How To Prepare for a Ragnar Relay

A Ragnar relay is a 24-hour race that you complete with a group of 12 runners (6 if you are ultra-runners) where you conquer 200-ish miles by running day and night and day again from one point to another. Daunting? Yes. An experience of a lifetime? Also yes.

Brock Armstrong,
Episode #395
Photo of the Ragnar finish line and medal

Training for a Ragnar relay event is not all that different from training for any individual race like a 10k or a marathon, it's a running race after all. But by incorporating some nuanced techniques and some important forethoughts, you can make sure that you are ready for all aspects of the big day.

Ragnar Basics

During a Ragnar event, each team participant will run three times (or three legs of the race), with each leg ranging from three to 13 miles. Each leg will also vary in difficulty based on the terrain, elevation, or general hilliness. In total, each runner averages around 17 miles of running. Although, if you are lucky, the shorter running positions cover 11 miles and, if you are unlucky, the longer positions are more like 24 miles (which is nearly a full marathon distance).

On Ragnar’s official website they break the Ragnar training essentials down into four categories:

  1. Preparing for the night leg.
  2. Run on tired legs.
  3. Target your long leg.
  4. Test your nutrition.

Having done a Ragnar (So.Cal.) and coached a number of people through their Ragnar adventure, I agree that those are some very important factors to consider. So, let’s break them down one by one, and then I will add in my bonus tip at the end.

Running Ragnar at Night

Waking up in the middle of the night to your teammates yelling your name and then immediately having to break into a sprint is a crucial part of running a Ragnar.

Everyone in the van suddenly started shouting my name and the next thing I knew I was sprinting off into the night.

For me, my night leg happened at about 3:00 am and after staying awake (eating bacon—we'll get to that later) until about 1:00 am, I finally drifted off, sprawled across the bench seat in the back of the van. I had an alarm set to wake me up about 20 minutes before my teammate was likely to arrive to handoff the official (and sweat-soaked) wristband to me. I either miscalculated or my teammate hauled butt (or both), so I was still sound asleep when he rounded the bend, waving frantically. Everyone in the van suddenly started shouting my name and next thing I knew I was sprinting off into the night.

During a Ragnar, each participant is required to run with a safety vest, headlamp, and tail-light. I strongly suggest that you take your safety gear out for a test-ride a few times before race day and get used to running with a headlamp bouncing around and lighting your way. You certainly don’t need to sleep in a van and get shouted awake at 3:00 am to test the gear. Simply taking the gear for a test spin in the dark will suffice.

Tired Legs During Ragnar Relay

The thing that sets Ragnar apart from other, more traditional races (even other 24-hour events) is that during a Ragnar relay you will run at least three times in that 24-hour period with lengthy breaks in between. Having these long breaks between legs means that your muscles will get completely cold, tight, and perhaps even start to show signs of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). So it is important to keep your running legs moving in between your running legs.

A big challenge will be running on your tired legs, especially during your 3rd effort.

A big challenge will be running on those tired legs, especially during your 3rd effort. The best way to prepare for this is to practice running two times in one day and then again the next morning, at least a few times before race day. I suggest you mix this in with your regular run training but no more than every two to three weeks. These back-to-back sessions can leave you fatigued and the necessary recovery time could cut into your regular training if you do it too often. 

A good approach for this would be to get up early and run the equivalent of your shortest leg—and run it hard. Then do your normal daily activities and just before or after dinner, go out for a longer and easier effort. Finish this off with a medium distance, mid-effort run the following morning. This isn’t a direct simulation of what it will feel like during the race but it is as close as I suggest you get. This will help prepare you mentally for what is in store for you without breaking you down so you are unable to train. 


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