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How to Survive a Relay Race - Geek Turned Athlete

How to Survive a Relay Race


My first relay race (216 miles) happened to be this year, then two weeks later I followed it with another 185 mile relay race. I learned a lot in those 4 days of racing about my endurance with no sleep and hanging out with the same 5 people in a two day period for each race. Things are not always peachy in a van with 6 stinky, sweaty, sleep deprived, hungry, sometimes cranky people.

Here are some tips on how to survive your first relay race and still be friends with the people in the van when it is all over!

1) Bring your own food!!!

If you have special dietary restrictions such as myself, you especially will want to bring your own food. I have a gluten sensitivity, so I happened to bring carrots, cucumber sticks, hummus, a variety of fresh fruit (bring bananas!), dried fruit, and nuts. One thing that I forgot for this last trip was gluten free protein bars.

Sometimes you won’t have time to eat depending on when the next big exchange is (and if it is in the middle of nowhere), so I definitely suggest bringing something substantial that won’t need to be reheated. If you have to just pull it out of the ice chest, great. If it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, better. I have to say that is one thing that I forgot about on my last relay, and I turned into a crazy person by the end of the relay because I had nothing really substantial to eat in 24 hours.

Oh, and if you are baking, bake something for everyone. 😉

2) Stay organized.


This was a trick that I learned from Marv during my first relay.

I bought these two bins stacked on top of each other at Walmart the day before the race. They were about $6 each. I put labels on each bin stating the name of each person in my van in the order they would be running. Each person has a drawer to put all the items needed to use before or during the run like race number with race belt, garmin, ipod, nutrition (like Clif Bloks), chapstick, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, bugspray, etc. Place this in your van near the sliding door so the next runner can just grab all the stuff he/she needs and go!

I really like this idea because by the end of the trip everyone’s stuff is everywhere, and you don’t need to be searching for those important items right before you run.


3) Add a shelf to the very back.

If you can, add a platform to the very back (where the luggage goes) of the van essentially making 2 shelves instead of just one. I’m sorry that I don’t have a picture with this, but all you need are three thin pieces of wood to make the shelf with either some glue or nails. This definitely helped us fit more stuff in the back and keep the floor area clear so we didn’t feel so cramped.

4) If you can shower or rinse off, DO IT!

Trust me, you are not more badass if you run 3 legs in a two day race, and you don’t at least try to wipe yourself off with a babywipe. You are just plain stinky and sticky for that matter. Just a simple dip in the lake can help you feel renewed, refreshed, invigorated, and ready to start the next run. I think it really helps the psyche. Plus, your teammates will thank you!

5) Run on the left hand side of the road unless the race directors tell you to run on the right side.

It is proper run etiquette to run on the left hand side of the road so you can see oncoming traffic.  The race directors might have other information about the race where there is only a shoulder on the right side or something like that, so they might tell you to run on the opposite side for certain legs of the race.  Read the race information packet!! One person actually died in my last race because they were run over by a drunk driver.  I don’t know what side of the road they were on, but I saw a lot of near misses because people were running on the wrong side of the road and couldn’t see to get out of the way of the car.

6) Have fun!


You might have to remind yourself why you even signed up for the race when you are running at 3am by yourself in the dark hallucinating and trying not to fall asleep. Try to think how lucky you are to even be out there doing what you are doing! That definitely helped me in my toughest moments.

When you want to snap at your teammates, remember that you actually have to talk to them after the race. Take a moment, and breathe. Are you upset and grumpy because you have a legitimate reason or are you hungry and/or tired? If you are the latter, I have a news flash for you: So is everyone else in the van!

Here are a few items to pack for your relay:

Individual Packing List

  • Garmin
  • Ipod
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Bugspray
  • Racing Belt
  • Food!
  • Cell phone and car charger
  • 3 sets of running clothes (trust me, you will want to change after each run)
  • Regular outfit to wear afterwards
  • Toiletries w/ towel (sometimes there is a shower, sometimes there isn’t. Be prepared to jump in a lake to rinse off or in a shower.)
  • Toothbrush (I know this should be included in your toiletries, but you don’t want to forget it, and neither do your teammates.)
  • Baby wipes (if there is no shower or lake, please wipe yourself down AFTER EACH run!)
  • Sweat pants
  • Sweat shirt (it might be cold at night depending on where you are racing. Both of my relays got into the 90’s during the day, but dipped into the 40-50’s at night.)
  • sleeping bag with pillow
  • Mini camping air mattress (You all aren’t going to fit in the van when it comes to nap time.)
  • Reusable water bottle
  • RUNNING SHOES! (I know this is a no brainer, but one of my teammates actually forgot her shoes in my first relay)
  • Cash and ID (You don’t know if you will have access to an ATM, and it is always good to be prepared.)
  • Reading Material (You might be bored during your down time while the other van in running.)
  • Toenail Clippers (I know this is a really weird item, but if you clip your toenails before your relay you will lessen the chance of black toenails after.)
  • Hand sanitizer


Van Packing List

  • Water (I prefer in a huge jug that way you can just refill your reusable water bottle minimizing your trash waste.)
  • Some type of electrolyte drinks if you are into that.
  • 2 headlamps ( depending on what the race rules are, you might need more)
  • 2 reflective vests
  • Ice chest
  • bungee cords (You never know what you will need these for!)
  • Bike (completely optional, but they are nice to have at night to keep your runners company)
  • Toilet Paper (The portapotties might be out at some exchanges.)
  • Tarp (to lay sleeping bags out on)


Happy Running!


Did I miss anything?

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Heather (Where's the Beach) August 26, 2010, 10:47 am

    Ok, just reading all that makes me a) feel lazy, b) know I’ll never do a race like that, c) question your sanity, and d) have an extreme amount of respect for you.

    • Nicole August 26, 2010, 10:49 am

      Oh, I questioned my sanity many times during these races! haha, but really!

  • Lisa August 26, 2010, 11:03 am

    Thank you! Perfect timing for my race tomorrow!!!

  • Erica August 26, 2010, 11:07 am

    What a great post! I especially like the idea of the storage container. PERFECT. And you should always bring baked goods to share 😉

  • genesis August 26, 2010, 11:17 am

    i definitely forgot the chapstick on my relay and i really regretted it by the time noon rolled around and my lips were seriously scorched from licking it and trying to keep it from drying out…but hello all that salt and stuf was not working to hydrate my lips…

    baby wipes were a god send and that lake at the end felt like a good ice bath! hopefully i can put your tips to use in the future if i ever do another relay.

  • Sarah for Real August 26, 2010, 11:29 am

    Oh geeze… I read the title and winced. I think the only reason I heard about the spokane-sandpoint relay on the news was because of the accident that occurred. I thought it would be a post about safety! Hahaha.

    • Nicole August 26, 2010, 3:47 pm

      That just reminded me to add another tip: Run on the left hand side of the road!

      Yeah, I plan on covering that topic of people dying in my Part 2 recap tomorrow. It is so awful what happened!

  • Tina August 26, 2010, 11:49 am

    Wow! No clue how much went into relays. What a great idea to get the storage bins though to help people keep their race essentials in order.

  • Matt August 26, 2010, 1:22 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I want to do a relay some day! Let me know if you ever need some extra legs on a team 😉

  • Tiffany August 26, 2010, 6:47 pm

    Awesome advice, haha! I think that staying organized is definitely the best bit! That’s the key to any race, but most definitely for long relays!

  • Susan August 26, 2010, 9:18 pm

    I’ve always wanted to do one of these relays…I really like the bin idea for at least a little organization!

  • Sana August 26, 2010, 10:55 pm

    I feel like I would just start crying at some point and walk/crawl to the nearest hotel 😉


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