Ragnar Relay Tips

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Last year, I ran my first relay race  – Ragnar Madison to Chicago – with the American Sweathearts. I’m gearing up to run my second Ragnar Relay, this time with the Wurst Ragnar Team Ever. Here are some things I learned the first time around.

Wash your hands every chance you get. Access to running water and soap is rare on the Ragnar course. If you stop at an exchange where you can go indoors (at a school or YMCA or something), go in and wash your hands. Brush your teeth while you’re at it. If your van stops at a gas station, go wash your hands. If you stop for food, wash your hands. Seriously. This felt so luxurious any chance I got to do it. As did brushing my teeth.

Sleep. Whenever you can. I felt sluggish leading up to my final leg last year. I tried to offset it by making sure I was hydrated and fueled, but a lack of sleep was really catching up to me. Some of the exchanges have space to stretch out and sleep, but it’s not cushy by any means (like a gym floor). So, bring an eye cover and blankets and make it work.

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Sleeping under a tree is also an option. 

Decorate your van. If you weren’t planning to do this anyway (for funsies), do it for the convenience. And the more obnoxious the better. Why? Not only is everyone else doing it, but it’s the only way your van will stand out among a sea of a thousand white jumbo size conversion vans. Because that’s what the major exchanges look like. That’s a lot of vans that look exactly the same. Finding your van becomes a game of Where’s Waldo.

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Beware of chafing. If you’re a seasoned runner, you may think you’ve already figured out your chafing patterns. But try wearing virtually the same sports bra for 30 hours. I made the mistake of bringing 3 different versions of my favorite sports bra for my 3 different legs of Ragnar. Bad idea. Definitely bring lots of Body Glide, bring a set of clothes just for lounging (especially for nighttime), and make sure your sports bras are different styles so they aren’t all rubbing you in the same spot. Consider going braless during your downtime (YOU’RE WELCOME). But not topless, I’m sure there’s a rule.

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This made sense at the time. Photo by Gingerfoxxx.

Bring real food. Don’t just bring your usual running snacks for before and during your runs. You are going to want some real food to eat during your downtime. You might think you can stop somewhere along the way, but there’s a good chance everything is closed when your van is on break at 1am. One of my van mates brought homemade chicken pasta salad. Pasta noodles with some chopped vegetables (maybe red pepper and olives?) in one container, and cooked diced chicken in another, and a bottle of Italian dressing. This way, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike could eat, and we could get protein and carbs without having to heat up anything. We kept it all in a cooler in the van. Make sure to bring some paper bowls, forks and a roll of paper towels. Another option would have been PB&J sandwiches, but I don’t think I could eat those for 30 hours. Also, bring cash for the exchanges that have groups selling [hot] food. Think Boy Scout troop + a couple grills.

Enjoy the experience! Running a 200-mile relay is a pretty crazy experience. I’m reminded of this every time I bring up Ragnar to a non-runner and try to explain it and answer the inevitable questions, but it doesn’t matter because basically, the other person (boss, parents, sisters-in-law) think I’m crazy. But it is a pretty great experience! Soak it all in and enjoy it!

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There are tons of other posts out there that have detailed packing lists and what not. So go read those:

Lauren Runs to Tri: Ragnar Packing List & Last Minute Tips
Don’t Look Down: What to pack for an overnight relay
Kelly the Culinarian: Reflections on the Ragnar Relay

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18 Comments on “Ragnar Relay Tips”

    1. Alcohol is not allowed on the course. Even if it was … between the sleep depravation and the chance for dehydration and stomach issues, I wouldn’t want beer during Ragnar anyway.

      1. Yeah, it sounds like a good idea beforehand but probably not once you get there. I understand about the stomach issues. I once 14 hours straight to NY to a concert and when I got there (completely sleep deprived) the mere thought of drinking the vodka I’d brought made me nauseous.

    2. Your comment reminds me of how this weekend when I was doing my first-ever 50-mile race, I talked with a fellow racer about how we were looking forward to a post-race beer. A few hours later, when I crossed the finish line, and the thought of beer made me want to hurl. It was possibly the first time in my adult life I have ever turned down free beer.

      1. There are some races where a beer sounds soooo good when I finish. And others where I can’t stomach the thought. Also, as much as I love “good” craft beer, sometimes I’d honestly rather have a Michelob Ultra at the end. I just can’t take anything heavier right away.

  1. Beans & rice? That’s a fav camping food of mine….make the beans & rice ahead of time, a thing of salsa, maybe some pre-cooked tofu or chicken to mix in. Still tasty cold (w/ a fork or in a burrito wrap) those times we don’t fill like firing up a grill. Seems it would be suitable eating-out-of-a-van food.

  2. Traveling food……we’ve taken these road tripping to races! You could make a salad of wheat berries (whole wheat grains) with tomato and cucumber with a balsamic vinaigrette, which is good with feta if you have a cooler! You could also do quinoa with celery, pecans, and dried cranberries with a raspberry vinaigrette good something a little sweeter. And then there’s a corn and black bean salad I make for picnics with sauteed shallots, roasted red pepper, and a little A1 (steak sauce).

    Have fun!

  3. Yay, I made the list!

    I loved having a seperate downtime outfit both times I’ve done Ragnar. And yeah, sleep when you can. I have mad respect for our drivers last year–they were driving and running–I was so tired I couldn’t stay awake any more.

  4. These are all great tips for the time when I finally do a Ragnar, which I’m sure has to happen one of these years.

    Also your point about the decorated van is a good one. The race I just did had a 100-mile relay component and everyone had those huge vans. Some of them got quite creative with their decorations, like the team that decorated their van like Sharknado (complete with tail and dorsal fin). Very cute, and entertaining for the runners, too.

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