20 Tips for Overnight Long Distance Relays

A few lessons learned from the Kentucky Bourbon Chase  – 200 miles with 9 runners and the PeaktoBrew -236 miles with 12 runners. Both events are long distance relay races which you can take seriously or not so seriously. Both races were independent when we ran them. The Kentucky Bourbon Chase is now part of the Ragnar Series.

The minimum requirement for these events is some runners and two vans. The courses are divided into segments. One van is out on the course at a time and the runners in that van each run a segment. After six segments they arrive at a major exchange where the other van takes over. This continues until you reach the finish line.  It’s not easy but it’s the most fun I have ever had running.

  1. Find a group of runners that you can imagine spending 48 hours in a rental van with and still be friends when you get home.
  2. Rent two of the biggest vans you can find. You are going to want all the space you can get! We made the mistake of using someone’s personal van once. We had to have it detailed before the family could use it again.
  3. Add a designated driver for each van. It’s not required by the races but it really helps to have a non-runner driver. They don’t have to do ALL the driving but even if they do some of it you will all be safer and happier.
  4. Plan, plan and plan again. We used a spread sheet to figure out when each runner was expected to start and finish each leg. We then adjusted the times at the end of each leg and calculated how far ahead or behind our projected time we were running. We did the adjustments manually on the go in the van. It is a real drag to finish running your leg only to discover that no one from your team has shown up to replace you. The sheet we used is here. If you want a working copy just ask! peak-2-brew-2017. We also used google and maps to find possible places to eat and get supplies along the route.
  5. Have a communication plan but don’t rely on it. We had planned to use one cell phone for each van and to have a text sent each time a runner finished their leg with the runner’s name and the time they finished the leg. It worked well except in areas with limited cell phone coverage which turned out to be a good part of the course. Our default for major exchanges was to be there 30 minutes before we thought the runner would arrive.
  6. Make use of the other talents your runners may have. In our case this was Dave the human GPS who made sure we never got lost.
  7. Have a designated “stink” seat in the van. The one the hot sweaty runner who just finished their leg uses. Bring towels and put them on the stick seat! Year one we made the mistake of only having one per van. We now carry at least six and many of them only make a one way trip. Put them on the seat to protect it and absorb the sweat!
  8. Have a cooler and a shared water supply in each van. We set-up mini water stops and cheering stations for our runners along the course. This type of support is not allowed at all races but it’s great if it is allowed.
  9. Add some night-time support. Running in the dark is really cool but it can be a little disconcerting. Some races allow a second runner to accompany runners at night. We did not always choose to do that but we did make sure the van followed the same route as our runner. We would stop the van at turns where we thought there could be confusion and make sure the runner went the right way.
  10. Assume you will get NO sleep. You may get some but it will not be a lot. Do bring a mat and a light weight sleeping bag so you can sleep when and where you can. Ear plugs might be helpful too. If you sleep in a gym stay together if possible. It can be very difficult to round up your team in the dark!
  11. Make time for real meals. When your van is “off” take the time to get a meal not a snack. You can survive 30 plus hours on Gatorade and gels but you will feel much better if you don’t have to. We always prioritize food over sleep.
  12. Bring a foam roller. Running and then getting straight into the van makes everything get tighter as the day goes on. Getting out of the van whenever you can and walking around makes a big difference as well.
  13. Don’t bring too much stuff! One van fills up pretty fast with 6 or 7 people.
  14.  Set realistic time goals. You can probably easily run at your regular pace for the first one or two legs but it gets harder as the day goes on.
  15. Decorate your van. This is encouraged and some vans get quite creative. It’s also very useful particularly at large events where everyone is driving identical rental vans. Good quality window markers work quite well. Taping a plastic dollar store flag to the hood of the van on a hot day works a little too well as the colour of the flag melts into the paint! We also learned on that trip that baby wipes will clean almost anything off a van including bits of flag.
  16. Be ready to tag. This is a normal activity at these events. Before you leave get some fridge magnets made and stick them on other vans while no one is looking.
  17. Count your kills. Passing another runner is considered a “kill” most teams track how many kills they have on a window of the van.
  18. Encourage everyone. We set up water stations and cheering stations for our own runners but we cheered and offered water to anyone who came by. Honk and cheer when you drive past any runner.
  19. Make some noise. We had music, cow bells and horns. It’s remarkable how much fun a group of middle aged suburbanites can have when they are out running.
  20. Have fun! Because running should be fun!

You can find the race reports from both races here

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Events at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

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