Crew/Handlers & Pacing Your Runner


Experience From - Geri Kilgariff , Laurie Staton , Chip Marz , Gary Wang, Jay Hodde, Blake Wood, Unknown, John Davis, Karl King #1, Karl King #2, Bill McDermott, Shawn McDonald ,

Geri Kilgariff

Subject: What's a Handler?

Handlers are your personal slaves during a race. They sacrifice their entire day (or weekend, depending on the race) to wait for you endless hours at aid stations and cater to your every whim. They'll also kick your ass out if you linger too long and talk you out of dropping when you'd rather just quit and have a beer. Also known as crew members, these self-sacrificing individuals should be treated like gold. A good crew can make a race for you.

Laurie Staton

Subject: What's a Handler?

A handler is a sort of antiquated term for a crew member...a patient & saintly person who volunteers vast amounts of time, & effort to assist a runner during a race...driving unmarked dusty roads from checkpoint to checkpoint, finding drop bags, setting out lawn chairs, clothing, shoes, food...changing socks, washing & re-greasing feet, continuing to encourage, you name it...only to pack it all up & set it all up again & again & again & again during a single race.

CREW is an acronym for Crabby Runner, Endless Waiting.

Chip Marz

Subject: What's a Handler?

A handler would be someone who helps you at a race, supplying food, fluids, and other supplies, maybe even motivation. A handler would be someone YOU recruit to help YOU (tho they could assist others if you allowed/they were so inclined), like a spouse/friend, as opposed to aid station personnel supplied by the race organizers. Handlers can be called by other names, like "crew." In the heat of battle, they sometimes get called less attractive names.

There are probably other things that could be added to my definition/job description, but selection and use of handlers is a personnel issue, like so much else in our sport.

Ya really wanna treat good handler nicely, so they'll keep helping ya!

Gary Wang

Subject: The Art of Crewing

"A race is just a race, but a friend who paces you is a friend for life." - Joseph Franko

Before The Race

What To Carry: (ask the runner before the race)

On The Trail


Runner Wants to Quit

Food and Water

When it's dark ...

In the Aid Station

Be sensitive to the runner!

Jay Hodde

Subject: Crewing

Don't make a big deal out of the "mistake", but during the event, remind him that he is ahead of schedule. Don't dwell on it, though, because there is always that ONE RUN where going faster than planned yields a finish PR.

Your runner knows he is ahead of the plan. He has accepted the risks that come with that. And he has accepted that a fast early lead may lead to a terrible finish or even a DNF -- but there's always that chance that the body will respond and that the haste at the start will reap benefits at the end.

"He also tried a new brand of "drink" that someone gave him. I really thought this was a bad idea, but I didn't say anything. (What do I know about running?) He got very sick from the drink."

I've been known to try different things for the first time in a race. I've gotten sick from some of the things, but others have worked wonderfully (same goes for aid station food). Tell him your thoughts, but fill his bottles with the stuff when he asks for it :-). When it comes down to it, it's his race and he must be ultimately responsible for the outcome. What if the drink worked?

"Afterwards I decided that I don't know much about running, but after running for several hours maybe my friend is not thinking at all. What is the answer?"

I think the answer is that running for hours does different things to different people. I have never lost my ability to think clearly in a run -- maybe I'm unique in this regard.

The crew's main responsibility is for mental and emotional support. Always be positive and politely suggestive -- and you will win your runner's trust. remember, we DO rely on you guys for a lot!

Blake Wood

Subject: Giving Suggestions to Your Runner

"Should the crew just sit by and say nothing when the runner maybe making a serious mistake?"

No, I think the crew should definitely speak up. I find that in hundreds I tend to get a bit forgetful, and one of the major values of a crew is to help me remember what I should be doing. Here's three examples:

  1. I sit in an aid station, and will drink as long as I have a cup in hand, but don't think to ask for it, and don't feel like getting up to get it. I always instruct my crew before the run to keep bringing me cups of water until I explicitly tell them to stop, and not to wait for me to ask for it.

  2. At AC100 a few weeks ago, I came into Chantry Flats feeling quite nauseous. After sitting around for a few minutes, not feeling any better, my wife finally said "if you're going to feel sick anyway, why don't you get going?" Good advice - I said to myself "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

  3. AT Hardrock last summer, I came into Ouray having pretty much decided to drop out - I really felt burned out! Both my crew and another runner (Gordon Hardman) urged me to take a good long rest since I had so much time to spare, and decide after that. I slept for an hour and continued, eventually finishing relatively well. Without a crew, or with a crew who didn't speak up, I would probably have dropped there.


Subject: Giving Suggestions to Your Runner

I would have tried gently but firmly to get my message about the fast start across to my runner early. he/she should at least listen to you and I you have a responsibility to tell him/her that. also, you will (justifiably I think) fell rotten if you think it but do not say it.

I firmly believe, as a runner and a crew member - both for over 10 years - that it is unwise most of the time for most runners to try anything new on race day. there is plenty of time between races to experiment. sure, something new might work well but I personally have decided it's not worth the risk of tampering with my tried and true game plan.

John Davis

Subject: Preparing an Aid Stop for Your Runner

When I come to a crew place, I do not know what the crew will have for me. Maybe they forgot or misplaced that which I want. They are doing it for me and I don't want to scare them off by being a grouch. I try to accept what is offered, often to my detriment. Gentle pushing for something else is usually about as far as the prodding will go. I will see them in a few miles and they may have it there. (The swap of regular glasses for sun glasses extended over four aid stations at Knee Knackerer. I thought of it after I left the first one, mentioned it at the second, missed them at the third, and swapped at the fourth.)

The desire for the crew should be to lay out everything you can think of. Make it the greatest menu in the area. Dumb things, cold things, wet things, red things, every things. I will then select that which is wanted at the moment and probably I did not even know what I wanted. I didn't loose it (completely) but just did not concentrate on the options because I did not know how original the crew would be. Surprise me. (But do not limit the spread.) Try to match the types of things I have used before to keep that "first time" disaster from happening. I have used drinks to excellent effect when others have used the same stuff and died in 100 yards.

A recommendation on one key element from another post: It is the runners problem if he/she was utterly dumb in pacing or eating or drinking. The runner can gripe if the crew tried to warn gently. Don't force. You will get resentment and the runner will then say you caused the DNF. You know better but the mind most often will blame everything but that which caused the real problem. I can think up a reason why I DNFed faster than any crew member can. I can then explain it to you for the next 10 hours, as well.

CREW= Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting.

Karl King #1

Subject: Giving Suggestions to Your Runner

Unless the runner is delirious, it is always the runner's race and the crew is there to honor whatever requests are made. Any comments regarding pacing, condition, etc should be as factual as possible. Never try to "fool" the runner into some alteration of strategy, no matter how well intentioned.

The crew can make a contribution by anticipating a runner's needs. The runner is focused on physical performance, and may not be in a sharp mental state. A crew can offer or suggest things which the runner may not have thought of. Those can be offered to the runner. They may or may not be accepted; that is the runner's choice.

Crewing is a lot of hard work, but it can be very rewarding, regardless of the outcome of the event.

Karl King #2

Subject: Crewing

Crewing for Suzi was quite an experience. My experience with 100's is a drop in the bucket compared to hers, so I learned a lot just by watching and listening.

Since it was her performance, not mine, I'll leave any telling of the tale to her. Below are some of my thoughts on 100's as the event took place:

  • Preparing an Aid Stop for Your Runner

    It helps to be organized and have your stuff together so that it isn't a panic when you need something. We had essentially a bag of clothes, a bag of accessories, and a cooler with drink and food. Critical items were carried by the runner.

    It is wise to note on an out-and-back course where you are 10 minutes after the start and 1 hour after the start. That could be useful if you're pushing a limit on the way back.

    A crew needs to plan carefully for their own needs ( knowledge of the area, food, sleep ) so they don't let their runner down when it counts. Where are your breakfast, lunch and dinner going to come from? Did you bring enough water for yourself?

    In the 40 hours around the event, I got 20 minutes of sleep. There were nap times planned, but adrenalin prevented me from sleeping except for a spot around 4 a.m., 12 hours after the start. Crew should have a portable alarm clock or a watch with an alarm function.

  • Preparing an Aid Station

    A crew should arrive at an aid station early, survey the food and supplies so they know what is available for the runner. It is very educational to watch runners come in and see how they're dressed, what they eat and drink, and how they deal with adversity.

    An experienced runner deals with problems ASAP rather than run on until it gets too bad to recover. Suzi had three minor problems which she dealt with effectively before they became major.

    Some people don't know how to be happy on the trail. Last year we skated through 8 miles of very slippery mud on the Muir section. This year, a few complained that the dry trail was compacted and hard on their feet. Boo hoo.

    Suzi never complained and found time to collect trash which other runners had left on the trail.

    If you run or crew at a 100, you should be comfortable with and not afraid of the night. You need to have flashlights or lanterns in working order and have a backup in case of failure. Some people avoid 100's because of the night, but for me it is a wonderful experience to be on the trail when all is dark and quiet. Some flowers give off their scent only during darkness. There was lots of honeysuckle on the course and some evening scented stock. The singing of the birds at dawn was worth the price of admission.

    An experienced runner knows his or her limits and can therefore push those limits for hours. We saw a number of runners who pushed too hard in the early going and paid for it later. Runners who had previously done 100's or 24 hour runs clearly had learned their lessons and went out more carefully. One fast young woman sat at the 68.5 mile station trying to recover from her near total crash. Al Zeller helped mightily but she was toast. In contrast, 24 hour veteran Bonnie Busch came in with some foot woes, cheerfully dealt with them and went on to finish.

    It helps to have a sense of humor. Looking at Bonnie's feet, Pat Gorman pulled out his camera and asked the bystanders to get out of the way so he could get a better shot of the blood.

    Crewing in a 100 is a day off for the muscles, but not for the endocrine system; I was fired up for the event almost as much as if I were running it. I thought I might get in a couple short runs while waiting for Suzi to run the 8 and 7 mile sections. Bad idea - there just wasn't time or energy for that.

    The next morning I went out for a 20 miler and was so tired it took half the run just to wake up.

  • Pacing Your Runner:

    A pacer should know the course and terrain, and be perfectly happy to adjust his/her pace to suit the runner. Gregg Heinrichs did a fine job of pacing, including humor as needed.

    By all means, take a camera. The shots I got during the run are priceless. Any 100 is a unique experience, so the photos will be something to put in an album. I did not take any pictures at night because I didn't want the flash to interfere with Suzi's night vision.

    Crewing was great fun, but also hard work. For those of you who haven't done a 100 but are thinking about it, try crewing first. You will share the joy of success in such a demanding run, and you will be sobered by the difficulty you'll see written on the faces after 50 miles. There are great rewards in a 100, but you'll have to risk failure to enjoy them.

    Bill McDermott

    Subject: Pacing Your Runner

    In response to the concern of a crew member dealing with judgment errors by the runner:

    I use to tell myself and other runners that we learn all of our lessons the hard way. That was before there were many experienced runners and before information was so widely available in magazines, books, clubs, and the ultra list. Even now that there is so much information available, I haven't changed my opinion one bit. We still learn all of our lessons the hard way. A runner can read or be told about everything there is to be known about dehydration or pacing or any other strategy, but until he has done it wrong, he is not going to learn how to do it right.

    A pacer can encourage and advise but should not feel obligated or responsible for a runner making good or bad strategic decisions. In general, a runner is going to follow his own course of action. The best thing a friend can do is wait until the race is over and remind the runner to seriously think about what he has learned from this race and what he might do different at the next one.

    Nothing makes an ultra runner faster than experience.

    Shawn McDonald

    Subject: Pacing Your Runner

    1. Make sure you have plenty of flashlights, batteries, and extra bulbs, etc with you in your running pack and in drop bags along the course, always carry a main light and a spare, know how to change the batteries in the dark

    2. Practice running on trails in the dark.

    3. Get a race plan from your runner as to when they expect to be at certain aid stations, and plan on arriving at any aid stations to see them, at least 45 mins. in advance. over the course of 30 or 50 miles things can change a lot and your runner can get "off schedule" due to any number of reasons.

    4. Ask your runner if they expect any help from you in terms of crewing, and if so, what type of help, coordinate this with others people in your runners crew.

    5. Eencourage your runner to keep eating and drinking fluidsat a steady rate, both at aid stations and between aid stations; help them fill their fluid bottles at the aid stations and gather food for them to eat there and for them to carry for the next couple of miles

    6. Be patient with your runner in the late night hours, they will be tired, probably sleepy, and maybe cranky; keep them moving forward and if they are amenable, tell stories or talk about life in general

    7. It is likely your runner will feel better after the sun comes up, so encourage them that this will be the case and continue to tell them they are doing well and that it will be really exciting to reach the finish line

    8. Be prepared to keep yourself in good shape to so you can best serve your runner, keep eating and drinking regularly throughout the day and during the pacing, wear or put warmer clothes out in your drop bags since it might get cool at night and you will not be moving as fast as you would on a regular training run.

    9. Your runners mental abilities might not be up to full steam after 70 or 80 miles so if they have particular goals you can keep track of the progress and encourage them that they might finish in such and such a time, or that the last section took 90 minutes and that they are a certain amount of time ahead of the cutoff time or a particular pace split, for this it pays to know your runners planned splits, goal times, and to study split charts in the entrants handbook

    10. When your runner encounters "bad patches" encourage them to walk it out, to have some food and drink some fluids, and that in a little while they will feel better; expect this cycle to happen several/many times during your pacing segment.

    11. Lastly, make sure you read the entrants information/handbook as it has lots of good information, maps, race rules etc.

    Pacing is a great way to see a particular event up close, to learn the details of what it takes to successfully complete such a race, and to gain experience running on trails in the dark. It should be a fun time and don't be surprised if you find yourself thinking about entering a 100 mile race sometime not long after you pace. Good luck to you and your runner!