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Top 10 items to pack for a Ragnar Relay

You’ve signed up for a Ragnar Relay, or another overnight cross country running relay like Hood to Coast. You’re past wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and you’ve moved on to the more practical question of what you should pack. This is the top ten list for you. We’ve skipped over the obvious items such as van keys and teammates to give you a list of items you might not have thought of on your own. Here’s what you’re probably missing:

1) Baby Wipes. During an overnight cross country running relay, baby wipes are the universal cleaner of choice. While a roll of paper towels is nice (and also recommended) for cleaning up spills, moist baby wipes will effectively clean up pasty messes like peanut butter and chocolate. They come in a convenient easy dispense tub that quickly stows just about anywhere in your van. They’re great for a post run wipe down before changing clothes. Of course, all of this is just a bonus to what the baby wipes were originally designed for: wiping your a–. You’ll encounter many portable toilets on your journey from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and let’s just say the TP situation isn’t always ideal. When everyone in the long line groans as another port-a-potty runs out of toilet paper, you’ll go straight to the head of the class, confident that you’re covered by the soft, comfortable goodness of your very own tub of baby wipes. Pack 2 tubs per van.

2) Safety Gear. Ragnar and most other running relay companies generally require a certain number of the following items: safety vests, head lamps and butt lights. Splurge on 2 high tech safety vests for each van. These should be used for those who are actually running. Having two will avoid the cumbersome situation of handing off the safety vest at each exchange point and allow you to at least pretend that the vest has dried out between legs. You can get cheaper construction vests or make your own for everyone who is off duty. It is sometimes required and always a good idea to wear a safety vest when outside of your van at night – even if you’re not running. Most automobile-related deaths in overnight running relays have been “off duty” team members who were struck while crossing a street to provide support to their teammates.

3)¬†Shoes. This certainly falls into the obvious category, but most people won’t think to bring multiple pairs. If you wear the same pair of shoes for the entire relay, you’re not going to have a good time. If you have a different pair of running shoes for each leg you’re assigned in the relay, bring them. At the very least, have a pair of sandals or a comfortable, loose fitting pair of shoes to wear while you’re not running. If you’re wearing the same pair of running shoes for all of your legs, change out of them right after each leg and allow them to air out thoroughly between legs. Your feet will thank you!

4) Clothes. Also obvious, but what kind of clothes? This can be a tough decision because there’s limited space in the van so you don’t want to over-pack. Pack something for the party at the bar the night you finish and something to wear on the ride home in a bag that can easily be stowed in an inaccessible location (like the bottom of the pile in the trunk of the van). In another bag that you’ll have easy access to, pack a change of clothes for each leg you’ll be running along with some comfortable clothes for when you’re not running. We recommend putting each running outfit in a separate plastic bag so after you run you can seal the stink clothes in their own bag. Ideally, you should be out of your running clothes within one leg of your own finish so you aren’t sitting around in your own sweat and stinking up the van. Your team may have to quickly drive to the next exchange or cheering point right after you hand off, but you should have some time to change at some point while you’re waiting for the next runner to arrive. Make sure you keep the weather in mind. Pack a jacket even if it’s warm out. It might feel cold at 2:00 AM when you’re sweaty from your own run and you’re standing around waiting for your teammate.

5) Tent. A 2-4 person tent is easily stowed under a seat and will help empty out the van when it’s time to sleep. Most 12 person vans have three benches. If you’ve got 6-7 people in each van, it’s good to offload a few into a tent so the others can lay down on the benches to sleep. If a tent seems like too much effort, a simple tarp will at least neutralize moisture from the ground to keep you dry all night – provided it doesn’t rain!

6) Eye Mask & Ear Plugs. Since we’re on the subject of sleeping, we’ll just lay this out there: It’s really hard to sleep on an overnight running relay. Exhaustion plays in your favor, but the major exchanges are very busy places. With teams constantly arriving and departing, there are headlights, engines, generators, doors slamming, cheering and all sorts of other nuisances to interfere with your ability to sleep. A good eye mask takes care of the random lights part (and the sunlight if you’re trying to catch some winks during the day). Earplugs will drown out most of the noise. If you’ve got a white noise generator on your phone, you can use that to kill the noise outside with the added bonus of being able to set the alarm on the phone to wake you up at the appropriate time.

7) First Aid Kit. The Ragnar Relay series provides First Aid tents at all the major exchanges (every 6 exchange points), but having your own first aid kit is really a necessity. Hopefully you won’t need it, but with 6 runners in each van a minor mishap is bound to occur over the course of your 200 miles together. Bandages of all sizes, antibiotic ointment, disinfectant, pain relievers and a cold pack (or a cooler of ice) should be present in each van at a minimum.

8) Snacks. Good meals are hard to come by during an overnight running relay. You’ll be on the go most of the time. When you’re not, you’ll often be presented with the difficult choice of grabbing food or grabbing sleep. Having a variety of snacks handy is paramount to a happy team experience. Ideally, everyone should be in charge of their own snacks, but they should bring enough to share. Small, frequent snacks will treat your gastrointestinal system better than large meals during your repeated runs anyway. In addition to food, you should have plenty of water. Adequate hydration will keep everyone feeling better and happier the whole way.

9) Flashlights. Although you’ll need headlamps for running, small powerful flashlights are important for finding things in the van, finding port-a-potties in the dark, finding your way around exchange areas, directing your driver out of tight parking spaces, and many other uses. Have at least one for every two people in each van and store them in an easily accessible location when it’s dark.

10) Camera. Unlike most major running events, there generally aren’t photographers along an overnight running relay’s course to capture your memories for you. You’ll want one or several cameras available in each van to document your experience (you’ll forget a lot if you don’t). Bringing a camera is useless, however, if you forget to use it! Keep the camera(s) in a highly visible location in the van and let everyone know where it is. Once you get rolling along the course, it will be easy to get caught up in the action and forget to take pictures. You’ll regret that later, so grab the camera every time you get out of the van and even when you’re just shooting the breeze in the van. The really fun stuff happens when you least expect it.

Want to know what will simply be a waste of space? Read our “What NOT to pack” article here.

Being prepared will help everyone, but perhaps the most important thing to remember when participating in an overnight running relay is to have fun. There will be ups and downs, but nothing you do is likely to be a true disaster. Enjoy the camaraderie of your teammates and soak up the adventure you’re sharing.

Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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One Response to "Top 10 items to pack for a Ragnar Relay"

  1. Raffi says:

    I wrote a similar article when I returned from the Key West Ragnar:
    I still look back at our binder, and I still think earplugs are key if you want some sleep!

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