What is a Ragnar Relay?

Choose Your First Relay Race and Be Prepared

Trail running tahoe

Kai-Otto Melau / Getty Images

With the tag line, “We never said it would be easy, we only said it would be unforgettable,” the ever-growing Ragnar relay races and events take place across the globe on both city roads and scenic trails. Ragnar teams gather their running gear, snacks, and optimism to trek miles through cities, forests, and oceanic boardwalks one fast step at a time.

History of Ragnar

Started in 2004 in Utah, founder Steve Hill and his son, Dan, and Dan’s college roommate, Tanner Bell, created the first Wasatch Back relay, traversing 188 miles from Logan to Park City, Utah. This relatively small relay grew rapidly and has since expanded to races across the globe with thousands of participants.

Named Ragnar after a free-spirited, fearless king and hero of early ninth-century Scandinavia, the founders felt King Ragnar embodied the spirit of runners all competing toward a common goal: finishing a wild and challenging relay race.

What is Road Ragnar?

Participants can choose to run road Ragnars, similar in terrain to what you’d experience at standard city marathons—although part of the total mileage occurs on bike paths and sidewalks for safety purposes.

Because Ragnar race officials don’t close down city roads, they stagger start times so hundreds of runners aren’t taking to the streets/sidewalks at the same minute, wreaking havoc on traffic (this also protects participants). Runners often run on sidewalks and must always obey traffic rules, such as minding crosswalk signs and avoiding jaywalking.

In a typical road Ragnar, teams of 12 runners wind through 200 miles in a relay format. Each leg of this 200-mile relay can range from two miles to 10+ miles, and runners should choose their legs appropriately. (More advanced runners might want to choose longer legs, depending on their endurance and training.)

Runners who would prefer to complete greater mileage can form an ultra team of six members who complete double the mileage instead.

The relay starts in the morning, runs through the night and into the next day. Depending on your leg, you could run at midnight or 4 a.m., making sleep possibly non-existent throughout the entire relay.

Relay teams often rent two vans (six people in each van) for driving, as you need to meet each runner at every stopping point to pass your relay bracelet (or whatever Ragnar marker the active team member is wearing). This means also driving 200 miles in addition to all the running. Participants should feel prepared for this and make plans appropriately, as drivers will need sleep to stay awake at the wheel.

If you can sleep, you'll need to do so in the van, on grassy fields, and in parking lots at stopping points throughout the relay.

In a road Ragnar, each teammate runs three separate legs for a total of 11 to 24 miles, with plenty of downtime in between each leg. This gives you ample time to develop camaraderie with your own team and with other relay teams.

At the end of the relay, all 12 members run together through an orange arch as they cross the finish line.

Road Ragnars take place all over the country, and also in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and South Africa. In the U.S. you'll find multiple races in the midwest, northeast, south, and in the mountain regions. The Ragnar website provides the most current list of locations and course information.

Teams compete in similar classifications and divisions:

Classifications:

  • Men: 7-12 men
  • Women: All women
  • Mixed: 6 or more women

Divisions:

  • Open: All are under 40 years old
  • Masters: All are over 40 years old
  • Corporate: For team bonding with your co-workers, you can register as a corporate team if 50 percent of the participants are from the same company
  • Military/Public Service: 50 percent of your team must be service persons
  • High school: Young people can participate in a Ragnar if ages 12-18 and are in a mixed-race classification
  • Wildcard: Your team wants to opt-out of competing for time and run for fun only

What is a Trail Ragnar?

You can take your running off congested city streets and onto peaceful, winding trails throughout a number of picturesque backwoods in a trail Ragnar. These races offer you forest, mountain, and valley views with no sound but your feet hitting the dirt on the ground.

Unlike the more crowded road Ragnars, trail Ragnars include teams of eight (rather than 12) who pass through 120 miles in three repeating loops. For those who desire a serious challenge, you can form an ultra team of four runners and double your mileage.

Runners sleep in temporary tent cities called “Ragnar Village." For anyone who despises traditional camping, you can reserve an exclusive “glampsite” where you receive pre-prepared tents (no need to deal with those tricky tent sticks), coolers full of ice for a refreshing cold beverage after your run, and a concierge service. 

In the trail Ragnar, each teammate completes each race loop one time, with green, yellow, and red colors on your bib to display what loop you are running. The total mileage is approximately 15 per runner. You should also train for elevation.

Trail Ragnars take place in the following locations:

  • Tahoe: Sugar Bowl Resort, Norden, California
  • So Cal: Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, California
  • New Jersey: Wawayanda State Park, New Jersey
  • Cape Town: Elgin Grabow Country Club
  • Rainier: Crystal Mountain Ski Resort
  • Appalachians: Big Bear Lake Camplands

If your team is of the competitive nature, you can change your classification and division to compete against runners of similar age.

Classifications:

  • Men: 4-6 men
  • Women: All women
  • Mixed: 3 or more women

Divisions:

  • Open: One or more is under 40 years old
  • Masters: All are over 40 years old
  • Corporate: For team bonding with your co-workers, you can register as a corporate team if 50 percent of the participants are from the same company
  • Military/Public Service: 50 percent of your team must be service persons
  • High school: Young people can participate in a Ragnar if ages 12-18 and are in a mixed-race classification
  • Wildcard: Your team wants to opt-out of competing for time and run for fun only

What is Sunset Ragnar?

If you don’t feel like running through the night and camping out, Ragnar also makes a smaller length relay race available called Sunset Ranger. In this option, teams of four run a relay in an effort to beat the sun setting. Running about the length of a traditional marathon in only one evening (approximately 26 miles), one runner finishes a single loop before the next team member starts. You all work toward crossing the finish line before the night grows dark.

For the well-trained endurance athlete, you can join one friend and run double the mileage—about the length of a half marathon in one night. The race also comes with an added bonus: a “during-” and after-party. As dinnertime rolls around, food trucks keep runners and spectators satiated, and live music keeps everyone entertained. After your team finishes, you can all jam out together and celebrate your accomplishment.

Sunset races take place in the following locations:

  • Santa Clarita: Central Park, Santa Clarita, California
  • Colorado: Winterpark, Colorado
  • Miami: Historic Virginia Key Beach, Florida
  • Twin Cities Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, Rockford, Minnesota
  • Lake Las Vegas, Lake Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Cincinnati: Sawyer Point, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Salt Lake City: This is the Place Heritage Park, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Nova: Lake Fairfax Park, Reston, Virginia
  • Seattle: Lake Sammamish State Park, Seattle, Washington

Classifications:

  • Men: 3-4 men
  • Women: 4 women
  • Mixed: 1 or 2 men

Divisions:

  • Open: One or more is under 40 years old
  • Masters: All are over 40 years old

Gear Needed

Depending on which Ragnar you choose, you will need specific gear to complete the full race.

Road Ragnar

You should pack the following equipment and apparel for a Road Ragnar. As always, test out your apparel/gear in training to make sure they work for you. You shouldn’t try experimenting with nutrition and apparel on Ragnar race day.

  • Proper running shoes
  • Snacks for the long drives and energy to run, such as nuts, energy gels, sports drinks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, and digestible fruits like pears, plums, oranges, and bananas
  • Three changes of running clothes for each leg. Depending on where you run, the temperature can drop at night. You should bring a waterproof running jacket and long running pants.
  • Three changes of socks
  • A headlamp
  • Reflective gear. Ragnar requires every participant to show they have a reflective vest before starting the race.
  • A watch/Garmin to monitor your time and distance.
  • Your smartphone to help you get to the different stopping points throughout the relay. Ragnar also provides instructions.
  • Music for the car ride
  • For road Ragnars, you have the ability to head to restaurants and stop at gas stations for snacks and water. You should bring extra cash or an ATM card for additional expenses.

Trail Ragnar

You should follow the gear for road Ragnars, but also consider the special needs of trail running, such as the following:

  • Because trails can get quite muddy, you might want to consider bringing gators to cover up your socks and long running pants from extra mud and puddles. You also might want to bring along an extra pair of shoes. You don’t need trail running shoes. Your regular running shoes will do, but you can use trail shoes if you’re accustomed to them.
  • You also must bring enough food to last for the entire race as you might be too far from civilization to purchase extra supplies. Bring more than you think you need.

Sunset Ragnar

Because this race remains relatively short and takes place only at night, you should bring your running shoes, nutrition (gels, sports drink), and a change of clothes if you want to party after.

Why Participate in Ragnar Relays?

Most people complete Ragnar relays to feel a sense of community with other runners, to accomplish a challenging goal and for the opportunity to run somewhere scenic and perhaps new to you. In addition, scientific-backed research shows why you should consider such an engaging and inspiring experience.

In a December 2016 study from Scientific Reports, researchers found that when you work out with others, you have more exercise adherence, self-esteem, and social capital.

Spending time with like-minded people, such as with a Ragnar relay, will help you achieve a running goal, according to the American Heart Association. If you want to run a race but a marathon seems daunting, a Ragnar can be a healthy way to start for its social aspect, rather than spending 26.2 miles running alone.

For a trail Ragnar, you can run in nature and have a greater sense of safety because you're in a race with other runners around. A January 2013 review published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine found that exercise occurring in a natural, green setting is perceived as actually easier than in other settings.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kanamori S, Takamiya T, Inoue S, Kai Y, Kawachi I, Kondo K. Exercising alone versus with others and associations with subjective health status in older Japanese: The JAGES Cohort Study. Sci Rep. 2016;6:39151.

  2. Gladwell VF, Brown DK, Wood C, Sandercock GR, Barton JL. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extrem Physiol Med. 2013;2(1):3.

Additional Reading
  • American Heart Association. Don't Work Out Alone - Fitness Peer Support. Updated April 18, 2018.

  • Gladwell VF, Brown D, Wood C, et al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extrem Physiol Med. 2013; 2: 3. doi: 10.1186/2046-7648-2-3

  • Kanamori A, Takamiya T, Inoue S, et al. Exercising alone versus with others and associations with subjective health status in older Japanese: The JAGES Cohort Study. Sci Rep. 2016; 6: 39151. doi: 10.1038/srep39151

  • Ragnar. Runragnar.com