A few weeks ago I ran my first-ever trail Ragnar in Northfield Mountain in Massachusetts. As a trail running rookie, I was lucky to be in a group of seasoned Ragnar and camping pros and learned a lot from them about what to pack, how the relay worked, and how to have the best possible experience.
~A warning: relay races are addictive; prior to this year I had no idea such an animal existed and I have now completed 3 with my 4th relay coming up at the end of the month.~
A Ragnar is a relay-style running race typically done in teams of 8-12 runners for standard distance (a total of around 16 miles per person) or teams of 4 runners for an ultra (a total of around 30 miles per person). There are road and trail versions of these races…
Road vs. Trail
For road relays, your first runner starts and then your vehicle drives to each designated meeting point to swap runners. For trail Ragnars, everyone sets up camp in the Ragnar village and each group’s runners rotate through 3 loops of varying distances. To keep everything safe and simple, the trail Ragnars (at least official “Ragnar” races) stick to a very specific order. Here’s what the rotation looked like for Ragar New England [at right].
Having done both, I think the road races are harder logistically; instead of having a home base at camp where each of your runners start and finish each loop, you have to drive all the way from the start line (point A) to the finish line (point B), at designated mile markers and dropping off your next runner the whole way. You end up spending a lot of time in the car which can make your legs especially tight. You can also spend a lot of time waiting for people in parking lots- bring books, hacky-sack, frisbee, etc to beat boredom. Finding public restrooms in between towns can be difficult. However, you don’t have to bring tons of camping gear, ideal if you and/or your teammates don’t own any. During the Ragnar New England trail, I didn’t end up moving around as much as I thought I would between my segments, but it was really nice to have the option to get up and do yoga, foam-roll, use the port-o-pottys, etc whenever I wanted. Again, because I was with seasoned Ragnar runners and frequent campers, I didn’t have to worry about purchasing camping gear; all I had to worry about was planning our costumes. However, you'll want to do some different cross-training if you're not a veteran trail runner.
Yes, of course running is more fun in a costume! You will see many a tutu and lamé spandex at these races -- a lot like the Burning Man Ultramarathon. I don’t quite understand why people dress up and run 15+ miles, (team spirit I suppose?) but I love it. For my first
road relay, our team was Arrested Development-themed and we were a van full of Nevernudes (“there are literally dozens of us!”). We all went shopping for those absurdly short denim cutoffs together and designated craft time to paint censor bars on flesh-colored tank-tops [see above] because we didn’t know what female Nevernudes wear on top under all their clothes. We thought that was a safe bet. We also each had a separate costume for the start of the race (multiple legs in a relay means multiple sets of clothes, right?), as a different character from the show. Here I am dressed as Buster (complete with my low-cost hook made from tin foil, packing tape, a coconut, and lots of love) next to our Lucile.
For the trail Ragnar, our team was a family of Pikachus, inspired by the recent rise in popularity of Pokemon Go. Sadly because of the high temperatures over the weekend, it was too hot to wear our fleece adult sleepwear Pikachu onsies in the camp and definitely too hot to run in them. This didn’t stop us from taking plenty of Pika-pictures. My teammate and I put our costumes into freebie drawstring backpacks (not recommended unless you, like us, have no other option) and ran our first leg with them so we could take pictures in-costume on the trail. Shout out to the volunteer who patiently took these pictures of us:
A Note on Shoes for Trail Relays
Unless you regularly run mountainous, rocky trails in minimal shoes, I do NOT recommend running in Nike Frees or Vibram Five Fingers- your feet will thank you. I wore Adidas Edge Lux Bounce which I love for running on the road because the upper is super stretchy and breathable; for this same reason, my feet were sliding all over the place inside the shoes while running down the mountain. My second pair of shoes helped me run much more efficiently: a trusty pair of tightly-laced Brooks Ravennas. I had brought that pair with the intention of recycling or donating them at the end of the race as they had over 600 miles on them. In retrospect maybe it wasn’t the best decision to bring shoes with worn-down tread for trail running, but the weather was dry and recycling them at the end decreased the amount of gear cleaning and laundry I had to do after the race.
Because I am already signed up for the NYRR Ragnar ultra at Lake Wawayanda at the end of this month with tri team (no one is surprised, I very rarely say ‘no’ when asked to race), I just purchased 2 pairs of real trail running shoes and am deciding between them- will report back!
Race nutrition can be really tricky for Ragnars since you can’t always estimate exactly what time you’ll be running and therefore how much you can eat beforehand. Plus, and I know I’m not alone in this, eating is a fun pastime when you’re bored in a car or just generally when snacks are available. Make sure to bring your preferred gel/electrolyte, but also bring real food (fruit, veggies, bagels, quinoa, what have you). The best advice I received from my veteran trail running teammates is practice eating real food with a couple 2-a-day runs to figure out what and how much you can eat to maximize your recovery.
- Clothing "cliff notes" version: 3 outfits to run in, sweats to chill in, *bring a clean outfit for the car ride home
**gallon plastic bags for each outfit with a dryer sheet inside to staunch the smell and keep everything organized >> best tip award from trail teammate
- extra plastic bags for dirty/wet clothes
- rain gear
- reflective gear (for road running)
- 2+ pairs of running shoes. Trail shoes with a rock plate are ideal See “A Note on Shoes” above
- hydration pack/water belt - if you have one you use for run commuting that will work great
- food that’s not cliff bars/gels [race day nutrition / nutrition for runners posts]- sandwiches are easy and will stay fresh in coolers
electrolytes (Hammer, nuun, WTRMLNWTR)
- beer (*disclaimer, drink responsibly, but my trail teammates made this a priority for hanging out in the camp)
- first-aid kit (someone will fall >>)
- wet wipes (no sinks in the camp people)
- water (will be available at races but it’s nice to have some on hand)
- Anti-blister materials
- foam roller/stick
- sleeping bag, blanket
- headlamps/flashlight for running in the dark
- toilet paper
- waterproof case or bag for your phone like a LOKSAK :)
- earplugs / eyemask
Double-check Ragnar's official packing list in case you forgot anything
Have you run a Ragnar yet? Did we miss anything? Are you running the NYRR Ragnar at Wawayanda Lake this month?? We want to hear from you!