ragnarIf you don’t read anything else in this post, but are considering running a Ragnar Relay, at least read these two important bits of advice:

  1. Don’t forget your pillow.
  2. Don’t get caught up in the “roadkills,” especially if you are racing on an ultra team (more on that to come).

Now that we got that out of the way, we can dive into the details.

6 Dudes Running 199 Miles

This past weekend I teamed up with Matt Frazier and 4 of his good buddies to form the No Meat Athlete ultra team at DC’s Ragnar Relay.

Ragnar DC is a 199 mile relay from Cumberland Maryland to the National Harbor.

If you aren’t familiar with the Ragnar series or other similar relays, they’re set up with the option of a 12 person team (which makes up the vast majority of the teams) or an ‘ultra’ 6 person team.  Each team runs 36 legs, 6 per person for ultra and 3 per person for normal, varying in length from just over 2 miles to somewhere around 10 miles.

You cycle through your team and run in the order your team designates ahead of time.

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Matt Frazier crushing leg 6


The major difference between the 6 and the 12 person team, aside from the obvious twice-the-distance factor, is that the 12 person team is split into two vans, which can leapfrog several legs ahead and rest.  The 6 person is constantly moving from one leg to the next to drop off/pick up a runner.

Considering it took us nearly 27 hours to run the race, the constant moving, preparing, running, and recovering took its toll on everyone.  It creates a challenge of endurance I wasn’t really anticipating, and one I learned a lot from.

So if you’re thinking about running a Ragnar, or just interested in hearing more about it, here are my Dos and Don’ts for any Ragnar Relay, especially if you are running on an ultra team.

The Dos and Don’ts of Ragnar

  • Do plan out all food needs ahead of time.  Not just what you will want during a run, but what you will want between runs.  I expected more down time as we waited on runners, time to stop by a restaurant and pick up a bite, but we had very little time and options for outside food.
  • Don’t let yourself get disorganized.  6 dudes or gals (plus a driver) in a 12 passenger van can and will get messy, so try to keep your clothes, gear, and junk as organized as possible.  Trust me, no one wants to be woken up from a 10 minute nap at 3 a.m. because you can’t find your sock.  That happened, people weren’t happy.
  • Do study the leg maps ahead of each run so you know what to expect.  Terrain varied from dirt trail to dirt road to city sidewalks.  Long 1,000 foot climbs to total flats.  Treat each leg like you would any other race and study the course maps.
  • Don’t treat each run as an individual race.  You have to remember you aren’t just running 7 miles, because 3 hours later you might be running 10 more.  I succumbed to temptation the first four legs, and paced each run as I would any other run at that distance.  By the time legs 5 and 6 came around my legs were too trashed to even consider running at a good clip.
  • Do plan out your packing list.  I made the mistake of skipping a few critical items, like a pillow and a towel.  Here are a few items to consider packing:
  • A new running shirt and pair of socks for each leg
  • Pillow, small blanket, ear plugs for sleeping
  • A sweatshirt to stay comfortable
  • Towel
  • Extra non-running clothes to change into
  • Don’t over-think the packing list.  Especially if you are running on a 6 person team, you can leave luxuries like a sleeping bag behind.  Chances are you won’t have an opportunity to use it and it will only junk up the van.
  • Do have fun with the party aspect of the race.  The race turns into a festival with thousands of people, all running around frantically trying to be in the right place at the right time.  All tired, dirty, hungry, and cramped up in their vans.  It’s an experience like no other.  Decorate your vans, cheer on your runners, and have a beer after a particularly tough leg.  Having fun is what this is all about.
  • Don’t get caught up in the “roadkills” everyone is tracking on their van’s windows.  A roadkill happens when you pass someone during a race.  It’s fun to fight for a kill and celebrate each mark with your team, but if you’re running as an ultra team, you have to remember that most people have a lot fresher legs than you.  Each kill comes at a cost later down the road.
  • Do have a good team captain.  I’ll be honest, Ragnar is a bit of a logistical nightmare.  With so many people, places, and things that need to be exactly perfect, organization is key.  Our Captain Pete was great at getting us organized and packed with all the right stuff.

Why You Should Give It a Try

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Running, especially distance running, is such an individual sport.  The individualism is something I love about it, but it’s also something I miss about being on a team.  A relay like Ragnar is the perfect way to blend the solo side of running and team camaraderie.

On top of that, the endurance aspect of the event pushed me in ways a longer distance race never has.  The combination of sleep deprivation, lack of real meals, and constant run and rest rotations turned the last two legs into total suffer-fests.

But already I’m thinking about how much fun it was to run at 3 a.m. along a rails-to-trails path in Western Maryland, and watch the sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain as I ran up a steep dirt road.

The challenges are what feel the most rewarding.

Ragnar isn’t the only company running relays like this.  In fact, there are several older, more well-known races doing exactly the same thing, and I’m sure they are just as much fun.

So next time you get the chance to run a race like this, jump on it.

Roadkills await.

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Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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12 thoughts on “The Dos and Don’ts of Running a Ragnar Relay: Ultra Division

    1. Thanks Pat! It was awesome running with you and the crew. Such a good time. I feel like with the wrong group it would have been totally miserable, but you guys were great. You kept me laughing.

  1. Great post Doug!

    I was up in Germantown on Saturday watching my kids play soccer and I passed a bunch of Ragnar relay people on the way there. Glad it went so well for you guys.

  2. Great post/helpful hints. As an FYI to readers it is strictly against Ragnar rules to drink on the course. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE a good post run beer. Just be careful because getting caught will get you DQed.

  3. My husband, cousin and 4 other people just did Ragnar in AZ. I got to be a driver for them. 🙂 We had to stop after 4 legs each due to 2 runners having injuries. Great post! We are already making mental notes on what to do differently for next year.

  4. Doug, do you have a training plan that you followed? i have been trying to find one online but all of them are for the regular and not the ultra! thank you!

    1. Hey Kasey,

      I was in the middle of training for a different ultra, so didn’t have a specific plan for Ragnar. If you’re interested in a custom plan, feel free to shoot me an email at doug (at) rockcreekrunner (dot) com for further info!

      Thanks for reading!

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