De-Stress Your Relay Race Planning

Through-the-night 24-hour relays are growing in popularity. Make sure you and your team are adequately prepared!

Race directors offer training tips and suggestions for essential items to have in your van. 

Picture this: You’re running along a highway at 2 a.m. in the middle of the Nevada desert covered in reflective tape and flashing lights. Eleven of your friends are waiting for you in a decorated minivan several miles away. What are you doing? Are you victim of a cruel bachelor party prank? Is it a night in Vegas gone wrong? Possibly. Or, you could also be part of the growing army of running relay participants. Long-distance running relays have experienced rapid growth over the last several years, and the omnipresent Ragnar Relay Series, the largest, topped 60,000 participants last year, with 12 events dotted all over the country.

Long-distance relays offer an accessible running experience, with the ultramarathon distances split between multiple participants. Courses often cover beautiful and remote open roads. Fun is definitely on the menu, too, with fellow runners cheering you on, creative costumes and legendary post-race festivities. Whatever your level of seriousness, when you have other runners depending on your result, you want to be ready to run when it comes your turn to hit the road.

RELATED: 7 Safety Tips For Running In The Dark

For a 12-person, 200-mile relay, you might cover about 15 to 20 miles each over the course of 24 to 48 hours. A half-marathon training plan would provide an appropriate amount of volume and preparation. However, running relays present some additional challenges that aren’t factors in regular road races.

Adam Boothe, a cross-country coach at Winona State University in Rochester, Minn., has twice led teams to victory at the Lake Tahoe Relay, a race that circumnavigates the great lake in Northern California. As relays often require you to run several times, Boothe suggests replicating this in training. “Try running three times in one day and practice how to fuel and hydrate between runs,” he said. If one of the legs of the relay is at night, he also advises athletes to run at night.

Legs can be long and are typically point-to-point, and the atypical topography may require special preparation. The 100 on 100 event in Vermont, for example, climbs to the top of Killian Mountain Resort. Race director Robert O’Neil suggests team members decide well in advance which legs they will run. Prepare your leg muscles by replicating the terrain you will be covering in the race in your training runs.

Paul Vanderheiden, who oversees Roads Less Traveled Relays (formerly Timberline Racing) based in Englewood, Colo., provides advice for avoiding some basic pitfalls: “Look where you are going!” he said. Sprained ankles are a common injury. Courses are not marked and manicured as your average road race is, so you need to be attentive. Vigilance is also required in navigating the route. Signs are usually there to guide you, but they sometimes get moved or obscured. Vanderheiden suggests carrying a map and having your team van stop and wait for you at intersections to guide you through the correct turn. Careful preparation, “makes the relay more fun, whether you’re trying to win or just trying to make it to the post-race party,” said Boothe.



Safety is key at night on the open road. Roads are rarely, if ever, closed. Bring a reflective vest, a head lamp and a flashing rear light. Reflective patches on your clothing don’t cut it.


Two 12- to 15-seat vans or suburbans are recommended because they provide plenty of room for runners and supplies. Decorating your ride is a running relay tradition.


Pack three changes of clothes and the food and drink you’ve trained with. Also, don’t forget the deodorant.


Roads Less Traveled Relay Races

100on100 Relay

Ragnar Relay Series

This piece first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 


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