Preparing for the 2017 Ragnar South Beach Relay, or: “I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded…”

On the weekend of November 10-12, 2017, eleven other teammates and I ran the 2017 Ragnar South Beach Relay and, being the long-winded blowhard that I am, wrote a massively bloated blog post about it. And it was way too freakin’ long… I was over 2,000 words before I even got to the Race itself.

So we’re breaking the entire race review up into different posts, for brevity and sanity purposes. There may be some overlap. That’s show-biz, I guess.

Longtime readers of Hokeyblog will remember my previous relay experience, the 2013 Keys100, in which our team of six ran 100 miles from Mile Marker 100 in Key Largo all the way down to Mile 0 in Key West, Florida. So sweating with buddies in a van was a road I had eased on down before, but that was pretty much an “Only one day in a van, everyone runs 2 miles at a time” affair. Ragnar was something entirely other, so a lot of prep work had to be done. So in this post, I’m specifically going to talk about… wait for it…


But before we get to that, let’s kick off the discussion with a brief overview of the Ragnar Relay Series.

Ragnar is probably the most well-known relay series in the country, with almost two dozen races scheduled, from Hawaii to the Adirondacks and almost anywhere in between. Teams consist of 12 runners, each of them running three individual legs to traverse the approximate 200 miles from Start to Finish.

Every leg is of different mileage, during different times of the day, and must start and finish at designated Exchange points. Everyone will run at least 10-11 miles, with some runners doing 20+ miles, and teams must maintain around an 11 minute/mile average to make it to the Finish and have a recorded time. Runners are met at each Exchange by their team, at which point the next runner takes off running while the team drives over to the next Exchange to repeat the process.

The race never stops. Once you start running, you have runners on the ground until everyone crosses the Finish Line together the next day. It’s pretty cool that way.

So when my pals from Team Shenanigans decided to take on the inaugural Melbourne to South Beach Ragnar relay, I was in. Being a local Floridian made travel arrangements a snap, plus Boots could tag along in her car to take photographs at various parts of the journey, as well as head out for food or coffee runs as needed.

So Who Runs What?

The group divided up race legs per runner, based on the existing leg information found on the Ragnar website. Each leg is given a mileage and rating of Easy, Moderate, Hard, and Very Hard. The rating metrics per leg aren’t clearly delineated anywhere; I would assume they are based on distance, time of day, elevation, available sidewalks, and so forth. There are 36 legs total, so Runner 1 runs legs 1, 13, and 25. Runner 2 continues with 2, 14, and 26. And so on and such as.

Of course me being the numbers nerd, I fired up Excel and started calculating aggregates, averages, means, and medians, as well as ranking overall difficulty levels per runner. Based on preliminary race data, Van One runners averaged 15.9 miles, with a median of 12.6 and a standard deviation of 6.07, while Van Two runners averaged 16.4 miles, with a median of 17.1 and a standard deviation of 3.54. I also calculated overall difficulty rank of each runners legs (Runner numbers are on the left side of the graph, and yes I switched Ray and Rebekah accidentally. Oops!):


I also put together a spreadsheet detailing a list of expected start and stop times for each runner, given an expected average pace of an 11 minute/mile. Using this, we could keep good track of our overall progress and how well we were adhering to our race pace. Legs were then divvied up based on runner ability/experience based on their 10K pace.

And do you know all of this means?

It means your humble narrator should have joined Lambda Lambda Lambda a **LONG** time ago.

“Deijii, deijii, hai to itte yo…”

I probably went overboard with all this data analysis mishegas, but I indulged it because (1) I’m a number-crunching logic nerd to begin with, and (2) it helped the team get a good idea of what we were facing and needed to expect going in. And speaking of what to expect going in, let’s move on to the next phase of my write-up, a smashing little number our editorial board decided to call…

Transportation and Accomodations

Since some members of the team lived out-of-state, transportation to Florida had to be arranged. Then there was a matter of getting to Melbourne by the afternoon/evening before the race and procuring a hotel room for the evening. Boots and I drove up from Fort Lauderdale (about a 2.5 hour schlep) while Jackie drove from Miami. We got a room at a Melbourne Extended Stay hotel, which — when I booked the reservation — was a mere five minutes from the Start Line! Since that time, the Start Line was moved about 15 further minutes away. Grr.

Anyway, if you’re planning on doing a Ragnar, book a hotel room nearby for the night before, but don’t be surprised if they change the definition of “nearby” over the months preceding the race.

Race Vans

Each team of 12 will need two race vehicles. Most people used your generic white vans, but there were plenty of SUVs and Mini-Vans as well. Even some ultra-slick high-tech state-of-the-art multi-hyphenated vehicles that looked mighty impressive from the outside. Rent those as soon as you can, but hold out for a good deal as well. There are plenty to be found. We rented ours from Enterprise and got a pretty decent deal per person.

People then decorated their vans with washable markers. This usually includes the team name, runner names, checkboxes for each legs, a KILLS section (marked off for each other runner passed) as well as DEATHS (marked off for each time the team runner is passed), inspiration sayings and motivational statements, or whatever else such nonsense comes to mind.

Here are some examples of other van decorations. See if you can spot the unfortunate spelling gaffe:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are our own van decorations. See if you can spot the unfortunate self-promotion:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Adding a measure of fun to the affair, teams will often create magnets with their team logos and “tag” other vans with them. Jackie managed to collect a bunch of them. We got tagged quite a few times! Err, so to speak:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Packing and Race Supplies

If you’re going to in a big stinky van with big stinky people for two big stinky days, you’ll need to be psychologically ready, and a good set of race supplies and gear will work wonders in maintaining both your hygiene and sanity. Everyone has their own list of needs and wants, so your mileage may vary. This is what worked for me:

Nighttime Race Gear – These are ABSOLUTELY required. The race requires each van to have six reflective vests, at least two head lamps, and at least two LED tail lights. There will be a ton of nighttime and darkness running, and you need to not only see but be seen. They won’t let you pick up your registration materials without these materials. So make darn sure you have them. If you forget them, they are available for purchase at the Race Start. But you’ll pay a huge premium. Bring them from home. Lisa found packs of race-legal reflective vests that worked out to cost $3-$4 a person.

This nighttime gear will keep you safe. As for the cheerful dorkiness, your mileage may vary…

Battery Chargers – I brought three of them, and only ended up having to use one, but I’m glad to have had backups. Look it’s 2017, so with all our Smart Phones, Bluetooth gear, GPS watches, and other electronic essentials and niceties, it’s good to have a source of juice at the ready. The van also came with USB charge ports and someone brought a hub, but I liked having my own ready when I needed it. And boy did I need it. My iPhone got a workout and a half over those two days. There was a LOT of Waze’ing and GPS tracking, as you’ll read about in the upcoming paragraphs.

Igloo Cooler (5 Gallon) – This was essential. While there are water coolers at every Exchange and, at least for this race, plenty of convenience stores, fast food joints, and supermarkets along the course, having your own cold, fresh water supply is a godsend. At least we knew we wouldn’t have to suffer through lukewarm water at the beginning (or end) of every leg, and no one every went thirsty. Having your own water supply is a must-have situation in a Ragnar race. Self-reliance, man.

Get one. You’ll need it. Or at least, really really want it.

Snacks — Well, duh. Get the good stuff, of course: chips, pretzels, cookies, energy bars, whatever. But also consider getting a small cooler with sandwiches or pasta salad or the like. We stopped to eat at local restaurants during our down time, but there’s no benefit to going hungry at any time of day if you’re expected to run a bunch of miles at all times.

Towels — In my estimation, you’re going to need a good 3, maybe 4 towels. One to sit on, one to dry yourself with, and one or two to use as a pillow. Or just bring a pillow. But towels are more compact and can also do double duty as, um, towels.

Sleeping bag — At some point you’re going to need sleep, even if it’s a quick rest, a power nap, whatever. I did not plan to sleep in the van, as I’m 6’3″ tall and don’t get that comfortable when I’m all scrunched up somewhere. Ragnar provides “designated sleeping areas” where you can lie out and sleep, and comfort was the order of the day for me. I brought my Sleeping Bag For Giants and it did the job. Next time, though, I’d consider bringing a yoga mat or bedroll so that I’d have something softer under the old, tired bod.

The toothpick is optional. As is the schmucky grin and thumbs-up.

A printed copy of the Course Overview — Ragnar provides a PDF copy of the Course Overview about a week or two before the race begins. Grab it, print it out, and staple or bind it in something safe. It provides the complete course profile, with Exchange addresses, leg descriptions, water locations on course, van and runner routes, GPS coordinates of each Start and Finish exchange, and whether or not Van Support is allowed during that leg. The Ragnar app also provides this information — SOMETIMES (more about that in the race review) — but if you find yourself in a position of having zero cell coverage, you’re going to need a hard-copy backup. We used both during our adventure. You’ll need both.

A printed copy of the Race Bible — You’ll definitely want and most possibly need this too. It has all the race rules, what to do in case of emergency or course changes, how to contact Race Command, Time Projections, “Hold Times”, and more. Read it long before the race, read it the night before, read it during. Good stuff to know. ESSENTIAL stuff to know. There were DQs during this race and with all the time, money, training, and heart that you invest into a Ragnar Relay, the last thing you’d want is to be disqualified because someone peed in the bushes during a run.


Really. That will DQ you in a heartbeat.

First Aid — Whatever you think you’ll need, but the basics will do. Band-Aids, Neosporin, Icy Hot, KT-Tape, bandages, Vaseline, Hydrogen Peroxide, you know the drill. Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen for body aches. Everyone is different, but everyone knows what they need.

SunscreenGet this by the bucket load. Beyond self-explanatory. Also bug spray if it has been rainy on or before race day.

Changes of Clothes and Gallon Freezer Bags — I packed three complete sets of running attire into three gallon-sized plastic bags. We’re talking race shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, the works. I also brought “emergency” race clothes in case something tore or broke; generally an extra pair of each item. I also brought two sets of “walking around clothes” but that might have been a bit of overkill. Nonetheless, best not to be overly stinky.

PORTABLE/HANDHELD WATER SUPPLY — This. A THOUSAND TIMES, THIS. Ragnar is a CUPLESS event. They provide water at every exchange and coffee at many of them, plus there are water stops at various places along the course, and if you don’t have your own handheld or vest, you’re going to be in a world of dehydration. So bring your handheld. It’s an absolute must. If you forget yours, you can buy one at the Start Area before the race. But you’ll need it.

And if you’re running some of the longer legs, consider something like a Camelbak. In retrospect, I definitely should have brought mine, given the events that occurred during the race (MORE ON THAT IN THE RACE REVIEW. Seriously.) That’s when stuff started getting real…

Cups — Speaking of Ragnar being a cupless event, remember when I said they serve coffee at many Exchanges? Guess what they don’t have to pour it into? That’s right. If you want a mediocre lukewarm java, you’ll need to bring your own cups. That is, if there’s any coffee available at all. Guess what? MORE ON THAT IN THE RACE REVIEW. Are you starting to get nervous? You should…

Bib belt — You’ll want this so you won’t have to keep unpinning and re-pinning your bib to yet another running shirt.

Hygienic wipes — Carry both the larger ones used to clean down your face, arms, legs, and extremities — Showerpill makes a good product — as well as smaller, individually packed wipes for hands, face, or bathroom use — I’m a big proponent of Dude Wipes and One-Wipe Charlies. Better to have it and not need it than the alternative, because you’ll quickly get used to the warm, inviting, often lacking arms of your local bank of Porto-Potties…

Destinkification AgentsĀ — Febreeze. Lysol. Those ghetto air fresheners from the 90s that were shaped like crowns. Whatever. You know the drill. The smarties in Van 2 actually brought a cinnamon broom, and it worked wonders for them. Next time I’m going to remember that trick.

And of course, all your usual race gear. Sunglasses, visors, phone carrier, electrolytes, gels, fuel, headbands, belts, wristbands, earbuds, support tape, compression sleeves… you know what you need. Consider bringing more than one of certain items. That Halo band is gonna get mighty crusty, that wristband a wee bit rank, and so on.

And if you think all this preparation made for an ordeal, wait until you get to the actual race itself…


Oh and here’s the video:

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Matthew Millheiser