When I told my workmates I was going away for a weekend to do a relay race I’m pretty sure they were all picturing an old-school sports day vibe – a low key lap round the track, maybe two. But how else could you sum up the madness that me and my 9 teammates were about to embark on by taking on the Ragnar Relay?
The Ragnar Relay is, in its simplest state, a relay race. But low key it most certainly is not. As a team of 10 you set out over 30 legs to complete a point-to-point distance of 170-ish miles. No two Ragnar routes have the same distance – it’s all landmark dependent. The one we were about to complete, Ragnar White Cliffs, was the UK’s (and Europe’s) first Ragnar race and spanned a grand total of 176.1 miles. All you need to do is navigate and run. Non-stop. Through the night… Yeah.
Running Your First Ragnar Relay
Clearly this is not your average race, so to help you prepare for what you’re about to embark on, here are my top 7 things to expect from running your first Ragnar Relay:
1. It’s easy to underestimate the cumulative distance.
Just because you can run the distance of each individual leg, doesn’t mean you will be able to run all three on very little rest without feeling at least a bit of an impact. I ran legs 9, 19 and 29, which were 7 miles, 8 miles and 3 miles respectively. While I knew I could tackle any one of those distances in isolation, I didn’t really consider the fact that I’d be running 18 miles in total, something I hadn’t done since marathon training 5 years ago.
2. A good pair of trainers is the key to comfort when it comes to multi-stage races.
I can imagine lacing up ready to go out for yet another run if you haven’t got comfortable and supportive trainers is like sitting on a bike seat after your very first spinning class. Luckily, I ran all three of my Ragnar legs in a brand new pair of Reebok Floatrides and, even though they hadn’t been broken in, they were comfortable as fuck and left me excited to wear them again when I returned to running after Ragnar.
3. Running in the dark really messes up your perception of distance and depth – even with a headtorch.
At one point I was running down an alley towards Viking Bay in Broadstairs and I picked up speed thinking I’d make use of the downhill stretch. That was until the pavement turned into long steps and I only realised once I’d tripped down two of them. Anyone who knows how clumsy I am will know it’s a miracle I didn’t roll down the whole lot! There were also portions of the night runs where I expected the ground to be further away than it was and ended up hitting the pavement with a heavy foot – this can have a big effect on how your legs feel so try to run with as relaxed a stride as possible to minimise the impact.
4. You can get by on very little sleep, although you might slowly go into a brain meltdown as the waking hours go by.
In our van of 5, the driving was split between 2 of us and we seemed to bear most of the graveyard shift with our groups’ middle legs starting at ~11pm and ending at ~5am. During these hours, Lucy and I were either driving, navigating, eating or running… “run, eat, (sleep?) repeat”. By the time we’d finished the night stretch we headed straight on to the next major checkpoint, but it was only after stopping by Starbucks for coffee and carbs that we realised we’d rocked up at checkpoint 24 not 25. We each survived on less than 15 minutes sleep for the 27 hours we raced… I was awake for around 45 hours in total.
5. Your body can adapt to running at all different times of the day.
Sure, you may naturally prefer evening runs, or maybe you’re a 6am club runner but, once you get into your stride at 3am and there’s nothing but you and a deathly quiet open road, it’s surprising how easily you can set into a comfortable pace and just keep putting one leg in front of another.
6. The people are what really make it.
We were lucky to be thrown together by Reebok UK, with only a few of us having actually met before the challenge, but we all got along from the word “pizza”. We pulled together as a team to come 26th overall (out of 100 teams) and we still support each other on social media today, and occasionally WhatsApp reminisce now and then. When you’re tired, smelly, sweaty and just a general disgrace, those Ragnar mates of yours really will see you at your worst and that’s something you can’t force. If you’re stressed out from a particularly tough leg, your Ragnar buddies will be there pulling you through with support and a metaphorical slap round the face. Even between teams, there’s a special unity forged – the cheers of jäger bombs post-race when you should be heading home for sleep, the nod of a fellow runner when they see your Ragnar cap… you are Ragnarians!
7. Ragnar Relay is addictive.
I already want to complete Ragnar Relays in other countries, as well as reliving my “home” race. Most of the guys and girls from my team, and the teams of other people I know who completed it, have already registered their interest on the Ragnar White Cliffs wait list, and I’m pretty sure it will sell out quick. There’s nothing quite like Ragnar Relay, so as you start on the journey to your first one, you might as well prepare yourself for the start of an obsession… in fact, you’ll probably be plotting your next one before the dust has even settled!
For more of an idea of what Ragnar is all about, check out these awesome videos and articles by my teammates… they make me want to do it all over again right NOW!
Disclaimer: I was given a pair of Reebok Floatride trainers and entry into the Ragnar Relay White Cliffs race by Reebok. As always, my opinion is my own and not affected by payment, or items/services gifted to me. To find out more about my policy on this and other matters, see my Disclosure page. Thank you very much to Reebok UK and Ragnar Relay for having me on #TeamReebokUK and allowing me to trial the Reebok Floatride #FeelTheFloatride trainers.