In the same way that runners never tell other runners how to run their race, I'd never presume to tell anyone else how to do backup. But as Mrs Mac has been waiting for some handy hints I thought I'd share what works (or hasn't worked!) for me.
If you click on the June 2007 archives you'll find some posts on some of my early mistakes. This includes such gems as The Time We Missed Him, the classic Dos and Don'ts for a WHW Backup Team (that somehow got nicked and put onto t-shirts!) and Last Orders! (Dario's favourite story).
The following advice is personal to me and most of it has been learned the hard way but it may be of use to someone.
1. Accept that if anything goes wrong during the race it's always your fault. Wait for a more appropriate time to have a grown up discussion about who's fault it really was that the spare batteries were AAA and not AA as required. Naturally if everything goes according to plan it's down to their planning and nothing to do with you.
2. Never pack your runner's kit. If something is missing or lost then it absolutely is their fault because you never had a hand on it. This is the only exception to the above advice.
3. Get their race plan in writing. They can type it up, print it off on different coloured papers and laminate it if they really want (actually laminating it is a good idea especially if it's a wet day). Failing that even a few scribbled notes will give you something to work with. Trying to remember what they said at the last checkpoint gets more difficult as the day goes on as lack of sleep starts playing havoc with your memory. And never offer advice on said race plan unless specifically asked!
4. Obviously you'll have all the food and drinks that your runner has organised but don't forget to provide enough stuff for yourself. NEVER EAT OR DRINK YOUR RUNNER'S STUFF! (they might not want a chicken leg cos you've eaten the last jam roll). Being awake through the first night really messes up your body clock and you either end up eating non stop or forget to eat at all.
5. Never assume that toilets will be open, have toilet paper or soap. Carry your own TP, hand gel and be prepared to pee anywhere.
6. Be like Pinocchio and learn to lie. Even if it's lying by omission. This is one time you're allowed. Your runner will always look great/strong, their mate just left the checkpoint 5 mins ago and everything is fine at home. The funny thing is they know you're lying but when they're in that zone it's all they want/need to hear.
7. Don't moan. You agreed to be their backup. Accept it's going to be hard to see your runner suffer and struggle in places. Accept that you will suffer sleep deprivation. Accept that spending hours hanging around in all weathers is boring. This is the one time where I cater to The Runner's every whim, every unreasonable request and every bad mood and boy does he make the most of it!
8. If you haven't already watched it, watch Closing Distance (it's available on Youtube if you can't get hold of the DVD). See me in action and see what I do wrong! (well it was 5 years ago!)
If you've done backup before you'll already know what works for you. If this is your first time then I wish you good luck. Be prepared for anything as anything could (and does!) happen. And if you find yourself in a situation where you need help, just ask. It does sound cliched but we really are a family and you'll always find someone who can help you out.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the midges. Get yourself decent insect repellent. Avon Skin So Soft DOESN'T work.