Ultramarathon crew and pacer podcast episode

Tips For Choosing Your Ultramarathon Crew And Pacer

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Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • How to choose a good pacer
  • The key crew roles
  • Common mistakes runners make with crews and pacers
  • Planning for things to go wrong

Guest:

Andy Jones-Wilkins, known as AJW, is an ultrarunner and CTS Coach who first began running ultramarathons in 1992. AJW ran his first 100 miler in 2000 and to date has completed 32 100 mile races, including 10 finishes at the Western States including 7 straight top ten placings.

Show Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ajoneswilkins

CTS Coach Bio: https://trainright.com/coaches/andy-jones-wilkins/

iRunFar: https://www.irunfar.com/author/ajoneswilkins

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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Corrine Malcolm (00:07):

My guest today has one of the most recognizable voices in the sport of trail and ultra running. He ran his first ultra back in 1993. He has 10 Western states finishes to his name and over 3,200 mile finishes. That’s a lot of belt buckles. I’m talking about coach Andy Jones, Wilkins, or a G w the man is likely the most experienced ultra runner on our team at CTS. I had a G w on back in December to talk about the Western states lottery right after it happened, where some of your names were drawn. You guys are the lucky few today. I wanted to have Andy back on to talk about an article he recently wrote for Iran far called assembling an all star crew. And it’s the perfect time to have this conversation with big goal races rapidly approaching. For many of us, we’ve all likely made mistakes in races. Sometimes that’s miscommunication between a runner and their crew, something that is so avoidable in this conversation. We’re going to dive into that. The things you should consider when bringing on friends, family, and trail partners, to help you at that big race, how to avoid mid-race mishaps and things you should consider. If you’ll be crewing or pacing a runner this year, I hope you enjoy this conversation. I know it sure. Got my gears turning for the races. I have coming down the road a J w welcome back to the show.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (01:28):

Oh, Karin, it’s great to be back. How are you doing?

Corrine Malcolm (01:31):

I am so, so good. Um, we were just talking before we, we hit record that I’m moving back up to the Pacific Northwest, a place near and dear to my heart. Um, it’s, there’s a lot of change happening, but it’s, it’s a good time of year and we’re heading towards the race season, which is even more exciting.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (01:52):

Absolutely. I think, uh, I, and, and this race season seems to be creeping more and more towards, I don’t know what I would describe as almost a normal race season, or at least as close to normal as we’ve had for several years.

Corrine Malcolm (02:08):

Yeah. I would agree. Races feel very normal. Um, I was just at Madeira, um, the, the, the mute race, Madeira island, ultra trail, or ultra island trail. Um, and, you know, we technically, I think they had masks listed in our mandatory kit, but we didn’t, weren’t required to wear them at the start. We weren’t required to wear them at any aid station. So it felt very normal to be out there with crew and spectators and the whole, the whole thing, like normal finish lines, normal start line, um, normal travel experience for the most part. So that all feels, it feels good. It feels good to be back in the swing of things.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (02:43):

Well, and by the way, congratulations on that race. And you’re, I believe second race back after a lengthy bout with injury so way too. Cool. And then Madeira. So congratulations must have been fun to just be out there with the people.

Corrine Malcolm (03:03):

Yeah. It feels like I’m finally, finally back, like getting to do a long, long race, again, feels right back at home. And that, I don’t know. I’m very, very excited for where the rest of the year is going to take me. But the last time we had you on the show, we, it was right after the Western state’s lottery, like the most exciting day of the year, maybe. And, um, after reading your column and I run far, I guess it was a couple months back at this point, um, that was titled how to assemble an all star crew. I knew that we definitely had to have you back on to talk about that very topic. And in the article right away, you kind of described it as assembling this crew is, is an art and a science. And I’m wondering if you can paint a picture as to what exactly that means to the listener, the runner that’s listening at home right now.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (03:51):

Well, the, the art and the science part starts with who you are as a runner. So if you’re, if you’re a runner and you’ve got a hundred mile or hundred K long race coming up, you, the first thing you need to think about is what do you want? What are you like? And what do you need as a crew as, as a, in your crew. And, and I’ve, I’ve learned over time, there’s kind of the, and, and at the risk of being binary, there’s kind of two kinds of people. There’s the people who need the cheerleader. They need to get motivated. They need to be told they’re doing great. And they got a good thing going. And then there’s the people who kind of need to be calmed down. You know, they’re, they’re jacked up. They’re, they’re excited to be there. And, and so you need to think about who you are first before you then think about what you need in a crew.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (04:44):

Um, then I think that, so once you’ve done that, the second thing you need to think about is what, you know, there, there therere issues with being a crew in a, in a big race, they’re gonna be up all night, they’re gonna be driving around, they’re going to be handling logistics. They’re gonna be doing things that the, that the runner has, no idea is happening, and they’re gonna have to deal with that. So who do they know who are their people that they might be able to, uh, call on to, you know, to handle that kind of thing. Um, and then the third piece is just, uh, you know, who’s going to be able to do it, right. <laugh>, you’re signed up for a race, it’s a date on a calendar and you need to get people there. And, uh, and, uh, and you need to figure out how to feed them and get them traveling around and you put them, have a place to sleep and those kinds of things. So all of those three factors together, uh, it’s, it’s not as easy as just having your, your four running buddies come out and hang out with you for the weekend.

Corrine Malcolm (05:41):

Yeah. And that’s a mistake that maybe we’ll talk about. And just in, in a little bit too, is like, you know, it’s, you had to be kind of thoughtful about this. Um, and it’s not, it’s not easy and it’s not always straightforward. And sometimes things go a little, a little haywire, but we’re, you know, we’re looking at let’s, let’s say, okay, let’s look at, we’re gonna focus maybe on like north American us dollar races, where not only are you allowed to crew, but you’re allowed Pacers. And I think that’s important. And I, you know, Pacers are part of your crew. And I think that there’s a distinction there as kind of like what, what the expectations are and kind of how you can use them and all that kind of stuff. So let’s say you’ve got, you’ve got a runner. Who’s looking at something like Western states or Leadville a race where they need crew and they need Pacers. Maybe those are the same people. Maybe they’re different people. What’s the first thing a runner looking at this race coming up should be doing when it comes to putting together that support system for the race.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (06:35):

I think, first of all, they need to separate the Pacers and the crew. Um, yes, you, with a, with a very experienced person, you could have someone crew you for the first, let’s just say 60 miles of a race, and then pace you the rest of the way in. But assuming those people are hard to find, and they really are hard to find you’re better off having a crew. That’s gonna be with you all day and all night and a pacer. Who’s going to be devoted to just being there when you need them. When they need, when, when, when you jump in at mile 62, or they jump in at mile 80 and they need to take care of themselves in an entirely different way during the race during the day, they need to focus on different things. And so I like provided you. You can do this to keep those things separate.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (07:24):

Um, let’s start with pacer. You’re gonna want a pacer who knows you, is not afraid to practice a little tough love from time to time, uh, and understands that it’s not a day about them. Uh, I think it’s also, I, I talk to athletes about this all the time. The pacer runner relationship needs to be based a lot on the, the, you know, like the adage of what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. A runner’s gonna say stuff to a pacer out there in the woods, in the middle of the night that they would never say to anybody at any other time in the rest of their lives, and they just need to have a little code. So you need to find a pacer. That’s gonna be, that’s gonna be cool with that, that like, just gonna be able to go with the flow and, you know, help you do whatever it is you have to do out there.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (08:14):

You’re gonna cry. You’re gonna throw up. You’re gonna, you know, sit in a chair for too long. You’re gonna say you don’t want to eat anything. You wanna select that pacer, that somebody who can deal with all that on the cruise side, it’s actually more complicated because so you mentioned Western states. So let’s take Western states. You’re going to have to have a crew. That’s gonna be willing to drive probably 150 to 180 miles in 90 plus degrees. They’re gonna have to stand in places that are hot. They’re gonna stand there all day with a lot of other people around crowded, yelling and screaming, uh, not having enough to drink or eat. It’s, it’s complic, sometimes hiking down a mile or two with a cooler riding, a shuttle bus. I mean, crewing signing up to crew. One of these big races. It’s no picnic. You know, it’s not just sitting in the grass, you know, reading a book. Uh, there is a fair bit of that, but there’s also this crunch time. And then the runner comes through, they’re there for three minutes and they’re gone and you rush off to the next place. So in selecting that crew, think about those kinds of experiences. People, you might know, people, you might understand, uh, people who might understand you and put them in that role and talk to them about it ahead of time. Here’s what I’m gonna need from you. And here’s why I’ve asked you to do this.

Corrine Malcolm (09:41):

Yeah. And I think that, you know, we’ll, I think what we’re gonna talk about next is kind of those roles, but I think you’re right. I’ve like, you know, crewing is not, is not easy. Um, after my second Western states, my then partner now husband was like, can we take a break maybe from Western states, not take a break from our relationship, but can we take a break from our relationship with Western states? Cuz I don’t, I’ve been this two years in a row and I, I don’t think that I wanna help next year. And I was like, that’s a very, very valid is a long hot day out there. Um, I, I firmly believe sometimes that crewing is much harder than being the runner runners. Just put one foot in front of the other for, you know, 14, 18, 20, 24, you know, 32, whatever hours the crew, the crew is out there that whole time too. And it’s, it’s not, it’s not a whole lot easier for them. I think the part that I really liked about your article is then talking about that crew in those specifics was you kind of highlighted three roles, you know, let’s say you have a three person crew and you highlighted these roles really well. And I’m wondering if you can just breakdown what those crew roles were and why they’re important to consider people for those three individual positions.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (10:54):

Well, I, I, I, I’m glad we’re having this conversation because I know you have served in, in the role of crew chief. So, and we, it sounds very NASCAR. You could call it crew chief. You could call it captain. You could, but absolutely whether you have only one person or you have 10 people or some number in between somebody it’s not a democracy out there <laugh> right. No, you

Corrine Malcolm (11:20):

Need democracy.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (11:22):

Somebody needs to be declared in charge. Okay. Okay. Um, and they are, they call ’em the crew chief call ’em the, and, and their word. And, and that’s established ahead of time. That’s, you know, Karen is the crew chief, right? So if there’s a difference of opinion about anything, you know, when, when, oh, she said she wanted this gel or she said, she wanted this bottle at this time crew chief’s word is, is gospel. And you just let that go. So you’re looking for a crew chief person that can be assertive. That can be a little bit bossy, but, but is also comfortable in that role and is going to be, is gonna accept that role and is maybe gonna have to deal with how that impacts the relationship with the other people in the crew, because they might not otherwise be a boss in the rest of their lives.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (12:12):

But you know, for those 20 24, 36 hours, they’re the boss and that’s been pre-established. And so that’s number one, you have to have a crew chief, uh, next number two, you have to have a logistics person. It has, this person has to be separate from the crew chief, but they have to know where you’ drive. They have to have the directions. They have to assume that the GPS isn’t gonna get them to the place. So they have to have actually study the directions. They’re gonna know if parking is a pain in the butt at that particular place. And if they have to ride a shuttle or if there’s a, a limit on the number of people that can go to a crew access place, take something like UT M B, which doesn’t allow Pacers, but does allow crew, but you can only have a certain number of people in to the tents.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (13:00):

You know, at, at certain times they need to that person, the logistics person has to have a complete understanding of all of those things. And that’s kind of a big job. They have to have read the manual. They, and they’re the person, you know? So let’s say the crew chief drives in and is saying, okay, we’re going to this aid station. It’s the logistics person who gets out and talks to the volunteer. Who’s telling you where to park and asking those questions because they, that logistic piece can, can, you know, how many, how many stories have we heard of runners missing their crew? Because they went to the wrong place or they couldn’t find a parking space or they couldn’t, you know, and these are very real issues that happen all the time. The third person is, and this is a, this is a tricky, oh, so by the way, you want somebody in that, in that logistics role who like maybe they do that for their job, or maybe it’s something that they love spreadsheets, they love spreadsheets.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (13:56):

Those are the people with the binders and their, you know, if you had somebody on your crew who was in like HR, they’d be perfect. Um, then in, uh, the third role is the communicator. Um, and this is a little bit more of a dynamic role. This is the they under, they, they they’re the person who knows the crew, chief is doing this thing knows that this has to happen with, um, with the logistics person, but at the, in the, in the heat of the moment, the, the runner might come and be like, I need this and I need to talk to this person, or I need to know where the medical tent is, or I need to know where I can get, um, you know, my drop bag, the communicator is the person who’s, cuz let’s face it. There’s a lot of stress in these environments who can, the communicator can walk up to the aid station, captain and ask very nicely, you know, where are the drop bags and can my runner get?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (14:51):

And that communicator person needs to be different from the logistics person. Who’s like, okay, we gotta be here. We gotta have the jails we gotta. And the crew chief, who’s just geared towards the way more human side of it. So when the runner comes in, you know, the runner is going straight to the crew chief and like doing what they’ve, pre-established the logistics person steps back and the communications person is there ready for whatever surprise there’s gonna be, right? Oh, I, it turns out I’m gonna need that extra pair of shoes that I set at the beginning I wasn’t gonna need. And so if you have those three roles met, um, with, with people you trust, then you’re in, you’re in good shape. Now we do know that crews, especially at these big races, you get more people than that. And that’s, that’s fine. I mean, we don’t want, you know, a bunch of cars driving around the wilderness, but you know, you could say, okay, these two people are gonna be the, the logistics people so they can help each other read the spreadsheets and everything. The one thing you don’t want to have as a, as a pair is the crew chief. It’s one only crew chief, one person in charge, no democracy. I would say that that’s, if anybody, if, if you take one thing away from this podcast, if you’re starting to assemble a crew, it’s that put someone in charge and keep them in charge.

Corrine Malcolm (16:14):

Yeah, I think that’s so important. And I’ve definitely, and cuz I’ve, I’ve always run a very small crew slash pacer group for Western states in which you know, I have Steven kind of as crew chief and, and logistics, my friend, Nick as kind of communicator in one of my Pacers and then a third and then a third person who’s the other pacer. Um, and that has worked really well to run this kind of really condensed little group, but that’s really hard to do. And I got super, super fortunate that I, that I have a very skilled group of friends. But additionally to that, you know, my, my mom is really is maybe my biggest fan. I think most people’s moms and dads might be their biggest fan or your significant other or your children. And so where does, you know, and, and some, my mom comes to my races, not all of them, but she’s been at Western state.

Corrine Malcolm (16:58):

She’s been at Leadville. Um, she’s been at UT M B. And although she’s never had an official role there and that’s probably a reason for it. Like how do you feel about, I know your family has been at Western states, how do you feel about when you’ve got a runner and they’re looking at putting their crew together and they say, I’ve got my family, my family’s gonna be my crew. Kind of what, how do you walk a runner through using their crew or, or using their family as crew or steering them away from using their family as crew? Like what does that look like? And how can we, you know, what are the risks of family being crew versus, you know, how, how can they be advantageous at times?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (17:32):

So cranking up the way back machine a little bit, uh, I, in 2005, my mom, uh, who’s now 79 years old, really wanted to come out to Western states. She was, she was one of those moms who said, I don’t know why you do this. You know, you’re gonna die out there. And I said, mom, just come, just come to the race, come, come to it this year. Uh, so she did, she got a, she, my dad stayed at home. She got a flight, she came out, she, she, she watched Western states and it was the year I got second place. And we tried to think about, you know, how can, what, what role can my mom have? Well, you know what she did, and I’m so grateful for it to this day. She took pictures long before iPhones. She just took a crap ton of pictures that now I have in my, in my, somewhere in this room, you know, hundreds of pictures developed at a, at a, you know, CVS pharmacy of the 2005 race.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (18:35):

Um, so there’s, there’s always something you can find the moms are trickier, especially if it’s hot or moms and dad, older parents, if it’s hot, if it’s lots of driving, if it’s, uh, uncomfortable sleeping conditions. What I say about, um, spouses and young children, and we’ve, I’ve already talked to, I’ve got several peop athletes running Western states this year with spouses and young children. If, if they’ve crude you before, if in a local race, if they have been at ultras before, if they understand that mommy or daddy is not gonna be like their normal self, um, on this day, even if they’ve acted like their normal self on all their other times, they’ve gone to see them, then it’s okay. But I strongly suggest if the, if the, if you really wanna make it a memorable experience, if it’s, if it’s one of these, once in a lifetime things, then get a crew that’s separate from your family and let your family just take in the experience.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (19:44):

So that if the, the five year old has, you know, is it has to go to sleep or has to, uh, you know, the, the seven year old is having a little bit of a bad day. The spouse can take them back to the hotel or take them to Placer high school track or somewhere. And the, and the runner’s not gonna be a worried about them directing their attention towards the spouse and the kids instead of the race and B the, the spouse slash crew. Doesn’t worry about, you know, somehow jeopardizing the race because the five year old’s having a bad day, um, it’s tricky because you, you wanna experience that with your, with your loved ones, but you also want it to be the best day it can possibly be. And, um, you know, if a runner comes in to Michigan bluff and, and only one of the crew are there and says to the runner, oh yeah, your spouse had to go back to the hotel because Sally, your seven year old daughter was having a meltdown. That’s gonna stick with the runner. That’s gonna stick with that runner through the next, you know, and they’re gonna be worried about that. And they’re gonna direct attention away from the race and towards that. So I, while it, while I’m sure it’s not something a lot of people want to think about, it can make a big difference. And I would encourage people to think about it.

Corrine Malcolm (21:16):

Yeah. I think that’s really, really important. My, like, as I mentioned, my mom’s come to several races and at, at Western states, she went to Michigan bluff by herself. She wasn’t with my, with my husband and the rest of my crew. And it’s, I, I wasn’t sending anyone to Michigan bluff. I told my mom that I wanted her to enjoy watching the race and to, and to yell go, sweetie. And that kind of stuff out there, you know, what she’s always done for me since I was a little kid competing in sports. Um, but she got to go to Michigan bluff and she handed, she went to Michigan bluff into, into the river crossing, um, not kind of my quote unquote crew spots, just to kind of be additional moral support. But, you know, she, she also came to UT M B, but my friend, Sarah Kais, um, acted as my crew.

Corrine Malcolm (21:57):

Um, so Sarah was inside the aid stations with me being the boss, telling me to get back out on course. And my, my mom was the person who would see me as I ran into the aid station and cheer for me and see me as I ran out from the aid station to cheer for me. And that was kind of a really nice, a nice mix of my mom could be there to witness it, to provide moral support. But, you know, I had a person or people who were responsible for kind of the race logistics and making sure that they could be mean to me because I think significant others, children, parents, these loved ones, they have a hard time seeing you suffer and seeing you hurt and seeing you, you know, debate. Do I, do I continue back down the trail? And so I think it’s re to, for me, that’s the biggest reason almost to separate them is that I know that my mom wants me to be safe and happy and healthy. And there are moments during any race where I probably don’t look safe, happy, or healthy. And so

Andy Jones-Wilkins (22:48):

It’s been what I would say, though, if you, if you are in a position where you want to involve your children, I, I can give, I can give us a personal story similar to yours. So I have three boys they’re now grown, but, but they, they came to Western states every year and Carson, Logan andt and, and they, and Shelly was my crew chief, my wife, and she is brilliant at it. And, and it was the only way it was gonna work, what we did with them. And, and I would advise anybody thinking about using your children as part of your crew, we gave them specific discreet roles. So, and I, I mean, I remember it to this day, Carson had the bottles, he would, he would mix the drink, whatever drink I was having. He would have the bottles, they would be ready. Uh, Logan, that was his personality.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (23:41):

Carson liked doing that. Logan. Who’s more of like the analytical kid would sit there. He actually looked at the competition. He actually looked and took notes of the guys coming through ahead of me and how they looked and who looked bad and who looked good and who changed their shoes and who didn’t and, and took little notes and then get gave Shelly a little piece of paper that said, oh yeah, you know, Paul Dewitt looked like crap here. And Hal ner looked awesome. And you know, Anton is Anton, right? And then Tuly who the youngest one, who’s now 19. He just stuffed gels in my pockets. Awesome. So, you know, was like, he would, he would take the, he would take the garbage out of my pockets and put new gels in my pockets. And they all had something to do. They didn’t, they, they, they, they weren’t like bothering anybody mean, meanwhile, while all that stuff was going on, Shelly was talking to me and telling me what I needed to do and how ahead or behind pace I was and those kinds of things.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (24:38):

So, I mean, there is a way to do it. You can do it. I think that, I, I think the key is really like, I mean, here we are in April recording, this podcast, you, you, people listening to this are thinking about assembling their crews for races in June or July or August or September. Those are the kinds of things you, you can think about. And, and they’re, and they are meaningful. I mean, my kids still talk about it to this day, but, you know, it was meaningful in a way that didn’t, you know, there was nothing in that little scenario I just explained that’s gonna make me leave Michigan bluff and worry that my family is off, like not having a good time. And therefore, I feel guilty about running this race <laugh> which when you talk to enough people, some, so many parents and it’s, it’s truer of moms than dads, I will say.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (25:30):

But so many parents struggle with the guilt that comes with running these long races and, and the training that comes with it. And the, the commitment of time that if that guilt hit, that guilt hits them on race day, especially at a, at a, an emotionally weak moment, like, you know, 70 miles in, they might just be like, screw it. I wanna go back and be with my kids. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so you wanna do what you can ahead of time to prevent that from happening. And sometimes that make means making tough decisions about who’s gonna do what on race day.

Corrine Malcolm (26:02):

Yeah. And I’ve definitely witnessed, I was at, um, Halina 100 back in October and got to witness one of my athletes whose wife and two boys were there, crewing him. And the youngest boy’s job was to time him. He would just time. He would time his dad in the, a station like, dad, you gotta be quick. Um, very analytical little boy. And then the other one was helping, you know, get stuff stuffed into pockets. And it was a pretty efficient little operation, but they, you know, I think it’s one of those things where enough practice with your family being at other races, knowing kind of what, what to expect, um, can go a long way. And then I think, you know, a as, as much as that guilt can set in and you wanna get back to your family, I think there’s probably a lot of, um, parents out there who, who will push through hard because they wanna show their kids that they can tough it out and that they can finish these things and they set a goal and they’re gonna, you know, continue to work hard, even if the goal is not perfect.

Corrine Malcolm (26:52):

And so I think that there’s probably a, a double edged sword there when it comes to family, family, and young, and particularly young kids and, um, significant others out on course. But I think that kind of speaks to this next piece of the puzzle, a little bit of the communication aspect. We talked a little bit about, okay, like roles and who’s doing what and talking and logistics and, and knowing what your runner’s gonna want on race day. And if they say this, you gotta do X, Y, or Z, or, you know, kind of the runner should know themselves, maybe a little bit to say, like, I know this tends to happen when this happens. I want you to do X, Y, or Z in, in my mind that needs to happen much before race day. Right. That, that, that looks to me like a, a pre-race crew meeting or several pre-race crew meetings. And I’m wondering how important are those and what should it look like? How can a runner and their crew set themselves, set themselves up for success by utilizing pre-race time to make sure that everything is kind of clear expectations are set for everyone.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (27:52):

Well, absolutely those pre-race meetings. And if you can have everybody, who’s going to be part of the day at that meeting, um, you will get the communication very clear. So the, so the, because the runner has to control that the, to an extent the runner has to say, here’s what I’m gonna need. Here’s what I’m gonna want you to do for me. Here’s what I’m gonna, um, hope from you. But then this is a little bit of the unwritten part of the crew meeting the crew then needs to say back, well, what if you say this? What if you say, I can’t, this is the popular, the most, you know, likely one I can’t take in anymore. CA I can’t eat anymore. Like, people say that all the time. I’m I’m, I can’t eat anymore. And you know, wh when, when I say that, what do you want me to do?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (28:48):

This would be a crew crew member asking that question in a crew. Those are absolute key questions. Or tell me, what am I supposed to say back to you? When you say my quads are shot, right? So put it on the runner five days before, or two days before, whenever you’re having that crew meeting, what you want to tell, what, what, what you need, what you’re gonna need from me in those moments, the runner might not know in which case the crew would say, well, you know, we’ll troubleshoot your shoes. We’ll troubleshoot, you know, putting some stuff on your legs, we’ll figure out a way to get some calories in you. Maybe you’ll sit here for 10 minutes and cool down and so forth. But in that crew meeting it, the, the biggest mistake that happens in crew meetings is the runner basically gives the crew a lecture yeah.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (29:38):

And tells them, here’s what I’m gonna need here. Here’s what I’m gonna here. Here’s the binder with the spreadsheet and everything else. It really needs to be a discussion so that when the race comes and they’re in that environment and that dialogue is happening, they know what to do. Uh, because many of these people, I mean, look, even the most experienced hundred by haven’t experienced running hundred miles, you know, uh, uh, 500 times like they’ve experienced sitting in traffic or making breakfast for their kid. So they’re, they’re having an experience that they haven’t had very often. And the crews are having the experience they probably had have had even less. So for somebody to be like, okay, you know, I need to be here for you in this moment to do this thing. I, I would say, I would say with the exception of selecting the crew, once you’ve selected the crew, the most important conversation that takes place is the prera crew meeting for exactly this reason.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (30:36):

Then if something happens and it’s at, at mile 55, and it’s different than the way it went down at the crew meeting, at least you’ve done that and you’ve prepared for it and you’re ready for whatever the consequences are. Right. Cuz ultimately the goal for everybody is to get to the finish line. And that then brings me to the last point. You know, it’s important for a crew to say in that pre in that pre race meeting, when are we gonna know that it’s time for you to stop? You know, I, one of the things I appreciate so much about every year at Western states, when Craig Thornley delivers the, you know, it’s okay to drop out speech, is that as much as nobody on that starting line is planning on dropping out, you know, 20 to 30% of the people are gonna drop out.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (31:26):

And what are we as a crew gonna do to prepare for that? And how are we gonna know how to help our runner get through that? It’s not something you want to dwell on in the pre-race meeting, of course, because of the psychology of it all. But it’s something you need to think about. And, and it might actually be something that allows the crew to flip the script and get the runner back out of the chair and back down the trail, uh, if you’ve had that conversation. Um, so I, I, I just, I can’t, I can’t reiterate it enough, the importance of communication, prera communication, direct honest communication, which is why selecting your crew is so important because you’ve gotta have people that you don’t need to perform for that you don’t need to have them. You don’t need to live up to any standard for them. They’re just there to serve you, but they’re gonna serve you in a way that you might not wanna be served and you have to be prepared for that.

Corrine Malcolm (32:24):

Yeah. And it’s, and that’s your responsibility. I think that if you’re, if you’re a runner listening to this right now, and you’ve got a big goal race coming up this year in which you are using crew and or Pacers, these are things that you need to be thinking about. You need to be thinking about, okay, what do I want my crew to say or do when my stomach hurts or when I’m cramping or when it’s really hot or when I’m really uncomfortable or when I can’t run anymore. And I have to walk, you know, or when, when my goals are slipping away from me, but I still want to finish, like what, what are those conversations gonna look like? Because, and, and, and your, your career will do, you know, is gonna try to serve you to the best of their abilities. But I think that a lot of this can be set up during this pre-race meeting.

Corrine Malcolm (33:06):

Like I, the biggest thing that I learned is that very early on is that I don’t like when people ask me if I’m okay, I don’t, I like, that’s what I’ve told all my career from the get go at any single race is that you’re not allowed to ask me how I’m doing. I will tell you how I’m doing. I will, you can tell me, I look good, but I don’t wanna be asked how I’m doing or how I’m feeling, because for me then, if I’m, if I’m in this low, which at Western states, you hit every single crude aid station after a long uphill. And so the likelihood is that I’m not feeling like super a plus the likelihood is that I’ve like been pushing and been working. And I, and I’m a little bit uncomfortable and I want them to tell me, I look great and that I’m eating really well. And I want them to pat me on the back and put ice in my pack and get me back out on the trail. And so that’s been a rule within my crew is that I just don’t want you to ask how I am, because the truth of the matter is, is that I don’t wanna dwell on it. And I say, tell me how I am, tell me that I’m doing great. Um, but these things are, I think about, right?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (34:03):

Yeah. I, I, I almost, um, I, I so appreciate that, Shelly and I got to the point in those, in those really competitive years at Western states where we had a rule, no questions, not just how are you doing? But she wouldn’t ask me any questions at all. Right? Like,

Corrine Malcolm (34:24):

Here’s your stuff,

Andy Jones-Wilkins (34:25):

Here’s it was more, it was, it was declarative, right? Here’s your stuff. Here’s, here’s when Jeff Rose came through here, here is how much time you’re supposed to take to the next aid station. You know, where it, it, it, it didn’t even, it wasn’t even a C uh, a back and forth. And I mean, when you, when you think of, you know, the, we always use the metaphor of the NASCAR pit crew right at when, when you see these really good crews at, at big races, they’re, they, they’re not, they’re not engaging in conversation. They’re just doing stuff. And I, and, and I, I, I mean, one of the most brilliant couples at this are Cheryl and Carl Meltzer. If anybody on this podcast has ever seen them at a race, I mean, they, they barely even talk <laugh> right. Yeah. It’s like, Cheryl is handing Carl’s stuff.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (35:19):

Carl is maybe they’re whispering. I mean, Carl still has his headphones in. He probably can’t even hear what Cheryl’s saying. Yeah. Like, but that’s the kind of, that’s the kind of, I mean, that’s, that’s sort of the gold standard where you have this crew there, because they’re taking care of your needs and they’re doing it, but they’re not distracting you with questions. Like, how are you feeling? Or, yeah. Um, does your stomach hurt? Or, you know, because you, you don’t, you don’t want that. You don’t want anybody to, to think about that. You, as a runner, you don’t want, think about, you don’t want all, all of a sudden somebody said, well, does your stomach hurt? It’s like, oh yeah. I come to think of it. It kind of does. Right. You know that

Corrine Malcolm (35:53):

I’ve been dwelling on this for hour.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (35:55):

Yeah.

Corrine Malcolm (35:55):

It’s like, I’ve, I’ve watched Jason coop crew, Abby hall at a number of races. And it’s like, good job kid. And then like hands her, her food. And she like leaves the aid station. Like, that’s all, like, it’s very simple. I think it’s like, you know what? Your job is, you know, what your role is, you know, what they need, you know, what you’re supposed to take from them? Like, that’s the conversation, right? It’s like, here’s your water? Like, let me put sunscreen on you. Let, like, I remember that. I love the no questions. That’s

Andy Jones-Wilkins (36:20):

So great. AB I remember watching Diana Fikel who’s, you know, had several wins at hard rock. And, um, she was the same thing. She barely stopped. Her crew would be there. She, she was one of those that would just switch packs. Right. So she would take off her empty pack, get her full pack. They might just say a couple of words. And she would even just keep moving right through. I mean, it was like textbooks. She had, she had one hard rock where she had like 18 minutes of cumulative aid station time. Which if you think about that, I mean, that’s just mind boggling. That’s fast. Yeah. <laugh>,

Corrine Malcolm (36:54):

That’s really, really fast. That’s something to strive for. Yeah. I tell all my athletes, we’re not gonna rush the aid stations, but we’re gonna be as efficient as possible. And that goes for utilizing your crew being as efficient as possible. And so I’m wondering, I’m wondering, you know, where, where do we see this go really wrong on race day? Like I know that you probably have your own, maybe not your personal stories, but you’ve, we’ve all been to a race where we’ve witnessed something go sideways for the runner, for the crew, for the Pacers, these kind of personal horror stories of what happened out there. And I’m wondering if there’s, if there’s anything that, that kind of stands out to you as far as something that we can, that you’ve seen, that we can, we can fix, we can change. We can easily, it gets easily avoidable. Most of these mistakes, I feel like are easily avoidable.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (37:37):

Well, the, the first one is, is listening too much to the runner <laugh> and I know that’s hard, but, but Pacer’s really, really feel this the most. I, I, I think way back to my first a hundred miler, which was Angelus crest, and I was, I was running down one of the heinous downhills in the last 20 miles. And I turned to my crew, my by pacer and I said, man, my quads are shot. And he stopped. And he turned to me and he said, Andy, shut up. Everyone’s quads are shot. You know? And, and it was like a very wise moment, because if you’re feeling sorry for yourself at mile 88, because your quads are shot, or you have blisters, or you can take solace in the fact that everybody is feeling that way. I think what goes wrong first and foremost is, and this might be counterintuitive to some people because, you know, you don’t want to put somebody in harm’s way, listening too much to the runner.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (38:40):

You need to know the difference between, okay, this person might seriously be in trouble. Like they might have Abdo, or they might have a, a torn muscle or something like that. Or this person is just suffering. Like everyone else suffers in a hundred miler. So the first thing is you wanna have enough experience and know how it, you know, being able to know who your person is to know the difference between those things. Cause what goes awry is it’s like, oh, he said his quads are shot, so we’re gonna drop out. Yeah. Um, and you, you, that, that person’s gonna regret that like the next day. Um, the other thing that goes wrong is just too many cooks in the kitchen. And we, you talked about, you always had a streamlined crew of two or three and you know, you, the, the runners don’t need any more distraction than the race already has.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (39:31):

Um, so make, keep, keep it, keep it lean, keep it focused, give everybody a job and understand that it’s all about the runner. Um, the last thing is, you know, if a crew or pacer makes it more about them, then you, then they’re probably someone who’s not gonna be a good crew or pacer again, you know, I had a, I had a pacer, I love the guy to this day. He paced me at Western states. Uh, you know, years ago he was, he was training for bad water. So he decided that he would run from forest hill to the finish in like tights and a black turtleneck and so forth. Oh. And, uh, because he was training and, and I dropped him, you know, before we even got to, um, uh, all Auburn Lake’s trails. So that was an example. He wa he made it about him. It wasn’t about me. It didn’t bother me. I was fine with it, but it was sort of embarrassing for him. And so you wanna make sure that that mistake doesn’t happen either.

Corrine Malcolm (40:30):

Yeah. I was gonna say, it feels like some of these big mistakes are kind of like just lessons learned for, for crew and Pacers ahead of, ahead of races. I mean, I watched so many crew and Pacers at Western states last year, get absolutely annihilated by the heat. Right? Cause they weren’t taking care of themselves. Right. That they weren’t drinking. They weren’t hydrating, they weren’t feeding themselves. They were all so excited to see all their friends that they were socializing pretty hard. Like they got to the tracks destroyed and some of them got dropped by runners that were doing pretty good towards the end. So it’s like that to me is a nightmare situation. In which, as a pacer, I would feel horrible if I’ve messed up my pacing duties to the point where like, it’s one thing, if your runner is just like a complete stud and they’ve dropped you and you’ve done everything right, it’s, it’s another thing when you’ve neglected to take care of yourself and you are now, you know, kind of fall falling apart at the seams during your runner’s race making, you know, as co would say, it’s not your camp, it’s their camp.

Corrine Malcolm (41:28):

It’s their race. It’s their event. Like it’s about them, not you. What else? I think that’s the big, you know, the big thing here, we’ve talked a lot about what can runners do to, to consider putting together this all star crew, finding their crew, chief, finding their logistics person, finding their communications person, finding Pacers, who they’re gonna trust to, to be, you know, to be gentle and they need to be gentle and to be firm when they need to be firm. For those that are listening that are crewing this year or pacing this year, maybe for the first time, my first Western state experience was crewing a runner. My that was my first a hundred mile experience actually was out crewing, a runner at Western states, which was daunting, um, for me, because I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I feel very fortunate to have gotten that experience. What can, what advice do you have for, for those people? Those people who have maybe they’ve been asked to crew or pace at Western states or at Laville or any other big, long race coming up this year, what should they be thinking about? What should they be considering? What can they do to be as prepared as possible to assist their runner come race day?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (42:31):

Well, I’m, I’m glad you mentioned the heat. So, so, you know, we’re, we’re going into the season of a lot of hot races, Western states, bad water. Um, some of the, even later, you know, Wasatch can be hot, angel crest is gonna be happening again this year. That that’s gonna be hot. It’s it sounds weird. But I think the crews need to be prepared for the heat. Um, even if it’s, even if it’s just a, a mile hike from where the shuttle drops you off or standing in Michigan bluff for six hours, that could be miserable. And I’m not, I’m not necessarily suggesting that, that a crew, you know, do a 10 day so protocol, but they should think about what it’s gonna be like. Um, because it wears you down. It definitely wears you down. And the last thing you wanna be is sort of worn down when you are meeting your runner, you know, at pointed rocks at Western states at mile 94, and you’re completely wiped out.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (43:28):

So the, the crew, well, while again, they’re, it’s not their race. They do need to think about the circumstances they’re gonna be putting themselves in and whether they’re gonna be prepared for those. And if they’re not gonna be prepared for those, it’s not too early, it’s not too late right now to prepare yourself for that. Um, you know, Cooper and I on, on, on a podcast about heat acclimation, you know, he used to, when he worked with bad water crews, he would actually say to them, look, you guys are gonna have to heat train. You know, you’re not gonna have to run in 110 degrees, but you’re gonna have to, you know, you, you, you know, we’re gonna drive in these cars and not even have air conditioning. Cuz if we run the air conditioning, we’ll, we’ll overheat the car. Right. And, and that’s something people don’t even think about, you know, in the, in the grand scheme of things, you mentioned, you know, the socializing and seeing everybody else.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (44:16):

I mean, I mean, let’s, I mean, last year’s Western states and it’s likely to be the same coming out of the pandemic. It was just one big party. People had seen each other were seeing each other for the first time in two, three years. And I mean, you, you could, you, you could waste a whole day away sitting out in the sun at forest hill and that’s like, oh crap, I’ve gotta pace my runner. And you’re, you know, you’re half you, you you’re, you’re wiped out from just being out there. Um, so people need to be prepared, especially because we owe it to the runner to make sure that we’re as, as ready for that day as we can be. And that we’re there when they need us. Um, and, and, and again, I’ll go back to the pre-race meeting. They need to ask the runner, what do you need from me?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (45:01):

And then be silent and get the answer so that if, if all else fails, they can be like, well, you know what? You told me, this is what you needed to meet from me and the climb up to Greengate and I gave it to you. And what stays in Vegas, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas when we got through it. So that to me is the most important part of this whole, this whole conversation, the all star crew, the involving the family, the what mistakes are gonna happen, what stuff’s gonna go wrong, just be ready, be ready. It’s gonna be a big day. It’s gonna, maybe it’s gonna change people’s lives. It’s gonna be a memory of a lifetime and you wanna be as prepared as you possibly can.

Corrine Malcolm (45:45):

I think that’s exactly where we’re gonna leave it for today. <laugh> I know that’s a great place to leave it. I think, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got time. You’ve got time to get prepared. You’ve got time to have these conversations with your runners runners. You’ve got time to think about the crew that you want to assemble for race day, and it’s okay to ask for what you need. Um, I’ve gotten fortunate with some last minute. Fill-ins when you can’t control the controllables of someone getting sick or injured, um, you know, right before quote unquote game day and that’s okay. You’ll, you’ll learn. You’ll you’ll roll with it. It’s good. It’s good to adapt, I guess, on that note. W is there anything else that you would like to leave our listening audience with before we say farewell?

Andy Jones-Wilkins (46:26):

Well, I mean, here we are recording at the end of April Corin and it’s, you know, we’re coming out of this pandemic and we’re, uh, looking ahead at a fun summer of, you know, full on events and to, to everybody out there, you know, this is, this is the best time, you know, this is north American runners with summer races. This is your training volumes going up, your excitement’s going up, whether it’s a, a thing on the calendar in June, July, August, or September, you know, this is, this is what it’s about. You know, the, the race is the cherry on top. You know, the training, the building, the preparation, the conversations that we’ve talked about here this evening, that’s what it’s about. That’s what makes gives it meaning. And, and frankly, it’s what makes us like, you know, when we’re sitting around in November thinking about what races we wanna sign up for next year, it gets us fired up again.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (47:19):

So take the motivation you have right now, uh, you know, ride, ride it, enjoy it. And, uh, and come race day, you know, you’ll be ready to go. So I I’ve, I love this topic. I think, um, I think so many people believe that what we do this ultra running and the trails and the mountains is this is this solitary pursuit. And for some it is, and of obviously for of the 25 hours, we’re out there 24 and a half of them are spent in a solitary way. But that half an hour that we share with others at crew stations or those five hours we share with Pacers, those are deeply meaningful and enjoy that, meaning, enjoy that, that, because that’s what we have. We have these relationships and we have this, this community. And, and I really think that sharing the experience makes the experience better.

Corrine Malcolm (48:21):

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. We’ll see you guys all out there on the trails, hopefully at Western states. H w thank you so much for coming on today. We’ll have you back on again soon.

Andy Jones-Wilkins (48:33):

Thank you, Corrin. And I’ll see you at states.


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