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Plan Your Own DIY Relay Race
Seven runners from Team Unangenehm ran a 380 km relay from Berlin to Hamburg. Here they share what they learned and give you some tips on planning your own DIY relay race.
Midday heat, 38 degrees celsius - we're running. Sunset, 29 degrees celsius - we're running. Absolute darkness at 3 a.m. - we're running. What sounds like a military drill was actually our idea of fun – a 33-hour, 7-person relay run from Berlin to Hamburg covering 380 km. Oh, and it just happened to fall on the hottest weekend of the year. Sounds crazy, and it was! But, with races on hold and the summer on the brink of fading into winter in the Northern Hemisphere we were looking for a way to push ourselves and recreate that race day magic, banter and all! Here we’re sharing our advice to help you set up your own relay challenge with your friends or local running club. And it doesn't have to be a long distance adventure like ours to be just as fun!
Tip # 1: Dial in your route
Let's start with the route. To make planning easier, we used the Berlin to Hamburg long-distance cycle route as orientation. We divided the route into 42 sections, 6 per runner with distances between 5 km and 16 km – making a total distance between 45 km and 62 km per runner. The format was simple: one person runs, everyone else drives in the van from handover point to handover point.
The individual sections of the route should be planned carefully beforehand. It is best for every runner to have all the sections on their watch or smartphone – you can use the Strava route planner to map out your route.
Tip #2: Hydrate (even if it’s not a heatwave!)
Although we could count on warm weather (which is always nice), we faced a real heat battle with temperatures of up to 38 degrees celsius. We, therefore, topped up our water supply to the maximum and had almost 16 liters per person on board over the weekend.
You can’t have too much water. It is absolutely necessary not only for drinking, but also for refreshing sweaty runners and for cleaning purposes.
Tip # 3: Organize your gear
So that the chaos does not get the upper hand with all the luggage in the van, it is worth packing in advance to save space and be able to test out how everything fits beforehand. Vacuum bags, in which we packed individual sets of running clothes for each section, proved to be big winners. This helps with the constant baggage tetris in the van and keeps the air in the bus reasonably fresh.
Tip # 4: Be your own biggest fans
After the starting shot at 10 a.m. at the Brandenburg Gate, we headed west out of Berlin. With basically zero shade and oppressive heat, the first day brought us all to our limits. In order to keep everyone motivated and to support all runners with fresh water and a short shower, we repeatedly planned small cheering points on the individual sections.
Every runner gets to run through their own mini fan club – these small cheering points not only keep runners motivated but they give everyone who isn’t currently running something to do.
To make sure that we didn’t miss our runners at the cheering points and exchange points, the location of the current runner was shared live with our WhatsApp group via Strava Beacon. In addition, of course, this also increased safety for everyone, as at times we were alone on pitch-dark paths at night. (You could also consider running in pairs through the night portion.)
Shortly after midnight, we reached the Elbe river and had made about half the distance. We celebrated with the flares we normally use at race cheer stations – an absolute highlight that kept everyone excited for the challenge ahead.
Tip # 5: Celebrate at every stage
Visualize the progress of the run and create rituals with which completed sections can be celebrated – especially on the home stretch this really helps everyone dig into their last reserves.
Tip # 6: Relax
Relaxation is essential to keeping spirits high and ensuring nobody gets too run down. Organize a designated place in the van for the most recent runner to relax. We brought along a yoga mat and foam roller as well as the camping stove – they were all clear favorites.
Along the Elbe, we rolled through the rest of the night and, apart from a few sheep, deer, raccoons and martens, were almost the only souls on the route. The sunrise on the dike was one of the other highlights of the weekend and rounded off our night session. Then part 2 of the heat battle followed.
Tip # 7: Schedule in sleep, or drink lots of coffee!
During the night we tried to insert small naps between the sections, but in the end none of us had more than an hour of sleep. The camping stove we brought along, including the Bialetti espresso pot, was a gamechanger and helped us all ward off our tiredness – it was brewing almost continuously during the night.
Tip # 8: Stay safe at night
For running all night long, headlamps, reflective vests and flashing lights belong in everyone's equipment and should be used early on – safety clearly beats style here.
Tip # 9: Eat lots of food
As the night came to an end, two thirds of the route were behind us and temperatures were rising again. We noticed that we were less and less eager to get out the van for our next leg – 260 kilometers had left their mark. In addition to foam rolling and regular stretching, it was now all the more important to replenish our energy stores again and again. Everyone had their own favorites, but peanut butter sandwiches and pasta salads from the cooler were extremely popular with everyone. And of course, salt and electrolyte tablets as well as energy gels were indispensable. But in addition to basic supplies, everyone was thinking of rewarding themselves with little things after the runs: depending on the type of runner, there was everything from mini salamis, Franzbrötchen (a small, sweet pastry baked with butter and cinnamon), pickled cucumbers to fresh watermelon.
A sensible nutritional plan is part of it. But the meals in between have to be a reward instead of a punishment – remember to include small highlights that you can look forward to while you are running.
At around 5 p.m. we passed the Hamburg city limits. The goal – the Hamburg fish market – was in sight and our last reserves were activated. The Spotify playlist had reached the ultimate 90s trash-pop phase and the anticipation for cold beer grew proportionally with every kilometer we got closer to our destination. We sent our final runner Yannick on the last 8 kilometers at 7:14 p.m. with a few fireworks to celebrate. The clock was stopped and we were finally able to sweep the last section of our van.
In the end, 33 hours and 14 minutes was our total time for the almost 380 kilometer journey. That means an average pace of 5:06 min/km (8:12 min/mile) and according to Strava we collectively burned around 33,000 calories, which we happily started to refuel with pizza and beer! The battle against the heat was won and the pride in what had been achieved was worth the sore muscles we had to endure in the days that followed. The plans for the next year are already in full swing and we hope that we were able to give you some motivation and inspiration for your own adventure.