Size: Your van will be your home away from home for 24+ hours. I have been in both an 13 passenger van and a standard mini van. My advice - get the BIGGEST van you possibly can! During The Relay we had a 13 passenger van and we each essentially got our own row in the van to stretch out, sleep, and keep all our stuff close. The extra room was key to being able to stretch tight legs, actually be able to lay down to sleep and put a little distance between stinky runners. You won't regret the decision.
Decor: For both relays we decorated our van with our team name, signs and other fun things with window markers but some people really went all out with Christmas lights, covering the car in furry material, and speakers playing music, etc. I think it really helps get in the spirit of the whole event and Ragnar even had contests for the best decorated van.
2. Van Driver
Another decision to make is who will drive the van? Will everyone take turns or will you convince a family member, spouse, friend to drive the van so the runners can just focus on running? We had a driver for Ragnar and she was a saint!! While we could kick back and relax in the car she was always "on" navigating us to the next exchange, finding an appropriate place to pull over to cheer on our runner, etc. She got out at every exchange point to see our van runners in and out - even in the rain. She was so amazing and we were so lucky to have her.
On the flip side for The Relay we did not have a driver, however, the one guy in our van took on the burden of driving us girls around for the majority of the time except when he was running so it was almost like we had a driver. Had he not been so nice though we would have probably set up some sort of rotation for driving amongst ourselves.
It seems like the majority of teams did not have a designated driver but if you have the room in your van (another thing to consider - an extra body taking up space) and a willing participate I would definitely take them up on it.
3. Safety First
The number one way to get penalized or disqualified from a relay is to not follow the safety guidelines so make sure you check the race website and have everything you need and that your gear meets all the requirements. All races seem to require all runners to wear reflective gear during designated "night" hours and Ragnar even required any person who was outside the van during night hours to wear a reflective vest. Night gear usually includes a certain number of headlamps, blinking LED "tail lights", reflective vests (not just reflective clothes), and flashlights. Bring extra batteries for these items. You might also be provided additional safety items like flags to use when crossing the street or "CAUTION - RUNNER ON ROAD" signage for your van. You will also want one basic first aid kit per van and a bottle of Tylenol or Advil, etc.
4. What to wear?
Running Clothes: Since you will be running three separate legs roughly 12 hours apart and do not want to sit around or re-wear stinky, sweaty clothes, pack three separate complete running outfits - socks, shorts, tank, sports bra, headband (whatever is a complete running outfit for you) - into three different ziplock bags. This way you made sure everything stays together and when you are done with one set of clothes you can throw them in the next outfits empty bag so they didn't stink up the clean stuff.
Misc Clothes: While I run in shorts and a tank top in 99% of the time, I did bring a pair of running capris and a pair of arm warmers just in case. Common sense, but assess the weather before the race and see what you might want. If it is forecasted to be cold, I would still throw in a pair of shorts just in case. You will also want something comfortable to wear when you aren't running. I brought a zip up sweatshirt, one non-running shirt and comfy pants to wear between in between legs. Remember not to over pack though as space in those vans is tight. One non-running outfit should be plenty.
5. Other Running Gear - other running items to include:
- Running Shoes!!!
- Garmin (make sure it charged before you go)
- Hydration pack/water bottle
- Compression socks/sleeves to recovery between legs
6. Toiletry Items
Both Ragnar and The Relay had showers available at the major exchanges. I didn't anticipate using the showers while I was packing but decided last minute to throw shampoo, soap, etc in my bag just in case and was glad I did.
When your van is "on" it may be between 6 and 7 hours before your van can stop and get "real" food anywhere so make sure you pack some snacks to hold you over. We opted to each bring our own food as some people had some dietary restrictions but another option would to send one person out with a shopping list to shop for the van and have communal food. We also had a few liters of water in the car as well.
As soon as your van is done I would recommend trying to stop and find "real" food. This way you will still have 5-6 hours to let it digest before you have to run again.
8. Miscellaneous Items
Other personal "must haves" include:
- Car charger/portable charger for cell phone
- Camera (if you want something other than your cell phone)
- Change of shoes so you aren't stuck in your running shoes the whole time
Additionally, I think we all brought books, magazines, our iPads, etc. thinking we would need something to keep us busy during our vans downtime. I would say during the first long break I probably flipped through magazines and read on my iPad for about an hour but we just chatted most of the time. During the second long break there was no chatting - we just all passed out.
Van "must haves" include:
- Trash bags
- Paper towels
The race has designated sleeping areas for runners to get out of the van and get some sleep. If you choose to go this route you might want to consider an air mattress or sleeping pad and a sleeping bag but keep in mind those things will take up precious space. As I mentioned above, during The Relay our van was big enough we each had enough room to stretch out and sleep in the van. During Ragnar we had a unique situation where we were able to snag a hotel room in a location that was convenient to both vans being able to use so we lucked out with real beds. However, if you get a big enough van you should be just fine.
10. Avoid Getting Lost
Despite the fact a few hundred people might be running the same leg at the same time during the majority of my legs I rarely saw more than 2 or 3 people at at times was wondering if I was going the wrong way. The races do a great job with signage but it is always smart to carry a map of your leg with you. We all snapped photos of our respective legs from the "race bible" on our phones so we would have them to reference just in case. On that note - RUN WITH YOUR PHONE!! Like I said, there will be times you are alone and especially at night you want to be able to reach someone should something happen.
11. Running at Night
On that note don't be afraid of running at night. My night legs at both relays ended up being my absolute favorites. Sure, the adrenaline is pumping at times, but talk to your van mates about making regular stops to check on you every mile or so if you are nervous or if a van mate is up for it have them run a few miles with you if you have a particularly long leg. Pacers are usually allowed at night for safety reasons.
Communication between the vans is necessary when you are entering major exchange points but it is also kinda fun just to be able to keep in touch with the other van throughout the race. While yes, you are technically a team of 12, the majority of time it feels like you are a team of 6 six since you are just with your van 99% of the time. Sure, you can call and text the other van but during Ragnar we downloaded the free app "GroupMe" so we could all group text together. Another fun app is the "Find My Friends" app which allows you to authorize another user to temporarily track your GPS coordinates. We didn't use it for the relay but I frequently use it with my husband and family when we do other events and it has proved very helpful when we are trying to anticipate finish times, etc.
Most relays seem to require that is any team member lives within 100 miles of the race course they must provide 2-3 volunteers to work at various exchanges or else pay a fee to have the race find volunteers for them. This requirement applied to our team both times. One time we were able to recruit volunteers and the other we ended up paying the fee which worked out to $30 per team member. Just another requirement to be aware of.
Last but not least I wanted to mention the cost of doing a relay. Of course this can vary greatly between teams but I think I spent just over $200 on Ragnar and just over $300 on The Relay. This includes my portion of the registration fee, van rental, volunteer fee, food and the few supplies I had to purchase (such as I didn't have a reflective vest). I was lucky too in that both races were local for me so I didn't incur any other travel costs but that might be something you have to factor in.
Phew, I am sure I might have missed something but I hope this is helpful to anyone who is considering doing a relay. I promise you will have a great time and make a lot of fun memories over the 24 hours + you are together.
If you have done a relay is there anything you think I missed? If there is anything else you want to know about feel free to leave it on the comments or send me an email. I am happy to try and help!