So You Want To / Are / Got Roped Into Running a Relay…

Just another post where I act like I know more about something than I really do…

So, you’re thinking about running a relay.  Or a friend conned you into replacing their injured teammate last minute.  Or maybe in a fit of relay-envy and race registration trigger happiness you signed yourself (and 11 TBD friends) up to run 200 miles overnight.

… I mean, nobody does that …

… ahem.

And so you had a minute to think about it, and suddenly you’re like, “Wait, WTF did I just get myself into??!”

I’m no relay vet, but my experience at Ragnar SoCal came with a few eye openers – some helpful, some humorous, some embarrasingly obvious if you weren’t delirious from all the running and not sleeping…

And so, as a Nuun Hood to Coast Prelude, here are my bullet points for a successful & happy & drama-free-minimal relay from an ‘experienced newbie.’

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


A lot of shit goes into relay’ing.  After the training, planning, and packing, the running almost seems easy.  Make lists.  Put someone in charge.  Ask questions.  DON’T OVERPACK.

(I’m not going to write about training since I didn’t, nor do I know how to, train specifically for a relay)

  • Choose Your Leader.  Even as a convicted Type A Control Freak, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of planning.  Your ideal captain will have lots of free time, relay experience, a penchant for sending 2000 word group emails (ok maybe that was just me), and a willingness to delegate when possible.  Let them be in charge of the reservations, route planning, gear checking, and scheduling.  Remember, too man runners chefs in the kitchen…
  • Reserve your vans early!  Google “passenger van rental + (your city)” and shop around.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but remember there are 200 other teams that need the same thing you do.  * Watch out for mileage limits, factor in the cost of gas (we spent ~$100/van), and opt for the full-coverage insurance (parking in fields full of other vans driven by delirious runners? expect a few dinks)
  • Hire a driver.  Or be married to some saint’ly person with more late night endurance and a love for driving than any other human alive.

  • Pre-plan your outfits.  Pack them in ziplock bags. This will save you from dumping your bag out on the back seat looking for your “effing sports bra”, and gives you a quarantined place to stash your sweaty nasty used outfits – keeping the rest of your stuff dry/clean and your van Stank-Free.

Outfits for 3 runs (inc headbands, arm sleeves, etc), “chill in van” comfy clothes, and finish line party outfit. Separate bag for safety gear.

  • Don’t overpack. Seriously there’s not going to be any extra room in that van. Don’t even give yourself options – pack what you’re gonna wear and stick with it.
    * Packing Splurge : I brought two pairs of shoes (plus flip flops) – GREAT idea after stomping through a giant mud puddle on my night leg.
  • Coordinate with your vanmates.  No need for 5 first aid kits or 9 boxes of gu. Assign items or agree to only bring what you need for yourself.  Space is a premium here!

* Tip : My Nuun HTC teammates Katie posted a great individual packing list here, our Ragnar van packing list is here


Fueling for a regular ol’ race is pretty simple once you’ve got your routine figured out.  Trying to maintain that over the course of 24+ hours & three separate runs?  Not so much.  Be extremely conscious of your calories and fluids – it’s so easy to eat too much or too little when you’re all out of schedule whack playing van vagabond.

  • Stick to your norms.  PB bagel/banana your long run staple?  Give yourself enough time before each leg to choke some down.  Never eat pizza (or giant pickles)?  Not the time to see if they give you wings.  Try sticking to semi-normal eats as your stomach will allow – nobody wants to exist solely on Clif bars, but if that’s all that’s going to keep your GI happy, so be it.

* Tip : 2-van teams will have time to stop for proper meals while the other van is running.  Scout the options near major exchanges – Deli/bakery/sandwich shops are universal pleasers, and keep an eye out for coffee spots for those early morning legs.

  • DRINK SO MUCH.  This is not a road trip with your boyfriend.  You won’t have to beg Mr Drive Five Hours No Stopping to pull over and let you empty your bladder.  You’ll have plenty of opportunites to pee at each exchange, so drink up.
  • Get out and stretch.  Being cramped in the van sucks and will HURT when it’s finally time to run again.  Get out at exchanges and move around, show off your impressive ability to touch your toes, lead a yoga sesh, whatever you gotta do.

The Stinky/Dirty

Truth is, being in a van with a bunch of runners working on triple workouts is kind of gross.  2-van teams might have time to shower, but it’d be much better spent eating or sleeping.  Ultra?  Don’t even dream about it.  Embrace the stink and pack an extra can of Febreeze.

  • Baby wipes, deodorant, tooth brush.  If you forget to pack anything, DON’T let it be any of these.  A baby wipe bath before you change into clean clothes, and a good teeth brushing can literally change your world.

* Tip : No sink to brush? Don’t be afraid to camp-brush. A little bottled water and a discrete spitting area will be fine.

  • Portas are plentiful (start, each exchange, etc).  Don’t change a DQ/penalty by squatting in the bushes. If you’re weird about bluebox pooping, hit up the indoor plumbing at the gas station when you fuel up, restaurants when you eat, etc.  Oh and BRING YOUR OWN T.P.  They WILL run out.  Death, taxes, TP-less portapotties.

The Actual Running Parts

Oh you want to know about the whole, running 200 miles thing?  Fine.

* Quick overview * : Your team of 12 (unless you’re Ultra’ing) splits between 2 vans.  Van 1 includes the first 6 runners, who take turns running while the van drives to each exchange point to drop off/pick up.  After 6 legs, Van 2 gets “tagged in” and it’s the next 6 runners’ turns.  The “off” van gets to chill until it’s time to meet at the next major exchange. Repeat x2, each runner running 3 separate times.

  • Unlike a normal road race, you aren’t tracked the whole way.  Your first runner wears a timing chip across the starting mat, and your anchor puts it on for their final leg through the finish.  No need to worry about it any other time (you just have to make sure not to lose it.)
  • Each runner has their own bib with a team number on it.  When you approach the exchange a volunteer radios in your number so your next runner can get into the shoot for the handoff.
  • What do you handoff?  Only the 90’s most versatile fashion accessory!  The “on” runner wears a slap bracelet which acts as your “baton” (Ragnar and Hood to Coast both use these, other relays may not)

* Tip : take the bracelet off ahead of time, and straighten it out. Much easier to hand off a 10″ stick than a rolled up ball and have the next runner have to dick around trying to get it on.

Nobody told Margot about that tip.

  • Don’t expect a race-race.  This isn’t a corralled-start, shoulder-bumping, crowd-weaving run.  I went miles without seeing another runner on leg.  (I’ve been told this prob won’t be the case at HTC)  Don’t expect a pace group, race clocks, or cheering sections.  For me, those in-run energy boosters were quickly forgotten once I spied the exchange and saw my teammate waiting for me.  COMPLETELY different from individual racing – Team sports FTW.
  • Know your routes.  You’re running on public trails, sidewalks, the shoulder of the highway, and through places people probably don’t even know a race is happening.  The course is not closed off, and your only navigational cues are intermittent signs saying “turn left” or “1 mile to go!”  Study your directions, print them out, or run with your phone, so if you find yourself questioning whether you missed a turn or some dickhead flips a sign around you won’t get lost.

* Yes.  People DO move signs and people DO get lost.

The final mile from Ragnar SoCal – courtesy of our anchor, HauteRunningMama

  • Be an exchange cheer fan.  There’s nothing more thrilling than your whole team yelling like lunatics at an exchange and sending off your next runner on an exciting note (butt pats appreciated).  Likewise, finishing a hard run in a dead exchange is very anticlimactic.  Jump up and down, yell their name, cheer on the other teams.  You’re all in this crazy business together.

Ok we weren’t really THAT obnoxious

  • Not all reflective gear is created equal.  Every person – running or not – outside the van during “night hours” is required to wear a reflective vest.  And then of course, you have to actually run in it, too.  Don’t be like SR and buy a men’s construction worker vest on eBay just bc it’s cheap.  I found New Balance ones for $5 at TJ Maxx.

Reflectives 5 Ways

  • Sleep.  As a single-van team we never stopped moving, so any sleep we caught was while parked in an exchange lot or bumping along the roads.  The 12man team was able to stop at a girl’s house that lives along the route and catch a few hours.  Think about your body – are you a good 15min cat napper? will 2hrs leave you groggy or refreshed? – when planning your snooze sched.
  • GOOD GOD YOU’RE FINALLY FINISHED!  While your anchor finishes the final few miles, get your vans to the finish and your butts to the home stretch to run in together.  You’ll have hit a second/third/fourth wind by now, use that energy for an exciting and photogenic group finish.  We saw lots of people in costumes, with flags, doing choreographed dances, etc – we… yeah we didn’t do any of that.

Damnit, ok FINE.  We didn’t even have all of our people.  

Relay finish FAIL.

  • Post-race party –  Truth time.  You’re going to be effing dead.  Good luck rallying for the millionth time and trying to do anything but sit on your ass, eat something, and maybe drink a beer.  Don’t expect a rager of a party, but make sure to soak up the moment with your team.  This is the first time you’ve ALL been together since before the start!  Revel in your accomplishment – whether that’s covering the distance or not killing each other – and realize you’ve got a weird crazy runner person bond with these people you’ll never get rid of.


* * * Relay’ers – What did I miss?  What’s your one (or two or ten) piece(s) of relay advice for newbies??

I’m looking forward to relinquishing my Type A and being “just” a runner this weekend at Hood to Coast. (btw Thanks for taking care of all those pesky details, Nuun)  Not thinking about more than waking up, tying my shoes, and going?  I’m down.

Sarah OUaL

Ragnar SoCal–Part 3 (the dark and sketchy)

continued from Part 2


Noted : Start time – 11:43 pm.

While this is not exactly an ideal time to go for a long run, I really can’t complain.  There are still people out and about (especially Old Town Temecula – hello Friday bar crowd!) and it set me up for a normal-timed Leg 3.  Most fortunate/lucky SMCOL runner award def  goes to SarahOUaL.

The first part of the run was very friendly and easy. I mean if the Queen of Uneven Pacing can put out even splits like that (note the blue line on above graph) it’s saying something.

At this point we’d caught up to some other teams, but runner traffic was still sparse.  There seemed to always be a taillight in the far distance or a headlamp creeping up behind me, but I spent most of my time alone.

2-lane industrial side roads turned into commercial blocks turned into the main drag of party central Temecula.  8.8 miles and a brief run in with a group of drunk girls in skanky dresses later, I approached the exchange to pick up my pacer.

Hi neighbor’s girlfriend Kristina! (From NYE since 2am Ragnar Sarah didn’t think to take a photo)

A few hours earlier, our neighbor text Brian saying one of the exchanges (18) was at their resort, just a short drive from where I’d be running.  I immediately called his gf (who’s an awesome sub1:40 half’er and probably the nicest person alive) and begged her to run with me.

OMG I was hoping you’d ask!  This is so cool I was just going to jump in and start running with strangers if you didn’t want me!

I didn’t know at the time just HOW badly I’d need her, but GOOD GOD am I glad she was all dancy-pants about it.

Immediately we hit a stop light, which is one of the few major bummers about relays, and she gave me the rundown on what we had ahead of us.  Girl knew turn-by-turn, elevation, and landmarkers by heart.  Talk about an awesome pacer.

(foreshadow : SO SO SO CLUTCH)

We’ve got a few little rollers then we’re gonna head into the golf course – you’re looking great, do you feel great? No don’t answer, just run. You don’t have to talk. Alright what else can I tell you about? … (more stories)

We kept moving, locked right in at 8:30ish and I felt great.  A little tired, but thankful for the company and the easy, mindless route.

The golf course came, and we turned onto the cart path.  As soon as the appreciation of the change of scenery set in, I stepped RIGHT into an ankle-deep puddle.

[squish, step, squish, step, squish, step]

Well, I guess it’s a good thing I brought an extra pair of shoes! hehh heh…

A few soggy minutes later, Kristina makes a turn off the cart path and I stop in my tracks.

S: ‘No. No way are we supposed to go that way. Some asshole’s just pulling a prank and moved the signs.’

K: ‘Yeah, we are. This was on the map. Come on – up this hill…’

I looked to my left towards the safe, paved cart path.  Then back over to Kristina, standing on the fairway of Hole 5, next to the blinking “TURN HERE” course marker, with the sprinklers going off all around her.

No f’ing way.

I could see a faint red light (another course marker) some undeterminable distance past her, and decided to follow.


Uphill through the slick, muddy grass, our headlamps reflecting on the sprinkler shower all around us.  I yelled out a quick “WHAT THE F*CK SERIOUSLY??!!” while trying not to laugh.  The off-roading seemed unfair after 10+ miles, but running through the sprinklers in the grass in pitch black was stupidly juvenile and fun.

Plus, it’s Ragnar.  I reminded myself I could’ve signed up for a road race if I wanted a boring pavement-only course during the daylight.

Kristina let me know we were in for some more climbing – my only real hills of the whole race – and we ran until it just made more sense to walk.  There’s a point when you can move at virtually the same pace but conserve a bunch of energy by taking the extra little hop out of your step and admitting to a walk.

At least if you’re a shitty climber like me you can.

At this point the taillights become more frequent.  We passed a few people trudging uphill (running when we/I could, walking when we/I didn’t want to) and eventually Kristina let me know that,

‘This is it, last climb – we’re all downhill from here!’

Which, to my downhill-loving legs and all the fresh meat (runners to pass) around, meant one thing :

Time to run fast.

I started silently ticking off “kills” as the sub8’s carried us down the course.  Eventually I got to 10 and explained to Kristina what I was grinning about.

‘When you pass someone it’s called a “kill”.  That was 10.  This is fun.

Yeah, she thought so, too.  Every kill after that got a verbal shout out – “11! 12! There’s 13, let’s catch him!” – and I didn’t have the energy to care about being polite.  If Kristina wanted to call out live-action course commentary, who was I to stop her?

Plus, you know competitive Sarah ate that shit up.

(Leg kill total : 15, FTR)

Sarah OUaL

Ragnar SoCal – Part 2 (of a TBD amount of parts)

continued from Part 1.

After the high five SR exchange, I took off like a freaking banshee into the Santa Ana mid-day desert for my first ever (aw, so special) relay leg…

It was hot.  The river trail is boring.  There’s no big race-day cheer section, and there weren’t many other runners since only a handful of teams started when we did, and we hadn’t caught up to the earlier starters yet.

But I didn’t care.

I think y’all know I’m not an “OMG I LOOOOOOOVVVEEEE RUNNING! THIS IS SO FUN JUST BEING ABLE TO RUNNNN” runner.  (right? please tell me you know that.)

But being out there knowing 5 other girls were counting on me was the most motivating freaking thing in the world.  Knowing my run meant more than just a finish time.  The sooner I finished the sooner Margot could start.  Every mile I ran got us closer to the finish line.

It was about more than just ME.

So when it got hot and I got tired, I thought of them waiting at the exchange, eager to hear “number thirty eight!” called out like I had been waiting for SR.

And I ran faster.

It looks like I’m walking. I’m not. It looks like I’m happy. I am.

Handing off to Margot (runner3) was so fun.  It was like a little homage to all of our Track Parties, and we decided from now on all 800s will be completed relay-style.  With fun slap bracelets and everything.

Piled back in the van, still high on endorphins and super sweaty, peeled off my clothes and immediately zipped them up in a ziploc bag.  I’m sure you’ve heard this trick already, but it’s seriously a lifesaver.  Not only for post-run nastiness containment, but for 2am delirious “where’s my freaking sports bra!” drama avoidance.  Having everything pre-packaged was super brainless and easy.  Do it.

The next few hours were a van-blur of speeding to exchanges to either cheer or hand off to a fresh pair of legs.

Pam, HRM, and Chacha at Exch4, stolen from SR

SR using her day job mariner skills to spot incoming runners

Margot and Chiara both had SUPER tough legs through the blazing hottest part of the day, but powered through like the champs we knew they were when we recruited them.

You guys knew that’s why we wanted you on the team, right?  To tackle those really hilly parts?  I didn’t want shit to do with runners 3 or 4.

Thanks for that, btw…

All our transitions were pretty seamless and stress-free.  Driver Brian worked at 100% accuracy and even let me sit up front for a while before kicking my crazy relay-loving ass and all my exclamation points to the back.

Exchange 8 approached which meant pizza delivery from Pam’s husband (!) and also safety gear.  During “night” hours (6:30p-6:30a) runners are required to wear a reflective vest, headlamp, and blinky light on their back.  Apparently this is bc when you run on roads at night with only a 4″ shoulder it’s important for cars to be able to see you so you don’t become roadkill.

Good thinking, Ragnar.

But also, for some reason, any person outside the van during this time needs to wear a vest as well.  Incredibly inconvenient when you really have to pee, jump out the door in a dead sprint to the portas, and are informed by safety officials you need to sprint your exploding bladder back for your vest before you can pee.

Not that that happened…

ANYWAY!  Here’s Pam & Nicole supermodeling the required safety gear.  Pam at 6pm in still-daylight when it seems silly to wear reflectives, and Nicole at dusk, looking really super excited to run 10 miles in the dark.

And here’s the rest of us, NOT running, but making use of our required accessories anyway.

Exch10, powered by day-glo green and reflective tape!

Pam handed off to Nicole (Runner6) around 8 pm, and we prepped for round two.  Each girl had about 6-8 hours between runs, which (to me) was enough to refuel and gain some energy back, but not too much to get stiff or achey.  Awesome.

Disclaimer : see above mention of the exclamation points.  You probably could have run me over with the van and I would’ve still been excited about the relay’ing.

Nicole returned and SR took off for a slightly sketchy/scary 19 miler through Lake Elsinore.  Luckily, she had someone on call for assistance…

Super Pacer Dave!

At this point we’d started losing a little steam, and the excitement at exchanges started fading.  We took turns [trying] to nap and started caffeinating heavily before legs (please to note 20oz gas station coffee in above photo).

At Exch14 I got all situated for my next and longest run, 14.9 miles through Murrieta and Temecula.  The weather was perfect (50s and balmy) so I dressed in my fav running skirt, Pro Compression socks, tech t, and arm warmers.  Got my reflective/blinky on, and headed to the exchange to wait for SR and Dave around 11:30pm.

I bet you guessed by now this was going to end up being more than two posts. Hah, sorry bout that. Stay tuned…

Sarah OUaL