This past weekend, I had the privilege and pleasure of crewing Leighanna at the Mohican 50 miler. As you may recall, I was originally planning on running this race but due to my disc injury, I opted to defer my entry to 2018. Once I pulled the trigger on deferral, I immediately told Leighanna that I’d be there to crew her and we got to work on race planning and strategy.
The 50 mile course consists of 2 loops-1 measuring 27 miles, the other 23. It’s considered to be a pretty hilly and challenging course with a lot of climbing, technical single track, and even an infamous wall made of roots that you climb up. There are 3 aid stations that are accessible by crew and 1 non aid station that could be used as a crew access point during the first loop. The other aid stations were limited to race staff and volunteers only. My plan was to meet Leighanna at all crew access points.
The day started with a 4:30am wake up call followed by a lot of strong coffee and nervous energy. Leighanna, her mom Nancy, and I packed up and left our Airbnb home and made the 20 minute drive to the start. We arrived with plenty of time for last minute bathroom breaks, photo ops and a few more chances to review our plan for the day. The weather predicted hotter than average temps in the low 90’s with minimal cloud cover and no chance of rain. It was hot even before the sun rose which led to multiple reminders to hydrate from race officials prior to the start. At 6am sharp, the runners were off on their 50 mile journey. They headed down a short all purpose trail and in to the woods.
While Leighanna was beginning her race, Nancy and I headed to the local McDonalds to grab some coffee which a million other people also decided to do. Coffee is essential to race crewing but it is also the reason I missed Leighanna at the first aid station-I stood in a 25 minute line at McDonalds for crappy cup of coffee, behind 30 other super fit people who were also missing their runners at the first Aid Station. We booked it out as quickly as possible and made our way up the first of many winding country roads. Unfortunately, by the time we made it the first AS (Gorge Overlook, mile 4.1), it was clear that we missed Leighanna.
It was at this point that we met a new friend/fellow race crew’er Lauren and we decided to combine forces to get to the Aid Sations. Fortunately we made it to the next AS with a few minutes to spare and got Leighanna in an out of Firetower AS (mile 8.1) within 60 seconds or so. We then made our way to the last crew acccess point of this loop; Pleasant Dam. It was an absolutely breathtaking place to spectate-a huge expanse of water on one side, a large grassy field on the other. I really enjoyed to chance to relax for 20 minutes or so, and to chat with our new friend while waiting for Leighanna to come through. And sure enough, she came in right on schedule, looking strong. I filled up her bottle with cold water and she went on down a huge set of steps, through a grassy field and back in to the woods. At this point, I would not see her until the end of the loop.
We then headed to the end of loop 1, beginning of loop 2 Aid Sation. This was our second longest wait of the day with about a 3 hour lapse from where we last saw Leighanna to the next. We waited it out, sitting in the shade and enjoying the sun and breeze, talking and snacking. Leighanna came in at about 5 hours and 15 minutes, again looking strong and holding on to a top 5 female standing. I quickly assessed her nutrition and hydration, got her eating, loaded up her vest with salt and snacks and changed her shoes. Physically and mentally she was strong which always makes crewing pretty easy. She was out of the AS in about 10 minutes and Nancy and set off on our next set of AS stops. I also was able to see our friend Heather prior to the marathon which started at the aid station. I loved that the timing worked out so I could crew Leighanna but also spectate Heather!
We crewed Leighanna twice more; this time we made it to the Gorge Overlook with plenty of time to spare (and a quick Heather sighting), along with the Firetower AS. After Firetower (approx. mile 36 I think), we headed to the finish as we could no longer access any additional crew stops. This is where the waiting game really began for us as we were facing a 3 hour or so wait. I was so grateful to have company as well as a plethora of snacks (plus food trucks!) and a good book to help pass the time. We arrived in time to see the first male and female finishers in both the 50 miler and the marathon.
The afternoon wore on and Leighanna came in a little after 5pm with a total time of 11.06, good enough for 6th overall female. We immediately got her to sit down, and started working on bringing her temp down (pro tip-ice pack in the groin is where it’s at) and getting some food and electrolytes in her. The 90° temps were wreaking havoc on all of the participants and Leighanna struggled with nausea for a few minutes but quickly started to feel better with the combo of ice and a cold beverage. And of course once she felt better, her first request was for a hot cup of coffee. At this point, I just focused on getting her whatever she wanted and needed and making sure she wasn’t having any unusual symptoms. The only odd thing that happened was the pronouncement that she wasn’t ever running a hundo. I’m sure that statement will live in infamy as she goes on the complete her first 100 in the next few years! We were able to get up and moving in time to see Heather come in about an hour later to finish a tough marathon (which started at noon-almost unheard of, especially in June in Ohio.) We stayed for the awards and finally headed back to our Airbnb around 730ish and I headed home shortly after.
At this point, I consider myself pretty good at crewing Leighanna. I can’t say that I’m good at crewing for everybody, but Leighanna and I are a good fit, whether we’re running and training together, or crewing each other in long races. Here are some tips and tricks which may help you the next time you crew your BFF in a long race:
- Your runners well being is quite literally in your hands. You will have access to all of their essential gear. Take the time to familiarize yourself with their kit and know where all of their stuff is located.
- Speaking of their gear; know how they like their fuel and hydration. I am very specific to the ratio of Tailwind to water in my bottles. I like 1 bottle of TW and 1 bottle of water if I’m not carrying a bladder. If I have a bladder, I want 2 bottles of TW. It get’s pretty specific so it’s important to know beforehand. Take notes if necessary.
- Know the course. Prior to last weekend, I had not spent any time in Mohican State Park. All I knew was that it was in the vicinity of Grandpa’s Cheesebarn (which by the way, I did not have the chance to visit!) I looked at maps, read race reports and talked to others familiar with the course. It didn’t stop me from getting lost at times but it did help me to have a feel for where I would generally need to be through out the day. It’s also important to have a map. Cell service was pretty spotty so GPS was not a guarantee. Sometime all I had was a map so I needed to have somewhat of an idea of where I was going.
- Pack your own gear and fuel. I anticipated that I would be out and about for about 12 hours or so in a fairly remote area. It wasn’t like there wasn’t any food but as a vegetarian, it’s not always easy for me to grab food quickly. I knew that vegetables and protein would be hard to come by so I packed my own. Carrots, celery, hummus, tabbouleh, granola bars, almond butter and water were my go to foods and all stuff I brought from home. I hate having to subsist on just what’s available versus what I want, so I’ve found that packing my own in a big cooler works best. I also brought multiple clothing and shoe options as well as a comfy chair which is a must for crewing! I need to be able to sit while waiting, but I also needed Leighanna to have a place to sit during crew stops.
- Stay alert. It’s so important to be at the ready when your runner comes through the AS. It’s not always possible to anticipate their every need, but having some things prepared will help. For example, at each aid station, I had either a fresh bottle of Tailwind ready to go in a body bottle (fits into a hydration vest) along with a variety of gels to stick in Leighanna’s vest plus some food options aside from what the AS provided.
- Comfort is key. I wore my Athleta Be Free Skort which while not only cute and comfortable but also very functional. I had no less than 5 pockets, all of which carried various items of gear throughout the day. At any given time I could be hiking to the trailhead, running, sitting, crouching or sleeping. I needed to have the ability to transition to whatever the situation called for.
- Be prepared for anything. An ultra marathon is a test both mentally and physically. Leighanna and I have run miles upon miles together so I have a sense for what she needs from me to move forward. However, the miles can bring out some unusual and unexpected things. Although we didn’t experience that, I was prepared to do what it took to keep her moving. And in the vein of being prepared for anything, bring duck tape and scissors because you never know.
- You are their therapist, their rock, their calm in the storm, their voice of reason, and their butt kicker. Know what to bring and when and you’ll be golden.
- And finally; take it seriously. As I mentioned above, your runner’s success is somewhat dependent on your role as a crew person. Don’t eff it up by not being prepared. Show up and make your day about them because at the end of it all, this is their race and their journey. Don’t forget that.
- Sub note to the last bullet point: if you are pacing in addition to crewing, this run is NOT about you. Don’t try to make pacing your long run because it’s not. Your run is their run so if your runner wants to walk for 10 miles at the end of a hot ultra, let them. Your run does not count on this day.
What’s next for me crewing wise? Well, crewing Leighanna for Burning River next month of course!