M2M support crew report – for Rach Howden (3rd solo female)

I was a mixture of chuffed, surprised and horrified when Rach asked me to be her support crew for her solo attempt at Marysville to Melbourne. For someone with a tendency to have ‘Jen moments’ at the best of times, and my poor navigational ability (I once got lost in Princes Park), on paper I probably don’t appear to be the most logical choice for support crew.

I’m not all bad though. I am the most organised person that I know. I love lists. And I’ve done the M2M before (in a team). So I actually had fun preparing for it. In the weeks leading up to it I memorised the event program and used google earth & maps to figure out the best route from each leg.  I was still tortured with memories of last years race when Rach beat me to the Westerfolds transition and there was no way that was happening again.

Luckily for me Rach was a very easy person to support as she’s also very organised.

The day before we drove up to Marysville and registered. We stayed the night in a motel which along with having uncomfortably close beds also had a distinct ‘murders have happened here’ vibe. I was enjoying the feeling of not being nervous before a race so I slept okay. Well maybe with one eye open in case I was about to get murdered.

The next morning it was Rach’s birthday! To celebrate we were up at 5am to drive to Dom Dom Saddle to set up the bikes and then drive back to Marysville for the start of the race. Once the nervous runners had started racing I took off towards Dom Dom Saddle to wait for them (even though I knew I had plenty of time). Being in the Territory I had to park in the 4wd/SUV parking and this is where I stuffed up. I was reversing into a carpark (well some bush) when the bottom of our bike carrier touched the ground and damaged it slightly. I was so annoyed at myself.

I was still stewing over it but then once I got settled in transition with lots of the Vigor crew I let it go and had a really good time chatting while I was waiting for Liam to come in. He came in first solo male and then proceeded to do his transition in slow motion while I anxiously hopped from one foot to the other. Eventually he left but it wasn’t long after that Alex Houghton and then James Pretto ran in and then left in less than half the time he did. I wouldn’t have been as worried if they’d been on their own but together I knew they’d be a threat.

Rach came in not too long after, in front of the Dornom sisters and she was super quick in transition, flinging her shoes at me (I sensed she enjoyed it) and then she was off, and I was outta there! I didn’t need to go to Kinglake so it was straight to Westerfolds for me. Easier said than done because the drive down to Healesville took so freaking long I was trying to do sums in my head about exactly how much time I had to get there and I had Liam’s runners and oh my god what if he is so fast he beats me there.

The road was packed with cyclists, and I had a car in front of me (orange ford – you know who you are) who just refused to go around them, even when the road ahead was clear. They got in the way of the cyclists and I called them some names I cannot repeat here.

Luckily they were obviously going to Kinglake so I ditched them through Healesville and headed to the Yarra Glen/Eltham Rd. As soon as I got to Kangaroo Ground I felt I was on home turf and of course made it with ages to spare. I was the 2nd person in transition after Tim Dornom and set up where the nice Rapid Ascent lady suggested I should. I also met James Pretto’s sister Jess who was just as nervous as I was about stuffing up. Tim mentioned the drive from Westerfolds to Eaglemont is the one he’s found to have the most traffic and timing issues – cue more nerves!

After waiting what seemed like ages Liam came in, about 15 minutes down on Pretto, then about 10 minutes down on Houghton but only a few on Polizzi. I knew he could catch Alex P in the run but he said he was feeling pretty trashed and his back was playing up. He took off well anyway and I hoped he’d be alright. Awhile after that Rach came in, a few minutes down on Elizabeth Dornom by now but still no Bern. Another snappy transition and she was off, barking orders for more gastrolyte at the next stop. Bern then ran past me while I was lugging two bikes and bags back to the car.

I was pretty confident my chosen route (of following the Vigor Saturday morning return ride from Eltham) would be fine for getting to Eaglemont, once you get to Main Rd its all really suburban streets except for through Rosanna. Anyway I was fine and the only thing that slowed me down was speed bumps.

I only just missed Liam at that transition but he had others there to support him as we knew I’d be waiting for Rach at Westerfolds. I saw Elizabeth Dornom come into transition and had to work hard to convince Rodrigo (one of the Vigor helpers) it wasn’t Rach. Apparently they both have skinny arms. They DO look alike though.

When I saw Bern come into transition first I knew Rach wouldn’t be far behind. Sure enough it must have been a minute or so later when she came in. I’d teed up some help to carry her boat so I could focus on making sure she was eating and drinking, especially the gastrolyte she’d mentioned at Westerfolds. Getting her bony feet into the vibram five fingers was bloody hard so I left that to her. Eventually we got going and after some congestion at the river entry we got her on the water. Bern wasn’t too far ahead at that point.

I was super relaxed now as I knew exactly how to get to Dights and that I had a bit of time.  I inhaled the last quarter of Rach’s peanut butter sandwich that she gave back to me as I was slightly hungry. I’d been running on adrenalin and ANZAC biscuits so hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

Anyway I headed off to Dights and struggled for parking, but decided seeing everyone else was parking in one of the office carparks I would too. I’d heard from Rach’s brother Warren and he was on his way down. I met a few new Vigor people and they were going to help with carrying the boat so I was all good to just watch out for the ‘white surfski, white cap, number 109’. Liam came in while I was there and he looked stuffed.

I’ve never ever seen him like that before, I guess I’ve been racing too in the past, and any race we’ve done at the same time he hasn’t done it solo so this was my first time seeing him really suffer.

Not long after that Rach’s brother arrived after I’d given him a hurry up text message as my support crew sixth sense was telling me Rach wasn’t far away. And she wasn’t!
Elizabeth Dornom had a bigger gap now, but Bern was still within chasing distance.
The portage was horrible, it was a long way to run/hobble for poor Rach, and try and eat and drink. Her Dad was there as well which was nice, so I bossed him around a bit too.

After getting her away it was just a matter of navigating into Lorimer St! I had decided to wing this part a bit, and I knew how to get most of the way, by driving to my work which is on the corner of Collins St and Batman Hill Ave. The hardest part was turning into Johnston St, after that it was super easy and I got almost all green lights right into the CBD. Google helped me out getting around Docklands and I even snagged a great park once I got there!

I unloaded a pile of chairs, thermarest and Rach’s warm clothes bag onto friends at the finish line and by then I was starting to feel very hungry so had an awesome vegie burger. I was about two bites into that when I realised Liam had come in and was sitting next to me. So I didn’t get to see him stagger over the line because I was stuffing my face. Sorry Liam!

After I had a bit more energy it was back to pacing up and down waiting for the top 3 women to come in. I saw Tim Dornom running back to the start line so guessed Elizabeth was coming in, what an amazing achievement! But who would be 2nd!!

More pacing and waiting and then I saw Tim running back again, if Bern’s coming in Rach can’t be far behind! I thought I might go over to his spot out on the boat docks and I was almost out there was I heard everyone screaming at me to get back. I knew that’d happen! So I sprinted back and just got there as Rach was getting lifted out of the boat, I gave her a hand up as she was a bit wobbly and then she took off for the finish line.

Awesome finish and I was so happy for her. She didn’t stop smiling every time I saw her all day and had a great attitude the whole time even though she was obviously hurting a lot. To get on the podium was an awesome result!

The support crews job doesn’t end at the finish line, I still had to dry her cold bony feet and get her into some warm clothes! Luckily this year it was much warmer down there than the other two years so waiting for presentations wasn’t as painful. After presentations we eventually got going and I just had to navigate back to Clifton Hill. My brain had gone on strike then but luckily a combination of directions from Liam and Rach meant we didn’t end up on the Westgate (that has actually happened to me before).

So to sum up. It was absolutely no surprise to me that Rach did so well. Even though she trains nowhere near the amount that the first & second place getters do. She’s never done an ironman or raced for that long before like they have. But, and this is what I said to everyone all day, she just has this ability to suffer for a really long time and to just keep working really hard. Not everybody has that mental toughness. Just to scare her competition even more, she even looked like she was having fun doing it. What a way to spend your birthday!

Bet you didn’t think a support crew report could be just as long as a race report.

– Jen

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3 Responses to M2M support crew report – for Rach Howden (3rd solo female)

  1. Adam Evans says:

    Well done Jen. I am constantly amazed at the effort some people go to as support crew. It is by far the more difficult role on race day.

  2. Pingback: So what’s it take to be a support crew for a solo Marysville to Melbourne competitor | banzai adventurer

  3. Pingback: I am a solo finisher – Marysville to Melbourne | banzai adventurer

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