Get Ready for Those Road Relays

By Patti and Warren Finke

So youíre on a relay team! If youíve never run a relay, youíre probably nervous and anxious with questions like" Do I really need to train? When do I have to start? Just how many miles am I really going to run?" If youíre a veteran, your questions may be " what do I need to do to make that last leg easier? How can I get faster overall? How I can beat my friends?"

When pointing toward any race you should determine its specific requirements: How many team members? How long is the relay? How many legs and how long is each of them? The physical training needs are, first and foremost, the endurance to run the distance required, the aility to run up and down hill, the speed to take you to your best performance and, perhaps, the ability to run on a hot or humid July or August day. Psychologically, self-control is the most important need. This includes not running too fast the first leg, knowing the courses of your legs and coping with lots of other runners and cars. It is also important to set a number of race goals that take into account the size of the race, its terrain and potential race conditions.


Any relay will be much more fun, youíll feel better and be more competitive, if youíve trained. A multi leg relay is not the same as running three short races because you do not recover between your runs. It takes specific endurance work to be able to handle 15 or more miles of racing within a 24hour period.

Below are three sets of training schedules to get you ready to complete or to race a relay. The schedules are 16 weeks long, so count back from your event and start accordingly. All three levels will begin with base building. The BEGINNER level will all be base building since the major goal is endurance. The INTERMEDIATE levels will have base building with emphasis on more strength and some speed; while the ADVANCED level will include more specific speed work. If you are an INTERMEDIATE or ADVANCED runner who already has a good base, you can fit into the schedule further down the 16 weeks provided.


You are a beginning runner if you have just started to run, are just running occasionally for fitness and are covering less than 10 miles per week of running or walking. The goal is to increase endurance through increasing mileage. All runs are done at an easy pace. If you are not an experienced runner, pulse rates are the easiest way to gauge pace. (See below for easy run pulse rates). Remember the way to stay healthy during base building is to not worry about speed, to increase mileage slowly and to back off, ice, and rest at any sign of trouble. It might be helpful to do at least a couple of your long runs on your actual relay segments, just so that you know what the course is like! The schedule shows 5 days per week of running; if you want to only run 4 days, omit a Tuesday or Thursday run. Maintaining the progression of the long runs is the key to being able to run all three legs. Splitting a couple of the long runs into two relay leg length runs the same day will help you prepare physically and mentally for the rigors of the event.

Calculating your easy training run heart rate

Your easy run pulse rate should be less than about 185 - your age. So if you are 30 years old it should be below (185 - 30) = 155. This effort should be easy enough that you can carry on a conversation while you are running.

BEGINNER Progression (all runs in miles)

Week	S 	M 	T 	W 	T 	F	S 	Total 
1	2	0 	1 	2 	1	2 	0 	8
2	3	0 	1 	2 	1 	2 	0 	9
3	4	0	1	2	1	2	0 	10
4	5	0	1 	2 	1 	2 	0 	11
5	5	0	1	3	1	2	0	12
6	6	0	1	3	1	3 	0	14
7	7	0	1	3	1	3	0 	15
8	7	0	1	4	1	3	0	16
9	8	0	1	4	1	3	0	17
10	8	0 	1	4 	1	4	0	18
11	9	0	1	4	2	4	0	20
12	10	0	2	4	2	4	0	22
13	5AM	0	2	5	2	5	0	24
14	10	0	2	5	2	5	0	24
15	5AM	5	0	2	2 	5	0	24
16	6	0	2	3	0	RACE DAY!



If you are an intermediate runner, you may have completed a relay before, but it was probably one of the longest races you have done. You most likely run occasional 8 or 10 K races for the enjoyment of finishing and being with your running friends. You run between 10 and 20 miles per week and classify yourself as a recreational runner. Your race goals will call for bettering your previous time, having the strength to race rather than just run the entire distance and running the hills well instead of "surviving" the uphills and dragging to the finish.

The goals of this program are to increase endurance and strength by increasing the overall mileage base and to improve aerobic glycogen metabolism and efficiency by increasing the longest runs to distances beyond race length. A side benefit of this program is that it will put you into good shape if you wish to continue and train for a fall Marathon. Some of the long runs should be done on hilly terrain such as Lief Erickson , Wildwood Trail or Terwilliger. Some speed work at race pace should be done to improve efficiency and prepare your legs so they will recover between your relay segments. This will also help with self-control; you need to know what it feels like to run at race pace so as not to go out too fast. In addition, some double workouts will help you get used to recovering between relay legs.

The key is still increased strength and endurance. Many of the runners from our marathon clinic have trained to this level and run PRís at the Relay without any speed work just because of the increased strength and endurance from the increased mileage base. We have added in some optional pace runs; the rest are run at easy pace, (see easy pace heart rate calculation sidebar).

The pace runs should be run at your goal race pace. (see goal pace side bar) If you plan to do some other races during your Relay training, use them to replace the long run that weekend, or use them in conjunction with a short easy paced run in the evening. Do not attempt to do a long run and a race the same weekend. Allow at least 2 weeks of recovery between any race and the Relay.

INTERMEDIATE Progression (all runs in miles)

Week	S	M	T	W	T	F	S	Total 
1	8	0	2	5	2	5	0	22
2	8	0	2	6	2	6	0 	24
3	9	0	2	6	2	6	0	25
4 	9	0	3	6	3	6	0	27
5	10	0	4	6	3	6	0	29
6	10	0	4	6	4	6	0	30
7	12	0	4	6	4	6	0	32
8	12	0	4	6 	4	6	2 	34
9 	14	0	4	6	4	6	2	36
10	14	0	4	7	4	7	2 	38
11	15	0	4	7	4	7/P	3	37-40
12	15	0	4	7	4	7/P	3	37-40
13	8AM	0	4	7	4	7/P	3	38-40
14	15	0	4	7	4	7/P	3	39-40
15	8AM	0	4	7	4	7/P	3	39-40
16	10	0	4	3	2	RACE DAY!

P = can substitute a Pace Run

Pace Run:
1 mile easy warm up 
n miles at goal race pace 
recovery walk to heart rate(HR) under 110 
n miles at goal race pace
1 mile easy cool down
n = 1 mile first week, add 0.25 miles each week to a total of 2

Example: Pace Run
1 mile easy warm up
2 miles at goal race pace
recovery walk to HR under 110
2 miles at goal race pace 
1 mile easy cool down



You are an advanced runner if you race often, are running over 30 miles a week and routinely race 15k or longer. You are reaching to improve your performances and classify yourself as a competitive runner. Your goals for the Relay will be for a "best" performance, the strength to race the uphills and downhills well and the ability to maintain your speed throughout the event. Your needs will be more specific training to optimize your strength and speed for this particular race.

The goals are to maximize strength and endurance by increasing your mileage base; to optimize aerobic glycogen metabolism utilizing long training runs; and to enhance efficiency with race pace runs. To further optimize efficiency and glycogen metabolism for the Relay, some of the pace runs are done on hills (eg Terwilliger) and some optional speed work on anaerobic threshold will be done to allow quick recovery from uphills and surging or other tactics for racing.

Select a realistic goal pace, (see sidebar). This pace should be used for your pace training speed. You should also set a second goal of maintaining this pace for all your relay legs. This will require that you maintain self-control by not running the first leg all out.

Except for the speed workouts, all runs should be done at an easy pace, (see easy pace heart rate calculation sidebar). You are encouraged to run one or two shorter races (8K, 10K) in the last couple of months to get you psychologically prepared to race. Use these races to replace the long run that weekend, or use them in conjunction with a short easy paced run in the evening. Do not attempt to do a long run and a race the same weekend. Allow at least 2 weeks of recovery between any race and the Relay.

ADVANCED Progression (all runs in miles)

Week	S	M	T	W	T	F	S	Total 
1	10	0	3	6	3	6	2 	30
2	11	0	3	7	3	7	2	33
3	12	0	3	7	3	8	2	35
4	13	0	3	8	3	8	3	38
5	13	0 	4	8	3	8	3	39
6 	14	0	4	8	4	8	3 	41
7	14	0	4	9	4	9	3	43
8	15	0	4	9	4	9	4	44
9	15	0	4	9	4	P	4	40
10	15*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
11	15*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
12	15*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
13	8AM*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
14	15*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
15	8AM*	0	4	9/S	4	P	4	36-40
16	10	0	4	3	2	RACE DAY!

P = Pace runs done at average goal race pace
* = If possible, do these runs on terrain simulating your relay legs

Pace Run:
1 mile easy warm up
n miles at goal race pace 
recovery walk to HR under 110 
n miles at goal race pace
1 mile easy cool down
n = 1 mile first week, add 0.25 miles each week to a
total of 2

Example Pace Run:
1 mile easy warm up
2 miles at goal race pace 
recovery walk to HR under 110
2 miles at goal race pace 
1 mile easy cool down

S = can substitute speed workout

Speed Workout: (to be done on a 400 m track) 
2 miles easy warm up
4 x 100m @ 5K - 10K race pace with 100m jog in between
2 x 200m @ 5K - 10K race pace with 100m jog in between
n x 400m @ 5K - 10K race pace with 200m jog in between
2 miles slow jog cool down 

n = 2 the first week, add 2 x 400 each week to a
maximum of 8 x 400m


Beyond Training

If you have not secured your vans for the big relays months in advance you may wind up having to try to borrow your neighbors' old station wagon. It pays to plan ahead for the relays. This is what separates the good relay teams from the others - organization and planning.

Assigning Relay Legs

Assign your fastest runners to the relay legs that will take the longest to complete whether due to length and/or terrain. In this way you will get the most benefit from their speed. Assign the shorter, easier legs to slower runners or runners who are least fit. Note that often the notions of leg difficulty listed in the race brochure are not those of runners who have done them. Ask experienced relay participants which legs are the toughest.


Although there are lots of anecdotes about runners having personal bests for 5 miles in a relay, runners generally cannot run the event as if it were three 5 mile races. In 1989 runners times on the Hood to Coast relay were compared to their projected race times assuming each effort could be run at an all out race pace. The average Hood to Coast paces were closer to 10-15 mile race paces than 5 mile race paces. In other words, runners were able to average about 95% of their predicted 5 mile race pace. The easy way to figure this is to add between 3 and 4 seconds per minute to your best 8k race pace.

From a physiological standpoint, the time in between legs is inadequate for complete recovery and restoration of energy stores. Studies have shown that complete restoration of muscle glycogen in runnersí legs takes as long as 48 hours.

What is recommended for pacing? Run the first 2 legs using the 3-4 seconds per minute slower than 8k pace. (This is about 5-8 beats/min lower heart rate). Use whatever you have left on the last leg.

Calculating your relay goal pace

For a relay which has 3x5 mile legs, figure your goal pace as 3-4 seconds per minute slower than your best 8k time. For example if you can run a 7 minute pace for 8k figure you can average 7minutes + (3*7seconds-4*7seconds) or 7:21-7:28. If you can run a 5 minute pace for 8k your goal pace for 3x5 mile relay legs would be 5:15-5:20

"No New is Good New"

During the relay is not the time to eat, drink, wear or try anything you have not done in your previous racing or training.


To avoid injury and maximize performance you should always warm up prior to running. This becomes even more important for the 2nd and 3rd leg when you may be stiff from previous runs and riding in your support vehicle.

Allow yourself about 20 minutes to warm up. Start out very slowly walking then jogging for at least 10 minutes. Follow this with 5-10 short runs of 50 yards or so simulating your race pace. Jog 50-100 yards between each of these short runs. If you have the urge to stretch, you should do it at this point when you are well warmed up. Stretching may not be a good idea when you are fatigued (e.g. before the last leg).

Additionally, it is extremely important to do a cool-down after each run to reduce the waste products left your working muscles. These waste products are guaranteed to make you stiff and sore for your next leg if you jump immediately into your vehicle after your run.

To cool down, have your vehicle pick you up a quarter to a half mile down the road from the exchange. In this way, after the hand-off you can continue to jog and then walk before you are picked up.

If anything feels sore or tight after your run, you should ice it immediately for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure your vehicle carries ice, some zip lock bags and ace bandages to hold ice bags in place on your legs.

Between your runs, keep your legs warm and loose. Take advantage of stops to get out and walk around. This will help keep your legs loose. At night you may want warmups or a sleeping bag to insure you are warm enough.


Studies have shown that within the first 2 hours after running, your body will replenish energy stores at nearly twice the rate of restoration after 2 hours. You should concentrate on eating and drinking high glycemic index carbohydrates right after running. High glycemic index foods include things like breads, sweet fruits (raisins, grapes, oranges) and sugared drinks. Good replenishment would be to down a quart of Gatorade and 1 or 2 bagels immediately after your cool down. You should avoid eating or taking sugared drinks within 1 hour prior to running.


Because you will be doing lots of running, walking and talking and potentially will be exposed to warm weather conditions, you must get adequate fluids. You need 6-8oz. Of water for every 15-20 minutes of running and 8-12 glasses of water per day regularly To make sure you get ample fluids, bring your own water bottle and keep it with you at all times when you are not running so you can sip on it. If you donít have to urinate every exchange point or two you are not drinking enough. Remember that this fluid exchange helps flush waste products and speed recovery. Even moderate levels of dehydration have been shown to drastically degrade running performance.

Make sure you carry an adequate supply of fluids in your vehicle to supply all your runners.


If you can fit in regular meals near your normal eating times, do it. You should eat right after you run a leg to provide the food time to settle. Avoid eating large quantities of protein or fat which will not digest well.


Remember that each time you run, you will soak your clothing with sweat. Be sure you bring clothing for all weather, and at least three changes of all the items you will run in. Bring at least 2 pairs of shoes so you will be assured a dry pair to wear between your relay legs. Bring warm-up clothes to wear while you are not running.

Warren and Patti coach runners through Team Oregon and the Portland Marathon Clinic. They have both competed in the Rose City Relay, Seattle to Portland Relay and Hood to Coast. Warren was a member of "Vintage Collection", 5 time Hood to Coast Masters Champions

Team Oregon Running Tips are Copyrighted by wY'east Consulting and Team Oregon which reserve all commercial rights to republication.