By Clint Cherepa
After ten years of ultrarunning, I am finally crewing a fellow ultrarunner. The decision to crew my sister for her first 50-mile ultra in 2015 was easy, but sticking to it was difficult. One of my ultra-pals emailed me, “Hey, there is a 100K the day before your sister’s race. We could do it and still finish on time to crew your sister.” It was like offering a belt buckle to a 100-mile junkie. I resisted, and instead, I signed on the dotted line to crew my sister during her first 50-mile ultramarathon, the Marquette Trail 50.
Her crewing history
My little sister has loyally crewed and supported me in a number of ultramarathons. During one particular tough 50, my iliotibial band malfunctioned and she paced me while I was injured. She was not planning to pace me, but she did it last minute, running in a pair of Chaco sandals through the gnarliest terrain. I would not have finished that race without her help. It is now my turn to return her many crewing favors.
Her first 50-miler is now history, and I don’t regret one minute of it because it made me a better ultrarunner.
Here’s why every ultrarunner should take their turn at giving back, and crew at ultramarathons.
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Like most ultrarunners, I never tire of the ultra-race weekend vibe. We got to Marquette nice and early, so that my sister could pick up her race packet and we could set up campsite at the race. One great thing about the Marquette ultra is that it is about five minutes from the city of Marquette, Mich., and yet, it still holds on to its rugged feel. Andrew Grosvenor, the race director, offers a camping area right next to the race start/finish, which we took advantage of. The site was abuzz with pre-race anticipations and excitement. I was not racing, but I still found myself eyeing the competition and nudging my little sister, “I think you will beat him to the finish.”
Afterwards we headed to town for some grub and brew. Marquette offers some decent places to eat. We ate at The Sweet Water café, and then hit Blackrocks Brewery up for a growler of I.P.A.
An ultra does not need be run to be enjoyed. I enjoyed this race weekend experience, and remember more of it than any of my own ultras.
Make it their weekend
As crew, it is important to make sure the racer has what they need. It is their weekend. This means eating where they need to eat the night before, getting everything set up the night before, being where they need you during the race and taking care of them after the race. Being a crew member is a practice of altruism at its finest. At one point, my sister ran out of the gels she likes, and my dad drove to town and bought her a load of her favorite gels at a great local outdoor sporting goods store, Down Wind Sports.
Know the course
I never have been the kind of ultrarunner that studies the course before the race, even though it would help. For my sister’s race it was different, I needed to know where we were going and how to get there. The Marquette course is really simple to get around, most aid stations only being a five- or ten-minute drive, and as mentioned, town is always close if you need to get anything to eat. We even were able to order a pizza at Vango’s, and pick it up during the race, and it was such awesome pizza, we got more for after the race.
Maps were essential. By the time it was done, I could get to and from the aid/crew stations with my eyes closed.
You don’t need to be an ultrarunner
Crewing was a family affair. My dad was ready to crew her since the first day she mentioned it to him. During the months leading up to the race he regularly asked her, “So what do you want me to do for you during the race?”
My mom and wife also were there for moral support and watching my sister’s five year old daughter.
Our dad is an avid endurance cyclist and has abundant knowledge of what a person needs nutritionally, mentally and physically to finish a tough event. We were ready at every aid station with ice, gels, drink mix and fresh shoes and socks if she needed them. My dad did end up changing her socks for her at one aid station.
The whole family shared in the race experience and enjoyed it.
Emotionally tied in
Crewing involves more than I thought, especially emotionally. I started to think about what if she doesn’t finish. She had trained so hard, and been anticipating the race for so long, she needed to finish. She was never in real danger of not finishing, but the cut off times were always in the back of my mind.
I wanted her to finish more than I ever wanted to finish my own ultramarathons.
Follow the rules
The Marquette Trail 50 doesn’t allow pacers for the 50-mile race. There is also a 100K that does allow for pacers. Not pacing was hard. But the race director being the laid-back kind of guy you expect to direct ultras, did tell me he had no problem if I wanted to run back from some of the aid stations to meet her on the trail. I tried this at a couple aid stations and I was stoked to be able to bring her daughter about a half-mile in from the finish so that she could run across the finish line with her mom.
Inspire, motivate, kick yourself
If you are feeling a lack of ultrarunning motivation, all that is needed is one dose of ultra-crewing and you will be back on the wagon. I am sure any ultrarunner who has crewed can attest to the burn of wanting to be in the race, trudging the uphills, feeling your thighs burn on the downhills, sweating it out to the finish. If anything, it ensured that I return to Marquette to run the race.
I love the euphoria that comes with finishing an ultra and the same ultra-mileage high comes after crewing an ultrarunner to a finish. The sensation makes you want to come back for more. My crewing days are not over, especially now that I understand how crewing makes for a stronger ultrarunner.