I just finished the 2012 Napa Ragnar Relay from San Francisco to Calistoga. It was my first Ragnar and was incredibly taxing with the running, the rain, the missed exchanges, the lost direction, and the very little sleeping. That said, it was absolutely amazing. Team “Lightning in a Bottle” was a rag tag crew with half of us from the Bay Area, the other half coming from Los Angeles and one person who happened to be visiting from London. Most of us only met that Friday morning before jumping into two vans and embarking on a 30 hour adventure. Tensions can rise when everyone is tired and in close quarters. I decided to test the limit of the group by asking everyone to participate in a music video, singing along to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. The only problem was half the people didn’t even know the song. Did someone say “play on repeat”? It was either going to work out or be a really long car ride. So how did it turn out? See for yourself above.
Now that I’m a bonafide veteran, here are some tips to prepare for your first Ragnar and my gear recommendations compiled from the Ragnar experience as well as my other activities that have tested these gears.
What To Pack For A Ragnar
The items on your packing list falls into three categories. 1) Things you need 2) Things that are nice to have and 3) Things you’ll want to have so that your van-mates don’t purposely leave behind at an exchange.
Safety Vest: Each person is required to have one. You know, so you don’t get run over at night running alongside traffic. You can go with the most basic construction worker option for $6 or something much more streamlined for running like the Nathan Streak Reflective Vest.
Headlamp: Two per van. So many options here, but you’ll probably want to go with something lightweight enough that it’s not going to annoy you during the run. If this is a one and done kind of deal for you, go with this $10 Energizer Pro 3 Headlamp or the small, but bright Princeton Tec Byte. If there’s rain in the forecast and you’ll looking for something that will last you well beyond just this Ragnar race, I recommend the Black Diamond Storm or the Black Diamond Spot. The Spot is lighter and can withstand rain easily as well as being submerged for a few minutes while the Storm is supposed to be practically waterproof. Personally, I’d go with the Spot.
Tail light: Two per van. This one is easy. Go with the Nathan Strobe Light. It’s $10 and does what it’s supposed to do.
Running shorts/pants: Preferably 3 pairs, unless you’re part of that special non-existent group of people who don’t smell when they sweat.
Running top: Same with pants. One for each of your legs. Plus, don’t you want a different outfit for each leg?
Running shoes: Go with something you’re used to running in. The race is not the time to break in a new pair of shoes or to see what the “minimal” running craze is all about. I’m a fan of the Inov-8 line of running shoes, but I’m looking into trying out the opposite end of the spectrum with the Hoka One One line of ultra-cushioned shoes. They look clownish and ugly, but they are ultra lightweight for the amount of cushion and could feel real nice when you are running 3 long legs with only a few hours rest in between.
Socks: 3 pairs. Do I need to explain? I only use Injinji toe socks because I’ve not gotten one blister since. You can put vaseline or powder on your feet all you want, keeping the toes separated means they won’t rub on each other. Get them and send me a thank you note later. Or thank you brownies.
Warm layers: It can get cold at night so best to be prepared.
Comfortable clothes: Something to change into after each leg.
Wet-wipes: Consider this your mini shower. Everyone will be grateful you smell like lavender and lilac. I use ShowerPill wipes. I don’t know why they call it a pill when it’s wipe, but it works great.
Toiletries: Deodorant is a must. Toothbrush if you want to have conversations with your team after the 24 hour mark. Or use these Wisp disposable toothbrushes. I keep a few in all my different packs just in case. Chapstick. Lotion.
Ziploc bags: Get some large ones to pack away your dirty running clothes. I recommend individually pre-packing 3 outfits that you can easily pull out of your duffel bag.
Flip-Flops: Give your feet a break after the run.
Sunscreen: Some say sunburns can be fashion statements when pairing with lobster colored clothes. Feel free to disagree.
Sleeping bag/Pillow: You’re not going to get much sleep, but you might as well be comfortable when you do. There are areas set up at the big exchanges to sprawl out and a have a team slumber party. If you just want some upright shut-eye, neck pillows are a godsend. This Samsonite inflatable pillow goes with me everywhere I travel, but when I have the luxury of space, I take this funky looking J-Pillow that’s really comfortable .
Earplugs/Eyemask: Anything to get that extra bit of rest that you probably won’t be getting.
Gatorade/Water bottle: Stay hydrated.
Food/Energy Bars/Gels: A little something for before, during and after each leg. I take a BeetElite shot before my races and I find myself able to run faster at a lower heart rate level than when I don’t take it. Beets in general are awesome. This stuff is basically concentrated beets so you don’t have to eat 4 whole beets or something to get the same benefit. Of all the gels, I personally like the PowerGel Double Latte the best because you get 200mg of sodium, to help with cramping, and 50mg of caffeine, to get you that boost (because we all know coffee helps during rigorous activities. That’s more sodium and caffeine than most of the other gels out there. Their other flavors only have 25mg of caffeine in it.
Duffel Bag: To store everything and keep the van organized.
Camera: Photos or it didn’t happen right? I’m just messing around. Enjoy the run, but if you do feel like capturing some shots, keep it light and portable. Your phone is a great option. If you want something nicer, consider the Sony RX100. I use the IV version, but the III version is just as good and cheaper. They both shoot very high quality videos and amazing photos for a point and shoot camera. For something cheaper and even more portable, especially for shots on the run, I like the GoPro Session + Wrist Strap combo. This is fun for take kill selfies. Just don’t be douchey about it. I ask nicely to take an on-the-go selfie with everyone I pass. Again, photos or it didn’t happen right ?
Vaseline/Bodyglide: Chaffing sucks, Bodyglide helps. Trailtoes are great as well for the feet. I use this stuff for ultra long and muddy obstacle races and they help my feet not scare off little children.
Van Markers: Decorate your van. We used these glass markers on ours.
Sunglasses: Look cool when you run.
Salt Tablets: Nice for avoiding cramps
Foam Roller/Roller Stick: You won’t have as much recovery time, so it’s nice to release the lactic acid and muscle tension after a leg. Make sure you have one or two in the van. Someone brought The Stick and I couldn’t be happier since a foam roller is pretty useless in a van. There are bunch of other options, but this one has the best reviews on Amazon for it’s flexibility. For your feet, get these Gaiam Therapy Balls. This will ALWAYS go into my travel bag because they are great for rubbing out or massaging a sore spot and they are so compact.
Toe socks: I had to put this one in there again in case you ignored it the first time. Great for avoiding blisters, especially if you happen to run in the rain. I loved using the Injinji toe socks so much during races that I just wear them as regular socks nowadays. No one needs to know, unless I go into an Asian home and have to take off my shoes. Damn customs.
Rain shell: Speaking of rain.
Music: Nice for those 9 mile uphill legs.
Febreeze: Let’s make our vans smell like lavendar and lilac too.
First Aid Kit: Prepare for the unexpected. Small cuts, blisters, and explosive diarrhea can all happen.
That sums up all the things you need and should get as you prepare for your first Ragnar or your 10th. I’m running the SoCal Ragnar from LA to San Diego next. What about you?
Trick Someone Into Being A Designated Driver
It’s not the most fun job in the world, but it sure takes the pressure off one or more of the team members. One less thing to worry about. I suggest either blackmail or offering some kind of baked treats. Or a lot of booze afterwards.
Get A Mid-Race Hotel
Best obvious-not-so-obvious Ragnar tip: Get a hotel room. This turned out to be a great idea since it rained during our 2nd and 3rd legs so sleeping outside was not a fun option. We choose a location close to the leg 12 exchange. Van 2 got a bit of rest and a shower after their first leg before beginning our midnight run and Van 1 got some proper rest and a shower after 2 legs.
Stop For A Proper Meal
You’ve trained so hard for this thing and you’re body is ready, but don’t neglect getting the proper nutrition between legs. Cold sandwiches and Oreos will give you some energy, but a nice hot meal with lift your spirits and keep team morale high. It’ll also give you some time away from the van, unless you’re really attached to sitting in there for the full 30 hours. Just remember to avoid eating during the 2 hours before you run.
Stay Engaged As A Team
It’s easy to want to sleep or rest after your own leg, but imagine waiting alone in the rain for an exchange or finishing your leg and having to wander around on your own to find the van. It’s a team race. Cheer your teammates on. We decided to shoot a video to capture our experience. Regardless of how tired we were, everyone put on a smile and made Freddie Mercury proud. We even did a choreographed dance and an air guitar session in the hotel room before passing out 30 seconds later.
Go With The Flow
You can program all the exchanges and routes into your GPS, designate a driver and back that person up with a navigator. Things can still go wrong. We ended up missing several exchanges for random reasons and even waited at the wrong exchange at one point. These things can happen and when they do, just go with it. It’s more fun to laugh about it than to point fingers and place blames. This is what I loved about our team. We had a great time regardless of whatever happened.
So now that everything else has been taken care, who doesn’t want to have matching team shirts? Cotton ones are cheap, but you’ll probably be more comfortable running in a synthetic shirt. Splurge for something that you’ll consider keeping and wearing again.
That’s about it. Get in those training runs and have a good time.