By Princess Jodi
Do you want to run a Ragnar? Doesn’t have to be a Ragnar…
It could be any multi-day relay adventure involving teams, vans, sleeping in fields, navigating new places and, of course, running. Lots of running.
When I was chosen to run the Ragnar Relay Napa Valley with the Another Mother Runner team last Fall, I had no idea what to expect. I had never done a relay. I had never met my team mates (save for brief runDisney encounters with the captains, Sarah and Dimity). I was a total relay rookie, figuring it out as I went.
Since finishing Ragnar Napa, I have had questions from friends and contacts on social media about what a relay is really like, and what you should know going into a race. I am definitely no expert, but my 38 hours on the road with the Badass Mother Runners (BAMRs) has given me a few pearls of wisdom I am happy to share!
GET ORGANIZED: A relay race really requires the mother of all organization. If you thought getting ready for a destination race was a lot of work (and it is!), you can basically multiply that by…infinity. You will need pre and post race items (which may or may not be with you during the race itself), runnning attire for 3 legs, sleeping items, and extra things like KT Tape, water bottles, hats, jackets, nutrition and anything else that will keep you comfortable. You need a lot of stuff. At the same time, you have to pack efficiently because there will be 5 other people in your van with all of their stuff. It’s a balancing act!
BAMR Tip: Pack each run leg outfit in its own ziploc bag (this will double as a laundry bag post-run). Add your run map to that bag so you can familiarize yourself with the route before you head out. Don’t rely solely on route markers and other runners, as you may find yourself running solo due to the varying team start times. The route markers may be quite spread out and course marshalls tend to be only at exchange points. Don’t be too anxious about this, but have a general idea of where you are going and where you are meeting your van. Information is power. You’ll enjoy your run much more if you are not worried about where you’re headed.
BE CREATIVE: Have some fun with your van! This will be your home for 2 days. In some ways, it goes by in the blink of an eye. At the same time, the suspended reality you are about to enter will feel like it can’t be defined by time or space. When we finished our race in Napa Valley, it was hard to believe it was already over – and yet it seemed like years ago that we had loaded up the vans in San Francisco. Decorating the vans was a great bonding experience for our team, especially since we were just meeting for the first time. It was a great way to kick off the race. You’ll want your van to reflect the spirit of your team, and be easily identifiable amongst hundreds of other white vans. So have fun with it!
BAMR Tip: Add your names and check boxes for your run legs – it feels great to check them off one by one! Oh, and when removing the paint after the race, a hotel key card works wonders for scraping and saves your manicure. Yes, I’m here to help with the important matters.
DRESS THE PART: Just as your van is your home for 2 days, you will live in your team outfit for 2 days. Kind of. In our case, our trademark was the Tough Girl Tutus we all wore. Although we switched tops and bottoms between runs, the tutus were a constant. It made it easy to find our runners as we just had to look for the pink tulle! It was also great because other teams and runners would often let us know that they saw one of us on the course, which was helpful at exchanges. Some teams go ALL OUT and really take their costuming to a whole different level, which makes for great on-course entertainment and people watching at exchanges.
BAMR Tip: You want to look cute, but remember, you also have to run! And depending on your run legs, you might have to run quite far and at different times of the day. So make sure that besides looking totally adorable, you can also run comfortably. This means testing your outfit before the big race and making adjustments as necessary.
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT: Many of us are not necessarily used to running in the middle of the night. This is a real treat and a very defining moment of a relay. It is also the leg that most people, myself included, worry about the most beforehand. Because you are often running alone in an unfamiliar place, adding the blanket of nightfall can be stressful. Some runners bring a team member with them for safety in numbers, so you can do this if you would feel more comfortable. But the most important safety tip for running at night is being seen. You will be required to wear a reflective vest, so plan ahead to ensure that your van will have enough as everyone needs to be wearing one during night hours, not just your runner. Besides the vest, add some other reflective gear to your outfit as well as glow-in-the-dark items. This is not only fun, but will help your team to spot you at the exchange. My team could see me coming a mile away thanks to my glowing, blinking, sparkling gear!
BAMR Tip: Take a few night runs before the race to test your reflective vest and headlamp. If you are not used to running in the dark or with these items, it can take some getting used to. Hit up the Dollar Store for some glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets, and get ready to run the night! My night run was my favourite leg of the race. Flying along a night leg at 3 a.m., totally outside my comfort zone, I felt more alive than ever.
STAY CONNECTED: Although you will feel like you are going “off the grid”, don’t take that opportunity to completely unplug. It will be important to have your mobile phone on hand to stay in contact with your team. You will also want your Garmin or equivalent so you will know how far you have run and when to be on the look-out for your exchange. Ragnar often has a “One Mile to Go” sign that can be a very comforting sight, but they can also throw a curveball to your team at any given moment as we discovered when an exchange point was changed, and mass confusion ensued. Our runner did not have her phone and didn’t know where to meet us so she just kept running, well beyond her own leg. Without any way to communicate during the chaos, we had quite the adventure trying to get back on track!
BAMR Tip: Take your phone, run with your phone, bring a charger for your phone. You need your phone. Love your phone. Become one with your phone. That is all.
BE PREPARED FOR EVERY POSSIBILITY: No big deal, right? But here’s the thing about relays: over the course of 2 days and 200 miles, with 12 people, things can happen. Not everything goes according to plan. You may get lost (we did). You may lose a runner (we did). You may go to the wrong exchange (we did). You may have someone sick in a porta potty all night (we did). You may have to run through sweltering, unseasonable – and unsafe – temperatures (we did). Anything can happen. And something will go wrong. Be prepared with Plan B and C and even D if needed. Don’t rely on the race officials to fix things for you. They couldn’t find our runner. They couldn’t help our sick runner. They weren’t prepared for the heat either, so they didn’t have water and ice on the course when I needed it. Like, needed it so badly I was seeing ponds and lakes in the desert. I call Leg 3 my 9+ miles of beautiful misery, where the scenery was breathtaking, but I was slowly circling the drain.
BAMR Tip: Take matters into your own hands and always put safety first. If I could go back and run Leg 3 again (shudder), I would have stopped first for ice and extra water, and I would have asked my van to support me despite the no-support rule on that leg. They would all agree. And that is exactly what we did for the runner after me. The rules are in place to minimize the chaos, but always listen to your instinct and make your health, and that of the team, the most important thing. If it means breaking a rule and risking a penalty, take the risk. Take care of each other. In the end, it’s just a race.
GO WITH THE FLOW: As covered, a lot can happen during a relay. You will not be in control of most of it. If that very thought stresses you out, this may not be the race for you. But if you can let go and take the adventure mile by mile, you will have a blast. In a team of 12, certain personalities will be more dominant than others. You may need to speak up at times. You may need to shut up at times. You may need to adapt. You may even learn something about yourself. Everyone will be hungry, sleep-deprived and running on fumes by the end of the race. There will be a huge high at the finish line followed quite quickly by the realization that the adventure is ending. Emotions are high and blood sugar is low. Be kind to everyone. You are all on the same team. And you will enjoy the experience much more if you can take it all in, and not sweat the small stuff.
BAMR Tip: Most of the race will be a blur when it’s over. Take a lot of pictures along the way so you can remember it – and relive it – afterwards. Videos are great too, especially if they happen to involve dance parties or singing “Time of My Life” on the freeway! Soak in those moments. And know that the stressful times during the race will make for some of the best jokes afterwards (I promise).
BE BADASS: Yep. Just be badass. There are so many unknowns in a relay. Those fears can paralyze you or you can take a leap of faith and enjoy the surprises along the way. Many of us had concerns in my van, whether it was running the night leg alone, conquering elevation gains, or navigating the van in an unfamiliar place, but we tackled them head-on. We all made the decision to embrace the challenges. On my first leg, I stopped to take a photo a mile from the exchange. I had been running hard and it was hot – but I was in California! And I didn’t fly across the country to take it easy, right? A male runner came up behind me and said, “Keep going, you got this.” Figuring that he assumed I stopped due to fatigue, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, thanks – just grabbing a photo” to which he replied, “I know you’re fine. I’ve been trying to catch that blonde ponytail for the last mile!”. Yes. Fierce. Fearless. Badass. You will have a few moments like this during the race – earn them, and enjoy them.
BAMR Tip: Nothing makes you feel more badass than having your van drive by, screaming and yelling and ringing cowbells. Similarly, it is rather awesome when another team’s van does the same thing. Or a runner offers a kind word. Pay it forward. Make time to channel my co-captain, Dimity, who became known for her cowbell and trademark, “Good job, runner!”. Part of being badass is helping others to feel badass.
MAKE SOME NEW BRFs: There are always Ragnar teams looking for extra runners and it is very common to have complete strangers on a team together. Even if you put your own team together, you may not have 11 runner friends at the ready and could find yourself putting a call out for others to join. Or, maybe you will get lucky and win a spot on a team like I did! The point is that many, if not most, Ragnar teams don’t know each other before the big race. Although you may start off as strangers, you will get to know each other very well over the course of 200 miles! In our case, we spent months chatting on Facebook as we prepared for our adventure – but we didn’t meet in person until the weekend of the race. Our team clicked from the first night. We are still in touch regularly and have even planned a reunion race weekend this spring! As one of my teammates said, it was such a huge prize to win our places on this team, but it was an even bigger prize to “win” each other. And if you are a runner, you know that you can never have enough BRFs!
BAMR Tip: This one is easy and doesn’t apply solely to Ragnar or relay races. Find some running friends. Go for a run or sign up for a race with them. If you don’t know where to find a BRF, try a local running club or clinic. Or check out Facebook event pages for your next race. I met Princess Laural on a Disney board when we were both training for the Princess Half-Marathon! Or, just ask a friend to sign up for a race with you – you might be able to turn a non-runner into a BRF as I did with Princess Alana!
Can’t get enough Ragnar stories? Click here to read the Another Mother Runner relay recap, written by our whole team. Or, check out the Another Mother Runner Ragnar podcast here. For even more reading pleasure, visit the blogs of some of my team mates and enjoy their recaps!
- Faux Runner: Ragnar Relay Napa Valley
- Project Lovely Laura: My Napa Adventure
- BoxerRunner: Ragnar Napa Valley
Tell Us: Have you ever run a relay? What tips would you add?