Regardless of the season, Stacey Kennedy can usually be found somewhere on a trail with her husband and their husky-shepherd mix. She loves winter more than most people, which is a good thing since she currently resides in Connecticut. Stacey has completed multiple Ragnar Relay races across New England. She has been a Ragnar Ambassador since 2011, and has convinced many unsuspecting runners of the joy of piling into a stinky van with several soon-to-be best friends for an unforgettable journey.
As my next Ragnar rapidly approached, I found myself lying awake in bed last night running through my mental race checklist. I consider myself a veteran in all things Ragnarian. I’ve completed four previous races and have been a Ragnar Ambassador for years, spreading the word on the joys of spending hours in a sweaty van with five other runners. Despite my wealth of experience, I inevitably toe the start line reminiscing on all the things I’d forgotten about overnight relays.
For every newbie out there preparing to walk under the giant inflatable orange arch for the first time, here are a few things that might help you prepare for the weekend. As for you grizzled vets who are even more experienced than I – throw down your tips in the comments section!
One: Thank your team captain.
I’ve been a team captain more times than not, and I always forget how much work it is. This year I’ve been in the wings while another took on the task of getting this ball rolling and gaining momentum, and I’m incredibly grateful for her work to make it all come together. Your captain has sacrificed family time, study time, and more than a few working hours to make sure that everything is taken care of for the next 24 – 36 hours. Don’t forget to show your appreciation.
Two: Easy on the stuff.
While I’m sure that fuzzy bunny costume, the 10 t-shirts, tent, Bluetooth speakers, frisbee, TWO pillows, 7 bags of trail mix and 2 cases of Gatorade all seem completely necessary now, just wait until you combine it with five other people’s’ things in a 15 passenger van that will quickly seem very small. When it’s 2 a.m. on a dark road somewhere and you can’t find your dry socks, you’re going to ask yourself why you thought a giant inflatable banana was a good idea. I’m not saying to skip the banana, just inflate it and tie it to the roof already!
Three: It’s always colder than you expect.
My brain wants it to be sunny and warm (and sometimes it is), but especially once the sun sets – it’s cold! Don’t forget a rain jacket and a few extra layers, especially for when you aren’t running. You always plan for the runs, but 22 of the next 24 hours will be spent hanging around in and out of your van, cheering your runners along.
Four: Foam rolling is your best friend.
Boy, I wish I had learned this one earlier. Check with your van to make sure someone brings a foam roller. If you need one, check out the selection from addaday. Don’t forget to use it, either. Taking 5-10 minutes to roll out your legs before you hop back in the van and chase down your next runner can prevent what I call the “Ragnar Stride.” You know the look. It’s Saturday morning and everyone at the exchange is waiting to start their third, slowly shuffling around like zombies (while groaning, “coffffffeeeee”) because no one can bend their legs. Roll it out, and thank me later.
Five: Baby wipes are a shower in a bag.
Enough said – especially by about halfway through the second leg.
Six: A hotel is life-changing.
The folks who organize Ragnar do an amazing job of providing wonderful options for sleeping at the exchanges. Some people would rather stay right at the exchange and not worry about potentially missing their runner’s arrival, and I say more power to you. Personally, I’m kind of a wimp, and having a bed and a clean shower that I don’t have to wait in line for is invaluable. Even a couple hours of sleep in the middle of the night is enough to make me downright chipper for that last leg. We typically rent two hotel rooms close to the exchange where one van ends right in the middle of the night. The van preceding them will skip ahead, check in and sleep. Then the van finishing up will take over the room. We’ve had great experiences with very understanding receptionists who don’t mind the changeover (provided we don’t wake other guests) and provide us plenty of extra towels.
Seven: Ear plugs and an eye cover will come in handy.
Even if you get a hotel room, you’ll likely still be sleeping in your van or in a relatively public area somewhere along the way. I find that being able to cover my eyes and block out sound can make it much easier to grab a cat nap in a normally unsleepable situation.
Eight: The exchange workers and volunteers are amazing.
Another reminder to say thank you. I don’t know how these people are always so happy and friendly, often singing, cheering you along and just generally being awesome at all hours of the day and night. Lots of coffee, I guess.
Nine: Bonds will be forged.
Every year I’ve raced Ragnar, I’ve run with a random stranger or friend-of-a-friend whom I hadn’t met before. By the end, it’s as if we’ve known each other forever. Just wait until you’re alone on a country road in the pitch black, not a soul in site, and suddenly you round a bend to see your teammates singing and cheering you like crazy. Then you’ll understand. Some of these new friends I’ve stayed in touch with and some I’ve never spoken to again, but the bond is unforgettable. I’ll run with any one of them.
Ten: You’re going to want to do it all again.
Somewhere in a sleepless middle-of-the-night haze (or often just as I’m about to start my third leg), I’ll utter the words, “I’m never doing this again.” Trust me, everyone feels that way at one point or another. Yet inevitably by the time we cross the finish line together as a team, we’re already planning our next race. You’ll be back, trust me.
Take part in an unforgettable adventure. Find your next Ragnar Relay here.