Ditch the Van, and Pitch a Tent: Ragnar Road v. Ragnar Trail

Having run both types of Ragnar relays, I thought it would be fun to do a compare/contrast of the two.

The short and sweet:

Take a Ragnar Road Relay… Swap the pavement for dirt, vans for tents, a team of 12 for a team of 8, and transition areas for Ragnar Village….. and you have a Ragnar Trail.

The nitty gritty:

A regular Ragnar Relay consists of a team of twelve (or 6 for ultra’s) that traditionally travels in two vans. Conversely, a Ragnar Trail consists of a team of eight (or 4 for ultra’s) and everyone camps in tents at a central location during the event. DSCN2426


Ragnar relay is a point to point course, and utilizes exchange points to transition from one runner to the next. Every runner on the team has his/her own bib (all with the same team number) and a slap bracelet is used as a relay baton. Each runner has his/her own set of legs, and the total distance covered by an individual runner varies.

Exchange Point
Exchange Point
Passing the slap bracelet.
Passing the slap bracelet.
2014 DC Ragnar Relay: Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC.

A Ragnar Trail relay takes place in one central location, and one main transition area (“Ragnar Village”) is used to transition from one runner to the next. Each relay team has one bib on a belt that is passed from one runner to the next. A colored slap bracelet is used to indicate which loop the current runner is running. Runners start and end each leg in the same transition area and everyone runs the same set of three legs and the same total distance.

Transition Area at Ragnar Village
Transition Area at Ragnar Village
2015 Ragnar Trail Appalachians – central start/finish with three loops

A Ragnar Road relay requires nighttime safety gear (reflective vest, blinking light, headlamp). There are also a lot of rules about getting in/out of the van and having a reflective vest on at all times during certain overnight hours. Nighttime runs are also the only time a runner is allowed to have a pacer with him/her. A Ragnar Trail relay only requires a headlamp. Runners are also allowed to have one pacer running with them at any time during the event (in our case, my team buddied up with another team and we stuck together the whole time).

Ragnar DC nighttime gear; Photo credit: Bill (I think….?)
Pre-3 AM nighttime run, rockin’ the headlamp at Ragnar DC
Runners with headlamps in transition area at Ragnar Trail
Runners with headlamps in transition area at Ragnar Trail

At a Ragnar Road relay, you may get wet, if it rains. At a Ragnar Trail relay, you will definitely get wet and most likely will get extremely muddy as well! When you take your rain-soaked self back home, bear in mind that the Ragnar road relay has TSA-approved medals, while the Ragnar Trail does not. In keeping with the camping theme, the Ragnar Trail relay has a finisher’s medal that doubles as a multiuse tool.

Ragnar DC in the pouring rain
Ragnar DC in the pouring rain
Ragnar Trail Appalachians Ragnar Relay Trails WV
Ragnar Trail: All the mud. Photo credit: Debbie


You can expect to get a minimal amount of sleep at both relay events. That is just the way it goes at a Ragnar! Both events involve running in the dark in the middle of the night. Both have safety rules associated with the event, although I felt the road relay was stricter. And of course, both relays were a blast and definitely bucket list running experiences!

Ragnar Road DC
Ragnar Road DC
Ragnar Trail Appalachians
Ragnar Trail Appalachians

Having done both, which did I like better?

Overall, my favorite was our Ragnar road relay. I expected to like the trail one more, with the trails and camping and all. But a big reason for my preference for the road relay is the weather conditions we faced at the trail version. I know weather is something that is completely out of the race organizer’s control, but it still has an effect on your experience. Plus we also had two separate downpours during our road relay, so I feel it’s still somewhat fair to compare the two, taking into consideration the weather. However, I am more likely to give another Ragnar Trail a try before I would sign up for another road relay!

Which would you like better: road or trail?
Have you ever run a relay? What type was it?
For those who have done both: What did I miss!?

10 thoughts on “Ditch the Van, and Pitch a Tent: Ragnar Road v. Ragnar Trail”

  1. I am so glad you did this comparison, and you did such a nice job! You should send it to Ragnar. They might share it on their blog.

    The only thing that I can think of that you missed is that road prohibits alcohol, and trail sells beer in the village.

    I “think” that had weather conditions been perfect for both events, I would have preferred the trail relay because of the beauty of the area. Considering that I’m on another Ragnar Relay DC team, and have committed to running Ragnar Trail Richmond next spring, I guess I’m giving them both another try! 🙂

    1. Thanks for pointing out the alcohol. I forgot that Ragnar road specifically prohibited it (although they did sell it at the finish line), but that Ragnar trial didn’t really care what you may have had at your campsite (in addition to selling it in the village area). Good point!

      Can’t wait for Richmond!!! Maybe both this year’s DC Road and next year’s Richmond Trail will have great weather, and you can get an even comparison.

  2. A great comparison! I’ve never done a relay. I would think the camaraderie would be higher at the trail race with the village setup and the sleeping conditions better in a tent than in a van. You definitely need to try the trail race again in better weather conditions! Either one would be a fun adventure for me!

    1. I agree, there was definitely more time to just sit around at the campsite and talk to people/get to know them. But I also felt like we had a lot of camaraderie in the van at the road relay – the difference was you only really got to hang with half of your team.

  3. They both sound pretty miserable to me! I love a good hot shower and my BED. LOL But you are a tough cookie so clearly you excel at both!

    1. Haha, well that wasn’t the point of the post! 😉 I love a good hot shower and my bed, too, but I don’t mind to trade them for an adventure like Ragnar every now and then.

What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s