My first experience of crewing for any race was on August 5th at the Angeles Crest 100 mile in California.
I was crewing for my boyfriend Alex Carrion. His crew also consisted of his two brothers Paul and Pablo and his good friend Richard. Paul and Richard would share pacing duties in the last 50 miles of the race. This was also Alex’s first race at the 100 mile distance.
Leading up to the race I did my homework on crewing, what to expect, strategies on nutrition and hydration, and what to do if something didn’t go to plan for the runner.
I felt confident that I had the knowledge I needed to help Alex have a successful race.
Albeit I was a bit nervous too – a combination of my lack of crewing experience, the daunting distance that lay ahead and not knowing my courage or resilience in pushing Alex forward if he needed that external encouragement to continue against all odds.
Our day started at 3am with alarms going off to get up, get ready and get to the start line.
We had the crew car packed with everything we needed – food & drinks for Alex and the crew, first aid kit, spare clothes and shoes, chafing cream, sunscreen, ice and of course a camera to capture this epic adventure.
After the runners ran through the start line at 5am we made our way to the first aid station at the 9-mile mark.
Alex had created a comprehensive crew sheet with details of expected arrival time at each aid station and any requirements he had for that stop during the race.
As he ran in looking fresh to pick up his hydration pack for the following miles, I had everything I thought he needed laid out for him to grab – energy gels and bars, a banana, water and sunscreen.
I had missed the important “I need this at every aid station item” – watermelon water. A hydration mix that Alex wanted a cup of at every stop – watermelon, water, maple syrup, salt & apple cider vinegar.
I was sure not to forget it at any of the aid stations that lay ahead.
By the time we had driven around the sinkhole detour to the 2nd aid station Islip Saddle, Alex was ahead of schedule by over an hour. He kept saying he felt good and didn’t need to slow down.
I was trying to hide my concern that I felt he was pushing too hard for only being at mile 25. I tried to squeeze in some resisted solid food and get him to slow his pace with no luck.
I quickly learnt crewing involved a lot of waiting, double checking everything was ready for the runner’s arrival and watching the clock.
Thankfully the ultra running community are one of a kind, so warm and welcoming to talk as you wait, lend a hand moving heavy eskies full of ice and share shade or a chair.
This made the experience so much more enjoyable and a long, long day not seem so long.
Alex was having a great race, flying into each aid station with a smile and positivity. I was expecting some dark and low points, as you hear people running such distance more often than not experience.
There were a few moments of agitation and frustration, but these only lasted a minute if that, before his energy return and he wanted to get up and continue running.
Paul was set to start pacing Alex from Chilao Flats – 45 miles in. Paul had been crewing all day and also had the driving duties. He was now going to run 30 miles. A lot of credit to all the pacers who had the double duty of crewing as well.
We saw Paul and Alex at the next two stops – Shortcut Saddle and Redbox. At this stage of the race some of the other runners were experiencing stomach issues, vomiting, hallucinations and even blood in the urine. People were starting to withdraw from the race.
The heat and weather conditions were starting to take full effect.
Keeping this in mind, as the crew we always ensure Alex’s hydration pack refills had ice in them and we wrapped an ice filled bandana around his neck at each aid station to try and keep him as cool as possible.
In between crewing duties we had to pick up Richard who would pace Alex in his last 25 miles of the race from Chantry.
As we arrived at Chantry around 10pm there were signs of exhaustion amongst the crew, aid station volunteers and the runners as they came through this final stage of crew access.
Spirits were still high as we prepared a spot for Alex, set up his chair and lay out a change of shirt, shoes and some lentil soup for his arrival.
He climbed the stairs at mile 75, still an hour ahead of schedule looking the most exhausted I had seen him. He wanted to sit down, have something warm to eat and change his shirt. As I helped him change and get in some food, other friends and crews came over to give encouragement and support to push Alex through the mental barrier of the 25 miles that lay ahead.
At this stage I knew he would finish the race.
As Alex stood up to commence the last 25 miles, I had so many mixed emotions – I was a little nervous and anxious as he was heading into the middle of the night, and it would be 7+ hours before we would hear from him with limited tracking and progress updates. Most of all I was excited and proud that he had made it this far. He was so close to accomplishing such a great feat.
The next 7 hours were spent with some restless back seat of the car naps near the finish line. Constantly looking at my phone to see if he had made it to the next check point. Thankfully his pacer Richard sent intermittent texts when he had cell phone reception.
When we knew he was approaching the last few miles Paul and I went to a point about 1-mile from the finishing line, hoping to catch Alex as he came in to the final stage.
As we nervously wait 5 minutes, all of a sudden we see Richard come around the corner followed by Alex and last year’s winner Guillaume Calmettes.
I couldn’t hide the smile on my face. Alex looked exhausted but was still moving forward and strong.
We ran the last mile as a team, and the whole experience of the past 26 hours came together as Alex crossed the finish line.
Crewing 100-miles is an incredible experience which is hard to explain to people outside of the ultra running world. I learnt so much about resilience and pushing beyond our limitations. I was so inspired by Alex and the rest of the runners and the love and support within the ultra running community.
I am looking forward to crewing more in the future.
Amy McKinnon is a long distance runner and nutrition coach. She currently resides in Sydney, Australia.