June 23, 2013

Ragnar Relay Q&A

I recently got an e-mail from someone named Andrea, who is going to be running a Ragnar Relay in September. This will be her first, and she and her friends had some questions. Since I've run a couple of them, and other people may have the same questions, I figured I'd put these on a post of their own.

(You can read my race recaps of Ragnar Great River 2010 and I have lots of posts about Ragnar Florida Keys 2013).

Q. Did you actually get any sleep during the relay? Or were you and your team awake during all of the breaks?

A. I got about an hour of sleep. We had a 15-passenger van, but that space gets really small when you have 5-6 people in it with their bags. If you're good at sleeping upright (I'm not), then you will probably get more sleep than I did. There are some designated sleeping spots during at the major exchanges, where you could nap if you wanted. I had more fun chatting with my teammates, though! There may be a school gym available, or a grassy park, or something like that. I experienced both of those.

My brother came prepared with a hammock!

Q. Did you get to spend any time with the other van during race, or do you only really get to spend time with the people in your van?

A. This is the only part about a Ragnar that I wish was different. You really only spend time with the people in your own van. You will see the other van at major exchanges only. Two vehicles from the same team are actually not allowed to park at any of the exchanges (except the major exchanges, where it's necessary). 

Q. The legs that are listed as "very hard" on the Ragnar site. Did you run any of those? How hard were they?

A. I ran a couple of the "very hard" legs. It really depends on the course of the Ragnar. I did Ragnar Great River, which was pretty hilly, and the "very hard" usually meant tough hills. But in Key West, the course was pancake flat, so the "very hard" just meant that it was a long leg. So the "very hard" is usually determined by either the elevation, the distance, or rough terrain. Don't let those two words scare you, though! My "very hard" legs were actually really fun interesting ;)
Q. I know from your blog that you usually run on an empty stomach. Were you nervous about planning your meals around your races?

A. This was tough for me! During my first Ragnar, I actually experienced my first binge in a YEAR. The van was loaded with junk food, and I couldn't resist. My stomach wasn't used to all that, and I wound up spending quite a bit of time in porta potties--not very cool! But in Key West, I was with 11 other people who had lost an average of 100 pounds each, so we were loaded with healthy snacks. During Great River, we didn't stop at any restaurants, which meant we just snacked the entire time. But in Key West, we ate regular meals, and that was MUCH better. I would recommend finding a place to stop on the course, where you can eat an actual meal while the other van is out racing.

Q. Do you think there's any way to avoid getting a van (e.g., piling into a large sedan, or a station wagon)?

A. It's certainly possible, but I would highly recommend the van. The bigger, the better. The space gets SO small once everyone is piled in there with their bags, pillows, race gear, etc.

Q. How would you recommend training for a Ragnar? Did you do any special training? Have you ever tried running multiple times in a day to train, since that best mimics the race conditions? 

A. I didn't train for my first Ragnar. My brother was looking for a last-minute runner for his team, and I agreed to do it. The farthest I'd run up to that point was 9.3 miles, just a couple of weeks prior to the race. During the race, I had the least amount of mileage on the team (I believe like 3 miles, 5 miles, and 4--something like that); and I did just fine with it.

My brother handing off to me for my first leg at Ragnar Great River 2010

For Key West, I just trained as if I was running a half-marathon. My longest leg of the race was 8.8 miles, so I was plenty prepared for that. A lot of people recommend running twice a day to prepare, but I don't think that's necessary. Honestly, I think that training as if you are running a half-marathon is perfect for a Ragnar.  

Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to save money, I know you mentioned the race was a really expensive experience for you. In this case, we're not paying for plane tickets, since the race starts about 30 miles from where we live. We were planning on just driving the 200 miles back after the race, and not getting hotel rooms. Do you think that that's a bad call?

A. A Ragnar is definitely more expensive than your average race. The race fee itself is a little over $100 per person, and then you have to factor in travel, van rental, gas, van decorations, food, etc. You certainly can save money by leaving right after the race, but to be honest, the whole fun of the Ragnar is the after-party and staying a couple of days afterward!

My Key West Ragnar was the most expensive trip Jerry and I have ever taken, but I wouldn't change a thing. Some of my teammates left the day after the race, and really regretted not staying. Getting to hang out with the rest of my teammates for a few days afterward was SO MUCH FUN. Therefore, I recommend getting hotels; but if you can't afford it, then driving back would work, too. After the finish line (of both the Ragnars I did), I got a second wind of energy where I stayed up pretty late.

I guess the bottom line is what your goal of the race is--if you're doing it to have fun with friends that you don't see very often, I would definitely plan on staying a day or two (or more) after the race. But if it's with friends that you see all the time, and you just want to experience a relay race, then going home right after the race would be fine.

Q. Is the Ragnar set up the way other races are, with bathrooms and water stations, or, are there bathrooms and water stations were each leg starts?

A. There are very few water stations on the course. On the legs that don't allow van support (maybe a narrow bridge, or something like that), then there may be a water station set up because your van can't get to you to give you water. But usually, it's your van's job to support you--give you water, fuel, lots of cheering, etc.

Honestly, I don't remember much about the bathroom situations. I know they have them at major exchanges, but I don't know about ALL the exchanges. We would go to the bathroom when we stopped to eat, or when we stopped at a store to get some more snacks. 

Q. Did you bring multiple changes of clothes, and change between each leg? Did you shower at any of the shower stations?

A. I wore my first running outfit from the hotel, and then I had my other sets of clothes in separate gallon-size bags. When I was done with my leg, I changed everything--bra, panties, running capris, tank top, and socks. Then, when I took the stinky clothes off, I put them in the bag and zipped it shut, so it wouldn't stink up the van. I didn't take a single shower the entire race. Some of my teammates did, but I decided to sleep in the van while they were showering.

These are John's clothes. His husband packed and labeled them for each of his legs ;)
I wouldn't recommend changing out of your clothes after the third leg, because your entire team runs across the finish line together; so if you're wearing matching clothes, or costumes or something, you'll want to leave it on, even if you're the first runner done (like I was in Key West).  

Q. How would you rank its difficulty compared to another race? What I mean by that is, I know the legs are shorter than say, a half marathon, but you're running 3 times. In terms of how hard it is to run again after pushing yourself to run several hours ago, would you say that it's more challenging, than say, a half marathon? How would you suggest pacing yourself, so you're not too exhausted to run the third leg?

A. Unless your team is super fast, it won't feel like you're running three times in one day. You'll have roughly eight hours between runs, and to me, it felt like a fresh new day. My legs didn't feel any more tired than normal. Of course, it depends on how long your legs are, how hard you push it, and how difficult the course, but I would compare it to an easy paced 8-mile run in terms of how tired my legs felt. It was easier than a half-marathon (my legs didn't get nearly as tired as they do during a half).

Our team wasn't running it to win, so I wasn't trying to run my fastest. I just wanted to truly enjoy the whole experience. If you run it like you would to PR a race, well, you'll probably be a lot more tired than I was! ;)

Q. Did you guys bring snacks in the van, or did you stop along the way for places to eat and such?

A. We had snacks in the van, but we stopped for meals. I would definitely recommend stopping for meals rather than just snacking the entire time. It's important to stay close to your usual routine at home, so that you don't wind up with lots of stomach issues! 

Q. When you're running, is it hard to tell which van is yours, unless you decorate it?

A. There are HUNDREDS of big white vans, and unless you do something to make it stand out, yes--it will probably be hard to figure out which one is yours. This is especially true in the dark. We had some unique van decorations, so it was easy to spot ours. Also, it's super fun to decorate the vans!

Something that I thought was fun is "tagging" other vans. Lots of teams get magnets made with their team name, and then they stick them to the other vans when nobody is looking. You'll wind up with a ton of magnets on there. We got 500 magnets made, and we used up almost all of them!

Writing this post made me SO nostalgic! I can't wait to hook up with my team for another adventure next year :)


  1. I loved reading this post! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. AnonymousJune 23, 2013

    Thanks for all the info. It is really helpful with the experience you had to hear all the nitty gritty details that we worry about.
    Oh and BTW, good grief, your brother is HAWWTTTT....that is all. ;-)

  3. You make the whole experience sound so fun, I want to become a runner. On second thought, maybe not. I went out last night and walked ONE mile as quickly as I could after reading a report last week saying that how fast you can walk one mile predicts your longevity. I knew I had never done a mile in 15 minutes, but that was my goal last night. I even jogged for a couple short stretches, and it STILL took me 15 min., 30 seconds. I will never be fast, and running is just too hard on my 62-year old arthritic knees. But RAGNAR sure sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing.

  4. AnonymousJune 24, 2013

    Thanks for this post. My first Ragnar is going to be the Miami to Key West in 2014. I am so excited and I know I am fortunate that many of the people I am going to be doing it with have done it already. I just can NOT wait! My husband is going down with me but he is not running he will just rent a car and stop along the way to go fishing and just meet us there. We will then be staying for 4 days after. I love Key West!

  5. When I was "training" for the Bourbon Chase, I did a few 2-a-days. I usually did 5 miles before work and 5 after work, then another 5 the next day just to adjust to running on tired legs. It helped a lot.

  6. I'm so excited for Ragnar this year- I'm running NWP next month and signed up to be team captain- this is my 2nd relay- eek. No pressure right?! lol. I also am running Hood to Coast in August- the mother of all relays- it'll be my first time doing HTC and I am beyond excited!!!

  7. I loved reading this!! A trip down memory lane, ah so much fun!

  8. Awesome! Can't wait to do my first Ragnar-like event this summer!

  9. Sheesh, this has me totally homesick for all of my Ragnar Team Mates. Can we just all run out and do our own Ragnar this weekend? *grin*

  10. where did you get the magnets?


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