Planning a Relay Race – What I Learned During My First Time As Team Captain

Ragnar Relay Exchange 6

I’ve participated in a lot of relay races – Ragnar (Northwest Passage and Vegas), Barrel to Keg, Hood to Coast, Cascade Lakes – but always as a team member. This year I was nominated to be team captain for the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I spent a lot of time browsing the internet for tips and ideas of how to captain a team but I still felt like I was going into it blindly. So, I’ve decided to compile all of the information I learned during my experience as a first time captain they help everyone else out.

Finding a Team:
This started out as being the most daunting task I had. I started by asking the teammates I knew raced in my team before. This got me to four team members, including myself. I needed to find eight more people to be on the team. I asked friends and other people I ran with, but had no luck. As a result, I set out to find them online. I started by going to the Ragnar Northwest Passage Facebook page and started reading all the comments. I found a couple of people looking to join teams so I sent them private messages. I emphasized that our team was about having fun and not about winning or about how fast you run. I also put out a post on the Facebook page that I was looking for additional teammates. I also posted on the local running group website that I was looking for teammates. From those efforts I found two additional teammates – one from Seattle and one from Iowa. Now I was up to six people, leaving six spots to fill. I asked my current teammates to start asking around. One of the teammates ran with a group last year in Vegas and was able to convince three of his past teammates to join our team. One person convinced their boyfriend to run, another convinced a friend, and another asked one of their Instagram friends who they had never met to join. I finally filled my team but I only personally knew three people on the team. This should be interesting, I thought. Especially since I now had people on the team from Seattle, Portland, Southern California, Vegas, Utah, Texas, Florida and Iowa. There was so much to coordinate and only one person was local to the race.

Ninjas with Attitude

Collecting Payment:
One of the biggest challenges I have heard from past team captains is collecting money for the race from the runners. Team captains are always complaining how much money they are out because people never paid them. To solve this problem I started a Paypal account to accept team funds. Because the cost of registration goes up the closer you get to the race I decided to collect an amount that reflected late registration incase I didn’t fill the team in time. I told all the people who said they wanted to run on my team that they needed to pay their portion of the registration fee ($120) within a month to secure their spot on the team. Most paid right away, but there were a few stragglers. I started posting how many vacancies were on our team and quickly after that the remaining people paid to secure their spot. I ended up collecting all of the registration fees by January for the race which took place in July. I was able to get in on the early registration price and only spent $105 per person on registration fees.

Collecting the Second Payment:
After I collected the money for registration I needed to collect the money for all the other expenses. I have heard the stories about team captains paying for everything and then trying to get the money back later and they never end well. I decided to estimate all of our expenses, round up, and required that a second fee be collected by all of the runners. I asked that the second fee be paid 2 months prior to the race, that way if someone wasn’t going to pay I still had time to find a replacement. I estimated that the cost of the van, the hotel Thursday and Saturday, the team food, gas and volunteer gifts would cost each runner $75. This made the overall cost for the race $195 per person for 4 days.

Because my team was comprised of so many people who didn’t know each other I decided to start a Facebook group for all of the teammates. I’ve had past teams that do Facebook messages, but I found that messages notify people every time anyone in the group comments. Not only is it annoying but eventually people leave the message thread and miss out on the important stuff. Also, finding important information in a message feed was hard to do. So, the group thing seemed like the best way to go. The group was quiet at first but I started posting pictures of past Ragnar Relay races and people started to chime in more. After a month or two the Facebook page became very active. It was used for transportation logistics, planning out the legs and the vans, coordinate luggage and van logistics, planning the food, and pre-race inside jokes. By the time the race started I really felt like I knew everyone on my team, although I had never actually met most of them in person. I knew personalities already and who seemed to be able to take a joke and who I should refrain from saying the ‘yo’ momma’ jokes in front of. We also used the Facebook group page during the run for status updates. Typically in the past one person will try to text someone from the other van to give them an update but either their phone died, it was plugged in or they just weren’t looking at it and they would miss our message. With the group page once an update was posted as to where our van runner was at it sent a message to everyone. We never missed an exchange and we very clearly knew where everyone was at all times.

Assigning Legs:
I thought this part of being the team caption was going to be hard. Everyone has their favorite legs they want to run, the van they want to be in, and the people they want to run with. It seemed like a challenge to make everyone happy, but I tried. I started out by creating summaries of each of the legs which showed the elevation maps, the course route, and the total distances and uploaded them into the group documents tab on our Facebook group page. Everyone was told to look over all of the legs and pick their top three choices and also to send me their 10k pace. A couple of people said they didn’t care what legs they ran, which was very helpful for assigning spots. Another couple of people sent me requests of other runners they wanted in be in the same van with. I created a spreadsheet with all of the leg distances and then started plugging in people’s requested legs until I found a combination that made the run times for van 1 and van 2 as close as possible. I heard horror stories about all the fast people being in one van and all of the slower people being in another van and the slower van only has 2 or 3 hours between runs and the faster van has 6 or 7 hours between runs. The goal is always to make the run times for the vans as equal as possible. Once I finalized the legs I posted them on the group Facebook page and braced myself for feedback. Luckily, I made everyone happy and didn’t hear a single complaint or request to change. Yay!!

With Ragnar you need to have three volunteers unless everyone in your van lives more than 100 miles from the course. If you can’t find three volunteers your team can pay a fee of $120 per volunteer. Since my goal was to keep costs down and since we had one person in our team from Seattle we needed to find volunteers. Our Seattle runner posted on her Facebook page that we needed volunteers and offered to buy them a gift card for their favorite restaurant in exchange for helping. She got three confirmed volunteers right away. I was a little surprised at how fast she secured the volunteers, but was very grateful. We bought each of the volunteers a $30 gift card to their favorite restaurant, which only ended up being $7.50 per person for the volunteer gifts. We made sure to find the runners during the race and make them feel extra special for helping us out.

We went back and forth as a team about the vans. We toyed with the idea of renting one 15 passenger van and only using one van the entire race instead of the typical two van scenario. It seemed that it wouldn’t save us that much money and logistically it seemed complicated so we went with two vans (if you have experience only using one van please let me know how it went). Since only one person was local we didn’t have the option to use friends and family vans so we had to rent vans. In the past we have always rented the vans from the airport and had someone who flew into the SeaTac Airport pick up the van when they landed. I decided to look around to make sure we were getting the best deal and I found that renting a van from one of the non-airport rental companies would save about $120 per van. I heard that buying the rental car insurance was an unneeded expense since most credit card companies cover the insurance on rental cars. I decided to call my credit card company to confirm this and they agreed that we would be covered and that I did not need to buy the rental car insurance. I found two four-day minivan rentals at Enterprise for $230 including tax each which ended up only costing each runner $39 for transportation.

Getting the runners all in one place:
I had everyone send me their flight schedule a couple of weeks before the race so that I could plan pickup logistics. Most of the runners arrived Thursday in Seattle and stayed until Sunday. I drove to Seattle Wednesday night and stayed with the runner that lived in Seattle. On Thursday morning we picked up the vans and then picked up one runner that landed in Seattle at 8:30am. The rest of the runners landed between noon and 4pm so we went back to the house and got items ready for the trip. At noon we waited in the cell phone waiting area for the first runner. One of us took the van to get the new arrival while everyone else hung out in the cell phone waiting area. We did this over and over until all the runners were picked up. This was a great opportunity for pre-race team bonding. Once we had all the runners picked up we headed back the house to drop off our non-running related items.

Thursday night we headed up north to Bellingham, Washington. Although the race starts in Blaine, Washington those hotels are expensive and sell out fast so we stayed in a nearby town. We got three hotel rooms and put four people to a room. The hotel room for Thursday night cost each runner $21. We needed lodging for after the race since everyone was staying an extra night. I looked around at different options on where to stay and most hotels were far too expensive. Downtown hotels would cost $80-$200 per person which was outside of our budget. I started looking into renting a house in the area so that we could all stay together but most of those had a minimum number of days required to stay. We ended up staying at a house of the Seattle native’s runner’s family member which worked out perfect for us. We were able to keep everyone in one location and saved on costs. If we didn’t have the luxury of a nearby family member we probably would have chosen a cheap hotel in one of the towns just outside of Seattle. I decided that I would include the Thursday night and Saturday night lodging expenses as an overall expense for the team and not on an as-used basis. We have had times in the past where people would change their minds last-minute and stay somewhere else and not pay for their portion of the lodging. This increases the price for everyone else, sometimes making it really expensive since all the rooms are reserved, and typically the cost ends up back on the team captain. Since we included the lodging fee in the overall costs people weren’t concerned about the price of staying or about prices changing once they got there.

Pre-race Dinner:
It’s always a tradition for our team to go out for a pre-race dinner. Typically we go to Olive Garden near the start of the race to load up on carbs. I would suggest that all teams have a pre-race dinner as a great way to introduce the team members and to help create unity between the two vans.

Van Decorations / Costumes:
Our team name is the Ninja’s with Attitude so I set out to find team ninja outfits, on a budget. I ended up finding all of our supplies at the dollar store. I spent $3 per person for our costumes. We got some of the window markers and decorated the van at the hotel Thursday night with ninja sayings. One of runners has a friend that makes vinyl car decals so we covered the car in vinyl ninja decals for some added décor. Just remember that whatever goes onto your rental car must be taken off. We typically do this after the race while waiting for the ferry back to Seattle.

I’ve seen the team food done a couple of ways. We’ve tried it before where everyone brings what they want to eat and no one shares food, but this ended up with too much extra food in the van. We started out doing team food a couple of years ago and it has worked out really good. I sent out a basic food list on our Facebook group page and asked for any must-have foods that anyone else would like. We ended up with tortillas, bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, lunch meat, pretzels, gummy bears, laffy taffys, pop tarts, bananas, rice crispy treats, and crackers. I went to Costco on Wednesday night and loaded up on most of the items. A couple of the items on the list were cheaper elsewhere so I went to Winco for the remaining items. I also got each van a case of water, a case of Gatorade, and a case of chocolate milk. We spent $100 on food, averaging $8.33 per person. During the race we stopped twice at restaurants for a hot meal.

Van Captains:
I was the team captain for van 2, and I had assigned another person to be van captain for van 1. This worked out really well as there was always someone in charge to make all the final decisions. There was someone who always knew what was going on and someone to make sure everyone was on track. I would suggest that all teams do this.

For gas I estimated $75 per van. I gave each van captain the money and any additional gas that was used was collected at the end of the race. It ended up only being about $5 per person that we were short in our estimation.

Having Fun:
The key to a good relay race is to have fun. People will look back and remember the good times they had, the jokes they played on each other, the memories they made and not how well they scored in the race. Just remember to always have fun and let the little things go. Things will always come up that are out of your control – just go with it. Think about how to solve problems fast when they arise, and not about placing blame. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Laugh often. Pull practical jokes. There’s nothing better than a mix of six over-run, sleep deprived, stinky runners that are to the point where everything becomes hilariously funny. Embrace these moments. Take lots of photos. The 30+/- hours your team will spend together will go by too fast and you will wish you could do it again almost immediately after it’s over. Spend 30 hours in a van with people during a relay race and your set to make friends for life.

%d bloggers like this: