Ragnar Relay – Part III: The Culture

In the last (I promise!) of my three Ragnar posts, I thought I would talk about the weirdness that is the Ragnar Relay.

This post is coming from a relay virgin’s perspective. I’ve run multiple distance races since I started running in 2009 – three marathons, a bunch of half marathons, lots and lots of shorter races, but never a relay. What I realized this weekend is that one of the most fun and interesting aspects of relay racing is that it has its own unique little culture.

It’s weird even by distance running standards, which is saying something.

The Vans

As I explained in Part I, all of the teams are divided into two vans of six people each. Many teams rent vans, but we were lucky enough to have two team members who generously offered to use their own personal vehicles for the weekend.

You basically live in your van with five other people (in my case, all women) and all of their crap for two days. And, you’re all smelly because you’ve all been running and not showering. But, it’s surprisingly fun.

Moms Ragnar This Town, Van 2 (below).


The vans are everywhere. You see them all weekend long. You always know you are in the right place when you see a parking lot full of vans.


And, teams decorate their vans in all sorts of crazy ways. Some are quite funny. Some are too inappropriate to reference here. We had a lot of fun decorating our vans for the race.


The Costumes

Some of the teams wear costumes. Some just coordinate colors (as we did) or wear matching tee shirts or tutus. We saw one gentleman running in a speedo. You never know what you are going to see out there!

It was 90 degrees both days of the race and we saw a bunch of people in cold weather costumes. For example, this group was dressed as Despicable Me minions (the moms all recognized this – I was clueless) in long sleeves and hats! I really hope they changed before they started running!


The “Sleeping” Arrangements

There isn’t much to say about this except that you sleep anywhere. On the floor of a local high school. On the ground outside in the dark. In your van. Anywhere you can.

This is a photo (below) of Moms Ragnar This Town, Van 2 getting ready for about 2 hours of “sleep” in a local high school. Of course, we didn’t really sleep because it was extremely uncomfortable and noisy, as people were coming in and out of the school the entire time for food and showers. I think we took this shot at about 9 p.m. on Friday night, after we finished our first legs of the race, and we had to get up again at 11 p.m. for our second legs (in the dark). We do look cute though in our compression socks!

IMG_0964 IMG_0963

As a fundraiser, the school was selling spaghetti dinner (above). We were starving, so this was amazing (even though I recognize now it wasn’t exactly a trip to Ruth’s Chris). We got this whole tray of food for 6 bucks and showers for a dollar. I forgot to pack a towel and had to use paper towels to dry off, but it was still better than nothing.

The school cafeteria was right by where we attempted to sleep (below).


The Exchanges

As I mentioned, each runner takes turns running throughout the race. When you finish your leg you come into an “exchange” where you pass a slap bracelet (a very sweaty, gross, slap bracelet) to the next runner. The exchanges are crazy. Everyone is cheering and race officials are yelling out team numbers so you know when you need to get in the chute because your runner is approaching the exchange.

We had to double-up for our final legs. Here are Sarah and I getting the bracelet from Alison (below). You can see the crowd of people, the chaos, and the man wearing the speedo in the background.


Running in the Middle of the Night

It doesn’t matter that it’s 1:00 a.m. If it’s your turn, you run. In the dark. In the middle of nowhere. In most cases, with no one else around. And no street lights. Just you and the road kill. I run a lot in the dark because I have to run early before work. But, it’s very different running in the dark in a race and in a totally strange place, especially when you aren’t exactly sure where you are going and are looking for signs!

Everyone walks around in reflective gear, wearing headlamps. And that seems normal at the time because everyone is doing it. But, it’s actually weird. And now people keep making Tron references, looking at the photos.


Relay racing is certainly a unique experience. It’s one I’m glad I had, but I can’t say it’s something I plan to do again in the near future. It’s a huge commitment and I think if I ever did it again, I would do more specific training for the course. And, next time, I wouldn’t do it a month before a marathon! Never say never, but probably never. That being said, once the pain wears away, I think I’m likely to recommend that every runner try a relay, if for no other reason that it’s an insane experience. But, one thing is for sure, this is a race experience I will never, ever forget.


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