Reach the Beach NH (and other relay race) Tips

This is the time of year where many Reach the Beach New Hampshire teams meet to finalize (or create) their plans for their relay race. Whether your race is the Reach the Beach New Hampshire, another Ragnar relay, or other multi-day event, these tips might help you and your team. Read on for more.

What to Bring

I’ve written an entire post on what to bring and have a nice packing list. The key thing to remember when you are packing is that space will be extremely limited. You don’t need 4 different bags. Your race will only be for 24-48 hours. Everything should fit in a standard sized duffel bag. Here’s some tips though as you think about what to bring:

  • Bring a clean set of running clothes for each of your running legs.
  • Pack the clean running clothes for each leg in a separate ziplock bag (will make it easy to find and a place to put the wet clothes when you are done
  • Bring a large battery backup to charge your cell phone. Most races are in remote areas which crushes battery life
  • Read the weather report and only bring what you think you’ll need. Consider not bringing running tights if the low will be 65 degrees
  • If it isn’t going to rain, you really can get by with one pair of non-running pants/shorts
  • If it’s not going to be wet, you can bring one pair of shoes…your running shoes

The important thing though is work with your team to coordinate what you each can offer to bring to the vans. Some people have done several of these races and have ideas on what to bring vs. not bring. Your teammates might already have some of the items and can easily share them.

Transportation

For each of the four relay races I have done, we have had van issues. Most teams make their reservations online only to find out when they go to pick up the vans that they were oversold or are simply not at the location. There are several (and not really reasonable) explanations for this. I’ve been told that the passenger vans are rented as “trucks” so they go through a different reservation system. These reservation systems don’t enforce stock limits. I’ve also been told that while you can reserve the vans online that they aren’t matched to reservations until you go to pick them up. This means they can and do significantly oversell the vans.

Decorations geeks understand
Big vans get less gas mileage but more room

Many people have asked whether they can complete the race in something like a mini van or Suburban. The answer is yes, it is possible. In fact, one of the years I did a race in a Chevy Suburban. You certainly give up space in these, but considering this one particular year we driving probably a $65,000 car. It was nice and had lots of cool features in it.

My advice when renting vans is to speak to a human being at the place you are renting the vans. Get a confirmation number at least a month before the event (ideally the day you book the event). Do not wait until the day you go to pick up the vans to show an Expedia.com reservation request for Enterprise and be surprised when Enterprise has no idea you were there to pick up a van. Call, confirm, and go up the supervisor chain until you are satisfied that you have transportation.

Also think about the timing of your reservation. If you know your race starts on Friday morning and ends on Saturday, it likely means you need to pick up your rental on Thursday and return it on Saturday. For the most part, this means a three, not a two-day, rental. This can significantly increase your race budget.

When it comes to van decoration, I’d discourage you from using any of the wax crayons, paint, or other marking devices on the vehicle’s paint. This can and will be difficult to remove. At 8 pm on a weekend right before you return them this is the last thing you want to remove. The rental companies might also charge extra to remove this. I do recommend lights and something unique to your van. Most teams decorate the sides, top, and front. My recommendation is make something unique on the BACK of the van. When you are running up to your van for support (especially at night) you want to instantly recognize which one is yours. This is especially important at night. Have a design, special lights, reflective magnets, something that helps you know it’s your van. The last thing you want to do is run right past your van and miss your support. There’s only a few hundred identically looking vans out on the road.

Team Captain

Related to the transportation section above, it is good to have a well organized team captain. This person runs point for any issues you have, makes sure all your paperwork is complete, filed, and printed in advance of driving to the race venue, and unfortunately, often deals with issues like no vans. The team captain is an important person on the team and is running point to make sure the event is successful for everyone on the team.

Being a team captain is also super stressful. The most fun and successful years were those when teammates took on some of the captain’s duties. Some of us would get the food while others would pick up the vans. Plan out your day to make it less stressful for everyone.

Food

Let’s break food down into two pieces. The first is food while in the van. The second is food when outside the van. Let me explain. When you are in the van, you all get hungry. Some teams have decided that buying a batch of food for everyone in the van works well. I’m talking about peanut butter and jelly, pretzel sticks, water, Gatorade, and my favorite chocolate milk that doesn’t require refrigeration (see more on recovery below). For most teams this works pretty well, but there is usually always left over food. Figure out what works best for you and your team. Many folks just bring their own food for the weekend.

A Reach the Beach Tradition
Don’t discount a real meal

Eating food outside the van is easy to do with some planning. For example, at Reach the Beach New Hampshire, there are not only great places to eat along the route, but usually each vehicle transition area (Attitash, Kenneth Brett School, Bear Brook State Park, etc.) have great and reasonable options at or across the street. I highly recommend eating some real food and not stuff in a package or in a bar. Don’t let your normal nutrition plan go out the window. Be mindful of what you are eating and how much you are eating. One year I got caught up in the moment and ate way too much. Just a short hour and a half later, I was running. Don’t feel bad about eating a little, taking a to-go box and finishing your meal after your leg. Just don’t do one thing…and that’s to try new foods. During a multi-day relay race isn’t the time to try that cheese covered creation if you’ve never had such a thing.

Also, don’t forget about hydration. Set a timer if you have to, but make sure you continue drinking fluids. You won’t have to worry about a rest room as every transition area has them. I shoot for at least 10-16 ounces of fluid per hour when not running and 30 ounces per hour when running. Note that there generally is NOT fluid at transition areas so plan on bringing your own.

Speaking of fluids, for most of your running legs, it is ok and normal to have your van stop up the road a few miles to provide water, Gatorade, a gel, etc. Personally, I prefer to carry my own fluids and nutrition, but for some newer runners its a great way to not only get nutritional support, but also get a “job well done!” cheer along the way. Coordinate this with your team and driver before your leg so they know where to stop. Just keep in mind that your van may have to park before or after the point you asked for depending on road and parking conditions. Some legs prohibit vans from stopping or parking along the way. I’ve seen several cases where a runner wanted support at mile 4, but wasn’t until mile 5 where the van could safely park. This is why I carry my own fluid and nutrition. It is available to me when I need it. Oh, and don’t try anything new you haven’t trained with…just dont.

Gadgets

All of my relay races to date were with my former employer, a tech company. We had laptops, mobile wifi hotspots, and other tech in the vans mostly because we could. Talk to your teammates about what you really want to bring. Technology can get wet, banged up, and otherwise destroyed. That said, some “safe” tech and gadgets to bring might be:

NH is a lovely place. Don't even think about cell phone coverage up here.
NH is a lovely place. Don’t even think about cell phone coverage up here.

Just keep in mind that communications can be difficult. In some areas you might have zero cell phone coverage. Capture the pretty pictures, but plan for each van to potentially be out of touch for hours on end until you each get into cell phone range.

Night Runs, Recovery, & Sleep

You won’t be getting 8 hours sleep. Period. What you will be able to do is get an hour or two over the course of the entire relay race. I highly recommend both a small camping pad and a camping sleeping bag. These pack up small and are much more comfortable.

This is what rest looks like
A place to rest inside
This is a place you'll sleep at night
This is a place you’ll sleep at night. Hundreds of people spread out over the lawn and wood chips.

This is normal. What makes a relay race difficult isn’t just that you aren’t getting a normal night’s sleep, but you also are running at odd times. Each person on the team will be running at some point during the evening (a.k.a dark). I’d encourage you to get at least one “dark” run in before the relay race. I love running at night, but for others it is nerve wracking. One way to get over this is to run with someone. Know that during your event, hundreds of vans and runners will be covering the same course at the same time. Roads will be well travelled.

In recent years, most races have required each individual to have their own reflective vest and headlamp. Not all headlamps are the same. I have a headlamp that not only can dim, but also has a blinking red light on the back. I take the approach that more light can’t hurt. I’ll slap a hundred red blinking lights on me if it means I’m seen better. I do recommend a separate flashlight to walk around at night so you don’t kill your headlamp battery.

Be visible
Be visible

While thinking about running at night, finding your teammate at the exchange zone can be tough. Coordinate with your teammate what you are wearing and get an idea on the type and location of their vest, blinking lights, etc. Spotting your teammate at night can be difficult. Some teams have come up with creative solutions such as different colored lights, battery powered LED christmas lights, and even the “snap in two” glow sticks.

The Stick
The Stick

Each person recovers differently. For me it involves hydration, chocolate milk, Advil, and a nice session with “The Stick.” Some people use foam rollers. Find what works for you, stretch out when you can, and make sure you try to replace the calories you burned when you can. You’ve got another leg or two to run in a few hours.

Planning and Time

A while back I built a spreadsheet that takes inputs for the course, estimated minutes per mile, and attempts to predict when the runner will arrive at the transition point. Different teams have many different ways of doing this. I’ve found this works pretty well.

Planning for the runner
Planning times for the runner

The important part to think about is making sure you DO NOT MISS your runner. Teams have overslept and the runner is waiting at the exchange zone for quite some time. Don’t be that guy. Have something you can reference to keep a track on how your team is doing. When in doubt, try to stay in contact with your other van letting them know when the next runner goes out. As noted above, however, cell phone coverage may be a bit spotty. So send something like “Dave is out for Leg 3 at 10:13. So when and if that message gets sent, you time stamp it so they know when the runner is out.

Conclusion

Relay races are a huge amount of fun. Training for them can be a bit challenging as most runners don’t have experience with multiple workouts or runs a day. Obviously this is something you might want to practice a before your event just to get comfortable. But, enjoy the race and the sleep deprivation. Most participants, myself included, feel like these races go by way too fast and are itching for the next one 365 days later. Good luck out there!

The Beach Was Reached
Enjoy your finish line beverage!