Like most people, I didn’t even think about training when I ran my first Ragnar Relay. That was partially because I was recruited to the team so late in the game; but also because the whole idea sounded so absurd that I wouldn’t have known where to start if I wanted to develop a training plan.
Unlike most major races, you may not known how far you’re going to run in an overnight relay until a couple months, a week, or even just a few days before the event actually happens. Most runners (on a “regular” team) will complete between 10 and 20 miles over the course of an overnight relay. Those miles will be split over 3 separate legs. At the end of it all, most people feel about like they do after a half marathon (although perhaps a bit more sleep deprived).
When in doubt, train for a half marathon. Training for a half marathon will adequately prepare you to complete almost any set of legs in an overnight relay. You may not complete them quickly, but you’ll survive. If you really want to perform well, there’s something to be said for doing multiple runs within 24 hours. If you’re not used to packing your runs in that closely, and you’re going to start doing it regularly, then you should ease into things in phases. Five different phases are outlined below, and would take the place of a “long run” in a half marathon training plan:
- Easy run in the morning, followed by an easy run in the evening and take the next day off
- Easy run in the morning, followed by an easy run in the evening and an easy run the next morning
- Hard run in the morning, followed by an easy run in the evening and take the next day off
- Hard run in the morning, followed by an easy run in the evening and an easy run the next morning
- Hard run in the morning, followed by an easy run in the evening and a hard run the next morning
You can use the phases above to replace the long run (and previous or following day) in a half marathon plan. For example, if the half marathon plan calls for a 12 mile run on Saturday with a 3 mile run on Sunday, you might run 8 miles Saturday morning, 4 miles Saturday evening and 3 miles on Sunday morning. Just follow the half marathon plan the rest of the week.
Spend at least 3 weeks in each phase before advancing to the next phase. If you’re a beginner and running for the pure fun of the event, then you won’t need to advance past phase 2. I wouldn’t recommend going all the way to phase 5 unless you’ve been averaging at least 50 miles per week for 3 weeks.
These general guidelines are obviously not as good as a custom training plan geared toward the exact set of legs you’ll be running and the conditions under which you’ll be running them. If you add these phases into your training, however, you should be fit enough to enjoy yourself at the relay!