Support Crews: Planning and Equipment

article024Supporting starts long before the race day and finishes long after the race ends. You have to be everything to everyone in your team, at the same time.

Your budget is guaranteed to be limited, so plan in advance so that you have enough time to source equipment from friends and relations. You’ll need to find enough crates, boxes and waterbottles to fit all your stuff, and just when you thought you were organised, you’re going to have to unpack, discard unnecessaries and repack so that everything will fit into your vehicle.

You’ll never remember everything and during the race bright ideas will evolve at unexpected times. Invest in a small hardcover notebook for ideas, contact numbers and forgotten equipment that you’d like for the next race.

Are you ready?

You’ve probably been recruited because:

  • You’re a friend or relative of a racer and have been blackmailed into doing this;
  • You’ve volunteered – a rare individual.

It is more fun when there are two seconds and more efficient for the team. Recruit, kidnap or blackmail a helper.

The following series will cover the essentials from pre-race planning & packing your seconding vehicle to cooking for your team and what to do when your team comes in to transition.


Seconding vehicle, trailer & bike rack
You’ll need a seconding vehicle. Contact the race organiser for information on the terrain that you’ll be covering and recommended vehicle. The general rule is a rugged vehicle and perhaps a trailer. You will need enough space for crates, tents, cooking equipment, mountain bikes and other gear.

Bakkies (US: pick-up truck) work well – especially in good weather. You only need seating space for two seconds and the open back is ideal for crates. Hook up a trailer with bike rack and you’re set.

Bicycles need to be securely transported. Whether on a bicycle rack attached to the tow-hitch, on the roof of your vehicle or on the roof of the trailer, check that the loaded bikes do not obstruct your access to equipment.

Check the spare tyre and make certain that you are equipped with a jack, spanner, towrope and jumper cables. If you have a trailer, don’t forget to check it’s tyres and lights. Carry a jerry-can of fuel with you. You may not need it, but then again, you may.

May certain that you know how to access the wheels and the spare, change the tyres and use the jack.

General equipment (mainly for overnight events)
You need the basics and a few extra bits so that you’re suitably prepared for any eventuality. Many transition points won’t be located near amenities like taps, showers or loo’s, so bear this in mind when preparing your checklists. The easiest way to start planning is to run through the activities you’ll be performing.

  • A waterproof shelter: Those quick pop-up gazebos with side panels are top seconding shelters. But, a big tent or canvas sheet attached to your vehicle will work just as well. Make sure you can stand-up in the shelter and that there is enough space for 4 people to sleep comfortably. An extra 2/3-man tent will come in handy for the night before the start and should the team come in to transition for a long (3-4hr) sleep, you will have a place to crash. Put the big shelter up at every transition – either for shade, or for them to sleep. 
  • Tarpaulins/ground sheets (2): One for inside the shelter and one outside. You will use the outside one for every transition. Most transition points won’t have grass so the ground sheet provides a relatively clean floor. We’ve also used these to protect the bikes and gear while travelling. 
  • Small fold-up table (2): Very useful when preparing meals or just to put things on i.e. maps, drinks, first aid kit. 
  • Chairs (4): Stable fold-up chairs/stools are another essential. When the team comes in to transition, they’ll sit while they eat and change. 
  • Packing crates (lots): Those plastic/metal crates with lids that can be clipped down make packing and unpacking the vehicle a pleasure. They stack, protect their contents and can be labelled. 
  • Racing trunks (4): Make certain that each racer has their own racing trunk with a lid that clicks on and stays there. Get them to put their names on the top and on the sides. Two smaller crates per person also works well. One for clothing, the other for shoes and equipment. 
  • Cadac’s (2): Gas cooking is essential. Unless the transition is in an official camping area, you are not permitted to make fires. Two full canisters will cope with all your catering requirements. Bring additional for lighting. 
  • Cooler boxes (2): 1 for everyday stuff and 1 for frozen stuff only. 
  • Camping fridge: A luxury but handy for multi-day events. 
  • Lamps (lots): There is nothing worse than fumbling around looking for something or trying to cook a meal at 2am, in the dark. Just as Impressionism brought light to art, fluorescent globes and gas lamps bring light to camping. Fluorescent globes work really well and can be hooked up to the car lighter. You can never have too much light. 
  • Mattresses (to fit 4): Truth be told, after 36 hrs with no sleep, they’ll sleep on any surface – so this isn’t an essential. Foam camping mats work well to insulate bodies from the cold ground. 
  • Sleeping bags (4): The racers backpacks will be packed with bivvy bags and compact sleeping bags. Never remove these from their packs. Remember to pack their sleeping bags – and yours – from the pre-race night into the seconding vehicle. 
  • Water containers (2x25l with taps; empty coke bottles): At some transitions you may not have drinkable water. In any event, be prepared. Keep your 25l containers filled at all times and you’ll never run out. Use the coke bottles to mix energy drinks – filling a hydration bladder from the bottle is the easiest way. 
  • Thermos Flasks: If you haven’t got one of those big airpots, then bring along some regular thermos flasks. Keep them filled with boiling water all the time. You won’t know exactly when to expect your team in and since it takes ages to boil water, if you have it prepared, that’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about. 
  • Rope (1 x 20m; 1x 10m) and tie-downs: Whether it’s used to tie down the tent, string up a washing line or tie up the other second after 4 days together, rope is always useful. Tie-downs are essential for transporting kayaks and bicycles. 
  • Cooking stuff: Here are the basics. Kettle, 1x medium pot, 1x big pot (remember you’re cooking for 6 people), wooden spoon, bread knife, sharp knife, breadboard, can opener, big serving spoon, 4 x cutlery sets, 4 x bowls, 4 x mugs. You’ll be eating and drinking when the team is out, so you don’t need more than 4 of everything. 
  • Washing up stuff: You’ll be doing dishes and possibly laundry. You’ll need a tub, washing cloth/sponge, eco-friendly dish washing liquid, drying cloth and a little washing powder for clothing. 
  • Medical kit (big one): The team will be carrying a small emergency kit with them. You need a well-stocked kit in the vehicle. Here’s a couple of essentials: anti-inflammatory cream (Voltaren/Reparil Gel), anti-inflammatory tablets (Besemax/Myprodol), stretch fabric plasters (all shapes and sizes and strips), Arnica oil for quick massages, disinfectant (Detol/Savlon), Friars Balsam, cotton wool, gauze, Transact, second-skin, small syringe and needles for draining blisters, headache tablets, eye-drops, scissors, tweezers, anti-bacterial cream (Betadine), tape for strapping knees and ankles, knee guard (2), ankle guard, earbuds/Q-Tips, sunblock, aqueous cream and vaseline. 
  • Bicycle spares (per team): Speak to your local bicycle shop about making up a spares box. You pay for what you use and return the rest. You may need things like: chunky tyres (2), inner tubes (6), tyreliners, puncture repair kits, brake pads (2), spoke spanner, alen-key set, brake cables (2), gear cables (2), spare spokes (4), chain (2), chain-breaker, chain lubricant, Q-20,duct tape and cable ties.Each time the team comes in from a bike leg expect some work. They’ll let you know if they had any major problems. 
    • Check the tyres are pumped to the correct pressure. Each person may like their tyres at different pressures so get them to write this on their rimes in permanent marker.
    • When pumping up tyres, keep the valve on the top. If the tyre contains slime and the value is at the bottom it will all spray out and will clog the valve.
    • Make sure the wheels are on the right way around – this will affect their bike computers.
    • Securely fasten their bike lights and make sure they have fresh batteries.
    • Check the wheels are running smoothly and that the brake cables have been connected.
    • They’ll appreciate clean bikes, bike shoes and clean cleats.
    • Put their helmets and gloves on their handle-bars.


  • Navigation: As a second, another of your roles is navigator. Besides locating transitions, plotting the next points for the team and identifying route options saves the team time. Ensure that you order an extra set of maps when you fill in your entry form and keep a nav-set in the vehicle: compass, pens, pencils, calculator, ruler and highlighters.

Other bits:

  • Never be without duct tape, cable ties and a permanent marker.
  • Toilet paper aka fax paper. After a day or two, they’ll need to send a fax. Nothing beats catching up with correspondence. Keep a couple of rolls within easy access.
  • Lots of boxes of matches – assign each second a box and have a reserve stash. They’re like cello-tape and scissors they disappear.
  • Clothes pegs – hanging up wet clothing.
  • Binoculars – fun for spotting your team approaching.
  • Black garbage bags – Essential for wet, dirty laundry and trash.
  • Plastic shoping bags – useful for wrapping up stuff & trash.
  • Solar shower (available from camping shops) – after 3 days, they may want a quick warm rinse.
  • Flashing light so that your vehicle is easy for the team to find at night.


Draw up checklists to run through when preparing for a race. Check and replenish your equipment stocks. Add on items you will need specifically for that event.

Pack everything thing related i.e. bicycle stuff, cooking stuff etc. into crates, and label them.

Make sure that each person labels all their equipment and clothing – including socks and jocks.

Always pack the seconding vehicle yourself. You will be using the equipment so pack things where you can find them.

Get yourself a big roll of velcro – it can be used for typing down and securing anything.

Keep detailed information on each team member in a folder. You will need things like name, age, telephone, address, ID number, blood group, passport details, medical information (medication being taken, allergies, vaccinations), medical aid details and next of kin contact information.

Book yourself on first aid and massge courses. Learn how to strap knees and ankles and care for blistered feet.

Especially if you’re not used to driving with a trailer, practice before you leave home. Become comfortable manoeuvering a big truck with a trailer – that has 4 bikes standing on top of it.

If you have two seconding vehicles consider getting walkie talkies so that you can keep in contact on the road when you’re travelling between transition areas.

Keep a note book at the race in which you can write down things you need to remember for the next event. These can be items or just ideas on how to do things more efficiently.

Finally… though seconding is hard work and many of the little things you do will go unnoticed, it is a satisfying experience. It is a brilliant opportunity to be a part of a team, to get a way to some incredible places and to meet people who like yourself love the outdoors.

Author: Lisa de Speville