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What is a Marathon Relay Race?

What is a marathon relay race

Marathons are the type of competition that may seem like a big commitment. It feels like training for a marathon is similar to getting married. And somehow that isn’t far from the truth, since it’s quite addictive and most runners don’t stop after the first race.
Marathon relays are perfect for people who are somewhere in between and who like to test things before buying them. It’s like when you want to try a new type of pizza, but it’s too large and you don’t want to pay that much for something that you may not like, so you invite a few friends to split the food and the bill with you.

What is a Marathon Relay Race?

A Marathon relay is a race that has the same marathon distance of 26.2 miles but requires at least two runners to participate on a team in the marathon relay. The first of the team members will begin running at the start line, and when they reach a designated point (that the organizers choose), they pass a stick, a bracelet, or another object that contains a tracking microchip, to the next teammate. The last teammate must cross the finish line with the relay baton in hand in order for the team’s marathon relay time to qualify.

The 26.2 miles distance will be split between team members and obtaining a good time will be a team effort. This is why marathon relays are great for team building activities. They are also great for friends who want to have fun and blow off some steam together.

How many runners can be in one team in a marathon relay?

Depending on the race, there could be between 2 and 6 team members in a relay. If you want to participate in a relay you have two options. Talk to your friends and convince them to join you in this fun and intense experience; Find people like you that need a new team member.
The first option might be a bit difficult. If you have been running for a while, you probably already know that there aren’t many of us out there. Most people don’t run and they tend to laugh on the inside when you tell them what you do in order to have time for training.
So, if you have more than one friend who is willing to run a relay with you, you are lucky.
However, you might obtain some volunteers if you offer something in return or dare your friends to obtain a better time than you.
The second option can have many other benefits. There are many groups and forums with passionate runners and by meeting them, training with them, and running a marathon relay race with them, you might establish lifelong friendships.

How many legs (stages) are there in a marathon relay?

The number of laps depends on the number of participants in one team, on the organizers, and sometimes (if the organizer allows it) on the preference of the team members.
The classic relay format, based on a six runners team, has six stages.  Many competitions have kept this format and use it even if the number of runners is smaller.
However, some running competitions are organized differently and you should always check the rules before enrolling in the race.
There are marathon races that are organized by companies for their employees and these may be completely different, with rules that are not even close to the ones you find in a classic race.

Do runners run the same distance in a marathon relay race?

If the race follows the classic format, then the distance of the stages varies and follows this pattern:

  • first leg has 3.106 miles
  • second one has 6.213 miles
  • third leg has 3.106  miles
  • fourth leg has 6.213 miles
  • fifth has 3.106 miles
  • last leg has 4.470 miles

As you can see, the distances are very different and when you decide who is going to run what leg, you will need to pay a lot of attention to what each individual can and cannot do.
A runner can run different legs if the team has fewer members than legs. So, if a team has two team members, each runner will run three legs.
However, the way the runners rotate is up to the organizers and you should consult with them. The best way to achieve this is for all your team members to train together practicing effective communication.
Now, I don’t want to suggest bad behaviors, but some of the best moments to decide who is going to run each leg is at the post-workout carbohydrate loading sessions, because sugar and friends mix well together.

Are there designated baton hand-off points on the marathon course?

Every leg has a designated point where you can exchange the baton. These are also called the relay exchange corral.
There you will need to meet with the teammate who should run next and you should hand them the baton.

The person waiting for the runner to arrive, in order to receive the baton, needs to pay extra attention because that area will be populated with other runners, and running gear tends to look the same.

This is one of the reasons for which it’s useful to train with your teammates. You will know, on average, how long it will take your friends to run a particular leg, and you will be at the designated point, at the right time.

What is a marathon relay race

What happens if a runner drops a baton in a marathon relay race?

You probably saw relay races on TV, maybe when you were watching the Olympic Games. If you did, you must have noticed that the runners did this passing of the baton thing very fast and if someone dropped it that was the end of that runner.

Well, marathon relay races are not like that. Some runners even stop for a minute for some chit-chat. When your team is running 26 miles, a few minutes don’t really make a difference. Not unless you want to become a pro.
So if a runner drops a baton, they just pick it up and carry on.

However, if they lose it…. That is a completely different story. The baton usually has the race’s microchip in it. It is the same type of microchip that you would find on a racer number, which is attached to the t-shirt of marathon runners. The one that keeps track of the racer passing at checkpoints, and the one used to calculate the exact running time from start to finish.
Just make sure to not lose the baton.

Are there half marathon relay races?

Runners who don’t feel up to running more legs, or who don’t have enough teammates to run a marathon relay race with confidence, have the option to run half marathon relay races.

A half marathon is much shorter and you can participate even if you have a lower level of training.
You can find one of these races here. Don’t worry about it being a shorter run. It is at least as much fun as a marathon. Runners, who aren’t too tired, tend to enjoy a good laugh better than those who need a foot rub.

Can the runner who runs the first stage (leg) run the entire marathon course?

Runners who applied for a relay race just to get their friends to participate can actually run the entire race if they wish to.
There are many of us out there who tried this trick, in order to promote the benefits of running and to show our friends and loved ones that running is really worth it.

If you run your leg of the race and still have the energy to finish the entire marathon, all you have to do is to hand the baton to the next runner and keep on running the race.

Do remember that you can only do this if this was the only leg of the race that you were supposed to run.

What is a marathon relay race

Can your teammates from the first stages of a marathon relay join you for the last part of the race?

A runner can choose to run as much as they want, once their leg of the race is done. This includes running a part of the last leg of the race with their teammates.
However, runners who have officially finished running the stage of the race that they were designated for, must be mindful of the other runners and do their best not to disturb them in any way.
The only time that will be taken under consideration by the organizers of the race, will be the time they spent running while holding the baton.

Are marathon relays easier than running the entire marathon?

Running is personal, and people react differently in different situations. A marathon is long and requires training and determination, but a marathon relay can mean that a runner only runs for a few miles.
Being able to run for shorter distances, like 3 or 7 miles, takes less training than it would to be able to run an entire marathon. So, from this perspective, a relay race is easier than a full marathon.
However, you will need to accommodate the needs of your teammates, and this means that you will have to have good communication and a sense of camaraderie. Some people like to be the only ones that are controlling their situation, and for them, it might be easier to run a full marathon, alone.

What is a marathon relay

Are marathon relays competitive?

There are different types of races and different types of runners. Some races are watched closely by officials who monitor the entire race and pay extra attention at handoffs. These races are frequented by runners who are Pros and need to obtain a good time, and by normal runners like you and me, who are in it just for the fun.

You must always be mindful of the regulations of the particular race that you are running, and adhere to those rules, or you will run the risk of your entire team being disqualified.

Some races offer points to runners. Those points will be used by the people who obtain them to gain access to exclusive races.
That type of marathon is certainly very well regulated and you must read the rules well before participating.
No matter why you chose to run a marathon relay, you need to take what is best from it and that is great teamwork, great people, a lot of fun, good exercise, a medal and the pasta party, which is perfect for socializing and boasting about their running stories.

Interested in completing a marathon but don’t want to run it?

Check out my post: How long does it take to walk a marathon?

Also, check out: How long do marathons stay open for runners?

Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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