Watch for it the next time you're listening to a post-race interview of a runner. The finisher will inevitably thank their crew and support system for helping them get across the finish line. The crew is an integral part of most ultra-marathon finishes. Throughout an ultra marathon a runner is pushed to incredible limits. They experience highs, and lows. They see amazing things, they imagine they see things that aren't there. While much of the hard physical work falls to the runner, a lot of the emotional and mental logistics weight is carried by the crew. If you're crewing a runner, here's some things to keep in mind.
The days leading up to the race can be very stressful for a runner. Tackling anything you've trained months for is exhilarating and nerve-racking. Your runner has a lot to deal with without having to think about logistics for the race. As a crew it's important to understand all that is being asked of you - which aid stations you should meet your runner, how to get there, goal paces, nutrition plan, where headlamps should be given, whether they prefer coke or ginger-ale.... But all that should be discussed before the week of the race. It is much less stressful for a runner to go into the last few days before the race knowing that their crew is dialed. No need to explain things, etc.
Chances are the runner you are crewing has some serious goals. They could be shooting to win, hoping to finish, and everything in between. It is important that you know exactly what their goal/s is/are and how much they want to be pushed to reach them. If your runner's main goal is to finish top 5 then you, as a crew, should be prepared to get them in and out of aid stations quickly. Think NASCAR pit-crew rather than annual physical check-up. On the other hand, if your runner's goal is to finish, it's okay to take the extra time for a full check-up. Make sure they way you treat the aid stations aligns with your runner's expectations.
At some point your runner will come into an aid station looking rough. It's your job to get them back out on course feeling confident and ready for the next stretch. But how you do this is personal to each runner and to each individual instance throughout the race. Pump up music, dancing, and slaps on the back may work early in a race, but four hours later your runner may need that halftime, down by 25, gonna make a comeback speech. Know your runner, read their moods.
If your runner has a pacer with them, it's always a good idea to have one of your crew members check-in with the pacer, discreetly. A lot of times your runner will confide in the pacer out on course (i.e. "my feet are hurting," "my stomach is upset," "I'd kill for a piece of cake.") and then completely forget about it. The pacer can give the crew a heads up about what's needed to get the runner going again. This becomes especially important during sections of the race where the runner isn't feeling so great. The pacer can help direct the crew to encourage more calorie consumption, suggest dry socks, etc., all without being negative in front of the runner.
99% of the time your runner is looking forward to seeing you. When they roll into your aid station, it's important that you are 100% focused on what they need at that moment, and for the next stretch of the race. Even the most out-of-it runners can sense when their crew is going through the motions or mad at each other. Focusing on your runner is a fantastic way for them to not feel alone. They know that you've got their back no matter how ugly it gets. On top of that, keep spouting those trite, positive affirmations: "You're looking good," "you got this," "you smell good." Even when they're not true, that can really help the runner keep their mood positive. Unless you're seriously concerned about the safety of your runner, avoid negatively talking about their performance.
Never mention not finishing! (again, unless you are seriously concerned about the safety of your runner) If you bring up the DNF possibility, your runner will dwell on it and you've pretty much guaranteed a non-finish. Your main job is to get your runner across the finish line! Talking about a DNF is the shortest way to actually achieve a DNF.
You can't take care of your runner if you don't take care of yourself. Sleep when you can. Drink fluids. Eat. Crewing is exhausting in its own right. If you overlook your own needs you won't be able to be there for your runner.
As soon as your runner crosses the finish line, celebrate with them! Crossing the finish line of an ultra is a huge accomplishment. They deserve to be celebrated. You deserve to be celebrated!
Crewing for an ultramarathon is an awesome experience. You meet some incredible people, witness inspiration performances, and get to be a part of (presumably) one of your friends big moments. Enjoy the experience!