How to pack for a Ragnar Relay

Guest post by Digital Running’s Ragnar Team Mom: Raffi Darrow

coupleOver the past few years, my husband and I have coordinated nearly 20 Ragnar Relay teams. If you aren’t familiar with a Ragnar Relay, they have 2 types of races: a road relay and a trail relay. To keep this succinct, I’ll talk today about packing for a Ragnar road relay. This involves a team of 12 runners (or 6 for an Ultra team!) who run 200 miles relay style. One teammate is kept on the course at all times, day and night, and the length of the leg or when the runners exchange is predetermined on the Ragnar course map. You may run 3 miles at 8pm or 7 miles at 2am – that’s part of the adventure!

When we put a team together, we aren’t looking at team overall speed, we aren’t there to win the race – but perhaps to win one of the fun awards like Best Team Name, Far Out Fashion, or Best Van Decorations. So part of our packing takes this into consideration, and we come up with a team theme, logo, colors, matching shirts, etc. (So, although we pack colorful holiday lights, glow sticks and a rubber chicken, you can probably leave those off your list.)

safetygearWe also pack all of the safety gear needed in the van: safety vests, headlamps and blinking tail lights are required during evening hours. We pack a cooler, ice and water for everyone. We have a first aid kit in each van. I recommend a power adapter for each van to share for charging gadgets, an AV cable if you want to hook up an iPod to the stereo, and duct tape for van decor — and blisters! We stock each van with 3 trash bags – one for each set of legs is usually just enough, paper towels, 2 small flashlights, a spray deodorant and a spray sunscreen.

When you know this type of stuff is coordinated in advance, you don’t need to worry about having 4 coolers taking up space with 6-7 people living out of a small area for 36 hours.

Speaking of tight space – you may only have room for one carry-on and one tote bag for your personal items, so here’s what you as an individual should consider packing just for YOU on an overnight relay:

1) Clothes. You’ll want 3 separate running outfits – complete with a change of bra, underwear, socks, etc. Some people even change shoes if they have longer distances or really sweaty feet. Put each outfit in a plastic bag and tie it up. This way they are easy to grab if you need to change quickly, and they are easy to stuff away when they are sweaty after you are done running.

We usually arrive Thursday and fly home Sunday, so my jeans become my Thursday and Sunday clothes, and I bring something cute to celebrate in Saturday night with my team – which varies based on the weather of the location of the race. I have lounge clothes for the van which can for wearing between legs and for sleeping in. I always have a jacket, even if the race is supposed to be 80 degrees… just in case. I’ve had to sleep outside during some very cold nights! If I know it will be cold, I bring a hat and gloves too – gloves that still allow me to text. Most people bring a pair of flip flops for wearing in the van. If we are going somewhere cold, I pack wool socks to sleep in.

babywipes2) Baby Wipes. We pack baby wipes for each van, but you might want your own. They can be used as a shower, TP, cleaning up the van, wiping down a sweaty phone, etc. I recommend the unscented when you are living in a small space with other people. You can also use them on your flight to the race to wipe down your airplane armrest, in-flight tray table, etc. In addition, you might want a small hand sanitizer.

3) Leg Massage. If you aren’t used to using a foam roll or “The Stick” to roll out your legs after running, Ragnar might convert you. Running 6 miles, sitting in a cramped van, and then running 6 miles again can take its toll on you! Even compression socks post-run could do the trick. When you get a chance, prop your legs up on a van seat or a tree to reverse the lactic acid build up for a while.

sleepingbag4) Sleeping Bag/Tarp/Tent. Many runners curl up on the van seat to sleep for a few hours. But if you have 6-7 people in one van, it helps to offload a few to the designated sleeping areas of the major exchange point you’re stopped at. Sometimes this is in a school gym, and you get a real floor to sleep on! But sometimes there is a softball field or gravel lot to sleep on. A 2-4 person tent is easily stowed under a van seat and will help empty out the van when it’s time to sleep. If a tent seems like too much effort, a tarp will at least keep you dry all night – provided it doesn’t rain! A sleeping bag is also cozy to wrap around yourself and a friend when you are cheering on other runners in the middle of the night.

5) Eye Mask & Ear Plugs. While we’re on the subject of sleeping, I’ll be honest with you: It’s really hard to sleep on an overnight running relay. Exhaustion plays in your favor, but the major exchanges are very busy places. With teams constantly arriving and departing, there are headlights, car engines, generators, doors slamming, people talking, cheering and all sorts of other nuisances to interfere with your ability to sleep. Other teams are NOT necessarily sleeping when you are, where you are. A good eye mask can help you sleep whether it’s dark or light. Earplugs will drown out most of the noise. You can get both really cheap at Target or Wal Mart, and pack them in your carry-on too, to sleep off the race on the way home. If you have a white noise app on your cell phone, you can use that to kill the noise with the added bonus of being able to set the alarm on your phone to wake you up at the appropriate time.

6) Snacks. We usually stop for one meal at a restaurant during each Relay. The rest of the food is grab-and-go in the van. Our general rule is to eat well after the first set of legs and sleep after the 2nd set of legs. Having a variety of snacks handy is paramount to keeping your energy up, your salt levels normal, and a smile on your face. I recommend apples, bananas, some dried fruit, some salty chips, baby carrots and a nut butter. (In addition to food, you should have plenty of water, mentioned above. But some runners bring coconut water, Gatorade, Vega mixes, etc.) Sometimes Ragnar has coffee and hot cocoa on the course. They are NOT Starbucks. But you might pass one on the course 😉 I bring my own sports bottle to fill up with water while making less waste.

7) Cash. There may be a high school selling pancakes and bacon at exchange 18. You wouldn’t want to miss out. I’ve seen exchanges charge for indoor toilets, showers, food, drinks, and more. Grab a few fivers before you hit the road.

camera8) Camera. There generally aren’t photographers along the Ragnar course to capture your memories for you. You’ll want one or several cameras available in each van to document your experience, each with different lenses to capture different angles and shots too. Perhaps have someone look into macro photography too in order to get some decent close-ups of you. Also, at least one of those should be a cell, in case there is an Instagram contest. Remember – the really funny stuff happens when you least expect it.

9) Cell & Charger. Don’t assume everyone has the same kind of charger as you.

10) Toiletries. Deodorant (I bring spray to Ragnar to share), toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, hair ties, eyedrops (I need them for my contact lenses, but travel can dry anyone’s eyes out), travel size facewash and one washcloth, travel shampoo, mouthwash, lotion, full size sunscreen and lip balm with SPF. I get mosquito bitten all the time, and I have not needed bug repellent at Ragnars that weren’t trail relays. For Saturday night and the plan ride, I usually throw in eyeliner and lipstick. Pretty low key. 1 beach towel is great to hide behind when changing, or in case there is a shower available at a major exchange.

Being prepared will help everyone have a great time. Discuss these items with your team so you know what’s floating around the van and to help everyone pack efficiently. There will be ups and downs, but nothing you do is likely to be a true disaster. Enjoy the camaraderie of your teammates and soak up the adventure you’re sharing.

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