Signed Up for Your First Ragnar Relay? Here's What to Expect

Running can be an isolating sport. Even if you have a training group and are surrounded by thousands of other runners on race day, ultimately, crossing the finish line is all about the runner as an individual. That is, until you run a race like a Ragnar Relay.

The Ragnar Race series is for everyone from newbies to veteran runners.
Credit: JohnnyGreig/E+/GettyImages

What Is a Ragnar Relay?

Taking teams of up to 12 runners approximately 200 combined miles, a Ragnar Relay is an overnight relay race — two days and one night, to be specific — where each runner takes three legs of varying mileage to collectively get to the finish line (and spends the rest of the time in one of two vans headed to the next leg of the race).

If your eyes widened reading that sentence out of fear, excitement or both, the important thing to know is that the Ragnar Relay is for everyone. Even if you've never run before. Even if you don't have running buddies. Even if you've never done a relay before. Because mileage varies between legs and between runners, there's room for all abilities.

"The most important thing is that it's not about how fast you are or how hardcore you are, it's just about finishing together as a team," says Jennifer Black, vice president of marketing for the Ragnar Relay Series. "It's about doing something together as a team that you could never do alone."

If you've already signed up: Congrats! You're in for the run of your life (in a good way!). And if you're wondering what you've gotten yourself into, you're not alone. Black says the most common question her team gets is, "What's the one tip you'd give a newbie?"

We talked to running coaches — all veterans of the race — to get you on track to properly train for this unique race series.

Start by Finding Your Team

You may already have your running crew picked out. But even if you don't have a team lined up, there are ways to find one. Black suggests heading over to the Facebook event for the race you want to do and post a comment to find or join a team.

There are IRL ways to find a team, too. "We have over 300 brand ambassadors who are well connected to the run communities where they live," Black says. "They can help you join run clubs, meet fellow runners and more."

You don't even have to have run with your teammates in order to join their ranks. You'll all have plenty of time to get to know each other in between the legs of the race traveling in your van to get to the next hand-off.

Choose the Legs You'll Run

There's definitely a strategy when it comes to choosing which sections of the race you run. A lot of it comes down to what your team's goal is (though most teams choose to simply have fun versus aiming for a specific finishing time).

In the Ragnar Relay, the shortest leg may not always be the easiest, so either look to the guidance of your team captain or do some research about the course before committing to a leg.

Lesley Mettler, founder and coach at CLA Fitness, says there are two main considerations:

  1. Look at distance and terrain. "Sometimes the leg with a mile or two more might actually be easier than the leg that has fewer miles but is very hilly," she says.
  2. Find the shortest third leg. "As most runners are not used to running three times in 24 hours, that third leg can be tough," Mettler says. "Starting with more miles and having only two to three at the end can make the experience better."

Train for Race Day

While you don't need a special training plan for the Ragnar Relay — though they do exist — there are a few things you should do while training in order to prepare for some race-specific expectations.

"You should be able to run a 10K comfortably at any time," says Grace Martinez, co-founder and co-owner of Run 2 Be Fit. "There are some longer legs that require more mileage, but as a newer runner, know your limits!"

Additionally, make sure your training plan takes into account the following anomalies of Ragnar race day.

  1. Run multiple times in one day. "As the event gets closer, try running two to three days in a row first and see how your body does," Mettler says. "If that goes OK, in a following week, try running short [mileage] in the morning before work, then running short after work and then again the next morning to let your body and brain know what it feels like to run three times in a short amount of time."
  2. Prepare for your total mileage. "For most runners, I would suggest making sure your weekly mileage in training is at least the total distance you will cover in the event," says Heather Blackmon, founder and fitness trainer at FITaspire. "It can be split into more than three runs per week, if needed."
  3. Get comfortable running tired. "It's hard to replicate everything — such as van movement, lack of sleep and straying from normal routines — but knowing what running on tired legs feels like is helpful," Blackmon says.

Read more: Training for a Race? Here's Exactly Where to Start

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Ragnar is no standard race. And there are a few features that may catch newbies off-guard. Even if you're an inexperienced runner, these are things you'll want to be aware of. Here are some common mistakes to avoid so you're as prepared as can be during your first Ragnar Relay:

  1. Choosing a race solely based on convenience. "You will want to think about the weather (hotter or colder than what you have available for training?), altitude (do you live at sea level and want to run in the mountains?), and terrain (road or trail?)," Blackmon says. "These factors will help you find a destination that you will enjoy and are things you should consider in your training."
  2. Not planning and practicing fueling. "We don't normally run three times in 24 hours, so it takes some work to sit back and figure out what do you need to eat after each run and before the next," Mettler says. "What will your body tolerate eating at 2 a.m.? What can you pack with you that is easy but nutritious?"
  3. Being unrealistic with expectations. "[A big mistake is] underestimating the impact of sleep, food, routines and [still] being a good teammate under stress," Martinez says.

Read more: 9 Nutrition Mistakes That Can Derail Your Marathon Training

Should You Do A Ragnar Relay?

If you're thinking about it, yes! "If you are on the fence about trying a Ragnar Relay: Just do it," Black says.

Sure, there are more considerations to be made than when preparing for a "normal race" — after all, you have to pack enough changes of clothes and gear and food to be in a van overnight — but this unique experience isn't something every runner gets to be a part of.

"Yes, there's running involved, but really it's [about] the social interaction, the van jokes, the camaraderie, the unforgettable sunsets and sunrises and the challenge of facing your fears (night running, tackling the hills, or simply being in a van with strangers)," Martinez says.

You aren't in it alone, whether you're suffering from nerves or forget something, your team has your back! Black says: "It's the only running event out there where you walk around with more new friends and memories than you can count!"

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