How to Train for a Ragnar Relay

Runners run near a bridge during a Ragnar relay race.

Preparing for a Ragnar relay can be daunting, and it can be difficult to gauge the intensity of a Ragnar if you’ve never done one before. The good news is, training for Ragnar is similar to training for other distance races, whether you’re tackling the distance for the first time or are an experienced runner, with some distinct differences. All athletes will know the distance and elevation profile of their legs, but seeing it on paper isn’t quite the same as experiencing it firsthand.

Whether you build your own training plan, work with a coach, or use the group runs and training plans offered by a Fleet Feet near you, it’s pretty easy to incorporate elements simulating the overnight relay experience to best prepare for your Ragnar relay so that you can finish upright and with a smile on your face.

Double (and Triple) Up on Your Runs

Since you’ll be running three legs with a break between each, try recreating that in your training by running first thing in the morning and again late in the afternoon or evening. Once you’ve done that a couple times, add in a morning run the following day. This will simulate what it’s like to run three times across two days on tired legs with less recovery time between runs.

Practice Running in Off Hours

At Ragnar, the chance of running a leg at dusk, overnight or at dawn is almost guaranteed. If you’re normally a morning runner, try running at night. If you’ve never run at 1:00am, take a stab at it! Doing a training run at an atypical time of day will give you a better idea of how you’re going to feel during and post-run, which ultimately will help you tweak your fueling and recovery strategy for race weekend.

Don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going, and be sure to make yourself visible with lights and reflective gear for those night-time training runs.

Runners run through a Ragnar relay course.

Incorporate Hills into Your Training

Ever heard someone say that hills make you a stronger runner? Research has shown that hills help improve leg strength, quicken your stride and boost your cardiovascular system. Plus, varied terrain can help your legs recover quicker because the muscles are being used in different ways throughout the run, as opposed to running on flat surfaces in a repetitive motion without relief.

If you’re used to running flat roads, you can simulate running hills in parking garages. It never hurts to make sure you have permission to run in the garage, and don’t forget safety! Parking structures have limited visibility around corners and can be dark, so the safety gear you’ll need for night-time training runs and on race weekend will be helpful here, too.

Fine-tune Your Fueling Strategy

Electrolytes and nutrition are an important part of any run, and Ragnar is no exception. With less control over other variables, like sleep, food and regular mealtimes and recovery, it’s important to stay on top of hydration and caloric intake before, during and after your legs.

Practicing your fueling strategy during training will help you nail down what you need, and when you need it, reducing chances of bonking during the relay.

Trial Run Your Recovery Plan

During a relay race with multiple legs, you’ll have to bounce back quicker than normal. After your training runs, roll out a yoga mat and bust out all of your favorite recovery tools to experiment with what feels best immediately after your run. Just remember, your pricier tools may need access to power to recharge and are less secure in a tent or van.

Massage sticks, foam rollers and stretching straps don’t require batteries and are easier to replace if they get lost.

A runner sprints down the finishing chute at the end of a Ragnar relay.

Put It All Together

Training for a Ragnar is a little different than training for other distance races. The week or two before your relay can be treated just like any other taper, avoiding harder runs and workouts that can cause muscle soreness and inflammation.

If you have the time, do a test run simulating the Ragnar experience. Ratchet up the fun factor and invite your teammates to join you! You won’t be able to run together on race weekend, but this practice run gives you a chance to see how your Ragnar road or trail relay will go. Of course, if you’re one of those fearless people who volunteers to fill in an empty spot on a team in the week or two before the race, you won’t have time to try all of these out. Do what you can to shake up your training before race day, and be prepared to have a great time!

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