How to Be a Good Support Crew Member

When run­ners talk about train­ing for extreme dis­tances, there are a few top­ics that always come up: how many miles a week they’re putting in, what injuries or obsta­cles are they fac­ing as the race nears (run­ners tend to be a bit on the neu­rot­ic side, so there is always some­thing that they’ll squeeze into this cat­e­go­ry), and who they have assem­bled for a sup­port crew. That last one is one of the scari­est aspects of long-dis­tance run­ning, because it’s an exter­nal ele­ment that the run­ner can’t con­trol. It’s also what the run­ner depends on to get them to the fin­ish line no mat­ter what.

scFirst off, let’s clar­i­fy that the term ‘sup­port crew’ can vary large­ly depend­ing on the event. A sup­port crew can range from your sig­nif­i­cant oth­er who feels oblig­at­ed to meet you at a turn-around point on your 20-mil­er to exchange your water bot­tles with fresh ones, to a few friends each run­ning a leg of the race along­side you to help pace and offer words of encour­age­ment when need­ed, to a van full of peo­ple sup­port­ing dif­fer­ent aspects of your race, includ­ing pac­ers, nutri­tion­ists, and medics. Sup­port crews are most often used in races longer than a marathon, usu­al­ly called ultramarathons.

Being on a sup­port crew is a fun way to expe­ri­ence the world of extreme dis­tances with­out hav­ing to put in thou­sands of train­ing miles, blood, sweat, tears (and, hon­est­ly, a fair amount of oth­er bod­i­ly secre­tions). Mem­bers of sup­port crews are won­der­ful peo­ple that give up an entire day or week­end of their time to help a friend accom­plish a great goal. Although few run­ners would ever dare offer a com­plaint about their sup­port crew, there are cer­tain­ly a few point­ers a run­ner would great­ly appre­ci­ate all mem­bers of their crew hav­ing been told by some­one else.

erKnow your runner’s moti­va­tions
Everyone’s per­son­al fire is stoked a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly. Be sure to have a cou­ple con­ver­sa­tions with your run­ner to know what moti­vates them best when they are hit­ting their wall. Do they want to know their pace? Do they like the ‘tough love’ coach­ing approach? Do they want you to talk about their fam­i­ly? Is there a spe­cif­ic life event that spurred their desire to fin­ish this race? Do they want you just run next to them quietly?

Car­ry a vari­ety of food and liq­uid
Your run­ner will most like­ly know exact­ly what they want to eat and drink (what­ev­er they’ve been using dur­ing their train­ing), which should def­i­nite­ly be your pri­or­i­ty, but throw in a few extra salt packs, GUs, Cliff bars, chia seeds, and some NUUN tablets as well. If your run­ner hits a wall that seems insur­mount­able and is real­ly threat­en­ing their race, per­haps a slight­ly dif­fer­ent nutri­tion punch will be just the extra boost they need. This adds a bit more weight to your load, but at the end of the day, that’s what you’re there for.

Lis­ten to your run­ner
Although you are there to encour­age your run­ner to go far­ther and hard­er than they think they can, this does not mean push­ing them to the point of injury. Lis­ten care­ful­ly to your runner’s com­ments to deter­mine if they are mere­ly hit­ting a nor­mal low or if they are tru­ly on the verge of seri­ous ill­ness or injury.

waFinal­ly, avoid the fol­low­ing phras­es
“You’re almost there,” “Keep run­ning,” and “Look­ing good!” Although said with only the best of inten­tions, these phrased do lit­tle but annoy run­ners on the move by point­ing out the obvi­ous with­out any use­ful tips on how to over­come the pure exhaus­tion they are like­ly feeling.

Instead, offer more spe­cif­ic encour­age­ment
Such as how many miles until the next water stop – or to the next tree, or curve in the road, or rock…it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter. Giv­ing them a short-term goal to focus on can remove the over­whelm­ing feel­ing of the rest of the race still loom­ing before them. Also, phras­es such as “Look­ing strong” or “look­ing focused,” work bet­ter than the gener­ic “look­ing good,” because even if you’re lying, words like ‘strong’ and ‘focused’ help remind a run­ner where they want (and need) their mind­set to be if it’s not already there.

Vol­un­teer­ing your time to be on a sup­port crew is a won­der­ful thing to do that would bring tears of appre­ci­a­tion to most runner’s eyes. It’s also a fun and unique way to expe­ri­ence extreme races with­out end­ing up walk­ing fun­ny for the next few days.