In my short running career, remember I have only been running for a little over a year, I have done two relays. They were extremely different from each other but in the end one fact remained the same: I had a blast! I seriously think that I am meant to run relays regardless of if I just have to run one time or three, which is a good thing since we are doing Reach the Beach: New Jersey in October (we are still looking for two more runners if you are interested).
I haven't done an overnight relay yet, I'm sure that my tips below will change after that experience in the fall, but I have still learned a lot from the two relays that I have done and thought I would share them with you!
Be Prepared for Team Changes
Often you have to register for these races extremely early and getting three to twelve people to commit to the date can be difficult. The only reason I was able to run my first relay was because Ali wrote a blog post asking for a replacement teammate. I'm so glad that she did!
Proof you'll find teammates in unconventional ways
Our team for Seneca7 had one change because one of our original teammates, Suzie, had a knee injury and wouldn't be able to run in time for the relay. Luckily the amazing Rena stepped up to the plate and filled the position!
Realize that ALL Legs of a Relay are TOUGH
I may have had some tough legs during the relay last weekend, but I know that every other person on my team had their own challenges that they had to face. Don't panic when you look at the elevation profile for your legs, I don't like hills but I still did it anyway, but if you are truly worried try to make some changes if possible.
Mike had an evil hill on this leg
We had one last minute change to our order and in the end I think it worked out better for everyone. If your relay allows last minute changes (we didn't have to declare our order until the morning of the race) go ahead and voice your concerns to your team or team captain. Changes can be made, but don't do it if you are just worried about it being tough. It will be tough regardless.
Two-a-days Aren't Necessary
Mike and I only did a few (two days for me and three days for him) but we ran 12 hours apart so I don't think it made that much of a difference. Know that you are tough and strong enough to get through anything, but if you need the reassurance that you can run two or three times in a short amount of time go for it! A few days should be sufficient, though.
Pack More Than You Think You Will Need
As you may have noticed, all of us changed or shed layers during the relay. I brought two of everything, except shoes (but my mom did bring another pair of shoes just in case). I also brought "the stick", water, nuun, bagels, peanut butter and an energy gel. We had amazing gluten-free granola bars that my mom made and everyone else had food and drinks that they needed. We had a first aid kit that in the end we didn't use but it was nice to have just in case!
We didn't bring toilet paper but you definitely should bring that with you, especially for an all day or overnight relay. Some of the porta-potties ran out of toilet paper (and I had to go in the woods once) and having toilet paper of our own would have been nice! We did have tissues and napkins but it isn't the same thing.
Speaking of going to the bathroom...
If You See a Bathroom (or Porta-pottie), Use it!
I didn't think that I was going to have any issues with going to the bathroom during the relay since they did have plenty of exchange points equipped with real bathrooms or porta-potties.
Unfortunately, the one time that I really had to go to the bathroom the porta-potties weren't there! I could have cost my team disqualification by going in the woods (although if the volunteers told me they would have disqualified me, I wouldn't have done it) so from then on I went every time I could! Don't take any chances, if you have time go to the bathroom!
I never thought I would love the sight of a porta-pottie
Know Your Routine Will Be Thrown Off
We all have our routines before races: bathroom, fueling/hydrating and warm-up/cool-down routines. They will get thrown off, it is inevitable. I like to eat toast with peanut butter before races but since I didn't run until 11:40am that didn't happen. I tried to make do with a bagel and just stuck with food that I knew wouldn't upset my stomach.
Staying hydrated was pretty difficult, but I made sure to drink some nuun in between my first and second legs since I could tell I hadn't hydrated properly in the morning.
I also wasn't able to stretch/warm-up as much as I would want before my legs and I didn't have much time to stretch after I was done running at either relay that I did. You just have to make do and try to take care of yourself as best as you can. I did use "the stick" throughout the day so that made up for not stretching and warming up as much.
Get a Driver
Seriously, if you only do one thing from my tips do this. Having a driver for both of the relays that I have done made everything so much easier. You don't have to worry about who is going to drive while they aren't running or how your legs will feel after driving 20 or 30 miles. It is worth it. If your significant other doesn't run try to recruit him or her to drive!
So happy I didn't have to drive the official vehicle
Support Crews are Lifesavers
I know we would have gotten through our relay without a support crew but having one made the experience that much more enjoyable. If you can't have one try to be your own "support crew" and make sure to cheer for your teammates. Signs are a good idea too!
Seeing them gave us a boost to go on
Enjoy the Surroundings
Whenever I'm running a race I try to enjoy the scenery and the relays were no exception. I was running in a different country for one and the other was around a gorgeous lake. Take it all in and enjoy the experience.
Mike saw this on his second leg
Up Your Mental Game
Depending on the relay and which leg you are running, you might be literally running alone. During my legs there were very few people around me and I had to rely on my own mental toughness to get me through it. Use whatever tricks or mantras you have to help push you through the tough points in the relay. Knowing that your teammates are depending on you can help get rid of negative thoughts!
Also realize that your teammates might need some space and time to process their thoughts before, during and after their legs. Our team clicked because we gave each other space whenever we needed it, there may be times that you miss an exchange happen (not your own of course) because you need to chill out in the van for a few minutes. Take care of yourself!
And last but most certainly not least..
None of us are professional runners, we pay to run these races so we better enjoy them! I want to run more relays because I have felt AMAZING after the ones that I have done and the friendships that I have made can't be beat.
Team "Spatula Runners"
Team "Will Run for Whoopie Pies"
You will be tired, you will be hungry, but none of that compares to the happiness that you will experience while running a relay. Everything you go through is worth the feeling you get when you cross the finish line!
That's a face that says, "I'm tired, I'm hungry! How many days until our next relay?"
The rules and logistics of a relay can be daunting, but hopefully my tips helped ease your mind (and convinced you to run a relay)!
Any other tips for runners who have never run a relay before?