Having a helper in the 3100 or any ultra is a real bonus. From the helper's point of view it is a nice way to give and offer something to the runners. For a runner it ultimately adds to your performance levels. But...it is not always smooth sailing at extreme endurance events and there are pluses and minuses. Asphrihanal Aalto, one of the world's best multi-day runners never has a handler. Sarvagata Ukrainsky an equally talented runner, often has 2-3 helpers attend the 3100 mile race. So what are the benefits and difficulties?
- Having a good helper adds to your miles: Tarit is bringing out the best in William Sichel at the 2014 Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race and he has to if he wants to finish within the cut off time. You can see the difference it has made to his day.
- Nutrition: Your helper makes sure you take all your supplements and calories, which are easy to forget or forsake when you are in a race.
- Problem solving: Two heads are better than one and the same goes for an extra pair of hands. Dressing that hard to reach blister is a lot easier if it's done by someone else.
- Learning: If you are helping, it is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a future ultra. You learn a lot about what is involved: the ins and outs of the race, the emotional ups and downs and how to solve different problems. Most importantly it inspires you to perhaps take part. In the current 3100, Teekshanam Dodunu was a frequent helper at past events as was Jayasalini Abramovskikh, and they are both having great races.
- Time Saving: As a tired runner it is hard to function with normal activities like tidying up your gear or searching for sunglasses amongst your junk in the middle of the day. A good helper saves time and does these seemingly menial tasks which result in more time on the road or more time resting, valuable in any multi-day race.
- Motivation: A good crew keeps you going in the down patches and vice versa. "Encouragement," says 3100 Mile Race founder Sri Chinmoy, "shortens the distance." Jokes, music, general banter, special treats, it all helps. And at the completion, if the crew is open-hearted and dedicated, they feel the same sense of joy and accomplishment that the actual runner does. “It was almost as if I ran the race myself,” one of my handlers happily commented at one of my finishes.
- Tolerance: Your handler needs to be tolerant down periods and bad moods as does the runner. Everyone gets tired at an ultra, including the volunteers!
- Dependence: It is easy for the runner to become dependent: On occasions if my helper was not there in past 3100's, I would lose concentration and wonder where they were. I also had to keep them busy, which took away mental energy.
- There can be problems: I called Ukrainian ultra champ Stutisheel Lebedyev early on in the 2014 race, he was running better than he ever had. Churning out 110km days. He often has his wife and daughter help but neither had yet arrived. "What are you doing differently?" I asked. "No heavy load to carry," He replied. I could almost hear the wink, wink, nudge, nudge. He was referring to the freedom of just running, relying on yourself and not having anyone to chastise, blame or argue with besides yourself!
Overall though, having a helper adds to your happiness and overall results. No race would be complete without all the volunteers and selfless service heroes that add to the atmosphere and feeling of an event. At the 3100, for myself, I estimate a personal helper adds a mile day. Which over 52 days is a lot of distance. (Photo by Jowan Gauthier)
Tags: helping ultra marathon volunteer crewing nutrition race