Weekend Reading: Tips From the Pits

I spent last Saturday in an aid station. For the previous six years, I’d been on the other side of our Leadville 100 aid stations, coming in off the race course to get new bottles and reload on food. This year I decided not to race the Leadville 100, partly because I’m doing the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race Experience (683 miles in 7 days, starting on Monday!). Since I wasn’t racing, I relished the opportunity to support more than 150 athletes as they came through the Pipeline Aid Station.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Leadville, it’s an out-and-back 100-mile course and the Pipeline Aid Station is at about Mile 25 and Mile 75. On the way outbound, there’s not much to be done. Athletes generally just need a two-bottle swap, and maybe a GU Energy Gel or two. Most athletes, though, carried enough food from the start to make it all the way to Twin Lakes (40 miles in), and just need to get new bottles.

One of the things I noticed in the outbound pit stops was that the best stops were the ones where everyone – athlete and support crew – was calm. Yes, you’re in a hurry and you don’t want to waste any time, but nothing actually happens more quickly when you’re frantic. There’s a lot of commotion, but nothing meaningful happens any quicker than when you are less frantic. This was especially true for the athletes who were right on the bubble in terms of being on or off pace for a sub 9-hour time (or whatever other pacing schedule they’d set up).

The next time you’re in an endurance race with aid stations, take a deep breath when you go into the aid station and just slow down a step. You’ll get your food, bottles, and clothing sorted out right the first time. There will be less fumbling, fewer mistakes, and less stress.

I also noticed that it’s not always the athlete who sets the wrong tone in the aid stations. In some of the pit crews around us, it appeared like the athlete was ambushed as soon as he or she got close to the pit area. Four or five well-intentioned and very enthusiastic helpers jumped into action at once, completely overwhelming the startled athlete they were trying to help.

We have a ton of coaches and volunteers in pit area, but we have a method worked out to keep everything running smoothly. We use a spotter to call out the bib numbers of approaching riders. One coach then grabs the athlete’s drop bag and/or bottles and a selection of GU gels/chomps and PR*Bars. That coach gets the athlete’s attention as they approach and “runs” the stop start to finish for that athlete, including a strong push to get them back out into the fray.

If you’re going to be the pit crew for an athlete in a long endurance event, or if you’re the athlete and you’re advising the people who will be your pit crew, remember this: in long endurance races, the athlete spends most of his or her time alone (even if surrounded by other competitors). They are in their own heads, they’ve been talking to themselves for hours. Coming into a packed aid station is like re-entering civilization; it’s loud, confusing, and disorienting. The athlete needs to make contact with one person who they trust. That person can enlist the help of other people to get more bottles or find a jacket or whatever, but the communication should be with one primary crew member.

Hours after all the outbound pit stops, we started receiving inbound riders. With 75 miles now in their legs and perhaps the hardest part of the entire race still before them, the role of the pit crew changed. We were still swapping out bottles and resupplying athletes with food, but the guidance and encouragement component of our role increased dramatically. On the way out, athletes knew what they needed, and they were still feeling fresh. They were in control. On the way back, some were still on top of it, but others were filled with doubt. Could they stay on pace? Could they reach the finish line? Should they stick to their nutrition/hydration plan or “call an audible”? I’ve never been as proud of my coaches as I was in those hours. I saw them reinvigorate cracked athletes, rebuild confidence that had long since faded, and literally put athletes back on their bikes rather than let them quit.

Ninety percent of the CTS-supported athlete who started the 2012 Leadville 100 reached the finish line, an all-time high. 121 CTS Athletes earned belt buckles, 25 of them earned big buckles for sub 9-hr finishes. It was a phenomenal day, and it was an honor to be in the aid station topping off bottles, handing up GUs, and pushing riders back out onto the course.

Starting Monday it’s going to be a similar process, albeit with a smaller group, during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race Experience. In case you’ve ever wondered, this is what we mean when we say “comprehensive support”. Coaching isn’t just about building training plans and analyzing power files. It’s about being there for your athletes at the moments when they doubt themselves, either in training or during events. This is the level of support you deserve, and if you’re not getting it now, then it’s time to become a CTS Athlete.

Just a couple of quick links/notes today:

  • USA Pro Cycling Challenge Videos: The first video from USA Pro Cycling Challenge will be coming out tomorrow. You’ll get an email with a link to view it.
  • 2013 Epic Endurance Bucket List: The schedule is available now.
  • Get “Bucket List Qualified”: Wonder if you have what it takes to do a Bucket List Event? Fill out an application and my staff and I will evaluate your training history, background, and current performance markers. Once you’re qualified, you can register for Bucket List Events.
  • 2012 La Ruta: There are still spots left to race the La Ruta de los Conquistadores race with CTS in Costa Rica this November.
  • Spring Training Camps: Check out the schedule for these week-long cycling camps in Jan-March 2013.

Have a great weekend,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

Comments 1

  1. I recently heard about a nutritional supplement line that is NSF Sport certified so gauranteed by NSF to be free of any banned substances. I’m interested in taking a multivitamin and some other supplements to fill in the gaps and ensure I perform at my best. Would you recommend a supplement line that has the NSF Sport certified guarantee? Would you carry a line like this to be available to other athletes?

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