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Race Support: "Crewing 101"

This section covers the following aspects of race support: crew and handlers, race support requirements, logistics, equipment, and gives you a glimpse of what to expect.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side

Basics of Race Support

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:

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.

Clouded thinking/confusion/hallucinations
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.

Frequent urination
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).

Pain/nausea/muscle tightness/etc
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.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side


Crew Chief Checklist

Following checklist is applicable for a designated Crew Chief, single person crew or handler, or self-supported athlete.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side


Support Vehicles

Little can be added to John Marino's (founder of RAAM and the Furnace Creek 508) article on Furnace Creek 508 site.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side



In addition to coaching services, 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.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side


Lighter Side of Crewing

Am I capable of crewing? Probably, if you'll answer yes to the following:

Things that racer doesn't want to hear from the crew.

Why would anyone agree to crewing?

What crew will hear during the race.

Basics of Race Support | Equipment Checklist | Vehicular Support | Rent-a-Crew | Lighter Side


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