Guess what time it is? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an R and ends with AGNAR! That’s right, boys and girls, Ragnar Northwest Passage is just around the corner and in just one short month, I’ll be trekking up north again to participate in the relay series in Napa. I know what you’re thinking: This chick can’t possibly be writing another post about Ragnar. I mean, what is she, like an ambassador or something?
Actually, yes, I am.
But rest assure! This is not a Ragnar post. Relay, it’s not. (Hehe)
I’ve participated in many Rag- I mean, relay races and I’ve realized over the years that there is a specific recipe for putting together a successful relay team. Relay racing requires tons of, ahem, leg work, in order to produce a smooth racing experience for all. When I first started putting these teams together I made lots of mistakes. But I had an incredible mentor who answered all my questions and told me all the tricks. So that’s what I’m here to do today, my friends. Help me, help you relay!
Get Yo Peeps in Line
First things first, you need runners. Recruit, recruit, recruit! Almost everyone knows someone who races nowadays. Luckily, Facebook is making it easier and easier to find runners. You know all those annoying gym updates? Call them out! Oh, you ran 5 miles on the treadmill today at the gym? Have I got a race for you! I’ve used all types of social media to find runners for my teams, I even know someone who used dating sites to find runners. How’s that for a first date? Sometimes the best teammates are the people you’ve never met before. Eventually, you’ll have an entire network of relay runners that you can call upon to fill a team. And this video will be really hilarious…
After you’ve gotten people to agree to it, make them pay. Always, always get their registration ahead of time. Many people will commit, but these races are freaking expensive! I always require the registration fee to hold a spot on the team. Give them a deadline. If they don’t pay, they don’t play. Allow yourself plenty of time to find replacements.
The Early Bird Gets a Great Deal
Most races give a discount if you register early. Relay races are no different. If you can do so financially, register your team even if you haven’t filled all the spots before the price goes up. Take advantage of those discounts. Some races partner with different vendors, hotels, car rental places, custom t-shirt printers, and offer discounts if you book with those facilities. Secure your before/after race lodging and vans far in advance. Most companies will just require a credit card number to hold the reservation, but won’t charge until the deed is done. Don’t wait until the last minute, because those facilities fill up quick. Order your t-shirts/costumes early so you don’t have to rush deliver. Take advantage of cutting costs where ever you can and make sure all your teammates have an idea of what their share of the cost is going to be.
Training for a relay race is really no different from training for any long distance race. It’s important to keep in mind that you may be running in different climates, elevations, terrains, and clothing than you’re used to. It’s also important to keep in mind that you will be running on very little sleep and during the middle of the night in the dark. Running with a headlamp is awkward. So is running in a ninja mask or fish nets. Practice! Try to simulate these changes in your training runs. I like to run this mountain circuit by my house because it incorporates many of the changes I could encounter in my relay runs. Sometimes, the runs have already been mapped on programs like MapMyRun or Strava. Check it out on Google Maps. If you’re racing close to home, go to the streets you’ll be running. I’ve found that incorporating other strength training activities, like weights and core work, into my training regime will increase my stamina and endurance. And if all else fails, search for a relay training schedule online and follow it! Ragnar provides this Training Guide on their site.
I send out many detailed emails during the months leading up to a relay race. It’s important that everyone’s on the same page. As a captain, I find it’s easier to come up with a plan and ask for input rather than asking for input then coming up with the plan. It’s easier to make allowances once you have a base. Facebook groups or group emails are a great way to get all the information to everyone efficiently. It also allows for an open dialogue so everyone feels they have a voice in the team.
Initially, I make sure that everyone is aware of the costs and that the registration is non-refundable. Injury happens! And sometimes just days before the race. At that point, your team just needs an able body and you might be willing to make allowances for costs to get someone to run. In this case, it would be up to the injured teammate to get the registration money directly from the replacement runner. I split all the costs between the teammates equally…van, food, shirts, gas, hotels…etc. I do one big Costco shopping trip and give each van a stock of supplies. This is what works for me. Come up with a policy for handling costs and then implement it. The important part is to make sure everyone is aware of your policy before anything happens. You don’t want to lose friends because of cost issues but you don’t want to fund everyone’s race either.
Assigning legs and runner positions is also important to communicate early in the game. I ask for each teammate to give me their top 3 choices and then I assign positions based on pace and preference. I make it clear that you might not get the position you want, but that everything is carefully calculated and assigned for a reason. Usually, I have no problem accommodating within those top 3 choices.
Lastly, logistics and travel plans! Many times, runners are traveling from out of state and will need a place to stay before or after the race. Have this discussion early so people can travel together or room together, if possible. Some people prefer to do things on their own, which is fine too, just make sure you have that discussion so everyone is aware of what to expect.
The pacing calculator will be your best friend. I print out all the maps for the race and calculate the projected times for running based on the individual runners pace and distance of their run. Not good at math? Relax! Ragnar has a pacing calculator that does this for you! Before I figured this out, I made my own Excel spreadsheet that is now highly unnecessary. Remember to allow for elevation, weather, and fatigue in the later runs. Encourage each runner to be very honest about their 10k pace. If one runner is off by just one minute, it throws the projections off by hours. The projections are so incredibly important in making sure your next runner is ready to take off when your active runner comes into that exchange. Nothing’s worse than getting to the exchange after running your heart out and not having your team there to support you. It has happened to us all at one time or another…the van gets lost, there’s traffic, someone needs a Starbucks…those projections help you make conservative decisions when it comes to how you spend your travel/down time. So what will you do with those extra minutes…
Support Your Runners
Many times during the race it will be up to the team to support the active runner. This could be with water, Gatorade, GU, first aid, messages on the sidewalk with chalk, music, bullhorn shenanigans, cowbell, scissors for cutting off pants…whatever your runner needs, it’s the teams job to get it to them. This is a team effort and knowing that your team has most definitely got your back is a huge reassurance. Seeing my teammates on the side of the road ready to give me water and a cheer literally MAKES me keep running. Bask in the cowbell! Throw your arms up in victory when you hear that honk! And make sure that you offer that to all the other runners out on the course. That unity is the most satisfying aspect of a relay race. Complete strangers will offer you, without hesitation, a hug or a cold towel or a granola bar, and it will be the best damn granola bar of your life.
Just make sure to pass on the kindness to the next runner.
Are you considering a relay? Any specific questions or concerns? Ask in the comments and I’ll set your relay fears at ease!