Relay on the Brain

What does it take to run an ultrarelay? Five of your closest friends, liquid awesome, and determination.

Most relays are about 200 miles total or thirty-tree miles a piece for six runners. Well, that would be the case if the legs were evenly divided between each runner, but they’re not. The total distance is broken up into 36 legs anywhere from 2 miles to 11 miles. Some positions may have a total mileage as low as ten miles, and others may be as high as twenty miles. While this is excellent for a twelve-person team (because you can have runners of all levels on your team), it could pose a problem for an ultrateam.

Running a relay is hard. In ways, it is more challenging than running a marathon. A marathon requires continuous effort for three to four hours for most people. A relay requires sporadic effort for 24-36 hours.

There are no rules on how you split the legs between your six runners. Option A: The easiest and most obvious would be that each runner would take two back-to-back positions. This maintains the three legs for each runner typical of a relay event. This makes each of the legs longer.

As an example, let’s look at how this would look for Ragnar Wasatch Back total distance 193 miles:

Runner one on an ultrateam would run both position one and two totaling 36.6 miles

Runner two on an ultrateam would run both position three and four totaling 33.9 miles

Runner three on an ultrateam would run both position five and six totaling 32.6 miles

Runner four on an ultrateam would run both position seven and eight totaling 26.4 miles

Runner five would run both nine and ten totaling 33.4 miles

Runner six would run both eleven and twelve totaling 33.5 miles

Option B: You could also split it up, so each runner runs shorter distances, but runs six times:

Runner one would run both position one and seven 33.2 miles

Runner two would run both position two and eight 29.5 miles

Runner three would run position three and nine 38.2 miles

Runner four would run position four and ten 29.2 miles

Runner five would run position five and eleven 38.1 miles

Runner six would run position six and twelve 28.2 miles

Option WTF: Things get more complicated if you have both ultrarunners and non-ultrarunners on the team. There are an infinite number of ways you can split it. This is just an example from the Red Rock Relay total 186 miles

Run one runs legs 1, 13, and total miles 10.8

Runner two: first run legs 2 and 3, second run legs 19-24, third run legs 31-32 total miles 54.5

Runner three first run leg 4, second run legs 14-17, third run leg 35  total miles 33.6

Runner Four first run leg 5, second run legs 10-12, third run legs 33-34 total miles 33.5

Runner Five first run legs 7-9, second run legs 26-29, third run leg 36 total miles 39.6

Runner six runs legs 6, 18, and 30 total miles 13.4

 

Option A is the most rational choice. Runners have the longest time to recover, sleep, and eat. It maintains the classic three legs per runner. Frankly, I think it is easier to run longer three times in a twenty-four hour period than running shorter six times during a twenty-four hour period.

For an ultrateam, there are increased risks of dehydration and heat stroke.

  Dehydration Heat stroke Heat exhaustion Hypoatremia
Symptoms Thirst

Dry mouth

No sweat (clammy)

Lightheaded

Weakness

Less urine

Temp 105

Throbbing head

No sweat

Red hot dry skin

Muscle weakness

Cramps

Nausea/vomiting

Rapid/shallow breathing

Rapid heartbeat

Confusion

Disorientation staggering

Seizures

unconsciousness

Confusion

Apple juice urine

Dizziness

Fainting

Fatigue

Headache

Muscle cramps

Nausea

Pale skin

Profuse sweating

Rapid heartbeat

Craving salt

Confusion

Convulsions

Fatigue

Headache

Irritability

Loss of appetite

Muscle spasms or cramps

Muscle weakness

Nausea

Restlessness

vomiting

treatment Get out of the sun

Walk or stop

Drink water

Get out of the sun

Place ice on neck and groin

Get in cold water

Take to hospital if no improvement

Get out of the sun

Place ice on neck and groin

Get in cold water

Walk or stop

Electrolytes

Salty food or S-caps

No water

Take to hospital if no improvement

 

Good advice whenever you are running an ultra is be prepared for anything and take care of problems as early as possible. If your stomach starts to act up or you have a hot spot, it’s probably not going to get better in 20 more miles. It’s going to get worse, so you need to do something about it as early as you can.

My team keeps a cooler in the van full of ice and giant sponges. We use them to cool off runners during the heat. Other teams use spray bottles, squirt guns, and fertilizer spray jugs. I have found that the sponge seems to work the best and keeps the runner cool the longest. They do end up soaking wet by the end of their run. For runners who get blisters with wet feet this can be an issue so a lubricant like hydropel, which is waterproof, would be a good idea as well as lots of extra socks. The ice-cold water squeezed above the runner’s head can be shockingly refreshing, as noted by the sharp inhale of breath and the “oh my god!” reactions.

 

Training for a relay race requires you to run three times in one 24-hour period. Your body responds differently under these conditions. It is just smart to know how exactly your body responds so you can be ready for it, and you know if what you are experiencing is due to the multiple runs or some other issue or injury. Many people think, “Oh, I can run three miles,” the length of one leg.  Rather than “Oh I can run 10 miles,” the total of all three legs.  The final leg for each runner is more like the last six miles of a marathon than just another three miler because you haven’t eaten well, you haven’t slept well, you may be dehydrated, and you are probably sore and tight. Keep in mind that your first run affects your second run and runs one and two will affect run three. They are too close together to not affect each other.   There is not quite enough time in between each leg to recover. Recovery takes eight hours or more of good down time. Think in total miles, not single legs. If you do, you will be prepared for this run.

 

Locating your runner in the dark is a bit of a challenge because everyone is required to wear a headlamp, reflective vest, and tail light. I add glow sticks to my runners, usually through their shoelaces

Stomach issues are common among ultrarunners. Keeping various options on hand to address stomach problems is essential for any ultra. Pepto-Bismol, ginger chews, tums, and ginger ale are all good options.

A relay is great for first time ultra because you have your crew right there to provide aid, encouragement, and anything else you may need along the way.

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