I hit “record” on my phone while my teammate climbed on top of our rented minivan and began to stretch. This is something I expect from her, she spent a good part of the trip ON TOP of the van versus INSIDE of it. It gets cramped, I understand. Less than 24 hours and 200 miles later, she and 10 other teammates were on the beach cheering as our last teammate crossed the line. There’s nothing like the experience of getting in a food covered, foul smelling, minivan and bonding with other runners in an overnight relay.
I started doing these relays in 2009, when a group of friends I met through a Tuesday night fun run put together a Ragnar team.
I didn’t know what to expect, but when we finished I couldn’t wait to start my own team. While on the way home from that first race, I sent out an email to my former college teammates. I told them we had to do a reunion, it had to be a relay race, and it had to be Hood to Coast (known as the Mother of All Relays). I appointed myself captain, and two years after trying to get in (it’s a competitive lottery system) we were crossing the finish line in second place for the All Female Team. Now, you don’t have to be as fast as us to have fun (we had NO idea we’d place) but you do have to have a certain tolerance for some things. Let me explain.
Here’s why I like them:
Fun: Okay so the definition of fun is different for everyone, but, if you like running and you like other runners you’ll likely have a good time. It’s kind of like expanding the excitement of a 4×400 over 200 miles, with van exchanges and partying at the end.
Camaraderie: You get to know your van mates really well. You share fears, excitement, and sleep deprivation in a cramped vehicle. You don’t know someone until you’ve slept for a total of 2 hours in the middle of a field only to wake up abruptly with the fear of missing the hand-off.
Training: is like half marathon training: It’s not that intense! I’ve put together training plans for my teams in the past. They consist of averaging 10–15 miles a week, with speed work scattered in.
The Party at the End: Usually the relay race organizes a big party at the finish line which is great. It’s even better when you can fit your whole team into a group house. You’ll hear all the stories from the other van and share your harrowing tales. After you’ve survived a long distance relay, order pizza, drink beer and enjoy the victory.
How to get ready:
So, now that I’ve convinced you that relays are awesome, and you’re trying to find the right one while also attempting to convince your friends to take a day off of work for it, I’ve got some tips:
–If you want your local friends to join, make it easy on yourself and choose a relay that is close. You’ll also likely have to find volunteers or end up paying an extra fee for them.
–If you sign-up 12 people to your team, you’ll probably have one or two drop out before the date of the race. Have some backup folks in mind. There are forums set up where orphan racers request a team, this is common in popular races like Hood to Coast.
–Pack light but smart. Separate the outfits you’ll be running in into three plastic bags (one for each leg of the race). Take off wet sweaty clothes, put on comfortable clothing and get your next outfit ready. Do not stay in the same stinky clothes for the entire race, your van mates will avoid you. Sandals or hard soled slippers are a must. Do not stay in your running shoes the whole time.
–Cheer. My gosh, this is the most fun part of the experience. Cheer for your teammates, cheer for other teams. Bring cowbells and clappers (but be respectful at night and be aware of quiet zones marked off by the race).
–Bring more reflective gear and lights than the rules requires. Everyone has to do at least one leg in the dark. Reusing a sweaty headlamp is gross.
–The right snacks are important to figure out. I advise watching what you eat. Regular runner fare (bagels, bananas, pretzels, peanut butter, protein bars) are a good bet. Eating big greasy meals before your legs is NOT advised.
–If you’re the captain, use motion.social to communicate with your team and stay organized. I wish I had this website when I was planning group runs, sending out workouts and explaining the logistics.
Don’t do an overnight relay if you are any of the following:
–Really unpleasant if you don’t get enough sleep
–Not a team player
–Allergic to fun
Smelly van aside, relay races are a lot of fun with the right group of people. As a captain, it requires a good deal of work. You collect money, organize a place to stay, and make sure you have the total number of runners that you need. You can use motion.social to keep everyone in-line. As a participant, it’s a breeze, pay your captain, read your messages and show up ready to have a blast.