Thursday, April 3, 2014

Relayniacs Talking ULTRAs

When a team decides to take on the challenge of running a relay as an ULTRA team {6 runners instead of 12}, the first question they contemplate is whether to run the relay with each person running 3 longer legs {2 legs back-to-back} or 6 shorter legs {running every 6 legs}.  With more and more teams being up for the challenge of going ULTRA, and the question being brought up more frequently, I decided to recruit some other relayniacs to provide input, from their personal experience, on how to go about running an ULTRA relay.  

Lauren, who I have had the privilege of relaying with twice, joined 5 other bada$$ women last summer and took on Ragnar Northwest Passage for her first ULTRA relay! I think Leslie, who has run on 3 ULTRA teams, just might love relays as much as I do {which I didn't think was even possible!} I have my work cut out for me, as both of these ladies prefer {and think its the best way to go} running 3 longer legs, where I, hands-down, think running 6 legs is the only way to go! 

Here is my story...
A little over a year ago, NUUN was putting together teams of ambassadors for several of the Ragnar Relay events.  After scheming with Meghan, in hopes that we would be able to run another relay together, we along with 2 other ambassadors, selected Ragnar Wasatch Back as our first choice.  When an email started circulating with the question, "Should we run this as an ULTRA team!?" I knew it was ON! All 4 of us quickly agreed, recruited 2 other runners, and then started asking people who we knew had run on an UTLRA team if they preferred 3 vs 6 legs, and the majority of people said 3...cue major freak out! What had I agreed to??  I reached out to the girls of Team Sparkle, as I knew that they had not only run Ragnar SoCal as an ULTRA team, but also won; they preferred 6 shorter legs. While getting advice from others, Meghan did what she does best, organized the data.  Within minutes of us agreeing to run it as an ULTRA team {no lie} she created a google doc that compared the legs {difficulty & distance} for running it both ways. At this point I am REALLY freaking out, as I see that several runners would have to run legs longer that a half marathon. Umm, what!?! "Don't mind me, my second leg is going to be 16 miles!" For us, the deciding factor was that one runner would have a 19 mile leg, and another would have some astronomical amount of climbing.  At that point we unanimously decided to run 6 shorter legs...cue sigh of relief! 

For me, it was and is still SO much easier to wrap my mind around {approximately} 6 10Ks rather than 3 half marathons.  In addition, in terms of time {if that's important to your team} you can run the shorter distances significantly faster than the longer ones.  With anything that's challenging, it is so much more manageable to break it down into smaller segments, and focus on one segment at a time.  From my experience, I can't comprehend setting out on a 12 mile run after already running over 20 miles within the last 15 hours or so.  With that being said, I can see where it would be beneficial to map out the legs and possibly run a few back to back.  For example, some of the legs are only 3 miles, so it might be beneficial for one runner to take on two back-to-back shorter  legs, potentially distributing the miles more evenly amongst the runners.  

Two arguments for running 3 longer legs are rest and fuel. Well, I hate to break it to you, but sleep is minimal during any relay and fueling is always an obstacle to overcome.  No matter how you decide to break up the legs you still {hopefully} stop and cheer on your runner during their leg and at the exchanges; therefore, unfortunately, there is no "off" van that is able to go park somewhere, allowing the runners to get rest.  The van is constantly stopping and going, runners are constantly climbing in and out, and everyone is constantly cheering and cowbelling.  Every relay has a few no support legs, some more than others, allowing the van to head straight to the next exchange, providing the runners an opportunity catch a few ZZZZZZs.  

Regarding fueling, with an ULTRA relay you are constantly on the go and don't have much spare time to stop, so you need to be prepared with everything you need in the van.  Of course, there is always time for a quick stop at a gas station for extra salty potato chips {its crazy the things you eat during a relay}.  While the window of opportunity is smaller when running an ULTRA relay, it is crucial to fuel in between runs, with lighter, high protein snacks being ideal.  When on a 12-man team, its fun to stop and eat during your off time, but not only do you not have the time, a large meal would NOT sit well in the stomach of an ULTRA runner {and usually doesn't for any relayer...can we say #codebrown}.

Regardless of how you breakdown the relay, I highly recommend only one van/vehicle! The team camaraderie is perhaps the best, most enjoyable part of any relay.  And with only 6 runners, the team bond that forms is truly like no other.  I also, highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend a driver. Running on an ULTRA team is exhausting, and its nice to have one less thing to worry about! In addition to making things go more smoothly and efficiently, the driver has just as much fun, if not more, and almost instantly becomes a valuable, irreplaceable part of the team.  

Find a driver, break the relay down into manageable segments, recruit 5 FUN running friends, and conquer a relay as part of a winning {I couldn't resist!} ULTRA team.  

Now for the reasons supporting 3 longer legs...

Leslie, a 3-peat ULTRA relayer prefers 3 legs,  primarily due to the fact that she only has to pack 3 different outfits.  Simplicity at its finest.  The added rest in between legs and an opportunity to eat a real meal are an added bonus.  Read about her love for endurance running and relaying here! While you're visiting her blog, make sure to check out her Ironman Canada training...such an inspiration! 

Lauren had so much fun running on an ULTRA team that she's doing it again this year!  Touché, she throws out the #badass card when discussing why she prefers 3 longer legs; read more here

If you are even thinking about running a relay as an ULTRA it!!! It's an amazing experience.  And no matter how you decide to break up the miles, its the runners who truly make the entire relay experience one to remember! 

All this relay talk is giving me relay fever! Good thing I am running a relay in a few weeks....


  1. I still can't wrap my head around running 3 longer legs!! it's seems way more intense. maybe if it wasn't a relay with high elevation and lots of they have relays like climbing.......

  2. I almost want to try a 6 leg ultra and just see how it is!!! I think training would be different too!! :)

  3. From my VAST ultra relay experience, I really liked the 6 short legs. :) It felt more manageable, especially with the Colorado elevation and hills. Can you imagine adding more miles to Bry's long, nasty leg in that hot sun...? It didn't hurt that we won either...

  4. Love this, I really want to do an ultra relay someday! I keep trying to sort of plan one, but hard to find the team.