Running is often viewed as a solo sport, but if you’re looking for a way to connect with — and support — fellow runners, a relay race is just what you are looking for. It can be intimidating to join other runners both out on the course and in a small van for days on end, but the experience often makes you a stronger runner.
We talked to a few experienced runners about the most important things to help you prepare for your first relay race to get their insight on what you should pack, how to train and what you can expect to get out of your time on a team.
YOUR TEAM MATTERS
Relay races are all about being a part of a larger running collective, and choosing the right teammates can make or break your experience. This doesn’t mean you need to choose people based on speed; instead, pick based on your shared love of the sport and complementary personalities.
“One of the most important things to look for in joining a team is making sure it’s a group of people you don’t mind spending a lot of time with,” explain Takia McClendon and Kiera Smalls, co-founders of City Fit Girls, a wellness community for women based in Philadelphia. “You’ll be riding in the van for a majority of the race. The experience is much better when you’re with friends or teammates you know you can get through both good and bad times with.”
BE REALISTIC WHEN CHOOSING YOUR LEGS
In relay races, the distance is split into ‘legs’ of the race, with each person running different portions of the course. Each leg varies in distance and difficulty, so analyzing the course with your team beforehand is key.
“Go by running experience,” urges Cori Maley, a certified personal trainer, experienced relay racer and the runner behind the blog She’s Going The Distance. “I would focus first on giving the newer or less experienced runners the shorter or easier legs and the stronger runners the hillier or longer segments. If any of your runners have completed a marathon or ultra, the longer legs will appeal to them!”
Both McClendon and Smalls agree, adding that you should also consider the time of day your team will be out on specific parts of the course. Don’t forget that some runners will be out there at all hours of the night, so if you get easily spooked, running in the dark may not be for you.
Just as with any race, you need to be prepared. This isn’t to say that you can’t be a part of a relay team while training for a different goal race, just make sure you do a few relay-specific workouts along the way.
“Try running several days in a row and during different times of the day,” suggests Maley. “Attempt a few midday runs out in the sun (wear sunscreen and bring water). Try a few evening runs to test out nighttime reflective gear and headlamps, which you are required to wear from dusk to dawn during the relay.”
PACK THE RIGHT GEAR
The reflective gear and headlamps Maley mentions aren’t the only gear you should have on hand during the relay. If you are a first-time runner, have a more experienced teammate check your packing list a few days before the race. This helps you make sure you have time to pick up any last-minute items you may have forgotten.
“The top-five things that you should pack for a relay race are a handheld water bottle or hydration pack (depending how long your legs are), a headlamp and blinking light for running at night, three outfits (two backups for running and one to lounge in), plastic bags with labels for each outfit and snacks/food to help you refuel between legs,” share McClendon and Smalls.
These top Maley’s list; she also adds that you should be prepared with baby wipes as a shower replacement, a foam roller to loosen muscles after sitting in the van for long periods of time and finally, an extra pair of running shoes for out on course and some sandals to wear with compression socks to help you recover after your leg.
BE PREPARED TO BE INSPIRED!
As so happens with most running buddies, those relationships out on the roads tend to cross over into everyday life. If you are usually a solo runner, you will get a lot out of the experience of toughing it out with teammates.
“Running on a team will give you a different purpose out there; it’s not about your own personal record, it’s about the team,” explains Maley. “It’s all about having fun and cheering on fellow teammates with cowbells while hanging out of the van or busting your butt to get the baton to the next runner. Who knows, you might just find your soulmate (or solemate); I say this because it happened to me — I met the love of my life in a random group of 12 runners. Running a relay really changed my life.”