This past weekend I ran Ragnar Relay South Beach with my tri Team.
Ragnar Relay is a 200ish mile run that you share over 12 people in 2 vans. It’s a funky concept but it’s a lot of fun. You put together a team of 12 runners and each person will run 3 times. Each runner is assigned a number 1-12 and they go in order. Van 1 has runners 1-6, Van 2 has runners 7-12. Van 1 drops off runner one who runs. The van goes ahead to a predetermined spot called an exchange, drops off runner two who gets the baton from runner one and starts their run. Runner one gets in the van and the van rolls forward to the next exchange. Every 6 legs you switch from van 1-2 and so forth for about 36 hours and 200 miles.
I have done Ragnar Florida Keys twice. That race route was cancelled and this is a new Florida course from Melbourne, Florida to South Beach. It was a blast. It was an inaugural race and I really need to remember to stop picking inaugural courses. But, whatever. We had fun.
Here are 12 tips (because there are 12 runners) for how to build an awesome Ragnar team and have fun during the race.
- The most important thing about a Ragnar team is that the people have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. You might think you need 12 awesome runners. That would of course be great but I have found that a good sense of humor is much more important. Your teammates will take ugly photos of you sleeping – they will make fun of how you look in a reflective vest. Everybody looks ridiculous – embrace it. You either laugh or you’ll be miserable. Except if you do an Ultra – then all 6 need to be super fast or else you won’t make it.
- When in doubt – laugh. Ragnar puts people under stress. It’s not a huge physical challenge but you don’t eat well, you don’t sleep much and there is a ton of waiting around which can make people cranky. Laughing is much better. I laughed so hard on this weekend that my sides hurt.
- Overestimate how slow you will go. I think that the difference between a 9 minute mile and an 11 minute mile over 200 miles is over 6 HOURS. Ragnar is a race and they will ask you to estimate how fast your team will go but these routes are through towns where you have to start and stop for traffic at all the corners and stuff. Also, many of the legs will be off by a little bit which adds up. And running in the dark slows everyone down. You will definitely have delays. So, factor that in when you put your time estimate in for the race. When you sign in Ragnar tells you to use a recent 10k time which is a terrible idea. This is NOT the time to let your ego show up. Nobody is impressed by the time you put in your Ragnar registration form. I suggest that you put the time for the last 6 miler recovery run you did through a busy neighborhood with lots of pauses and stops – the one where you felt terrible and had to walk extra because you thought you just might poo in your pants. Or just put down an 11 minute mile and give your team some wiggle room. That’s much more realistic. You don’t want to be stressed to finish under the time limit – I promise.
- Thank the volunteers. Ragnar volunteer shifts are insanely long. And these folks are probably relatives of runners on a team or friends who have been blackmailed into helping. They get no training – they only know what they have been told that day. Being mean or rude to a volunteer is in my opinion a cardinal sin of running. No matter what – it’s not their fault. They came out to help. Be nice to them. Seriously – just be nice.
- Support your team. This includes both vans. Always get out and cheer on your runner and other runners at exchanges. We were watching at one exchange as one runner was trying to make sure that their van would be there at the next exchange. The runner was super stressed that her team wouldn’t be there at the end of her leg. Who does that? Not our team. At most stops we all got out and cheered and at all stops at least one other team member went to the exchange. It’s why we’re there. We also cheered for our runner along the way at least once. On very short legs under 3 miles we didn’t have time to stop and cheer but we at least honked and hollered. Do I really need to say – support other teams too? That’s obvious, right? In the middle of a leg these legs were cancelled for safety. I’m lucky that my van was right there when it happened but there were runners who had to wait for their vans … did we leave them alone in the dark … no, of course not. That would be terrifying. Sheesh.
- Ragnar is a running race so your participants should be ready to run. You want your team members to be committed to running their miles and in fact they should be ready and able to pick up additional miles if needed. This can be a van killer. It’s never happened on a team that I was a part of because I’ve been super lucky. But if one of your team members gets sick, injured or for whatever reason cannot run it is a real possibility that the 5 others will need to make up the difference. Being ready for that mentally is super important. I had just done Ironman Florida the week before this race and I had a very high mileage total. I am super thankful that my van worked with me to shuffle this mileage because by the end I was very beaten up and I would have done it but it would have hurt. I have heard horror stories where runners will refuse to do their legs in the middle of the race and so others have to pick them up and end up running 30 or 35 miles even though they trained for 15. That’s not fun for anybody. This is double important if you are crazy enough to attempt a Rangar Ultra which is only 6 runners. Also, just know that if you back out of a Ragnar team at the last minute the other members of the team will remember that forever. They may not tell you and they may still be your friend but they will remember because that is a crappy thing to do. Also, don’t cheat. We all know it’s easy and that nobody is really checking but seriously — don’t be that team.
- Be ready for an adventure. 200 miles is a really long time. Crap will happen. Literally. Lol. Signs will fall over, runners will get lost, the legs will be longer than advertised, dogs will get out. Crazy stuff will happen. If you are prepared for that it can be fun. Otherwise I think it would be stressful. The only thing that you really have control of is your attitude. This is true in Ragnar and everywhere else. It will probably rain, it will probably be super hot or super cold. If you want to enjoy it – you kind of need to decide to enjoy it.
- Ragnar includes a lot of waiting around. Sadly for them, special snowflakes do not do well during long periods of waiting around. You know who these people are. Avoid having them on your team … seriously. Also remember the unwritten rule of special snowflakes … you know who they are but they somehow special snowflakes do not seem to ever know this about themselves. They will ask to be on your team. Deflect, evade, take evasive action. They will either back out at the last minute or just crush your soul during the race.
- Ragnar can be R-rated. Ragnar may not be for you if you are easily offended. There aren’t really any kids in this race so as the hours go on a good Ragnar Race might get a little rowdy and maybe even a tad inappropriate. It’s mostly innuendo and double entendre but inevitably somebody will go too far. If you are going to take personal offense to this probably you will have a bad time. If you can laugh at the jokes and ignore the ones that you find distasteful you will do better.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Some Ragnar teams are so well organized and put together it is really impressive. But others have no matching shirts and just get out there and get it done with a smile. Some are super fast and some are very slow. It doesn’t matter. Just embrace your team and focus on having a great time.
- It is a really good idea to have some people on your team who have Ragnar’d before. There are a lot of moving parts in putting together a Ragnar team. Those who have done it before will not back out last minute unless they are dying or receiving a lifetime achievement award and if they back out they will not ask for a refund.
- Being team captain is hard. It’s a thankless job. Thank your captain. Then thank them again. And then buy them a thank you card and maybe a beer, and a hat and beg them to do it again for you.
So, Have you ever done a relay race like this? Which one did you do? Did you love it? What advice do you have for others?