Great race support can be the difference between finishing and chalking up a DNF, or the difference between having an incredible experience and a forgettable one. In the next few months CTS will be supporting athletes at a variety of events, including Breck Epic, Haute Route Rockies, Leadville 100 (MTB and Run), Rebecca’s Private Idaho Golden Ticket Gravel Stage Race, and La Ruta de los Conquistadores. We send our coaches to event to support athletes, and I’m proud to say that CTS Athletes have consistently beaten the overall race finish rates at every event where we provide support. Whether you’re planning on being in an athlete’s support crew at an event, or you’re the athlete coming into aid stations, here are some tips for improving everyone’s experience.
- Stay Calm: the key to a successful stop is getting back on course quickly. You need to get new bottles, grab some food, maybe swap some equipment; but none of that will happen any faster if you’re frantic. Just like when running or riding technical sections of trail, aid stations are a place where you should go slow to go fast.
- Have a plan: You should know what you need before you get to an aid station. Do you want water or sports drink? What food items do you want? How much food do you need to pick up for the next leg of the event?
- Don’t linger: Get what you need and get moving. Time in the aid stations is lost time that’s very difficult to make up on course. Think about how much harder you’d have to go to make up 5 minutes on the bike or on the run. Now realize that’s the cost of lingering in an aid station for an extra five minutes. You’re better off jogging or spinning slowly while eating/drinking than you are sitting still in the aid station.
- Smile: You may be having the crappiest race of your life, but don’t take it out on your support crew. They are out there for you, to help you, because they care about you. Be nice to them, no matter what. And if you’re having a great day, tell them and let them share in the fun!
For Crew Members:
- Don’t overwhelm the athlete: Endurance competitors spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts. Sometimes coming into an aid station is like stepping back into civilization. When 5 well-meaning crew members swarm an athlete it can be overwhelming. A better strategy is to have one crew member interface directly with the athlete, and let that lead crew member direct the others.
- Give support, and a kick in the ass: If you spend any time in an aid station you’ll see some athletes who are totally in control and others who are consumed by self doubt. Some athletes will be struggling with fatigue or nutrition/hydration problems. You want to be encouraging and supportive, but with a focus on keeping the athlete moving forward. Help them work the problem, but get them back on course.
- Know when to push and when to be the bad guy: Some athletes will want to push on when they shouldn’t. No one wants to give up, and we don’t want you to give up, but health and safety trump race day performance. If an athlete is going to be a danger to himself/herself, or a danger to other competitors or race staff, then a support crew should proactively help the athlete understand the reality of the situation.
- Don’t let the athlete sit down: Once an athlete sits down, the probability that they’ll reach the finish line declines dramatically. For cyclists, don’t let them get off the bike. For runners, don’t let them sit down; ideally don’t even let them fully stop. Moving keeps an athlete’s mind in the game, and keeping an athlete’s mind in the game is absolutely essential for getting their body to the finish line.
Over the years in aid stations I’ve seen just about everything. Manic, high-strung, type-A’s losing their minds (and wasting a ton of time) over the wrong flavor of sports drink. Completely bonked riders coming back from the dead to reach the finish line. And unbelievably cheerful athletes 11 hours into a long, hard slog.
I’ve also proudly watched coaches restore confidence for athletes who had long since lost it, and provide race-changing advice to athletes right when they needed it most. CTS Athletes beat the overall race finish rates because our crews understand how to comprehensively support athletes, not just because we’re there to hand them water bottles. So, if you have the opportunity to be an in an athlete’s support crew, use some of the tips above to give your athlete a better chance of success.
I hope to see some of you at the Rebecca’s Private Idaho Golden Ticket Gravel Stage Race! There are only two ways to get into the race: receive a Golden Ticket invitation from Rebecca Rusch, or come with me!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS