The Ultimate Guide to Running Your First Relay Race

When I was in the height of using running as my main fitness outlet I really loved running relay races. It’s great to pass a weekend with friends, cramped in a van, pushing you body to the limit, and laughing and enjoying together. I made some really great lifelong friends and learn a lot about what my body can really do.

I already gave you all of my best tips for running marathons and 10K races, so I wanted to share some advice, tips, and tricks for running relay races, too.


What to do month before the relay race

The most complicated logistics you will face will be related to two very important reservations for your race:

  1. Where are you going to stay the night before the race
  2. Where are you going to borrow or rent the vans

Be sure to have these two booked well in advance as hotels and other places to stay near the race start fill up quite quickly.

Also, finding 2 vans for 6 people is difficult if you don’t plan to rent in advance. Often the rental company will have to bring the van from another location. If you are close to an airport, your best bet is to do you booking there, as they will often have more vehicles, in more sizes.

Ragnar Relay 2012 Cape Cod

Planning the relay race logistics

Be sure to look at the legs of the race and decide with your team who will take on each portion of the race. Always have a back-up plan if you lose a runner at the last minute. People get injuries or have other commitments all the time.

Is there someone on the team that can take some of the extra mileage? Do you have some other potential runners in mind and would be ready last minute?


Preparing to run multiple legs

Many of us don’t normally do more than one trainings a day. We select our workout time and give it our all and call it a day. When preparing to run a relay race that’s not going to be good enough. You need to play 2 a day trainings. It’s best if you do one training in the morning and 1 training at night.

This will teach your body to run on fatigued legs and run after only a few hours of recuperation. I highly recommend taking ice baths if you see any increase in inflammation with your double training days. You’ll be more tired when you start these trainings, but they will prepare you for the lack of sleep and muscle soreness that will come on race day.

Don’t forget to stretch after reach training to loosen up your tight muscles. You’ll be better prepared for your next session and avoid any cramping.


Safety during the relay race

Running on open roads and through the night can be dangerous and stressful. Make sure that you are fully prepared and always in communication with your team in the van. Wear a safety bracelet with all of your details, like a Road ID, and don’t forget your reflective gear.

It’s recommended to have the following:

VERY IMPORTANT: Test all of your gear before you go out on race day. We have faulty vest in the past and had to share with other team members. This could be a safety concern.

Team Shake Weight

Nutrition on the road and during the relay race

Since you will be doing a variety of distances, it is a good idea to have some race nutrition with you. If any of your legs are more than 10 km or 6 miles long, take a gel or other snack with you. For shorter legs you can refuel in the van.

Be sure to drink lots of water, eat bananas, and have salty foods. These will keep you hydrated and prevent cramping. You’ll definitely have enough time to stop for dinners while the other van is running. So plan ahead for your stop, so that you don’t go too far off the course.


Before running your leg of the race

Make sure you have all the gear that you need and let you friends know how you are feeling. This is important if you might need more help out on the course. Make a plan of when you will meet them and ask for another runner to accompany you if you need a bit more support.

If it is nighttime, ensure you have all of your reflective gear on and ready before the next runner finished. If you are doing a handoff from (or to) the other van, be sure to stay in good communication. Designate one person on the team and one back-up, from each van, to ensure the communication is happening.

The Pass Off

After running your leg of the race

Be sure to change into clean dry clothes and socks after your leg and stay warm. You body temperature is elevated and you don’t want to get ill.

Carrying some wet wipes or fitness wipes is keep to preventing a stinky van and keeping your other teammates happy.

Apply some body glide to prevent any chaffing that happen from long distance running, both before and after your leg. You’re going to be running again quite soon.


Decorating your vans & yourselves!

One of the most fun part of the experience is selecting your team name and a theme. We designed and ordered dri fit screen printed tees a few months before race day. I recommend purchasing 3 t-shirts per person, to one clean dry shirt per leg of the race.

Buy washable markers specifically made for decorating on glass to give you van an extra personal touch. It’s always nice to decorate together before setting off for the race to improve your team spirit and get your team motivated.



Other important tips

Be sure to put an air freshener in the car. You’ll all be sweaty and cooped up together for a long time. No one wants a smelly van.

Be sure to also carry a biodegradable bag for all of your organic trash produced from the food you will eat during your journey. And recycle anything else that is not biodegradable.

Have any difficult to recycle waste? For example those markets. Join the TerraCycle program to send those to also be recycled.

Ragnar Cape Cod Medal

Have you run a relay race recently? What other tips do you have to offer? Let me know in the comments.

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