure in simple jokes and funny stories, but complicated meanings will be lost on them. When you are trying to get them to eat or do something and they resist you must use all the tricks you would with a reluctant child, as "Here, try this energy bar. It's delicious. Mmmmm... I just ate one and thought it was great!", or "Yes, I promise we can do that later, but right now you need to run another loop."
Moodyness / crankiness
Your athlete will experience emotional highs and lows during the event based on pain, fatigue, mental composition/state, perceived performance (placing in the race compared to other competitors), etc. This is also partly due to bio-rhythms (some people will be very sleepy at 1am no matter what they are doing) but nutrition can play a huge role in controlling the lows. A steady supply of calories will generally keep the athlete's mood up (it's often observed that when your athlete becomes discouraged they are behind on calories). As soon as the sun comes up again you will find that your athlete (and the crew) will feel much better and act a lot more lively. In both women and men (although to a lesser extent) estrogen levels surge after about four hours of exercise, which results in weepiness and the ability to cry at the drop of a hat. These tears don't necessarily mean anything, and they often don't provide any sort of emotional catharsis either. It is parallel to the experience of pregnant women who cry frequently and sometimes for no reason. It is hormonal.
The dark of night is when your athlete's demons are likely to show themselves. Their vision may become distorted after a long day of bright sun, wind, driving rain, etc. which makes regular shapes look scarey. They will also be emotionally fragile after so many hours of pursuing single-mindedly their goal. They might become confused when features of a route they have memorized in daylight start to look different under shadows and dim light. Adding some fat calories in the night seems to help. It might be that they are in calorie deficit and fat delivers more bang for the bite than pure carbs do, and it may be the role of fat in the brain's serotonin production, but it works.
If your athlete starts to hallucinate the thing to do is play along with the hallucination, enter into such scenario and solve the problem, scare off the beast, whatever. But don't tell the athlete something isn't there that they can see quite clearly (like a 10 foot chicken, or swarms of attacking birds). Make sure the athlete understands you're there and that you will protect them.
This happens as soon as darkness falls and seems to stop as soon as the sun comes up. Reasons for this include body's reaction to the colder nights (need to expell extra liquid that body has to spent calories to keep warm) and to instinctive conditioning from the pre-historic human past (when one would prepare for a flight or for a battle that could begin at dawn and dictated body to shed unnecessary fluid weight).
Throughout a long event your athlete will experience many bodily sensations. Some of them will be great, and some of them will be very uncomfortable and even scary. Remind your athlete that whatever they are feeling at the moment will be different in 20 or 30 minutes, or an hour. If they are miserable and want to quit you should have them take a rest for 10-20-30-60 minutes (be sure to have them eat as much as they can tolerate before the rest break so they don't sink into calorie deficit) and then see how they feel. Many people have been able, eager even, to continue after a brief nap or a rest. It is a good idea to have them rest with their legs elevated to keep fluid from pooling in the lower legs. During this rest pain may well resolve, nausea may pass, and the focus can shift.
Above all, if the spirit of the crew is high, positive and they believe in their athlete's goal then the athlete will reflect their mood. If the crew is complaining, squabbling, and generally doesn't respect or appreciate the athlete's goal, the athlete will have a hard time.
Read article written by the crew from 2000 DecaTriathlon in Mexico.
Following checklist is applicable for a designated Crew Chief, single person crew or handler, or self-supported athlete.
Athlete - discuss the race, athlete's goals and strategy, plan nutrition and hydration schedules, equipment and bodily needs; pre-arrange communication signals, verbal "buttons".
Crew members - optimally 3 to 4 bodies, so people can be rotated from rest to support duties. Typical roles: handler, driver, food prep, time/lap keeper, bike mechanic, pacer, massage- and psycho-therapist, friend and enemy.
Support/pace vehicles - mini-vans preferred for the cycling segments and general race support. Recreational vehicles good primarily for the staging areas due to the size and unwieldiness. Pickup trucks have been used very successfully in relay cycling and running road races. Remember to gas up vehicle day before the race, and to research gas stations on the course. Mountain bikes are great for support during the running segments. Kayaks are indispensable for open-water swim segments (larger motor boats are more appropriate for pure open-water ultra swims and relay formats).
Vehicle roof racks - storage of bikes, wheels, kayaks, and other extra gear. Great for mounting lights (warning, turn signals, directional spotlight) and PA/music systems.
Vehicle signage - may be required by the event organizers. Always helpful for races on roads with heavy traffic. Highly visible (color in daylight, and reflective for nights) and intriguing signage promotes safety and interest in the sport. Sports Graffiti is one of the companies that can produce custom decals, banners and lettering for vehicles, bike frames and helmets (tel. (800) 591-9151).
Vehicle lights - may be used to provide greater front light sources for the rider. Emergency amber-colored lights visible to the rear; rear "slow moving vehicle" triangle sign; extra headlights; controlled manually from the panel inside the vehicle. Note of caution here... due to the requirements of certain U.S. state laws, additional driving lights are allowed as long as they are not higher than the windshield of the support vehicles. Some state laws forbids any roof mounted lights. Extra bumper mounted lights are allowed as long as they do not shine toward oncoming traffic. A combination of low fog lights to reduce shadows and directional spot lights or vehicle lights to see farther down the road seem to work best. Many states only allow four front bulbs to be on at one time. All lights must be able to be dimmed or extinguished when oncoming traffic approaches.
Staging/transition area - to be used for re-supply, rest, and assorted support stops. Should provide comfortable resting spaces both for the athlete and crew.
Tent/tarp/cover - sun/rain cover for the staging area. Tents can be used for transition changes, rests and bathroom stops.
Storage and assorted containers - easy access and sorting; protection against elements. To be used for water, nutrition, hudration drinks powders, apparel, etc.
Ice and ice chests - separate ice coolers for drinking water/eating ice and for cooling ice.
Bottled Water, waterbottles and containers - basically, water should be divided into two supplies: drinking/cooking and rinse water. Certain amount should be always be available cold.
Food preparation supplies - cutting board, knife, eating utensils, can opener, plastic baggies, foil, paper towels, disposable plates and cups, dishwashing liquid, blender, heater.
Crew packs - waistpacks with "must have" gear: communication equipment, minitool, mini First Aid kit, waterbottle, minilight.
Crew's nutrition - have crew-specific supplies ready prior to the race start. Try not to intermingle it with the racer's food.
Medical and health care supplies - coordinate with the racer. Basics: first aid kit, sunscreen, lip balm, skin lubricants (vaseline, Skinlube, Bag Balm, A&D Ointment, Un-Petrolium, Shamoo Butt-er), skin lotion, footcare (Compeed, Nu-Skin, moleskin, Ace bandage, band-aids, sports tape, foam pre-wrap), scissors, soap, mouthwash, toothpaste and toothbrush, pain-killers (ibuprofin, asprin, tylenol, etc.), treatment for GI problems (Tums, Rolaids, Pepto-bismo, etc.), No Doze, salt tablets, sting treatment kits, baby wipes, massage oil.
Bike parts and supplies - coordinate with the racer. Basics: floor pump, extra tubes and tires, tools, rags, lube, grease, bike lights, and electrical tape.
Clothes - comfort and protection against a variety of elements as crew tend to be outdoor 24 hours: layers, rain jackets, hats (sun and rain), gloves and socks, sandals, comfort shoes, and running sneakers. Crew may suffer more then its athlete, since (hopefully) racing efforts and goal to finish will keep athlete less focused on weather conditions.
Cutting implements - knifes (utility, home surgery, and food preparation) and scissors.
Tape - duct, clear, and electrical, also see medical supplies.
Lights - hand, flashers/strobe, extra vehicle, general staging/transition area floodlights.
Race-specific information - acquire and distribute copies of race instructions and maps, topo maps of racing course. Study the course description, and pre-drive/pre-ride/pre-run portions of or a complete course. Attend pre-race briefing. Research locations of near-by stores, hotels, hospitals, gas stations, bike shops.
Verbal entertainment/encouragement - stock up on stories, jokes, even books, to keep athlete's mind away from boredom and pain. Try to be sensetive and anticipate athlete's interests, beliefs and background. Be ready to shut yourself or crew members up when if becames clear that athlete doesn't want conversation. Reseach athlete's motivational "buttons"; in advance think about creative and positive things to say during crisis. Be smart and sensitive enough to recognize situation when you should be tactful and say nothing at all...
Timing systems - to measure race duration, choose level of complexity: from watch to specific timing software. Alarm clock: to be on time to the race start, to warn crew when shift is approaching or athlete due to arrive to T-zone, and to time rest stops. Timer devices (such as cooking timer) can be used for warnings to keep up with nutrition/hydration/supplements protocols.
Communication gear - crew needs to be connected for a variety of reasons: from simple request for gear to emergency cry for medical help. POD headphone systems works best in conjunction with short-range radios. Any form of com equipment is better than none; walkie-talkies, CB radios, telephones - all are acceptable and useful.
Assorted supplies - batteries, calculator, camera & film, garbage bags, antibacterial wipes, paper and regular towels, toilet paper, baggies, bungee cords, zip ties, rope, soft neoprene foam, magicmarkers and pens, clipboards and paper/charts, waterproof thermometer, umbrellas, hand-pumped garden spritzer, sound system and recordings, recording media (tape recorder, etc., is useful to save a record of athlete's speech and verbal exchanges between the athlete and crew).
In addition to coaching services, EnduranceWorld.com can provide Rent-a-Crew race support, crewing and pacing services. We can assemble a specific race-ready crews, or recommend an individual with a particular skills and experience. We can also train your own crew or provide equipment for them. While we focus on the races in North America, we can assemble crews for other international locations.