I’ve done two Ragnar Trail races (both at McDowell Mountain in AZ) and one road (Southern California). I resisted road for a long time, and after having done both, I can say that I prefer trail. Which one is the relay experience for you?
The two most obvious differences are that you run on road vs. trail, and hang out in a van vs camp. That right there may lead you to choosing one over the other.
Road Ragnar races are point to point—you start in one location (Huntington Beach for SoCal) and run, relay-style, to another location (San Diego). The team consists of 12 people and the race is set up so that you have 36 legs—three for each runner. They can vary immensely in elevation gain, number of stoplights you run through, distance, etc. Generally you have 6 people in one van and 6 in another. Van 1 will drop off Runner 1, who will run the first leg. Van 1 then goes to the first exchange to pick up Runner 1 and drop off Runner 2. This continues on through Runner 6, at which point you meet up with Van 2, who drops off their runner to do leg 7. This means that each van does get a break, and Van 2 doesn’t have to be around when Van 1 starts. It also means that you may end up spending a lot of time in the van. With some of our legs, we had time to get food, drop off runners at the hotel, etc. The second and third sets of legs were mostly short so we only had time to drop off a runner and then head to the exchange to pick her up. The beauty of Ragnar Road is that your team conquers 200 miles of that area and gets to enjoy the sights! My third leg was the best–I started and ended on the beach and had beautiful scenery the whole way.
Trail Ragnar races involve loops. Each team consists of 8 runners and the race is set up so you have 24 legs/loops. Each runner takes a turn running the same three loops, totaling approximately 15 miles. Runner 1 does loop A, then hands off to Runner 2 who does loop B. Runner 3 then does loop C, and runner 4 loop A. This continues on through the night until all 8 members of a team have run all 3 loops. While a runner is out, the others can remain at their campsite, walk around and visit other teams, and visit Ragnar Village, which is always open and has games, charging stations, vendors, a Ragnar gear store, and other things to do and see.
In case you’re wondering, both involve lots of porta potties! The exchanges for the road relay are often at schools, churches, and other community buildings, and rather than traipsing in and out of the building, runners use porta potties set up outside. For trail, there is of course an area with a ton of porta potties. And no, there are no showers and no sinks, at least, not in AZ.
Keep in mind that each location is a bit different. I’m told that Ragnar Del Sol (in AZ) doesn’t have as many stoplights as the one in SoCal. Many or most trail Ragnar relays allow you to choose a campsite, rather than assigning specific spots as McDowell does. Climate, terrain, altitude, etc. all vary as well and are definitely things to consider.
After my experience doing Ragnar SoCal, I decided that I prefer trail for a variety of reasons. First, I didn’t like being tethered to the van. If a team member needs to use the restroom, everyone literally has to go along for the ride. At trail you can wander off whenever you want and don’t have to drag everyone along when nature calls. Moving the van to meet the runners was a lot of work at times, especially if you hit traffic congestion and that can be added stress. And finally, I do generally prefer trail to road, and I honestly felt safer running amongst rattlesnakes, coyotes, and other wildlife as compared to my nighttime jaunt through sort of a shady area of town.
Ragnar Relays are amazing and I absolutely recommend trying one! Have you done a Ragnar Road or Trail race? After reading this, which would be your first choice?