Hey Caminos - it is a few days after this years epic Spartathlon - a race where we had 5 Camino coached athletes taking part. Ash, Anto, Bryn, Cam & Julien
David was also out there crewing Julien Cazorla and lending a hand as part of the British Spartathlon Management and to the other British runners/crew.
This blog is partly a reflection of things that happened this year but also a helpful set of lessons learnt (or in David's case a classic case of re-learning from previous crew missions). Hopefully these lessons will help future crew teams at all ultramarathons.
There are also some insights from the Camino athletes and other British runners.
It's getting hot in here.......
Much has been talked about the heat this year. The key lesson is that even if you follow the weather predictions right up to your event they can still change. We suspected it was going to be hot but not 'that hot'. There was talk that this was the hottest year since 2012. Another key issue is that there is a mountain to climb (literally!) at Mile 100 and on many previous years there has been up to a swing of 40 degrees and it can be very cold up there. This year it didn't feel as cold for many runners - and yet in our experience some runners were cold. This can be down to two things - 1) If you think it is going to be hot or cold you are more likely to experience it 2) when it actually becomes hotter the 'slightly less hot temps' can still feel significantly colder especially for runners who are moving more slowly. Summary - Prepare for every eventuality. If you have crew make sure you take advantage by having all options
2. Looking after yourself is a priority.......
I'm not sure why but I really fell into the trap of being 100% focused on my runner. When we did the supermarket shop I was advising what foods to buy based on heat and stomach potential but at no point was I thinking what I would need to survive anywhere between 24-40 hours on the road. Yes in Spartathlon you pass by various petrol stations and some small village shops and there are some incredible villages that double as Aid Stations where crew sit down for a Greek food snack but the important thing is that you need to give yourself a backup plan. What if the petrol stations just sell junk (not far off the mark) or you just don't feel like you have time to sit and order a meal. What if the only part of the race that this feels possible is in the middle of the night when everything is shut.
The few things that I pre bought had melted into mush when I came to eat them. I stopped to buy Julien some coke/ice cream as well as ice and water but they were melting so quickly I ate the ice cream and drank the cool can. Whilst this might seem fine I also found myself consuming the same sugary diet the runners were on....after 10-15 hours of this I was feeling awful. In summary give yourself the best chance by having good quality drink and food that will give you the feel-good factor and the energy to be the best crew.
3. Ice Ice Baby........
In 2017 when Darren's brother Jeff came out to crew us he did something extraordinary. Instead of bringing a suitcase he packed his clothes in an industrial sized ice box. So when he came to crew he had this thing packed full of ice and keeping all our necessaries cool. Fast forward to this year and I'm trying to do the same thing with plastic bags....Doh! first of all one bag melted so quickly that there was a mini flood in the boot - loads of stuff got wet - thankfully the intense heat dried it out quickly.
Summary - 100% pack some sort of ice-bag and at least be able to keep a small amount of ice in something that will protect it and the rest of your stuff.
Modern day water bottles are incredible at keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cool. This is a life saver for crew. If you can find a source of good tea/coffee before the night section and keep it warm this will last you through the night section and having cold water in the car is ideal for the intense heat sections.
4. When the race is over it has only just begun.....
For those that don't know when you finish the Spartathlon (and you've kissed the foot of King Leonidas and you've drank from the ancient goblet and had your finish pictures taken) you are led immediately to the makeshift hospital area. For some runners this will mean that a courageous doctor/nurse will take off your stinky trainers and socks and give you a much needed foot bath and tend to blisters and nail damage. For others the finish of the race will mean that the body will go into a real 'shut-down' and this can be a little shocking.
At Sparathlon they have several beds with drips on hand and for others they will lay you down whilst you space out or maybe reject the food/juice you took straight away.
For crew it is a time to realise that your job has only just begun. If you can remember this advise and bring it forward it really does make a huge difference what planning you've done for post race. Think about:
How do I get my runner back to their hotel
Where is the crew car
How do I get the runners bag with essentials between all of these whilst caring for my runner
Don't rush them away from the medical area. Make sure they really are feeling better. Try and keep hold of all their stuff - they won't know what they put down.
When they give you a finishers tee-shirt check the size. If you runner wakes up with an extra small they will be gutted.
Take some pictures because this is an experience never to be forgotten.
We were staying at a hotel situated over 50Km from the race finish. So even after getting Julien to the car and trying to figure out how we find this hotel we had over an hour journey to navigate in the dark. I have to say that what we woke up to in the morning was incredible. So grateful to be able to sink deep into the Greek sea and wash away some of the tiredness.
5. Different races for different Runners.....
One thing often misunderstood by first time crew and even first time runners of big ultras is that there are often two or three different races going on and if you read a blog post of a runner/crews experience you need to apply it accordingly. This year Spartathlon 2022 was won again by local legend Fotis in 21 hours. The top 10 had an almost 6 hour spread. If you think about this then Fotis started in the dark and finished in the dark and only experienced the heat of Day 1.
The mid pack of Spartathlon are finishing between 28 and 33 hours. These runners will obviously be much more tired than Fotis's 21 hours and then will have experienced some of Day 2 heat.
The final pack are coming in between 33 hours and the cut-off of 36 hours. These runners AND their crew will have experience ALL Day 2 heat. This year Day 2 felt hotter than Day 1 (it might not have been but that's the point if you are exhausted and your supplies dwindling and your kit getting out of shape then being out for all of Day 2 'will feel tougher'.)
Leading up to this years race my runner Julien had a real shot of something just over 24 hours and a Top 10 (in fact he ran the first 10 hours in exactly this position). With a few weeks to go some minor niggles meant that the A- goal was realistically around 26-27 hours. With a finish time of 35 hours 30 you can see that only having a plan and supplies/kit for 24 hours would have been a massive challenge.
Summary - have a good understanding of where your runner will finish but seriously prepare for all eventualities.
You are not in this alone.....
Having crewed Spartathlon three times and ran twice I know that the camaraderie and support within this race and especially within the British Team is unparalleled. There are so many resources out there to help you and such a wealth of knowledge within the team and community that it makes sense to use it.
British Spartathon Official Website - contains a full list of team members for each year and profile that each runner has completed with details of training and qualifying races and top tips on previous Spartathlon runs. Much of this information is relevant to any big ultramarathon.
WhatsApp groups - British Team always has a unique group for Crew (runners are on there and the banter ramps up post race) This year we had runners from Norway and USA on there too.
FaceBook and Twitter - British Team Management are always on hand to keep crew updated with useful info - so keep checking these channels
Some 2022 specific reflections.......
Been reflecting on the reflections and I have two things that are dear to me....
Firstly I have so much love for the organisers of Spartathlon and being in Greece itself is always something I am grateful for. Being pumped full of rich vitamin D, sinking deep in their oceans, tucking into olive rich salads and being part of a continuation of running history is just.......warm fuzzy glow x
This year crewing at Lyrkeia I met the amazing Eugenie who was part of the Check point team. Her smile was as wide as the Corinth Canal...her warmth and fun were infectious. One of the German runners Oliver Leu was sat in the chair....he had no crew and he looked pretty shattered. Eugenie just caught his gaze and began to tell him just what an incredible human being he was and how proud he should be for everything that he had achieved up to that point. Oliver began to smile this gorgeous smile and Eugenie jumped up in joy and said we must capture this moment.
Such a beautiful moment that truly encapsulated the gratefulness and joy of this community and undoubtedly the love that the locals have for the continuation of their beloved Spartathlon. Big hugs to you Eugenie x
Not for the first time there are always stories of runners and crew breaking the rules. It's such a tough one in our sport. No-one wants to see runners health put at risk and often minor indiscretions are because crew want to help protect their runner and not to pinch positions or save time. The real spotlight tends to be on the top few runners who are racing these extraordinary times but when you are mid or a back of the race runner and you see crewing assisting outside of CPs then this can be quite disheartening. There has been quite a lot of discussion on this within the British Team and I'm proud that the team feel 100% that the best approach is to retain a sense that cheating is just cheating yourself and that we are not keen to see the situation exploited in Spartathlon. There has been talk of future British Team runners voluntarily signing a declaration to uphold the rules and the values of our beloved race and again we support this.
There were three incredible women in this years Spartathlon: Ali Young, Emma Bird & Sandra Tullett. Whilst only Ali succeeded in finishing (in a sensational 4th Female and X time) both Emma and Sandra had gutsy races and we know how much it meant to both of them to be a part of the team. Going forward we would love to see a more equal balance in the British Team and therefore we are personally keen to support all initiatives that encourage a greater entry from women and runners from all backgrounds.
With ten finishers and 12 DNFS this was a tough year for the British Team. We wish all of those the didn't succeed but who are keen to make it back and to 'Kiss the Foot' - the journey has already started. One thing is always a constant - Team GB know how to party!!!!!
We would love to hear your stories and any other helpful ultramarathon crew feedback you have - we will update this blog with some additional top tips.
If you are interested in learning more about Spartathlon or you are thinking about getting your own qualifier and maybe to want some coaching or crewing advice then please do get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org