Crewing an Ultra – My Run, Rabbit, Run Weekend

Last Monday I was lazing around to “recover” from my weekend in Steamboat Springs where wandered around eating bacon, massaging tired, dirty runner legs and soaking up every tiny detail of my first ultra experience. I wasn’t running so it feels weird to recap the Run, Rabbit, Run ultra but it was an experience. An incredible experience I’d love to share, even if it only gives one other person in a similar situation the balls to go for it, meet the strangers and say yes to a crazy suggestion!

How did I end up in Steamboat Springs crewing for a runner I’d never met before?

Honestly, I don’t know exactly where it really started, but it all snowballed into a long, sleepless weekend in the mountains with one innocent Tweet from Paula…

Want to see the full conversation complete with stinky socks and bribery?
Click here or click the screenshot above!

Apparently it doesn’t take much to talk me into something. Before long emails were exchanged, work schedules were changed and lists were made. This was exciting. I was excited. Nick was probably scared. Or he should have been.

I was about to experience my first ultra from the front lines as a crew for someone I had never met. I had no idea how to crew or what to expect from an ultra. I had never even been to a trail race, let alone a 100 mile trail race. I didn’t know Nick but I was going to show up as his hotel bright an early then spend the next 30 hours being at his beck and call. Should be interesting!

Ultramarathon Lingo
Disclaimer: I am not an expert at anything ultra related, this entire post is just about my experience as a newb!

As I write all that out I realize I probably should have been more scared, or at least nervous, about the entire weekend. But I wasn’t. I’m not sure why. Probably a combination of Nick’s desperation and the previous encounters I have had with ultra running crazies. They might be insane but they are the nicest, most accepting insane people I’ve ever met!

So, what happened when I got there and what did I do as a newbie crew?

The trek to Steamboat Springs started late on Thursday night but thanks to the flooding and closed roads we didn’t actually make it to Steamboat until 6am on Friday morning. I drove over with Jeremy, who was playing the role of a last minute pacer, then we met Nick and Laurie, his wife and pacer, at their hotel. We got a quick run through of all his preferences, his nutrition plan, his bags of gear and so on. I did my best to pay attention but I’m so glad Jeremy was there to ask questions before Nick left us behind to run around the mountain side!

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Olympian Hall ASCrewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Olympian Hall ASCrewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Cow Creek AS
Top: Olympian Hall    Bottom: Cow Creek

We fell into an odd pattern of power napping, eating and chasing down Nick at aid stations. There was a lot of guestimated math as we tried to figure out when he’d show up and for the most part we did a darn good job. Later in the night when the pacers took over we depended on two way radios which were a life safer. The pacers used the radios to call in their ETA and any special requests for food and gear. Kind of took the guess work out of my crewing, which was super helpful since I was in no position to read Nick’s moods or use past ultra experience!

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Cow Creek AS
Cow Creek Aid Station – the runners came through the gate, stopped at the aid station and continued on. We had an area set up for Nick right where I’m standing as I took the photo. We sat him down, fed him and changed out his fuel here.

At mile 42 Laurie headed out with Nick as his first pacer. During the next 10 hours we met them at 3 aid stations, ate dinner and did some power napping on the side of a gravel road. By now it was dark and we were hit with the second short bout of rain for the day. This was also the part of the race I was most nervous to crew – if things were going to go badly it was probably going to start happening now and I needed to be the happy, positive one. Out came the espresso beans and Mt Dew!

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Cow Creek AS
View from the back of the Cow Creek Aid Station

Laurie handed Nick off to Jeremy at mile 74 and while they fought through the last 28 miles Laurie and I headed back to the hotel. The last stretch of the race didn’t allow for any crewing so we had nothing to do until they started to close in on the finish line. The radio crackled just before noon – they were headed down Mt Werner! We attempted to catch them at the top via the gondola but failed miserably but we did get to watch Nick haul ass into the finish line. He was moving! I think he was ready to be done. Or he was just super pumped about his finish line hug from the Designated Hugger…

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - FinishCrewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Finish
Coming into the finish after 102.2 miles of being awesome – literally running in a strong finish!
We stuck around the finish line for a few more hours to cheer on other runners as we all refueled and recouped!

And boom. He made it! I’m told he had an amazing race and all the grinning, combined with minimal limping, had me believing it! He made it look easy. Too easy. He had just run the Leadville 100 a few weeks prior than came out to Steamboat to rock at life all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad it was a great race for him, but a few tears wouldn’t have hurt…something to make it look slightly less fun. This race did nothing to talk me out of a stupid long ultra. At least Nick now has a hefty IOU to fill when I do lose my mind…

What do you mean WHEN you lose your mind? What about the rest of the weekend?

I know. I don’t know. I’m so confused. This is all new territory for me and I’m not going to commit to anything before I try a few longer races but the concept of a 100 mile race no longer makes my jaw drop and my eyes cross. Just saying.

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Ultra RunnersCrewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Ultra Runners
All smiles at the finish! Liz made the 50 Mile race look fun…what’s wrong with these people?!

As for the rest of the weekend…the race experience was incredible but the time I spent away from the course and post-race was what really solidified my newfound love for ultras and trails and awesome people. The people make the ultra. Hands down. And not just the runners – the volunteers at the aid stations were phenomenal! So positive, so willing to help runners/pacers/crews, so full of energy at 3am!

From the moment I stepped foot into Nick’s room – heck, the moment emails were sent – I was welcomed with open arms. Thanks to social media I “knew” a lot of people there. At first I thought it would be awkward but conversation flowed easily and there wasn’t a single second of “oh, you haven’t run an ultra?!” pretention. Instead I got encouragement and tips for crewing plus a whole heck of a lot of enabling for any ultra in my future.

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Ultra RunnersCrewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run - Bacon
Weekend Faves: Designated Hugger at the finish line + bacon galore!

When I wasn’t chasing Nick around the mountain, eating bacon or speed sleeping on any flat surface I could find I had a pretty chill weekend. We roamed around Steamboat, hiked up a mini mountain and just hung around talking about whatever came to mind. For the record, conversations go to very strange places when you are sleep deprived!

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. I’d happily crew another ultra for Nick or any of the insane runners I met in Steamboat. Heck, based upon this experience alone I’d seriously consider crewing for “stranger” if they were desperate enough to put up with me. I’m definitely not an expert in anything ultra related, I’m just willing to help out and learn along the way.

I should note, this race was apparently fairly easy to crew for. The course is set up around the city of Steamboat Springs so we got to repeatedly stop back at t”home base”. Run, Rabbit, Run is also a smaller race so you quickly get to know people, the aid stations aren’t crowded and everyone was quick to help me out or offer up a warm car in the pouring rain! I lucked out!

Crewing an Ultra - Run, Rabbit, Run
Fun Fact #1: Ultras require a ton of gear – this is the gear of 2 people. The backseat is also full and 2 bags are in the hotel.
Fun Fact #2: There is a very good chance your car will smell funky after living in it for two rainy, sweat day. Just a heads up!

Pacing, on the other hand, sounds a lot harder than crewing. You have to be able to confidently cover the distance with no personal struggles while being prepared for almost anything your runner can throw at you. I’m not volunteering myself for that anytime soon. I also feel kind of sorry for anyone who has to pace me in the future – I tend to get angry and verbally abusive.

If you’re looking for a little runner perspective of the Run, Rabbit, Run race check out Amy’s recap. It wasn’t her easiest race and she had to fight for the last 30 miles but she did not give up! The number of relative strangers supporting her at the finish line made me realize just how incredible the entire ultra community is. You just want to hug people!

For more ultra chatter in general take a minute to read through the Ultra 101 post on Mountains and Miles. Alyssa, the guest poster, does a much better job of explaining ultras and she has experience to back up her stories!


Crewing an Ultra – My Run, Rabbit, Run Weekend — 18 Comments

  1. Heading over to Alyssa’s blog soon to read, but whoa, crewing for a 100. I can’t imagine how nuts it’d be trying to coordinate/estimate times and check ins. My in laws have done several ultras and I love hearing their stories. Especially my 80 year old grandpa in law pacing my uncle in law towards the finish. Ultras, besides insane, sound like a lot of fun for all those involved, as long as things go smoothly and people keep eachother’s spirits up.

    if you ever make it to CA and do an ultra, I may either run it with/behind you or crew for you! I know the Way Too Cool 50k is a pretty popular one up near Auburn area. 😉
    Sonia the Mexigarian recently posted..Marathon Training Week 5My Profile

    • That is incredible that your gpa is still out there pacing! And people like you volunteering to help out so willingly is what makes the community so great!

      We lucked out with logistics and had cellphone reception most of the time – didn’t do much good when my battery was dead but we were able to communicate a lot.

  2. Pingback: Run Rabbit Run 100: My 1st 100 Mile Ultra // Heidi Kumm

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