How far do the CREW have to run…?

Having swapped a few (erratically timed) emails with Alan during the night, and also had some input from Tim, I thought it might be interesting to give a context for how tough an event of this nature can be for the crew.

It will probably be reasonably obvious that – with William on the track for about 20hrs out of every 24 – the crew don’t usually get much time for sleep.

Even when not actively doing things like mixing drinks, writing down times (etc), the crew has to be “standing by” in case (for example) the runner needs to change clothes (take off a layer in hot weather, add one at night – etc.  A runner can’t conjure them out of thin air or just drop them on the track) – and so on.

But despite lack of sleep, quite apart from having to remain alert and focused enough to accurately record data and to mix drinks in their proper ratios (this is far more important than you might imagine – a mistake with the amount of carbohydrates or electrolytes could see a runner end up either vomiting  at the side of the track or collapsing in exhaustion), there is another strain put on the crew – they have to run as well.

William with crewman Tim Rainey

In most ultra-races (including the Athens 1000 mile World Cup), the crew are not allowed to actually accompany an athlete all the way around the track (this is variously to avoid cluttering up the running track with a lot of extra bodies and also to stop the crew “pacing” for the runner). However, there is a section of the track in which the crew can run alongside the runner e.g. in order to pass the a drink or a towel, hand them clothing, tell them a distance etc.

As the Athens 1000 mile race rules state :

During the course of the marathon, guests [crew] are allowed to provide aid to athletes only at specific locations so designated by the Organizing Committee of the run. Any violation on the part of the guest will result in disqualification of the participant.”

This means that any communication or passing of objects (food, clothing, drinks etc) between the crew and the runner has to take place in a fairly short space of time and on only one area of the length of the track. Unless the runner plans on stopping, the only way to do this is for the crew to run alongside the runner. It’s a bit like doing a relay.

You may be thinking “So what?” – it surely isn’t a big deal to run for a short way to give William a drink. Well, the thing is, this is an ultra-distance event – so the “short way” a crewman has to run is repeated rather a lot of times during the race…

Alan wrote last night

“As you may be aware, crewing does in fact involve them running  / walking quite a lot of the time (I am sure you remember Perth, Shaun, perhaps you have that picture of you and William). So we decided to take the opportunity to carry out a little trial.” (to see roughly how far the crew actually run)
Alan continues

“Tim wore his Garmin,, and recorded 5 miles during the last 5 hour segment of Williams work. So using the course measurers SCF (SHORT COURSE FACTOR and rounding down to 4 miles, Tim reckons, that 4 sessions per day @ 4 miles gives 16 miles per day and 112 miles per week.  !!!!!!!!!!”

(I’ll mention that Alan is officially qualifed to meassure race courses so his figures are probably pretty reliable here)

Alan concluded

“p.s. Tim has two blisters and very sore feet”

Tim confirmed this saying

“I wore my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch for one 5 hour stint yesterday-I covered nearly 5 miles (4.78),  We do  4 of those 5 hour sessions each day with a short break and miss one every two days for sleep so I’m covering 15-20 miles a day.  That’s 100 mile a week.  No wonder my feet are sore and my calf muscles have been twitching all week.  Good job I’m marathon training!!”

Ah, the joys of crewing, I remember it well – lack of sleep, aching legs, sunburn mixed with hours of standing around in the pouring rain – who could ask for more?

–  Application forms to crew for William at his next event are available at your nearest psychiatric clinic.