Over the weekend, I was part of Asics’ Run, Write, Repeat team that ran the Ragnar Relay SoCal: We covered 194 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego in 26 hours. If you’ve never run a Ragnar Relay, here’s how it works: You cram 12 people into two vans, which serve as your team HQ. Each team member runs three legs, ranging from 3 to 10 miles and varying in difficulty. Our 12-member team was made up of runners from New York to Colorado to California. As a group, we placed 11th in the Mixed Open Division, and 30th overall. But most of all, we had an amazing adventure together that we’ll remember for a lifetime!
But tackling an overnight relay is no easy feat, mentally or logistically. Here are five things you should know.
It’s not the mileage, it’s the format!
It doesn’t matter how hard you train (of course you have to do some training!), nothing can truly prepare you for not really sleeping—you’re living in a van, remember?—and running in the dark at 2:30 am after already having run a leg…and having another leg to go in the morning. At that point, it’s all mental, so just psych yourself up and go for it!
Eat small meals…and lots of them
You have to keep yourself fueled, but the last thing you feel like eating between legs is a big, heavy meal. Pack lots of hearty, healthy snacks like almonds, bagels with peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and energy bars. (That’s my fuel bag, below.) At one point when we had a longer break, we even stopped at a grocery store and bought a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken for a nice, warm protein boost. It was heavenly and got us through the night.
Find a spot where you can recharge
We were lucky to have a teammate who happened to live in between two of our exchange points. Rather than having to stay in the van all night, we stopped by her place to shower, change, eat, and rest for an hour. It made a huge difference and we all felt so much more recharged than our teammates in the second van who opted to skip the rest-stop. Plan ahead and look for a place to go—someone’s house, an office, or even a motel room. It truly made a difference!
Pack your gear for each leg of your run in separate labeled bags. Think: Headlamp and reflective gear with your night run clothing; sunscreen, hat, and glasses for your morning leg, etc.) You’re living out of a duffel bag in a small van, so being able to find your gear quickly and easily is super helpful. It’s also good to have things like car-friendly phone chargers, baby wipes (to clean off), sharpies (to label water bottles), and Band Aids just in case. My team made fun of how organized I was, but they all knew to come to me when they were looking for supplies!
Be prepared to have the best time of your life
The camaraderie you’ll feel with your teammates and the other runners in the race is exceptional. On one of my legs, I even had a “mystery rabbit”: A woman who pushed me to keep up with her during one of my legs. I ended up running a personal best thanks to her—a complete stranger who hugged me at the end of the leg and who I never saw again during the race. It’s moments like these that really keep you going and make you feel like you’re part of a really cool running community.
Jen Furmaniak is the West Coast Editor of Health magazine.