Several years ago for reasons I can’t fully remember, I landed on my first relay team. As a group of 12, we signed up for the inaugural Blue Ridge Mountain Relay which covers 208 miles from West Jefferson, NC to Asheville, NC. The course has been adapted over the years, but it’s the same general route –back roads and mountain roads -run continuously for 24 hours.
Here’s how a relay works. Once you form your team of like-minded runners, you rent two 12 passenger vans (6 runners in each van so you can spread out), go to Costco and buy a bunch of runner snacks, then head to the start. Runner 1 takes off, van 1 drives a bit a head, runner one waves hand that he/she is good, van 1 drives to drop off 2, Runner 2 gets out, Runner 1 finishes and hands baton to runner #2 and repeat this cycle.
Relays are a lot of fun because it’s one of the few times as a runner you get to work with a team. It’s fun to cheer others along and to run your best so that it puts the team in a better spot. You’ll have enough down time in some transitions to talk to other teams as well. Don’t forget to decorate your van–there is normally a contest for best one.
Below are my best tips for surviving a relay:
- Gallon ziplock bags. You’ll need 3 -4 packed with a change of clothes for each bag. Once you change into clean/dry clothes, use that bag to drop in your sweaty clothes and the van will get less smelly.
- Wet wipes. These go a long way when you can’t shower for a while.
- At least 2 pairs of tennis shoes. It will rain. It just will. If it doesn’t, it will be blazing hot and you’ll be too sweaty to wear them for the next run.
- Bring patience. With a 12 person team, there’s a lot of sit around, hurry up and wait. (After van 1 finishes with it’s 6 runners, van 2 takes off; thus, van 1 has about 3 hours to chill.)
- Snacks. I would definitely pack different snacks than I did several years ago, but some staples never go away –think peanut butter, pretzels, bread, bananas (so many), oranges.
- Tarp. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sleep at one of the bigger transition points. Spread the tarp out and your sleeping bags won’t get wet.
- Vet your team. Look, I get it: “Everyone is a runner.” But, everyone is not a runner to the same ability. If you want a goal time, you need to make sure that’s stated from the outset. If you best good friend runs an 11 min mile on flat roads, and your race is in the mountains, you probably need to add some time to the estimate. If you don’t have a goal time, then cheers! Bring some bloody Mary mix and see you at the finish.
- Have alternates. Race registration for the relays fills up far in advance. It is nearly inevitable that someone on your team will get hurt, have a family emergency, work emergency, or flake out. I would suggest a strong 3-4 person back-up.
- Consider a driver for each vehicle. This person wouldn’t be a runner (but COULD be if something horrible happens).
- Know your route directions. Night time running is interesting and nearly a guarantee you won’t have street lights. Even with your own headlight, once you factor in fog, rain, or general lack of awareness for the roads, having a print out with you will be helpful.
Finally, stay calm around dogs; they’re most likely friendly. Just don’t get it confused with a coyote or a fox. Don’t forget essentials, like an inhaler if you normally use one. The people you meet while running may not be used to seeing runners. Don’t be alarmed at their weapon of choice as they sit in their lawn chair. 90% of the time, the spectators are cheerful.
12 people sound like a lot?? No problem. You can enter an ultra team of 4-6 people!