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Lessons from a First Time Ragnar Relay Race Finisher

Reach the Beach

Last week, I participated in my first Ragnar Relay. For those unfamiliar, it’s a race that involves teams of 12 people (six in each van) running a combined 201 miles in 24 hours (in reality, it was more like 33, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!).  

One team member runs at a time, with the others following along in two vans, so that someone is constantly running—even in the wee hours of the morning. Each team member runs three legs of varying distances and difficulties, and each person runs a total of anywhere from 12 to 20 miles. (Unless you’re on an ‘ultra team’ where there are only six runners covering the same distance!)

There are 17 Ragnar relays nationwide, from the Adirondacks to Napa Valley to Hawaii. The one I participated in, the New Balance Reach the Beach, is one of the oldest and longest running relay races in the United States, taking place in scenic New Hampshire. The course takes you through the White Mountains, “past fields, lakes, mountain top vistas, and the occasional covered bridge,” ultimately finishing along the Atlantic coastline at Hampton Beach State Park. Basically, the stuff Instagram dreams are made of! (See 10 Beach Destination Runs for Your Next Racecation.)

Of course, there was still the whole running part. And to say I was anxious leading up to the race would be an understatement. Sure, I’ve completed two half-marathons and had spent the past month training as much as possible, but I’d hardly describe myself as a runner with a capital ‘R.’ (In fact, I ran my first race just last year, after previously only having run three miles at a time in my life—ever.) And most of my fellow teammates on the New Balance media team (#NBGirlsRunBeta) were regular marathon runners, and speedy too. No pressure. Still, I somehow managed to live to tell the tale, and actually enjoy myself along the way.

Some helpful lessons I learned along the way:

Don’t be afraid to speak up. After receiving the runner assignments, I had a slight panic attack when I saw I was assigned to run over 18 miles with a nine-mile ‘very hard leg’ happening late at night. When my angel of a teammate found out I was stressing, she offered to swap legs with me so that I ended up running (a much more manageable for my training) 13 miles total. Your teammates are there for picking up the slack when needed; don’t try to be a martyr at the risk of hurting yourself.

When it comes to packing, more is more. Yes, it’s important to streamline to conserve space in the van, but to be honest, I’m glad I over-packed and had plenty of shorts, capris, tanks, and tees to choose from (and tons of socks and running underwear). Besides the rain gear, which I luckily didn’t need, I wore most of what I packed (even for just hanging in the van). Plus, I was glad I had something to accommodate every sort of weather scenario, from the chilly night and morning runs to the sweltering afternoon stints. 

Don’t be embarrassed to walk. It may be called a ‘race’ but it’s only as competitive as you make it. Certain steep hills along the course were practically impossible to get up without walking. When it comes to those with eight-plus mileage assignments, breaking up the leg into walking, jogging, and running intervals might be the way to go. No one will think less of you.

Throw your vanity out the window. Depending on which legs you're assigned, you may be running in the middle of the night where reflective vests, head lamps, and light-up hats are required for safety. You will look like a huge dork. (Not to mention the whole not showering for two days thing.) Yes, face and body wipes were used as much as possible to keep hygiene (and smells in the car) in check, but at a certain point, you’ll learn to just embrace the natural look. (That’s what photo filters are for, right?)

Don’t try to show off. Even if you want to run as fast as possible right off the bat, pacing yourself is crucial for ensuring you have enough energy for your second and third legs. No one wants to be the person who doesn’t make it across the finish line because they burned out too fast.

Foam rollers are everything. After running and then being forced to sit/sleep in a van for many hours until your next leg, stiff muscles are unavoidable. You’ll likely be sore no matter what, but a foam roller is an absolute must-pack to make sure your body doesn’t hate you when all is said and done (and, of course, to help you recover right). (See these 5 Hot Spots to Roll Out Before Every Workout)

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