A Family Affair

Ellie Greenwood

In an effort to make the most of my limited vacation time from work, the opportunity to combine a family vacation with a destination race just seemed too perfect to pass up. It would be killing two birds with one stone – getting to spend time with my family and also getting to travel to compete at a race. The race in question for me was CCC 100km (Courmayeur Champex Chamonix, one of the sister UTMB races) in August 2012, which starts in Italy, runs into Switzerland and finally ends in France – surely an ideal tourist sightseeing event on foot!

My parents, sister, brother-in-law and 3-yearold niece had seen me race on a few occasions before but this trip would be rather different as we would actually be travelling and staying together pre-race, and they had kindly agreed to crew for me during the race itself, something none of them had done before.

Having put in the many days and hours of training required to be competitive at a European mountain race, I, of course, didn’t want the “family vacation” aspect of the trip to impinge on my racing performance, but then nor did I want to be Little Miss Boring and miss out on family activities in the week prior to the race, especially given I see my family only once or twice a year.

We spent about a week together in Chamonix pre-race. This was perfect as it meant that we had plenty of time to sightsee and do activities each day, without anything being too rushed. Had we had less time, the temptation might have been to cram too much sightseeing into the days leading up to the race and thus risk that I would end up being tired before the race had even begun! My sister and brother–in-law are keen hikers so it was nice to be able to enjoy a day out with them in the days leading up to the race, a chance to get a feel for the mountain trails and what the race course might hold in store. It was also good to be able to spend time with my 3-year-old niece who was more than happy to have a relaxing picnic and play in the park, so I felt that I was enjoying family time whilst also resting up my legs for the big event ahead.

We had chosen to camp a mile or two outside of Chamonix, which was ideal. It meant we could shop at a local supermarket and cook our own meals, something that I much prefer in the week leading up to a race than staying in a hotel and being restricted to restaurant menus. Given we were also not in the central hub of bustling Chamonix it also meant that I could go into the resort for race related things such as packet pick up, but I could also get away from the buzz and have much needed relaxation time with my family.

Ellie Greenwood and family enjoying the Swiss Alps

Ellie Greenwood and family enjoying the Swiss Alps

With my family having eagerly offered to crew for me on race day, we put a good plan in place and had one or two “team meetings” a few days prior to the race in Race HQ (aka our tent!). This was important as it gave me a chance to explain exactly what sort of assistance I might need and also gave my family a chance to ask questions to ensure that they were confident that they knew how to do a good job come race day! My family have fortunately followed enough races on Twitter, read race recaps on my blog, and seen enough photos online that they were pretty knowledgeable about what was needed from crew at an important race like this. For me, it was also key that although the focus was on helping me race well, that everyone had a role on race day so that they felt part of the day and included in the excitement – I didn’t want to be worrying that they might be getting bored during the race.

My dad and brother-in-law were the two drivers and are good with maps, so I felt confident that they would be at the aid stations when they said they would be; this was a major weight off my mind. My sister was assigned to be the one person actually allowed into the aid station tents to help me with food, fluids and gear; this was important as it meant I was only looking for one person as I came into the stations off the trail. By the second station, my sister had got the routine down pat, so our transitions became fast and efficient. My mum was chief cheerer (complete with Scottish and Canadian flags!), and it was nice to be able to look out for her in advance of each station, to see a familiar face and know that if she was there then it meant my sister would be in the upcoming aid station tent ready with my gear. As for my niece, well I think that she had fun and my family ensured that she got enough sleep that she was still, just about, awake at the finish line at 11 p.m.!

So overall, here are some things to consider when combining a destination race with a family vacation:

Choose a destination that everyone will enjoy, both in terms of vacationing pre- and post-race, and an event that you are keen to compete in.

Plan travel and accommodation logistics so you can relax with family pre-race.

Ensure that everyone has a role on race day that suits their strengths and interests, and ensure that they are confident in understanding what you need from them on race day.

During the race keep it simple and don’t have too many family members trying to help; assign one family member to be your main handler in aid stations.

Ensure you have time for family activities pre-race that everyone will enjoy, but ensure they are relaxing, and not too physically taxing, in the days leading up to the race.

And remember to plan a postrace celebration!

All in all it was a wonderful experience to have my family crew for me, and one that I hope that we can share again. Running and training for races is such a large part of my dayto- day life, so it is nice to be able to share it with my family and for them to see what it was all about and why I enjoy it so much.

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Ellie Greenwood ran her first ultra on January 1st 2004 at a Fat Ass 50km event in Vancouver, BC. She was immediately hooked on trail and ultra running, and has managed to make it to the finish line of about 49 ultras to date. Supported by several sponsors, including Montrail and Mountain Hardwear, Ellie balances training and racing with a desk job for Inghams Travel, a UK tour operator. Ellie’s racing highlights include a course record win at Western States in 2012, preceded a few weeks earlier by a 2nd place finish at South Africa’s Comrades 89km.

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