The Ultrarunner’s Crew

Tips for Crewing & Pacing

By Coach Maria Simone

I love the opportunity to support another runner going for the ultramarathon finish line – especially the first-time finish line. There is something special about being a part of all of that suffering – and watching the human mind, body, and spirit overcome. I love to be a part of that type of energy!

In the past decade or so, I’ve been lucky to crew or pace friends and athletes doing various ultra adventures, including 100 to 250-mile runs, double and triple iron-distance triathlons, and various types of multi-day stage races. Each experience is unique – as well as a privilege, as the athlete entrusts the crew with their big dreams. The right crew makes or breaks a race, as it can mean the difference between finishing, or not. 

If you’ve never had the opportunity to crew an ultra, I strongly recommend it. If you are considering doing an ultra-distance event, there is no better way to learn what it takes than to crew right alongside an athlete. But, even if an ultra is not on your list, I think you will find crewing to be a unique and intimate experience. 

For example, have you ever helped your friend change their pants after they got soaked during a surprise blizzard in the mountains? Or, what about the thrill of looking out for wild animals, as your friend sleeps in the dirt for 10 minutes? No? Well then, I mean – are you truly living until you can check these types of experiences off your bucket list? 

Coach Lindsay Leigh did this for me during the Tahoe 200 in 2019!

No matter what adventures ensue during an ultra experience, it will create a lifelong bond – as long as you are prepared for what will ensue. For my ultra athletes, I work with their crew and pacers to ensure that everyone is ready for the challenge at hand. Knowing what to expect is key to keeping your racer safe and on track. So, let’s get to it. 


For ultra athletes, the crew is life. They often mean the difference between finishing and not. 

What does it mean to be Crew or Pacer? 

An ultra-crew is the ultimate in sherpa duties. A crew consists of one or more people willing to carry food, clothes, safety gear, and woobies to designated crew stations, which also tend to coincide with aid stations. Crews have the honor of changing socks, wiping dirt, force-feeding, and otherwise taking care of a perfectly capable adult, who has morphed into a 2-year-old somewhere out on the race course. 

Ultra-distance races may be large single loops or point-to-point events, in which case the crew will be tasked with driving from aid station to aid station, to bring the racer’s gear. Other races may feature shorter loops, in which case the crew will usually sit in the same spot for the duration of the race. Of the two, the latter is much more logistically easy for the crew, even if it is a bit more boring. 

For multiple-person crews, it is smart to designate a crew chief. Ultimately the racer should select the chief. This is the person who makes all final decisions, this cuts down on indecision.  

Pacers are specific members of a crew, tasked with the responsibility to run a certain number of designated miles with the racer. Because the pacer will be out on course with the racer, it is best to have a different person to serve as crew chief. 

Not all ultra-distance races permit pacers. For example, 50k races rarely have pacers. Some 50 milers and 100k races may permit pacers, and most (but not all) 100 milers (or longer) allow for pacers. When pacers are allowed, the duties usually begin at some point in the second half of the race. For example, my first 50 miler was the Vermont 50, and they allowed a pacer for the final 9 miles of the race. 100-mile races, by contrast, usually allow pacers to start somewhere around mile 60 (give or take 10 miles in either direction), or when night falls. When I ran the Tahoe 200, I was allowed to have my first pacer at mile 69. Each race has its own rules, which you’ll find on the race site or athlete guide. 

The best part: The finish celebration! My husband John at the finish of the Virginia Double Anvil (double-iron distance triathlon), with his crew: me, our dog Pace, John’s dad, and No Limits Team Member Tim Byrne (who is also my brother from another mother!)

Crew Responsibilities

So, what is a crew supposed to do? 


The main responsibility for the crew is your racer’s safety. On race day, this means checking for any health issues each time you see your racer. Some of the key things I check for are 1) disorientation or confusion, 2) slurred speech, 3) cuts/bruises/limping, etc. The trick is that you have to check for all of this without your racer noticing. You don’t want the racer to get it in his head that something might be wrong. That will play on repeat in their head. You should also ask them what they have eaten, and the last time they urinated. 


For example, the first time my husband John ran the Leadville 100 in 2017, he came through the first crew checkpoint at mile 13. He asked me, “What are you doing here?” That immediately struck me as odd because the night before we had discussed that I would see him at that aid station. Later in the race, we had him evaluated by medical, and we eventually pulled him because he had signs of altitude sickness. 

Be mindful though, that just because your racer feels like sh*t, doesn’t mean it’s time to pull the plug. If you are ever in doubt, you can always ask the race medical to evaluate. That is what we did for John at Leadville. 

Fueling & Hydration

Another part of your racer’s safety is making sure they are eating and drinking. When my racer comes into a crew station, I take their pack and empty the wrappers. From there, I count the calories and check this against what they told me their intake should be. (Note to ultrarunners reading this: Always make clear to your crew what your fueling and hydration plan is so they can help!)

If your runner is eating real food, ask them for an accounting of what they ate. If they are having trouble remembering what they ate, then you know they need to eat more. Before your runner takes off, ask them if there is something special they might want the next time you see them. 

When I crewed Coach Jason at the Cocodona 250, he asked for Impossible Whoppers and ice cream sandwiches. We had them at the ready! He ate almost the entire box of ice cream sandwiches throughout the rest of the race! To store these items, the van we rented had a portable freezer and refrigerator. So, if you are renting a vehicle, this is a good thing to consider to keep the food cold/fresh.

In longer races, it is possible your athlete won’t be able to make decisions about what they want. When that happens, take over and make sure they get the calories. I find it helpful to have options displayed, as this aids in decision-making. 

Stay Organized

Keep your racer’s gear organized by grouping similar types of gear in labeled, clear, 3-gallon Ziploc bags (I reuse these bags for every race I do). For example, all the cold weather gear goes in one bag. Socks might be in another bag, while sneakers are stored in yet another. Clear bags make it easy to see inside, and ziplocs are generally waterproof. 

If your racer has organized their gear for you, it’s okay to re-organize it a bit if you have a different system. You are the one that ultimately has to find the stuff. 

If you need to travel between crew stations, carefully re-pack the gear so it’s not all over the place at the next stop. For most races, you will have ample time to get to the next station. But, if you don’t, and there are two crew members, have one person organize while the other drives to the next spot. 

Make sure to keep the gear dry, and make sure if it is cold you have a way to keep their clothes semi-warm. When I crewed my husband John for his first double anvil (double iron-distance triathlon) in 2014, it was FREEZING at night. His mother was there crewing with me, so I asked her to sit on his clothes and keep them warm. Be creative! 

My gear bags, organized for each aid station. This simplifies my crew’s life b/c they just grab the bag for that specific station. Pace supervises. 

Anticipate Their Needs

Ideally, the racer shares an estimate of the times they will arrive at each station, with a great, good, and worst-case scenario. Hopefully, this plan also includes a listing of what you should have prepared at each stop. (Dear Ultrarunners reading this: have a plan for your crew!)

But, conditions often change quickly, so it is your job as the crew to anticipate what they might want. Is it hot? Perhaps some ice stuffed into a bandana or stocking leg. Is it cold? Make sure to have their cold gear at the ready. Has it been 50 miles or so since they changed shoes? Maybe bring their backup sneaks just in case. In a prior year at the Leadville 100, there was a lot of weather uncertainty (rain, cold, hail, etc.), so my crew brought the kitchen sink just about every time! The aid stations at Leadville also have notoriously poor options, so my crew cooked a variety of food options for me: grilled cheese, pancakes, and boiled potatoes with salt. 

Have food and gear items out on display for your runner. We often know what we want when we come through, and it makes it easier for us to eat with our eyes, or see and grab the gear we want. Bring a tarp to lay this gear out. Or, if it is wet, lay it out in the back of the car (I especially like hatchbacks or trucks with caps for this purpose. A van would work awesome as well.)

Tent, chair and options for the runner as we wait for her to come into the aid station.

Keep Them Positive

I promise you this: your athlete is going to get CRANKY; some get worse than others. Ignore it. If they yell at you, don’t take the bait. They’ll apologize later when you get them to that finish line. 

Never ask your athletes how they are feeling. This only invites complaints. I’ll save you the trouble: they feel tired, hungry, cranky, and in pain. Next. 

Instead, ask your athlete: “What can I get you?” This focuses the attention on action and what is in our control – not on what isn’t. If your athlete complains (spoiler alert: they 100% will complain), don’t feed into it. Re-direct their thinking. Have some positive mantras – and maybe even some tough love – at the ready. 

For example, when John did his first double anvil (a loop course), the crew was permitted to work with their athlete for about 200 yards of the run course. Then, you came to a cone that indicated “No More Support.” Our camp was positioned right next to the timing device. So, I waited for John to complete the loop, and then I would hop out of my chair, bring him food and drink, and run with him to that cone.

As the challenge of the race wore on, I told him to look at the sky – there were a million stars. I told him he was crushing it (he was). But, eventually, he was starting to complain about various and sundry pains. I knew giving him sympathy wouldn’t work for 8+ hours of running, so I dished out some tough love.

Him: “Man, my shoulders are killing me.”

Me: “Yeah, well, you were sitting in aero for 13 hours. That makes sense. Stop thinking about it.”

Next loop: “Ah, my quads.”

“Dude, you are doing a Double Ironman – how did you think it was supposed to feel? Unless you are injured, I don’t want to hear about it.”

If you are concerned for any reason, keep a poker face. Stay upbeat and tell them what a badass they are. Because they are!   

Mike Gollotto, one of my crew at Tahoe 200, gets up close and personal with my feet as I do a sock change, with a full re-lubing.

Pacing Responsibilities

As a pacer, your primary responsibility is the same as the rest of the crew: keep the racer safe! In this case, you will be providing on-course support as you run with your athlete. 

Keep your runner on course. 

I recommend downloading a map ahead of time. Many races have a Caltopo (or similar GPX file) that you can download to your watch or to an app like Gaia (which will work even when you don’t have a service). I prefer something like Gaia because it is a full map, so I can see an entire area. 

Review the terrain for the sections you will pace. 

For example, will you be guiding your runner uphill, downhill, through technical terrain, etc.? Train for that terrain. You will be working hard too – so make sure you are more than fit for the effort. 

Keep track of the athlete’s fueling and hydration. 

For example, I set a timer so I can remind the racer to eat and drink. If they get petulant and don’t want to eat, it is your job to figure out how to get that 2 year old to make it go down the hatch! 

Discuss where they want you to run. 

Do they like you in front, behind, or on the side (if there is room)? If you are in front do not get too far ahead of your racer. It is demoralizing to have your pacer yards ahead of you – and then they are left with no one to talk to! 

Keep their mind occupied. 

Some of you have met Eric Schrading, a friend of John and I who paced us for the Vermont 100 several years ago. He played a game of “either-or” with us. For example, “Ketchup or mustard?” “Hot sauce or barbecue sauce?” “Mountains or ocean?” “Lakes or ocean?” and so on. It may seem simple, but it got us through some pretty dark patches. 

Our friend Eric, keeping us positive and only 1 mile to go!

Keep track of cut-offs. 

If your runner is cutting it close, it is your job to get their a$$ moving. I paced my friend Alexa (not coach Alexa) for the Leadville 100 in 2019. She was cutting the mile 62 cut off super close, so I gently encouraged and bossed her around to pick up the pace. We made that cut-off by about 20 minutes, and she ultimately went on to finish the race. 

Coach Lindsay and I at Umstead 100 in 2018.

But, it may not be cutoffs. Let’s say your runner is close to hitting their goal or catching a competitor. Let them know it’s close and get them moving. One of my FAVORITE pacing memories is supporting Coach Lindsay when she did her first 100 miler at Umstead. We hit the last aid station, which was about 5 miles or so from the finish, and she had roughly 45 minutes to make her sub-24-hour goal. On the trail, at mile 95, maintaining this pace was no small feat. 

So, I told her we could make it, but we had to BOOGIE. And, damn she did! She made that goal with some time to spare. If you’ve ever heard us say, “Shake and Bake” – this is the origin story. I was yelling at her to “Shake and Bake!” and “Turn and Burn!” I sang Imagine Dragons to her and told her she was the thunder and the lightning (ironic since it did rain for 23 of the 24 hours she was out there). No matter how silly it seems now: it worked in that moment and she got her goal! And, we are forever Shake and Bake. (You can read her race report here.)

Team members → Katie Gollotto (right) paces Melina Grudzinski at the Tahoe 200.

Crewing and pacing an ultra athlete can be a stressful job, but it is also fulfilling, with plenty of opportunities for laughs amid the groans. Some of my favorite memories in athletics have been as crew or pacer. If you are interested, I encourage you to reach out and help someone make their dream come true. 

The Ultrarunner’s Crew
Scroll to top

Accessibility Toolbar