This is from my perspective, big thanks to Laura Ferrier who also crewed for Nicole, and Mark her husband turned crew on the day, who would both have their own perspectives. I just wanted to share mine as the first time I have been crew, and I think it is a great way to experience a race and assist a fellow runner and witness the awe of the journey. An amazing experience I will never forget, and am very grateful for and honoured to be a part of.
Having been friends with Nic for years now, watching her progress, through the good and the not so good times in her running, and the past year witnessing her down right resolve to both get to the start line and nail the Ultra Trail Australia 100km trail race ~ there was no hesitation when she asked if I would crew for her. It was only as the months turned in to weeks that my nerves started to kick in. Not for her, but for me!! I had absolutely no doubt that Nic would perform on the day. With her previous experience at Surf Coast Century 100km, her training both off and on the course, running back to back runs with her in the Blue Mountains the month before the race ~ she was dialled in both physically and mentally.
As the race came closer I was pretty nervous that I would not be “good enough” or not know what to do or say. I wanted to be the best I could for her, say all the right things and make sure that she didn’t have to think too much at her checkpoint stops, so she could get on her way quickly.
A few weeks before the race we Skyped with Laura who was also crewing, and Nic had all the check point lists and instructions, bags were labelled, everything was cross referenced ~ so very organised, all we had to do was follow the lists. I was so impressed and I felt secure again.
Then it was race weekend ~ I drove up on the Friday night as I had commitments with my daughter that day in Sydney, so I faced the traffic going west and sang the whole way. Nic seemed calm and ready, but also ready for bed. Early in the morning I felt pretty calm as my responsibilities didn’t start until check point three which was about 1pm, Nic was great, really ready to go. We went to the start a bit early and caught up with some of the women I coach, feeling their excitement and the nerves, the vibe was amazing. There were a few tears, some disbelief that the moment had finally come. I was trying to both interpret if she needed anything, think of something wise that I may say and then she said “stop looking at me”… very funny, oops!
The time came and she was off. It was a funny feeling between crew checkpoints, waiting, reading notes, google mapping, very time focused, oh and a fair amount of coffee!! It felt weird that we were doing these thing and all the while Nic was running, all day and night ~ running through the mountains!!
On the way to the checkpoint we got a “Watermelon!!” text so went to buy watermelon and a knife, I had a small panic when I couldn’t find the watermelon at the shops, it was hiding in the cool section!! The first crew checkpoint was warm and sunny, we got our bearings, set ourselves up in the shade, layed out the food, enjoying the vibe and the band – we cheered and waited. Mark her husband turned up, which would be a great surprise, and also turned out crewing was a three person job at times, so worked out very well. For me it went a bit like this, rubbish out, food in, swap bottles in pack – have you eaten enough calories, do you want any of this optional food (chips, sandwich etc) – pack back on, away go you girl!! Nic said “Bye, I know which way to go” and proceeded to go the opposite direction – another funny moment. Checkpoint done – high fives all around. In and out. What a team. It was a bit exhilarating actually.
The second crew point was indoors, we set up again. Waited. At one point I had to go to the toilet – there was only one, and what do I see but an athlete lining up!! What!? I said go in the men’s and I just couldn’t believe they had to line up for one toilet with the general public!! Maybe there were more somewhere, I really am not sure.
It was dusk, getting cooler. Nic had to change clothes, and I think Mark was a bit horrified she got changed right there in front of everyone. At that point she didn’t care, I doubt anyone would.
We tried to make her have some soup, but no. I checked her food and gels and she seemed to have had enough, so all ok there. We had a bit of a hectic moment when the watch charger wouldn’t stay connected, I was about 90% sure it wasn’t going to stay connected while she ran. On top of that I had skipped a line in the instruction table accidently and didn’t have water flasks ready. I saw her trust waver a bit. But then we all as a team checked and re-checked and assured her it was correct and she was off again. We packed up. Not long after driving out Laura got a call. Nic said she was wet and her flask had leaked all over her pants down her back. Laura was the best. “But I’m wet!!” and she just said “yes Nic, you’re wet, but you’re going to keep going. You’re wet, just keep going, you’ll dry”. What an amazing response, so level headed, just brilliant. She didn’t let her indulge in all the reasons why this was going to be a pain or ruin her race. Just keep going, there is no other option!
At the same time, my heart fell, I burst into tears. And believe me, I know the race, the day was not about me. I was there wholeheartedly to do whatever it took to help Nicole race to her potential. And, I obviously had not screwed the lid on properly on the flask when I rushed to fill it, now it had leaked, she was wet, she would get cold, she would suffer more… because of me! Lucky for Laura who was so rational. Lucky for my daughter who hugged me and told me it wasn’t my fault. I cried on and off for a bit, but just as Nicole did I had to keep moving forward because if I let this get to me it would affect her more if I didn’t do the rest of my job properly – and I wanted to be the best I could be for her. By the time we had dinner and made it to the last crew checkpoint I had found enough strength to stop beating myself up and go on confidently again. Afterward I realised I was getting sick, I was tired and a bit emotional, everything piling up on me so I took it harder than I probably should have. But that is also just me. I take my responsibilities seriously, and I like to do things well, I am an emotional being.
Funny thing, she didn’t mention the flask at the next checkpoint, she had warmed up and moved on from it – just as Laura had told her she would. I had my professional crew face on now, but I also made Mark check all the flasks. At this aid station we let her sit down for the first time so we could change her socks. That was an interesting experience – putting Ininji socks on another person. I thought they should invent a little thing that spreads your toes out to help. Haha. It was funny, but not at the time, it was taking too long. We got all the changes, poles, jacket, batteries and believe it or not the watch charger hung in there and was working, wow. It was cold, I was cold!! We got the socks and shoes finished in the nick of time, as she all of a sudden said “Oh, I’m getting cold, I don’t know if I can get up, I can’t walk”. At this point we went in to serious crew mode. Hauled her up, got her walking and out back on to the course. We were having none of that! Then she was off, and running!!!!
She was so fiercely focused, there was never a doubt she would continue on to the finish. I was so tired and knew I was unwell. We moved on to the finish line and sat around chatting and watching people finish on the screen, relieved, happy, but mostly I had my eyes shut, they were sore.
I was so proud, so inspired by her dedication to her goal, her execution of her plan. What an amazing experience. I am honoured to have been part of it. When she crossed the finish line I was happy to just be there in the background. She knew I was there, will always be there for her. What a day.
Some hot tips from my first crewing experience;
1) Organisation is key ~ knowing what needs changing and replacing with fuel, clothing. Use tables, checklists, marked bags and separated equipment.
2) It is a huge day, a team is good!
3) Ask ” what do you need?” – it may not be on the plan, but they will know before they come in to the checkpoint what they want/crave/need to change.
4) Do the best you can, issues will crop up (hey, that’s ultra running) – as long as you do your best to help that is all you can do.
5) Look after yourself, plan rest and meals (and coffee) between checkpoints
6) Don’t indulge any negative thoughts or whinging ~ have a one word or phrase that means “I’m out” ~ and unless they say it then it is full steam ahead no listening to the whinging
7) Don’t ask them how they are feeling, if you ask them they are going to find all the possible things that are wrong or hurting, both mentally and physically. Of course it is hurting, you’ve been running all day, all night! Don’t ask.
8) Have a bit of fun along the way, crew jokes are good, thanks again Laura, you are an absolute legend.