Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Cindy Kuzma
Most of the time, running is an individual sport. But the increasing popularity of relay races means more runners are learning how to get into that team spirit. Half-marathons and marathons often offer a relay option in which participants typically run one leg of three to seven miles. Relay-specific single-day or overnight events, like the nationwide series of Ragnar relays, require runners to trade off multiple legs of varying lengths, anywhere from three to 16 miles. Everyone wins: Newbies get to take part in longer events and experience the camaraderie and support of running with friends and/or family; and seasoned runners who do multiple legs fortify themselves for solo efforts. “The mental toughness you need in order to complete a relay—and the fact that it teaches you to run on tired legs—is invaluable for long endurance races,” says Benny Garcia, M.S., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and running coach in Chicago. “And you have not only the pressure but also the support of your teammates to get you through it.” Here’s how to tackle training for a relay so that you can run strong and also have fun.
Target the Long Leg
How far will you run on your longest relay segment? If it’s 10 miles or less, build your long run mileage until you’re covering that distance. If the leg is longer than 10 miles, your longest long run should be 75 percent of that distance—so if your race leg is 16 miles, run 12, says Jessica Green, cofounder and coach at Hot Bird Running in Portland, Oregon. Do two long runs at that target distance, completing your final long run about two weeks out from race day.
If you’re entering an event that will require you to run more than once, you’ll have to get used to running with little rest, says Garcia. “In these races, it’s not the distance that’s challenging,” he says. Decrease the time between workouts to mimic the short recoveries. If you currently run three or four times per week with complete rest or cross-training days in between, start by running two days in a row. If you already run on back-to-back days, amp it up by doing, say, an evening run on Tuesday followed by a morning run on Wednesday. On three consecutive Saturdays, aim to run two-a-days. “Beginning five weeks out from the race, run once in the morning and once in the evening so you experience having to get yourself going again on the same day,” says Leslie Keener, market development manager for Ragnar and a former Ragnar race director. Run easy during both of these sessions, or pick it up in the second to experience what it’s like to push without full recovery.
In longer events, one of your segments will likely fall at night or early morning. Most race organizers require runners to use a reflective vest and a headlamp or a flashlight. If it’s safe, do some runs in the dark that are the same distance as your night leg so you can adjust to limited visibility and test the fit of your equipment, Keener says. Incorporate the same terrain you’ll see during the event into your training runs—if you’ll be running a lot of hills, be sure to train on uphills and downhills to get used to the pounding.
Set Your Pace
Before the race, discuss with your teammates whether your team is in it to win it or just out to have a good time, Keener recommends. Even if you don’t plan on all-out racing, most runners end up completing their legs at a comfortably hard pace that falls somewhere between their half-marathon and 10-K paces, she says. If you’re aiming for a time goal, spend one or two days per week working on speed. Even if you’re just aiming to finish the race, practicing a faster pace for a mile or two during either the first or second of your two-a-day or back-to-back training runs will leave you better prepared for the event.