A supporting role

In just over a week I will be supporting a friend who is running the West Highland Way Race. This is another rite of passage for me as a runner.  I believe that it is important to give back. In part it is a way to show my appreciation for the support that I get as a runner; for the effort that goes into organising events and the time that is voluntarily given by marshals, race directors and my support crew. I also believe that it gives me a richer and more rounded experience of the running world.

I have marshalled and I am a race director but until now I have never been part of a support crew, and this is not just any support crew, this is West Highland Way support crew: so no pressure then. I have to get this right, to ensure that Sarah gets what she wants when she wants, and perhaps more importantly gets what she needs even when she may not realise she needs it, and to ensure that she has the best possible chance of completing the race as safely and well as she can. There is another side to this also: as the support crew briefing reminds us, both myself and Andy, Sarah’s partner and my fellow in the support crew, need to ensure that we are rested, fed and able to not only support our runner, but drive safely. It will be essential that Andy and I work as a team: quite a responsibility.

It will be good for me to see race support from the other side. Alasdair tells me that I am a nightmare to support, and that life at the checkpoints can be dangerous. He likens it to trying to feed and angry bear, waving food at it from the end of a long stick trying not to get mauled. Charming!

He does have a point. There are times when I am not at my best as I come into check points. I can be tired, exhausted, frustrated or angry; feeling sorry for myself; my ability to make decisions can be impaired; I often don’t  want to eat or drink anything that is on offer, but neither do I know what I want; there are times when I can’t physically eat.

As a non-runner it can be difficult for him to know what is needed or how to respond, so having me growling around not doing as I am told cannot make it easy. I see a change though, he has over the years learned what to look out for and to be more authoritative, which is a big ask for someone who is mild mannered, gentle and hates confrontation.

As I obligingly did as I was told by a friend who helped support me at an event last year Alasdair mused; ‘Why do as you’ re told when it is Sue and not me?’ Sue’s quick as a flash response; ‘She’s not married to me’.

Sarah seems pretty chilled and I get the impression she will be low maintenance and way better behaved.

I know someone who is a runner who has said that they would never go on a support crew, that it is the worst, most thankless job ever. It is certainly and altruistic job. The one thing that Alasdair does not seem to mind so much is the hanging about. He is perfectly content go for a short walk, read, or snooze (something that he can do at the drop of a hat), and even better he gets to spend a fair amount of time in tearooms indulging in tea, coffee and cake.

The question is, will my experience as a runner give me any advantage, a starter for 10? The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. Whilst there are common factors, runners are all different and respond differently to circumstances. My experience may be advantageous, but it may not.

Back now to the task in hand: a perfectionist and a planner I have set about preparing for my support role in much the same way as I would for any event.

I knew some sections of the WHW very well, was familiar with others and then there were a few that I did not know.  Now I know pretty much the whole route well. I have been out and done training runs on the sections where I am most likely to be needed as a support runner.

I have checked and re-checked the checkpoints and know exactly where to go and where to park.

There is my usual kit and food checklist created, that will be checked off as it goes into the bags and the car.

I have pestered Sarah for her plan and to know what she thinks she will need where and when, and figured out some rough timings based upon her target time.

There is a little bag of goodies planned to tempt her if she does not want her own/planned supplies.

I have spoken with other runners who have completed the race and people who have supported runners in the race.

I have arranged to take Friday 20th off work to ensure that I am ready and rested: ironically, something I tend not to do when I am running in events.

All that is left to do is agree with Andy how we will split the driving, resting and support running. Andy will of course run with Sarah for the last section from Kinlochleven to Fort William.

I feel honoured that Sarah has asked me to support her and will endeavour to do it as well as I can. It is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It may go to plan and it may not, am prepared to expect the unexpected, and ready to respond quickly and think on my feet, and second guess what may be required. My objective to use my own experience, my knowledge and my knowledge of Sarah to do the best job I can.

Knowing what I can be like, I am also prepared to be mauled over the ‘pickernick’ basket. Karma.