A Short Guide to Running a Ragnar Relay

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By Takia McClendon

If you're familiar with City Fit Girls, you know we're an all-levels running and fitness community for women. We love to inspire and motivate each other to reach our fitness goals. Usually those goals include running more miles, lifting more weights, or doing more yoga. Last month, a few of us had the opportunity to challenge ourselves beyond our imaginations by participating in Ragnar Relay PA. 

If you ever considered running a Ragnar Relay race or just want to know what to expect when preparing for one, this post is for you.

If you've never heard of a Ragnar Relay, click here to learn about the overnight race series and to learn more about our team. 

This post will be organized into the following categories:

  • Prepping for Regnar Relay
  • The Course: Ragnar Relay PA
  • Logistics 
  • Van Life
  • The Finish Line

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Prepping for Ragnar Relay PA

Although we were all familiar with Ragnar Relay races, no one on our team had actually participated in one. After reading through the Ragnar website, dozens of blogs and talking with friends who had participated in Ragnar Relay races, we had a system in place to make sure our team members were prepared for the big weekend. 

If a Ragnar Relay is on your radar, check out these tips to start prepping for your race:

  • Select a Team Captain: We identified a team captain early-on to be the "go-to" person for all things Ragnar Relay related. She organized our payment arrangements, van and hotel rentals, leg assignments and more. This person should be very organized and in some cases, overly cautious to help the team prepare for any situation. 
  • Organize your gear: Our vans were organized with cubbies for each runner (pictured above). We packed three outfits (one for each leg) in three zip-lock bags that we could easily grab when it was our turn to run. Although every runner had different needs, we all packed a fresh tank, shorts, underwear, bra, and socks for each leg. After each leg, we placed the dirty clothes back in the zip-lock bag to help keep our van fresh and oder-free. 
  • Pack food and fuel: Plan to pack food that will fuel and nourish you throughout the 200 mile event. Although we packed bagels, bananas, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to keep us fueled, our van was mostly packed with snacks that some would define as "junk food" like several large bags of popcorn. Guilty. In addition to chips, cookies and candy, be sure to pack fruit, veggies and other nutrient-dense foods. Both of our vans stopped at local restaurants between legs to refuel after hours of running. 
  • Identify race volunteers: Since we lived within 100 miles of the start line, Ragnar Relay required that we provide three volunteers for the race. Convincing 3 of your family and friends to drive 2 hours away to volunteer for a race where they won't even interact with you is pretty difficult to do.We were only able to provide one  volunteer so our team was hit with a fee of $240 ($120 per volunteer).
  • You may also want to pack: Recovery slides/sandals, compression socks, rain gear, a moisture wicking hat, a water bottle, and a phone charger. 

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What the hill?: The Course

Going into the race, we knew it would be a hilly course. Even with that knowledge, none of us were really prepared for the inclines that we had to endure. The picture below shows the elevation throughout the 204 mile race. 

Ragnar Relay PA elevation map

Ragnar Relay PA elevation map

  • Know the course and legs: Luckily, no one on our team got lost or went off course but we did hear a few stories about runners who did. 
  • Follow the Ragnar Relay signs: Our course was marked pretty well but there were times we wished there was a little more signage - especially on extended straightaways that left us wondering if we were still running in the right direction.  
  • Use common sense: Remember, Ragnar Relay isn't held on a closed course. You will be running against traffic during all times of the day and night. Use your common sense - cross when you have the light, be kind to locals, and don't destroy property that doesn't belong to you. 

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Race Logistics

Use the Pace Calculator: When you sign up for Ragnar, they will ask you for your 10K time.  Ragnar defines this tool as "a magical document that takes into account runner pace, runner distance and fatigue and spits out an estimated time of when your teammates should be arriving at their exchanges." As mentioned, this number will help formulate your team's estimated finish time. It also helps your team get an idea of when to send the next runner to the exchange point so that no one has to wait to change, use the restroom, or rest after running 7 miles.

Share your location: Although the Pace Calculator is a great tool to estimate your teammate's progress, we found that sharing locations through our smart phone was by far the most efficient way to track our team's whereabouts, especially during overnight legs.  (Except the time one of our teammate's GPS pinned her off course in a local river) 

Print everything: There's no guarantee that you'll have wifi or internet access so print your Race Bible and any other information that you may need throughout the duration of the event. This also includes emergency contacts, necessary medical information and more. 

Wear safety gear: Not only is safety gear recommended, Ragnar Relay requires that each runner has  a few specific items. For your safety, each runner is required to wear a safety vest at night whenever they're not in the van (yes, even if you're not running!). If you're running overnight, you'll need to wear a safety vest, a front and rear blinking light and a headlamp. 


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Van Life

One team, two vans: Each team is made up of 12 members and split evenly into two different vans. (Ultra teams are made of 6 and have 1 van). 

Don't be the team that shows up in an undecorated van: Be as creative as you want to be with decorations that represent your team. Whether you're drawing stick figures of each team member, check lists, maps or fun quotes, van decorations help lighten the mood. If you want to step it up a notch, add fun accessories like Christmas lights and blow-up animals to make your van stand out amongst the crowd. You can even "decorate" other team vans with tags or custom magnets by your team.  

Support your teammates along the way: While your teammates are running, they'll need your support - especially when you can during supported legs. You can provide water, snacks, and cheers when you pass your teammates (and other runners along the course). During unsupported legs, you won't be able to help out as much so be sure to make sure your runner is all set to go before he/she heads out. 

Keep your van clean (and odor free): If you keep your used race outfits tucked away in zip-locked plastic bags, it will reduce the chances of your van smelling like a locker room. Be sure to pack toiletries like deodorant, athletic wipes like Shower Pill or Nathan Power Showers, and any other products that will help you stay fresh throughout the Relay. Avoid bringing foods that will leave a foul odor and make sure your van has a trash bag available to keep the space clean. 

Pack a pillow and a blanket: Need I say more? You may end up sleeping in a high school gym but it's also likely that most sleep will occur in the van.


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The Finish Line

The moment you've been waiting for: At the end of the event, you'll reunite with the other team van and you'll wait for your last runner to make his/her way to the finish line. We were so excited to see Janis, our last runner head toward the finish. With a few yards left, each team had the opportunity to join the last runner cross the finish line. It was an amazing feeling to finally be done. After you snag your medal and take a group photo, you can enjoy a slice of pizza, have a massage and purchase gear from the merchandise tent. 

Conclusion: We enjoyed our experience running Ragnar Relay Pennsylvania. Although the experience was different for each one of us, I'm sure we'd all agree that it was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences that we've ever participated in. 

Have you ever run a Ragnar Relay? Tell us about your experience below. Thinking about running a Ragnar Relay in the future? Let us know!


Takia McClendon is the co-founder of City Fit Girls. She's a shoe expert and manager at a running store in Philadelphia and a Certified Level 1 USATF Coach. Follow her online at @takiamcclendon. 

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