Recently I had a chance to chat with Niki Leonard about Ragnar Races. These weekend-long group relay races are challenging, fun and life changing, so I wanted to learn more.
Who is Niki Leonard, and what is a Ragnar Ambassador?
Niki Leonard is an ambassador for Ragnar Races, and has participated as a runner for years. Ragnar Ambassadors are runners who apply and are chosen to represent Ragnar at events and races. They are so enthusiastic about the races that they not only enjoy the events but want to share the experience with others.
What is a Ragnar Race?
Ragnar is a relay race—a really long one. The relay is run by teams of friends. Over the last few years the Ragnar Relay has developed a number of different formats. The original race format consisted of teams of twelve people who would run a distance of about 200 miles as a relay over 24-30 hours. Each team of twelve runners splits into two vans. In the same order, they run 36 legs of the race which add up to roughly 200 miles. The relay race starts at a single location and finishes at an iconic destination.
How The Original Ragnar Relay Format Works:
The original race format begins with the first runner from the first van. The runners in the second van sleep a little later. While the first runner begins, the remaining five runners in the first van drive to the first exchange—all while cheering on their runner during the drive (this usually involves ringing a cowbell!) Meanwhile, still in the first van, the second runner gets ready to start running at the first exchange. This pattern continues until the sixth and last runner in the first van is running—and the first van is on the way to the first major exchange. A major exchange is when the second van’s team begins to run. At that exchange, runner seven on the second van is ready to run—and the second van is ready to take over the relay. At this major exchange the “relay baton” (a classic 1980s style snap bracelet) is handed off. The runners in the first van then get a few hours to relax, eat, or take in the local sights before the next major exchange. The relay continues until all 36 legs of the race are completed.
Other Ragnar Relay Formats: Longer Distances, Shorter Distances, Trails, Ultra!
While the 200 mile road relay race is the oldest and most well-known Ragnar race format, there are now many other choices. If you prefer trail running, there’s a three-loop, eight-person relay trail race. The trail race begins with you and eight of your friends camping at the base of a mountain. Each person takes turns running three different loops of varying difficulty and distance. Ragnar also has other shorter options: the Florida Sprint relay is a six-person, 60 mile race, and the Sunset Series format is a 4-person marathon that lasts from noon until sunset. Finally, for long distance road or trailer runners, you can form an “ultra” team where a team that’s half the number of people covers the same distance. Ultra trail runners also have the option of taking on the “black loop” challenge with a friend—they run all three loops on Friday then run an 18 mile loop on Saturday.
Local Races near Nashua:
Cape Cod Ragnar (May 10-11th) runs from Hull to Smuggler’s Beach.
Reach the Beach (Sep 13-14th), celebrated its 20th Anniversary race last year. It runs from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach.
Ragnar Trail Vermont (Aug 16-17th) at Mt. Ascutney.
Use Niki’s code 19YAYFRIENDS to save $80 on a team registration for local races.
How to Sign Up for A Ragnar Relay Race
Ragnar only accepts registrations as a team. If you have a few friends who enjoy running and a good adventure, go ahead and sign up as a team. If your friends know more people who wish to participate then before you know it, you’ll have a whole team! Most Ragnar road races offer the opportunity to just fill one van of runners and they’ll randomly pair you up with another single van. This option is usually available if the race doesn’t sell out within the first 2-3 months after registration opens.
How To Build Your Ragnar Racing Team
If you feel like this race is for you, but you’ve never talked to another runner who has participated in a Ragnar race, here are Niki’s recommendations for starting building your team:
- If you frequently run with friends or in a group, ask them if they would interested. While captaining a team can be challenging, there are a lot of resources available to help you along the way. I’ve captained a few road teams, and am currently captaining a trail team for the 4th year in a row!
- If you are on Facebook, search “Reebok Ragnar Cape Cod”, “Ragnar Reach the Beach”, or “Ragnar Vermont Trail”. Look for the official event pages created by Ragnar. Within those pages, search in the community sections for teams who need runners to join them. Comment and message the person who posted to see if you’d be a good fit. As the events get closer and closer, it gets easier to find and join an existing team.
- Find a running group! You’ll usually find a team to join and a whole lot of new friends at the same time. Almost all of the Ragnar races I have run are with teammates from the New England Spahtens Obstacle Course Racing community.
How Did Niki Get Involved with Ragnar Races?
Back in 2013, I found myself in a physical place with my body that was just unhealthy. After committing to get back to an active lifestyle, I decided to start participating in obstacle course racing. I was able to not run too much right away because of stopping for the obstacles (a.k.a. the fun stuff). However, the more obstacle course races I ran, the more I wanted to become a better runner.
I heard about the Ragnar races in my OCR community. One day I made a Facebook post to express my interest, and an hour later I was officially on a team. After my first Ragnar in Cape Cod, I was instantly hooked. I have now run the Cape and NE/VT Trail every year since 2015. I’m committed to both 2019 races, RTB in 2018, and completed the first Ragnar Sprint in Florida in February 2019. My team ran the Sprint as an Ultra team, with three runners instead of six. While I’m sad to miss RTB this year due to other commitments, I’m envisioning 2020 as more heavily focused on travelling to other parts of the country to participate in Road and Trail races.
What’s One of Your Most Memorable Moments From a Ragnar Race?
Every single Ragnar creates a whole bucket of memories—van life, or simply an amazing view from the top of a trail. At my very first Ragnar race, I joined a team as an unconfident runner who wanted the least amount of mileage possible. When a runner had to drop from our team at the last minute, I found myself offering to take a much more difficult running position. The day before the race, I went from a cumulative eleven miles over three legs, to 19 miles, with a nine mile final leg. At the time I’d only ever trained running six miles! But, with a can-do attitude, amazing coaching from a teammate, and my van meeting me every two miles along the way cheering me on (and handing me a swab of Vaseline to help with the chafing), I completed that leg with a new PR for distance! It was one of the best experiences of my entire running career.
How Should I Prepare for a Ragnar Race?
There are two components to consider when preparing for a Ragnar race. In addition to being physically ready, mental preparation is as if not MORE important.
Physically, make sure you’re comfortable running your assigned distances. On a road race, individual legs range from two miles to thirteen miles. The total distance per runner is from 10.5 miles to 26 miles. Be completely honest about your abilities so your captain assigns a runner position within your capabilities. Trail races have loops that are three to eight miles long—often with plenty of elevation. Practice running your assigned distances closer and closer together. During the race, you will be running three times in 24 hours. Your legs will get tired, and knowing how far you can run on tired legs is important. You can also train your legs to handle it better. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be sure to run in complete darkness at least once—so you know what to expect before race day. Make sure to have a headlamp, reflective vest, and a blinking light on your back!
Mentally preparing for a Ragnar Relay involves working on staying calm and going with the flow. If you’re a high maintenance person, get anxious, or have a short temper, then this race may not be for you. You may get little to no sleep, and you’ll be surrounded by the same five people for almost thirty hours! You’ll smell, they’ll smell, and during the race, things will absolutely go wrong.
Be prepared for anything. Have a can-do attitude. Enjoy all the scenery and amazing craziness that comes along with running one of these races. I promise with the right attitude, you’ll make amazing friends and have an unforgettable weekend—no matter how hard the run was, how bad the passenger seat smells, or how little sleep you managed to get! Spend a little time reading some of the amazing blog posts on the Ragnar website or that other participants have written. This will provide additional insight about how to prepare and what to expect. While a Ragnar race sounds like a crazy thing to try (and let’s be honest, it is), if you’re a lover of adventure, running, and making friends, then this is absolutely a race you should try.
What’s the best way to recover from a Ragnar Relay?
If possible, do a leg drain immediately after each segment. Lie down and put your legs up against a wall (or the inside of the van) as close to 90 degrees as possible. Stay in that position for 8-15 minutes. Sleep is also very important. After an endurance event you need to let your body recover and heal.
Be sure to eat high quality protein and anti-inflammatory foods. Stretch and foam roll to help the body clear out waste products. An epsom salt soak (two cups of Epsom salts in water as hot as you can stand) followed by stretching can be incredibly helpful. Be sure to re-hydrate: drink half your body weight in plain water daily—and more if the event was held during hot weather. See your chiropractor for an adjustment to help make sure any imbalances or minor tweaks are resolved before they become problems.
Dr. Johanna’s Advice: How Can Chiropractic Care Help with Your Training, Performance, and Recovery
Adding chiropractic care to any training plan will help with recovery and success. Dr. Johanna offers a specific, detailed assessment for runners who wish to stay healthy while running at their highest efficiency.