The 10 Commandments for Runners’ Seconds and Supporters
If there is one thing that can make or break your race, it is your support crew. Or the lack thereof. Just like the wrong training or fueling approach can ruin your race, having a support crew that isn’t devoted to maximizing your inputs can cost you dearly. Here are some tips and points to keep in mind or share with potential seconding or supporter candidates before your next race.
1. Thou Shalt Strategize
Discuss the race details well beforehand. Don’t wait for the night before or worse even, during the car trip to the starting line. Runners’ anxiety (and/or crankiness) tend to be inversely proportional to the amount of time remaining to race day, so strategize early. Make sure your second knows exactly what you expect of them, when and where. In this light it may be wise to share race communications with your seconds so they know important times and locations, the route, access points and rules for seconding.
2. Study Thy Maps
Just as important it is for the runner to make his way along the correct race route, it is for the seconds or supporters to know the route and where (and when!) to find their runner. During major city marathons a number of roads will be closed or congested on race day, so access planning is crucial.
Trail races on the other hand, only have a limited number of seconding or supporting spots, which may be not readily accessible. In this sense it my help support crews to familiarize themselves in advance with logistical requirements as best as possible:
- Inquire about internet reception along the route. Don’t bargain to rely on your phone’s GPS but rather have a print a map.
- Get the lowdown on access routes. Can support points be accessed by your vehicle or do you need a higher clearance vehicle? Can supporters park near the spot or will they be hauling heavy gear bags up and down mountains?
3. Thou Shall Stand Out and Not Blend In
In big city marathons there are thousands of runners, and thousands more supporters. Be sure your runner will be able to find you in the crowds. Race day is not the time to tone it down. Wear something bright and be visible, or better yet, wave a unique flag so your runner can spot you from afar.
4. Thou Shalt Be on Time
This one might seem very obvious, but if you have been in the supporter or seconder seat a few times, chances are you’ve raced the clock just often. Also, you have very possibly had to travel some distance to a less familiar location to attend said race. These pointers may help to smooth time constraints:
- Bedtime for the runner applies to the support crew as well. Just because you are not actually running the next day doesn’t mean the support crew can stay up partying until late. Waiting around in the sweltering sun with a hangover on race day sure won’t be any fun.
- Don’t rely on the internet race tracker for reliable updates on your runner’s progress. These programs have a way of being slow to update or to fail entirely. Discuss with your runner his best case scenario pace and plan accordingly to determine where you need to support your runner when.
- If your runner is comfortable with it, keep a copy of his planned race strategy with reference to race cut-off points and times. A tired runner brain can fail to make the simplest calculations. Hence some help with adapted pace planning from support crew may make the difference between DNF or a finisher’s medal.
5. Thou Shalt Know Thy Gear
Ultra runners of 100km races or longer will appreciate the imperative of a well-rehearsed drop-bag at the pre-night checkpoint. For this reason, it helps if seconds are in the know of:
- What gear and supplies the runner plans on changing and stocking up on at which checkpoint. This includes a dry change of clothes, shoes, medical requirements, fuel and things like torches, batteries, glasses and visors. Again, the runner should discuss this with the crew well in advance of the race, while everyone is still relaxed and thinking clearly.
- Very importantly, the crew should also know how the runner’s gear works. It will be of no use if a seconder is unable to assist with headlamp battery changes or water refilling because he can’t pry open caps or lids.
6. Thou Shalt Remember Thine Own Needs
Focusing on all and sundry that the runner needs, crew can easily forget to take care of themselves. Seconding spots most often have food only for runners and do not cater for crew. It is thus important for crew to have enough personal supplies for the time out, including:
- Food, snacks and drinks for the day
- Chairs or picnic blankets to be comfortable during long waits
- Warm items for night shifts
7. Beg, Bribe or Blackmail Thine Offspring
Most often a spouse will act as a seconder, and chances are there will be a kid or three in tow. Much as running can (and should) be a fun-filled family affair, a parent worrying about the well-being of his family can’t focus on an already tough task such is running. Hence it is imperative for the seconding spouse to ensure his runner can relax about the kids and focus on the race. Much easier said than done, of course! So here’s the plan. You didn’t hear this from us, but all is fair in love and ultras! We hope it doesn’t come to it, but do what you absolutely must to keep those youngins happy and occupied for the time needed. Yes, go on and buy that toy or ice-cream, whatever it takes to keep little Johnny happy for at least those 10 minutes that mom stops for a gear change. What happens on race day STAYS on race day. Kids are smart, they’ll figure it out! (And later on mom will still be too grateful to fuss).
8. Thou Shalt Take a Gazillion Photographs
Much as we know the support crew have their hands full with gear and gels and sugar-high kids, they will need to manage the runner’s PR as well. And this will include documenting and photographing every minute detail of the race. Don’t (only) rely on official race photographs (these usually cost an arm and a leg but should at least be in focus), but be sure to take your own. Valuable shots include:
- Goody-bag content and race gear layout
- Pre-race photos of the nervous, fresh runner
- Photos at the starting line
- “Behind the scenes” photos of loved ones supporting and cheering
- Photos of your runner actually running. Yes, they love those. So go on and switch to ‘continuous shooting’ while opening the banana and pouring the electrolytes with the free hand. One can never have too many running pictures.
9. Thou Shalt Not Drop The Banana
While we’re talking bananas, we have good advice from an expert in this regard too. Kelly-Ann Kidgell, hilarious author and wife of multi-time Comrades silver medalist, Warren Kidgell, describes how her career as banana-giver kicked off some years ago. Kelly was seconding Warren at one location on the 89 km Comrades marathon, and had to provide Hubby with a banana. Kelly, not a runner herself, tells how she had to wear her (very much neglected) running shoes on the day, since Warren rarely stops, even to refuel.
“All was going well as I stood there focused on ‘The Hand-off’. Donning my running shoes because he Does Not Stop Running and I struggle to keep up for that 100 m or so, boobs almost knocking me unconscious, back fat escaping.”
Kelly then decided to be proactive and peel said banana. But just as Warren appeared in the distance, the top half of the banana broke off and fell to the ground! Applying the five-second-rule, she hastily crouched to rescue Hubby’s sustenance, licking the dirt off as best as she could and squishing it back on the remaining part. Of course her best friend standing across the road didn’t miss any of it and was cracking up. Luckily Warren didn’t notice the dirt spots she missed and still got his Comrades silver medal. Kelly proudly proclaims to be a multi-tasking seconder now. She can hand off bananas AND GU’s now with zero dropages.
10. Remember Thine Aftercare
Yes mom, we know you had a heck of a day running after bribed children, hauling heavy gear bags up and down mountains, keeping up with your runners and documenting the entire event, but there is more. Once your tired (and hopefully satisfied) runner sports his lovely finisher’s medal on his chest he will need some well-deserved aftercare. These tips will go a long way in scoring you brownie points:
- Have a dry (warm) change of clothes for your runner at the finish line. Help him change into it if necessary, before his core temperature drops. This will help prevent hypothermia in cold weather.
- See that your runner refuels and rehydrates correctly. Gallons of water alone may bring on hyponatremia, so see to that he ingests sufficient electrolytes.
- If at all possible, a post-race massage offered by a professional at the event will be a heaven-sent for your runner. Otherwise a hot bath and pamper at home will do just fine.
- Surviving The Runner Guy, Online Publication, Jun 27, 2016 ,