Running a relay race with friends or teammates is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a runner. Rather than racing purely for yourself, a relay forces you to contribute to the team and celebrate collective success rather than individual glory.
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While some relays may be brief and over in a few hours, the most memorable ones take place over a few days and cover several hundred kilometres. Often, this sort of set-up means overcoming challenges you’ve never even considered before. If you’re signed up for a relay, consider these complications and create a plan of attack.
Complicated race logistics
You have X minutes to get from point A to point B before for runner Y (travelling at pace Z) needs to be replaced by runner Q. Most relay races cover point-to-point courses with multiple exchange points along the way. Some have separate stages with set start times while others run continuously and non-stop.
Needless to say, there are a lot of logistical details to take into account. Be sure to have at least a few team members who are very familiar with the relay route, the rules and the nitty-gritty details of how everything is supposed to work. Also, remind everyone of their responsibilities including when, where and how far they need to run. Delegate specific tasks so everyone contributes to the team’s success. Ask lots of questions to ensure everything’s clear.
There are numerous relays that run overnight which inevitably mean that most of the runners are going to be semi sleep-deprived. Even if you’re not running in the middle of the night, you’ll likely be (partly) awake when your teammates are. Someone will also need to drive team vehicles, support the current runner and act as the cheer squad.
Try to make sure that every team member gets at least some time to rest throughout the relay. Designate rest or nap breaks at various times so as one member rests, another takes control and responsibility. If you notice you start to feel particularly tired, speak up and take some down time.
Minimal rest and recovery
Several relays require runners to run multiple legs in the span of only a few hours which means shortly after completing one leg, you need to start thinking about the next. This requires careful consideration to how you recover between runs. What you eat, whether you sleep, foam rolling, a light (self) massage… are all things to think about.
If you’re running more than once, also think about how you plan to run each leg. Will you race them, pace them or alternate harder and easy efforts?
The need for constant fuelling
And no, we’re not talking about making sure the van doesn’t run out of gas (although that’s pretty important as well). Here we’re talking about eating and drinking while always on the move, at weird times of the day and mostly on snacks rather than meals.
Before the relay begins, be sure to stock up on plenty of snacks that pack carbs, protein and a bit of fat. Think trail mixes, dried fruit, pretzels and even candy. Be sure to avoid foods that you know cause GI issues and also consider when and how much you eat, especially before your leg(s) of the relay. Have healthy options like fruit and veggies always available and close by. Finally, be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, including mostly water but also something with carbs and electrolytes.
Playing the role of cheerleader
One of the most important and underrated roles on a relay team is to constantly cheer and support your teammates while they run their respective legs. Ask them specifically what type of support they need or want while running. Do they require sports drink or energy products and if so, what kind and how often? Almost everyone responds well to positive support and encouragement so make sure you get loud and cheer often while others are running.