Monday, September 15, 2014

Tips for Surviving a Relay

It's Ragnar week! I'm so excited to get up to the Bay and hunker down for another fabulous racecation with some of my favorites - and some newbies!

I may not be a total vet when it comes to relays, but with two overnights under my belt (Ragnar DC | So Cal) and one shorter distance relay (ATL 20K), I think I have a pretty good handle on what to expect. I would love to do a marathon relay at some point, or some other long-distance non-overnight ones, so for now, my whole frame of reference is pretty much overnight relays for the purposes of your guide here! I wanted to whip this together for not only my newbie teammates, but anyone else who's on the verge of their first relay, too.
At the start of Ragnar DC, 2012.
Tips for Surviving an Overnight Running Relay

Pack More Than You (Think You) Need

One of the best packing tips I've seen is the idea of using gallon Ziploc bags to store your outfits. Not only does it keep things organized, but after that run is done, you can shove everything back in that bag to minimize overall stink. With the bags, though, it's easy to pack only the essentials. Don't be afraid to pack a little more than just what fits in those bags. For me this year at Napa, I'm adding a jacket, as it rained through nearly all of Napa last year. I also always pack at least 1 extra sports bra, 1 extra shirt, 1 extra pair of socks... you get my drift. You never know when that extra sports bra will come in handy... 

With that - and it's on the packing list linked above, but my best point to emphasize: use those gallon-sized Ziploc bags! It helps keep you organized while you're packing, but also as you're digging around in your duffel bag at 2 am trying to find your headlamp. And minimizes (read: does NOT get rid of!) the stink in your van. You'll thank me. Promise.

Get Over Your Fear of Porto-Potties

I mean it. Ragnar is far from short on portos, and while they're not the most glamorous (who ever said running was glamorous anyway?), you need to get over it. Only on major exchanges and/or on your van's breaks are you going to find the time (and, frankly, energy) to find a 'real' bathroom. And when you do, it'll be the best thing ever. But in the meanwhile, suck it up, hold your breath, and just go. Every. Time.

[Photo Cred: Ricole Runs]
Sleep Where You Can, When You Can (But Know You'll Be Sleep-Deprived Anyway)

Whether it's a 40-minute catnap in the backseat, or 3 hours in the beachside park, try and get your shut-eye whenever you're able. The photo above can be deceiving also - not every Ragnar has a major exchange that's inside with spaces to spread out under a roof. At DC, one of our exchanges was at a high school that we could have camped out at (we slept in the van in the parking lot); but at So Cal, all our major exchanges were outside parks or parking lots near warehouses. 

Keep yourself in mind - if you have a long run coming up and you haven't slept in 27 hours, it's not gonna be pretty. One of the best things my team did for me before my 12-miler during So Cal was making sure I sat down and slept at our exchange. I slept only 2ish hours in choppy increments, but I know it made a world of difference having at least some sleep. 

Nighttime selfie, So Cal 2014.
Get Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

There is no better way to make friends than to shove yourselves into a van for 36 hours. Moreso than that, there's no better way to make friends than having to change in front of people you've just met. Heather and I opened up our team meeting before So Cal with, "We talk about poop. A lot." It's going to be uncomfortable at first, but then you're all in the same boat van and you may as well make the most of it. And it turns into some great inside jokes afterwards. 

My major uncomfortable is running in the pitch dark - I'm an (admitted) total scaredy-cat and getting through the night legs are pretty mentally exhausting for me. At the same time, though, they're also freeing and exhilarating as I (sort of) conquer my nighttime fears. It's hard to push through that mental wall, but when I do... holy wow!

Your Routine Will Not Be Routine

We all have our race day routines. Get up, eat your bagel and peanut butter, drink your coffee, take your immodium, etc. etc. With few exceptions, know that your routine will be far from your routine during a relay. Logistically it's harder, you'll want to sleep more than you'll want to spend time french-braiding your hair into your lucky race-day-hairdo, and other things just don't become the priority! After some time in the van, you'll learn to sacrifice and take what you can get. 

Costumes Are Critical

Okay, so not critical but they really do spice up the whole experience and get you a little more amped up for the utter shenanigans about to come. I don't dress up for a race hardly ever, but have realized that not only does it pull together some more team camaraderie, but other teams get so excited when they recognize you time and time again from your van decor and team ensembles. 

Adventures in Runderland, So Cal 2014.
In DC, which was the first Ragnar for nearly our entire time, our only matching piece was our finish line, team shirts. After watching all the teams flying by us with their decked out vans, colored capes and silver leggings, we knew we had to take it up a notch the next time around. For So Cal, we had our start line costumes (characters from Alice in Wonderland, of course), and for the finish line we had our team shirts and all wore purple tutus. Our vans were covered in cheshire cat smiles and ticking clocks, and our magnets also had the cheshire cat smile - so when another team saw any of those smiles, they knew we'd been around. And they recognized us for just that! So again, not critical... but certainly an added element of fun. 

Two-a-Days Are/Are Not Critical

Take this for what you will - and it will depend on YOU and your strength and in-shape-ness. For So Cal this year, I was far from as in-shape as I needed to be to do 25.9 miles over three legs, but that wasn't just because I didn't do double days. I just wasn't in shape in general, but the only reason I hurt was after my final leg and I had to do this awesome jumping photo... you get the story. For DC in 2012, I was more in shape and it wasn't until the third leg that my body wimped out (under-hydrated) on the third (and shortest) leg. And now, heading into Napa and after a 100-mile August (many with double days), I'm feeling more in shape than I have in a long time and I'm ready to go, despite not having many recent double days. You need to figure out what's going to work for you - most of my doubles only occurred so I could get used to running in the dark again. 

Enjoy the Scenery

No matter which course you're doing, whether it's a Ragnar through the mountains or Napa, or Reach the Beach, there's scenery to take in. That's half the fun of racecations, right, is getting to see everything! So Cal is my home, so while there was nothing new or exciting to take in, it was still a feeling of "Wow, I live here!" that made me really appreciate where the course took us. 

[Photo cred: Trista. I think. So Cal, 2014.]
Enjoy whatever comes your way - whether it's new or not - and stop and take those photos. In a 30+ hour relay, those 2 minutes to mess with your smartphone camera are not going to matter. I promise. My friends and running friends especially know that I am constantly snapping away, but hopefully come to appreciate the fun, random shots we've got later! 

Have Fun

The obvious one, of course, but I mean! The logistics, the lack of sleep, the runger, the nighttime scary runs are all really easy to get stressed over. At the end of your trip (and really, throughout), you just need to look back and say you had a great time. That's what these races are all about - having fun, being a little ridiculous, and getting to know 11 other runners really, really well! 

What other tips would you share for someone running an overnight relay?


  1. Pop Tarts are absolutely essential for relays. Come well-stocked.

  2. Were pop tarts purchased as part of our team food? That is the only food on the list that I got super excited for - I haven't had one in YEARS because well they just aren't healthy but I'm not planning to be healthy on this trip!!! Well besides the running part...