A CREW’S POINT OF VIEW
I was asked by Chris Ette to form part of his crew team in his Deca Enduroman attempt from June 1st- June 10th. Now I have never crewed before and I have very, very limited triathlon experience. When I say limited I mean I have completed 1triathlon, total.
To outline what was set out in front of us. Chris was going to attempt the Enduroman Deca held in the New Forest, Hampshire. The Deca format was 10×1 iron. This meant a 2.4mile lake swim, 116 mile undulating bike ride and a 26.6 mile trail marathon for 10 days. The history of this event makes tough reading. Of last years 22 deca entrants, 3 completed the course. The winner, Gerry Duffy (Irish endurance legend) finished in 160hrs 11mins. An average of 16hr Ironman. This was a challenging event on a challenging course.
Prior to the event we had discussed the Deca Enduroman 2011, the tactics and admin of teams competing. Highlighting failures and successes from the previous year. Chris outlined a plan based on what he thought was an achievable pace to maintain throughout the 10 days. The plan was to break each day into allowing 2 hours for swim and transition, 8 hours for the cycle and 6 hours for the marathon. This giving us the pace set by last year’s winner of 16 hour days. As crew it would be our role to maintain nutrition levels and aid Chris as best we could.
We arrived in the New Forest for the race registration and briefing 1700hrs May 31st. Chris had booked a cabin which we would share with another team. The cabin was something which was a success from last years review. The athletes that completed the deca and quintruple last year all stayed in heated accommodation. After the race brief we set off to set things up for the first day of racing. Crewing as I’d quickly discover is a code triathletes use for sherpa, maid etc. The outline to each day was the same.
0430 Alarm 0430 (Chris like a kid at Christmas is awake already)
Fill up water bottles for first laps of bike
Breakfast- Porridge, tea x2, more porridge
0515 Bike racking
0545 Lake side for daily briefing by race co-director Steve Hayward
0600 Swim start
The plan for the swim was to stop every 2-3 laps to consume hot beverages at lake side. This was to combat the cold and maintain Chris’ core temperature. A lot of athletes last year withdrew or were forced to withdraw from the swim or close after due to their inability to combat the cold.
During the swim one of us would set up his cycle kit in T1 in order to minimise the length of time Chris could get cold.
0704 First iron swim completed
Walk uphill to T1
0720 Out on bike laps.
The bike laps were 11.6 miles long rolling through an undulating loop of the new forest. The laps took approx. 40-45mins. This required us to time when to have hot food ready. Chris would do the first 2 laps then start to stop on laps 3, 4,5,7,9 for food. We fed Chris everyday food whilst on the bike. This included bacon and sausage sandwiches, egg and bacon sandwiches, cake, noodles, Dutch soup and flapjack today. Keeping his top tube box topped up with sweets, crisps and Haribo (staple diet). During the bike we also had to wash and dry out his wetsuit, tri suit, goggles and hats. Prep run kit and determine what clothing was appropriate for the conditions.
1440 Finished bike.
Chris completed one lap before getting changed in his cabin. Which was adjacent the run course route.
1450 Start marathon.
The run course was a hilly 1.1 mile loop around Avon Terrell estate. Chris would complete these in 10-15mins. Chris would stop every other lap for food. During the run it was thought best to keep to spoonfuls of easy to swallow foods. Today’s items were rice pudding, custard, jelly, soup and sweets. Chris would also take sips of Coffee, flat coke, Red bull, Lucozade and water. During the marathon another member of the crew would be cleaning and maintaining Chris’ bike, washing and drying the cycle kit, preparing the evening meal, refilling the food stock of “bike food” and trying to maintain the upkeep of the cabin.
2007 Finished 1st Enduroman. Total Time-14:07:09 (as you can tell the 16hr pacing started well!!)
Once finished we concentrated on relaxing Chris in preparation to sleep. So Chris ate, chatted and had a massage. This time was used by us to wash his run kit, refill the “run food” box, set out tomorrow mornings bottles and breakfast ready for making in the morning.
2230 Day 1 completed.
During the night Chris’ body was reacting to the day’s activity by having severe night sweats. This meant changing bedding in the middle of the night. Keeping fluid and nutrition bedside in case he woke hungry during the night or could eat whilst changing the bedding. As the event unfolded rather then changing his sheets during the night. Chris started to sleep on towels. Then when he woke from sweating we just took the towel off the bed and he slept on another. I quickly learnt preparation was key to everything (most importantly extra minutes sleep for myself!). As the demands on Chris grew the finishing times became later. This meant the turn around from activity to rest needed to become shorter. As a crew we became more efficient and sifted the necessities (food, showers) from the luxuries (ice baths, browsing the days splits).
Day 1, 2, and 3 were completed with relative ease. Day 4 we started to encounter problems. Chris experienced mechanical issues and this meant delays to his overall finish time but at a 16:14 finishing time, this was what we had planned for. Day 5 was a challenging day. The weather had turned and saw torrential rainfall with gale force winds. It was this day that the focus for the crew turned from cooling Chris, to increasing his core temperature. We tackled this from the very start of the day by doing basic things. We warmed his swimming gear and cycle clothing with hot water bottles. Rather then placing two bottles of cool liquid in his cycle bottles we placed one with hot tea/coffee/Bovril/honey and blackcurrant. This meant that we now had to time when to heat food and water to coincide with his lap times. Chris also experienced 3 punctures and tyre issues this day. This was difficult for him to rectify out on the course being cold and soaking wet. His finishing time for Day 5 was 18:06 (0006 in the morning). It was from this day that the knock on effect of lack of sleep and tiredness started to take its toll. The deterioration in Chris was noticeable. Mentally you saw him become more easily irritable and flitting between focusing on completing the deca to racing the deca. This trend continued until the end of the event.
The last 5 days obviously were slower then the previous days. Finishing times ranging from 2325-0006. This meant that as the event wore on it was important that the crew needed to communicate well and dedicate jobs to one another. This ensured things were completed and nothing was missed due to tiredness. Day 8 and Day 9 saw a change in the cycle loop. The route had to be changed due to gale force winds which had blown a tree across the road on day 8. The wind was too strong from the start on day 9. Meaning for health and safety purposes the athletes needed to observed more closely and the new route was slightly more sheltered. The new route was shorter at 5.8 miles and needed to be ridden 20 times. For us crew this meant that we would be seeing the riders more often. However, this turned into an absolute nightmare in terms of getting food and hot drinks ready. Keeping count of laps was even harder. The previous 7/8 days routine seemed hard to shake and the new numbers seemed alien to us. Everything seemed foreign in our sleep deprived state. It was as much a relief for Chris to come off the bike this day to him as it was to us. Trying to motivate a cyclist when he and you don’t know how many more miles he has left is extremely difficult to say the least! The standout out moment for me this day was a comedy scene. Chris had returned from one of many laps. This was a planned no stop lap. As he went round the turning circle he shouted over to us “how many laps left?” Well Sam turned to look at Lynn, Lynn turned to look at me, I turned to look at…..Shit there was no one else. I did not have a clue. I was helpless. “Just keep going” I said. Chris was not amused ” I’m getting f***ed off with this” he said. I presumed he meant the cycling!!
One thing we tried to do from the start was to give Chris a new food each day. This worked to great effect in lifting his morale and outlook. It was always something simple and easy for us to introduce whenever he felt a lull. Usually between 2-6pm. These foods ranged from flapjack, wedges, ice cream, banana cake, chips, jelly, cheese toasties, pancakes, burgers and profiteroles. These were all surprise items to Chris.
I have to say strangely I found the last day the hardest and I think Chris found it hard also. It was strange to be so close to the end of the event. It felt like we were there already at the start of the day. It’s like being on your last mile of your run/cycle. You know you’ve worked hard and the rewards of finishing are within grasp. The only issue was Chris still had a 2.4 mile swim in a cold lake, a 116 mile hilly cycle ride in the rain and 26.6 miles of hilly trail to run. All in all anything between a 16-19 hour day. So close to the end he was not. I’m sure Chris thought the last day would be a mini celebration. Cycling in shorts in the sun, chatting to riders as they went. Enjoying the marathon in shorts and a vest. Receiving the acknowledgement for the epic task he had undertaken. Instead we finished at 0006 on Monday morning. In the dark of the New Forest with a handful of family, friends, other crews and organisers. It seemed strange to witness the Deca athletes coming in having achieved something only a very select few have completed and many, many cannot comprehend to little or no public appreciation.
Crewing was harder then I expected. When Chris asked me I looked at the figures and thought this was easily doable. Chris would swim in about 1 hr, each cycle lap would be about 45-50 minutes and I’d enjoy watching people “run around”. I would get ample opportunity to watch an endurance event and sample the atmosphere. Helping myself gain valuable knowledge for any future challenges I may undertake. Whilst I gained priceless experience and had first hand insight into the endurance world. It turned out to anything but a social jaunt.
On a personal point of view I really enjoyed crewing. Yes it was hard work but you somehow become embroiled in the whole “race”. The athlete becomes your responsibility and you take on a weight of responsibility. Somehow as if I was racing the Deca myself. I found myself unable to leave the race and take breaks fearing I might “miss” something or there would be a problem only I could fix. There is a fine line between crew and friend. As a friend it was hard to watch the deterioration in Chris’ body. However, foremost in my mind was that I would not be responsible for Chris not completing his goal of completing and how failure would bring with it the devastation that comes with a DNF. As his crew I knew that the event was an epic challenge but one he had prepared for and was more then capable of completing. The 10 days were full of emotional highs and lows for all. Chris’ completion was the ultimate reward for Sam, Lynn and I.
I can only recommend if someone asks you to crew you do it. The rewards far out weigh everything.
CREW CHRIS ETTE DECA ENDUROMAN 164hrs 45 minutes 55 seconds