NoviceRunnerNik's Top Tips On How To Crew For An Ultra Runner


NoviceRunnerNik's Top Tips On How To Crew For An Ultra Runner

Our NoviceRunnerNik, who’s been running for quite a few years now (we probably ought to give her a new nickname!), has crewed for her husband and other friends competing in ultra marathons and here are her words of wisdom about supporting your ultra runner.

What is an Ultra Marathon?

Ultra marathons are any running races over marathon (26.2 miles) distance. 50k, 50 miles, 100k and 100 miles are all common distances but some races are even longer: The Spine, for example, is the length of the Pennine Way - 268 miles.

Runners at the start of the 2019 Arc of Attrition 100 mile coastal run.

Runners at the start of the 2019 Arc of Attrition 100 mile coastal run.

Who Are These Ultra Runners?

Ultra runners are a curious breed. They will pay a lot of money to run ridiculously long distances all in one go, through daylight, night, daylight and night, with little or no sleep, often in terrible weather conditions and usually over very tough terrain. They will spend hundreds of hours running hundreds of training miles, often alone. They will also spend a lot of money on running kit: taped seams jackets, anti-chafe running underwear, ultra light-weight hydration vests, tens of pairs of running shoes. During the actual ultra race they may hallucinate, dehydrate, vomit and cry. After the event they are likely to lose toe nails, sleep and eat for England and never stop talking about their epic race. Their lives are running!

And Crewing for Ultra Runners?

Some ultra events allow for runners to have crews to support them throughout the race (normally friends or family who drive around the route feeding, watering and generally tending to a specific runner). This helps both the runners as they can carry less food, water and gear and it helps the organisers as it means the welfare of many of the runners is managed by other people.

The first of many shoe changes.

The first of many shoe changes.

NoviceRunnerNik's Top Tips On How To Crew For An Ultra Runner

If your friend / partner / colleague asks you to crew for them for an event you need to be prepared for all of the above, so here are my top tips for crewing:

  1. As always, preparation is key. Ensure you have a meeting with your runner and co crew to talk through what your runner’s expectations are. Look at and agree locations for crew support points. If your runner is very information driven, make sure they prepare the information for you so that you have it to hand on the day – this could be expected arrival times at crew support points, distances between crew support points, distances between official check points etc. Print several copies – you’ll run into other crews and they’ll love the information too, you’ll lose a copy out of a window at some point. Guaranteed. Don’t be tempted to just wing it, unless your runner is very, very laid back.

  2. Use the largest vehicle you can sensibly drive around the route. A camper van would be ideal but a van, estate car or similar will give you lots of room for kit and for having a lie down/sleep if you or your runner need it.

  3. Have a second crew member if you can, particularly if your runner is also your partner – you have company, help with navigation, you can sleep in shifts and a third party might mean that you and your runner are on your best or at least better behaviour.

  4. Pack your kit for all eventualities. Your runner will have thought long and hard about their kit for the event and you should do the same about yours. You could be out in horrible conditions for 36 or more hours. You might not sleep. You are probably more likely to get cold / hypothermic than your runner. For me essential UK kit includes thermals, full waterproofs, walking boots, full change of clothes, waterproof gloves and hat, head torch, sleeping bag, sleep mat, blanket, food, drink, a kettle, phone, phone charger, music, books, binoculars, paper maps, change for car parking, a deck of cards, first aid kit, running kit (I always try to get out for a run in between stops if I can) - be prepared for boredom!

  5. Keep your kit and your runner’s kit separate then there’s no way that you’ll accidentally eat the very thing they are craving at Mile 90. But be prepared to give your runner (or another runner or their crew) anything from your food or kit store. Pack things into separate plastic crates or boxes so everything is found easily and doesn’t roll around the back of your van. Have a bin bag or crate / box ready for wet clothes and shoes.

  6. If you can’t always get your vehicle right up to where you’ll meet your runner, for example at checkpoints, get your runner to pre-prepare a kit bag with all the essentials they might need – spare clothes, powerbank, spare socks, extra food etc so that you can just grab the bag and arrive prepared.

  7. Have a spare waterbottle filled and ready to be swapped out when your runner arrives to make restocking them simple. Knowing what your runner will need when they arrive at your next meet point speeds things up.

  8. Keep cheery but avoid too many questions that require decisions being made by your runner. It’s really obvious but your runner is going to get more tired as the event progresses, as are you. Get on and do stuff without them having to ask.

  9. Sleep if you can and set an alarm on your phone if you need to make sure you’re awake. I’ve been in check points where runners have come in and their crews aren’t there. It’s devastating for them.

  10. Mobile phone / data reception can be really poor in areas so don’t rely only on Google maps for directions and bear this in mind if you’re following your runner on a tracker website.

  11. Be prepared to do some grim jobs, such as cleaning your runner’s feet or applying BodyGlide…

  12. Make sure your runner supplies you with fish and chip (or other takeaway of your choice) money! Check that your expected fish and chip shop is actually open. I’ve learned this the hard way!

  13. Plan your journey home from the event. From someone who has both crewed for and run ultras: you’ll get as tired crewing as you would do running but you’ll recover more quickly than your runner and keep your toenails. If you’re driving home after the event this could be just as dangerous as if your runner drives home (and runners are normally required to have a driver to get them home) so make sure you’ve taken this into consideration.

  14. Don’t get carried away and enter an ultra yourself the day after you’ve caught up on your sleep! Give it quite a bit of consideration before you commit. The hours and hours lost to training, the cash lost on kit and race entries, the toenails lost to the god (or other deity) of running. Remember the bad as well as the good!

One of the less fun support jobs, particularly at 2am!

One of the less fun support jobs, particularly at 2am!

Finisher and his crew!

Finisher and his crew!

Words and images by NoviceRunnerNik.

NoviceRunnerNik's Top Tips On Starting Running


NoviceRunnerNik's Top Tips On Starting Running

Has the London Marathon inspired you to take up running or return to running? Our NoviceRunnerNik, who took up running a few years ago, gives us her top tips on getting started:

  1. Start with a Couch 2 5K app or program such as the NHS Couch 2 5k – this introduces you slowly to running over 9 weeks and gradually builds up your fitness and stamina. Much more sensible than my approach of just going for a 3 mile hilly run just like that and hating the feeling of my lungs exploding out of my chest! I very nearly didn’t run again after trying that!

  2. Run more slowly – particularly if it feels like your lungs are exploding out of your chest. If you can hold a conversation with someone (you might need to imagine that someone if you’re running alone) whilst you’re running, then that’s a great pace to run at. If you can’t, then slow down. You’ll enjoy it more - promise!

  3. Buy decent, comfortable running shoes - have your running shoes fitted by a specialist running shop. Tell them your budget and what you want to do. They needn’t cost the earth. You’ll be less likely to pick up an injury wearing shoes that fit you and are fit for the job.

  4. Don’t increase your longest distance or number of miles in a week too quickly, however much you’re enjoying it, or you risk overuse injury. An often quoted rule of thumb is to increase both by no more than 10% per week. Use a free phone app such as Strava to record your runs so that you know how far you’ve been.

  5. Run your own run – don’t worry about what speed or distance someone else is doing. Run to how you feel, rather than a pace you think you should run at on your GPS watch.

  6. Run with other people – join a running club or run walk group or find a friend to run with. Running with others takes your mind off the running and motivates you to turn up and run. Running clubs will have varying routes with leaders so that you don’t even have to think about where to run. In my experience running club members are really friendly and approachable. They aren’t all elite athletes racing for TeamGB (some of my running club members do run for TeamGB but you wouldn’t know it!). And you always have running to talk about.

  7. Buy some proper running clothes - you’ll be more comfortable and you’ll feel the part more and be more motivated to run. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Always wear a decent, supportive sports bra or chest support if you need it. They're vital bits of kit, especially if a few extra grams are being carried in that part of the anatomy.

  8. Vary the routes and surfaces you run on – to keep you interested and to get your body moving in different ways - try footpaths, coast paths, grass, mud etc but be careful.

  9. Get parkrunning! If you haven’t heard of parkruns they are free, timed weekly 5k runs, happening all over the country, every Saturday at 9am. You can walk, jog or run them so they are perfect for new runners and they are great for measuring your progress, if you wish. They only happen because people volunteer to organise and marshal at them so give something back now and again and volunteer too.

  10. Running can be really addictive! Don’t blame me if your running habit starts to escalate out of your control!

Words by NoviceRunnerNik.

Marathon preparation: taking care of your knees

taped marathon knee injury

Marathon preparation: taking care of your knees

It's hurtling towards us at a huge rate of knots, like Brexit, Christmas and Whitsun all rolled into one, but none of these require the same volume of physical, mental and emotional preparation as the London Marathon* (except perhaps Christmas....). As your mileage racks up, certain areas can get tighter, having a knock-on effect elsewhere - in particular the outside of the knee.

If you notice that your running style has started to involve a little more of either your foot turning outwards whilst your knee is facing forwards or your knees turning inwards whist your foot is facing front, this can often end up to soreness in the outside of the knee, increased tension in the iliotibial band (ITB) and/or tightness in the outside of the hip. As the miles increase and this pattern is repeated, it can become very sore. However, there are a few things you can do to check the cause of this.

Where does it come from?

The reason the knee will be turning inwards, or the foot relatively turning out will be related to one of 3 areas:

  • Tight calf muscles

  • Weakness/inhibition of the hip rotators

  • Overactive lateral hamstrings

Knee valgus - this isn’t A Good Thing.

Knee valgus - this isn’t A Good Thing.

Tight calf muscles:

If the alignment issue corrects by doing a decline small knee bend (see images below), it is likely the calf muscle (particularly the gastrocnemius, fact fans) is likely to be part of the main drive of the problem.

Decline small knee bend

Decline small knee bend

If you think you aren't stretching your calves out sufficiently, then start. As soon as possible. If not sooner.

As we fatigue when we run, certain muscle groups will become less effective leaving us with few options to propel us forwards. It often comes down to the calf to drive this and if they aren't getting a sufficient stretch, then the change in mechanics can become problematic. Stretching the calf with a straight knee (fully straight) and holding for up to 20 seconds at a time will help. Not only after a run, but check and stretch regularly through the next few days too.

Weak hip rotators:

If the decline small squat doesn't correct things, it is likely to be a problem with the rotators in the hip, including gluteus medius and some of the deeper rotators. Some light conditioning work can help resolve this problem

Overactive lateral hamstrings:

Difficult to spot on yourself, but if after toe off, your foot tends to turn outwards as the knee comes forward, the outer hamstrings might be dominating the movement. Exercises to balance out knee flexion by using the more medial hamstrings can help, as can identifying which of the other two problems need addressing and working on all of them

Anything else?

Lateral quads stretches can be really useful for this. Think of doing a normal quads stretch (i.e. heel to backside) but stretch using the opposite hand to the affected leg and pull it across to the opposite buttock and push your hip forward. This should favour the outside of the quads around the tight area

Do I really need to stretch?

Stretching is a bit of a faff and it means extra time added onto your run, however it is one of the key practices at this stage to return you ready to run again when you need to train. Just do it!

* other marathons, indeed, other long distance races do exist.

Don’t ignore your niggles or pains this late in your marathon training. Call us for an appointment on 02030 12 12 22.

Words by Paul Martin. Images courtesy of and

9 weeks to the London Marathon - our top tips and injuries to avoid

Always choose your running kit with care!

Always choose your running kit with care!

9 weeks to the London Marathon - our top tips and injuries to avoid

Congratulations! You are now only 9 weeks from the London Marathon (other marathons are available).

Here are a few tips on how to keep going and avoiding breaking down:

  • Follow a training plan that not only says run. Two short runs and a long run on a weekend. Add in strength and conditioning, plyometrics, cross training and yoga/pilates. This can help with injury prevention and potentially faster times.

  • Your training will hurt. The marathon will hurt. The massages will hurt, everything will hurt. You need to stay motivated and have discipline. You will have good and bad days during your training. You have to be motivated to get out and run, but to keep this up takes discipline. Remember why you are running this race.

  • Be realistic with your finish time especially if it’s your first marathon! Race management is essential. Don’t go off to hard and fast! You can't just double your half marathon time adding 10-15 minutes and expect to run the marathon in that time. Aim to finish your first marathon.

  • Race nutrition: find what works for you! Sweets and Lucozade for energy can help, but be aware of overdoing it with these, try dried fruits, nuts and electrolyte drinks.

  • To stretch or not to stretch! The evidence is conflicting so do what works best for you.

  • Tapering is essential in those last 2-3 weeks. Don’t try and squeeze in one more long run.

Here are the 7 most common injuries and how to manage them:

  1. Runner's Knee: Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is the irritation of the cartilage on the underside of the patella (kneecap). This can flare up during or after long runs. Be aware of foot over-pronation (excessive inward foot rolling) and weakness of the quadriceps, hips, or gluteals. Introduce rest days and reduce mileage. Uphill running can be less painful. Work on strengthening of gluteals, quadriceps and hamstrings. Avoid downhill running. Introduce low impact exercise like cycling, cross trainer or swimming. Try shortening your stride.

  2. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): the ITB lies along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee. ITB irritation occurs if you take up your mileage too quickly. It’s a stubborn nagging injury. Be aware of foot biomechanics. Hip and gluteal weakness maybe a factor. Rest days and ease off mileage can help. Use a Cross trainer. Mix up the direction of your runs. Try shortening your stride.

  3. Achilles Tendonitis/Calf injuries: Achilles tendon connects the two major calf muscles to the back of the heel. Increasing your mileage too quickly, hill sessions and sprints can aggravate the Achilles. Be aware of tightness of your calf muscles. Stop if you have pain during or after running. You cannot run through this injury. Early diagnosis is essential. Days off will significantly increase your chances of getting back to running. Eccentric stretching and calf strengthen gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are advised.

  4. Hamstring Issues: Muscles that run down the back of our thighs. Be aware of muscle imbalance of quadriceps (thigh) over powering the hamstrings. Sudden strong pain and bruising, significant injury, extended rest required. Less intense, chronic overuse injury, you can usually run. Running a slow, easy pace is usually less difficult than attempting intervals or hills. Cycling, pool running, and swimming helps. Strengthen and stretching your hamstrings will help avoid injuries.

  5. Plantar Fasciitis: Small tears or inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that run from your heel to your toes. Pain is a dull ache or bruise along your arch or on the bottom of your heel, is usually worse first thing in the morning. Be aware of foot biomechanics, high or flattened arches. Avoid increasing mileage too quickly. Tight hip flexors, weakness and tight claves, weak core muscles, and a history of lower back pain can also contribute. This is a nagging injury, running is possible but can delay healing. Pool running and swimming to the keep pressure off your feet. Calf stretches and strengthening. Good fitting shoes are essential.

  6. Shin Splints: Achy pain that results when small tears occur in the muscles around your shin bone. Prevalent in new or returning runners doing too much, too quickly, wearing the wrong shoe or a pair with too many miles, and high arches or flat feet. When pain strikes, ease off your running to a comfortable level for a few days to a week, then slowly up your mileage using the 10 percent rule (no more than 10 percent increase per week). Bike, pool run, and swim.

  7. Stress Fracture: Stress fractures develop due to cumulative strain on the bone. Runners most often have stress fractures in their shins, feet, hips or heels. They are one of the most serious of all running injuries and are a result of over training. More common in women than men. You cannot run through this injury. Expect 8-16 weeks off from running depending on the severity of your injury.

If you suspect you have any one of the above injuries do not hesitate to make an appointment with us by calling us on 02030 12 12 22. Correct management of your injury is essential.

Deferred Entry

If you do have to withdraw from the 2019 London Marathon, you are guaranteed a place in the 2020 race – unless you had already carried your ballot entry over from 2018 or are running for a charity. You have until 20:00 on Saturday 27 April 2019 to complete the withdrawal form on the Virgin Money London Marathon Deferrals page.

Words by Nick Smith.