I recently wrote an email to my Ragnar New York Team about Ragnar and with a bunch of people asking me more and more about it (and why I love it) I figured I'd post the letter here, modified for general Ragnar.
Each Ragnar is a point-to-point race of roughly 200 miles. Teams can be comprised of either 6 runners (ultra) or 12 (regular). Most teams run as a regular team.
Van 1 will have runners 1-6 and Van 2 will have runners 7-12. Both vans will meet at the start line where Van 1 will check in. Different teams start at different times, based on their estimated pace. My team usually has an early start time so we can take our time and enjoy ourselves down the course. People who take this race seriously (few and far between) tend to have start times later in the day.
After runner 1 starts, Van 1 will drive to exchange 1 and wait for runner 1/drop off runner 2 and move along to exchange 2. Rinse and repeat through runner 6. While someone in your van is running, the van stops to support that runner, as long as it's allowed. Most legs allow for support - Ragnar will list the leg as "non-support" if vans cannot access the runner, or if it's unsafe for vans to pull over. Support means either stopping to give them water, food, gatorade, or just cheer and wave frantically while they run by. Ragnar even gives you nifty orange safety flags which make for excellent interpretive dancing.
While Van 1 is running, Van 2 drives from the start line to Major Exchange 6 where they will check in and wait for Van 1's runners to finish. Major Exchanges are the only places were both vans are allowed into the parking lot. These major exchanges are 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, and obviously the finish line.
Each van will be "running" 3 times - so everyone runs 3 legs. It's important to know, too, that if you are runner 4, you have to run legs 4, 16 and 28 (you can't pick and choose singular legs).
Ragnar is largely on paved roads, so you don't need to worry about very technical trail running. Occasionally, runners will be on gravel roads and very rarely on trails. In the five I've done, I have yet to see a trail that was so difficult that I'd suggest wearing anything but basic running clothes/shoes.
A note on difficulty: the Ragnar "difficult" descriptions are slightly misleading. They're done largely by distance. Look at the map for the elevation chart to get a better picture of how difficult the leg will actually be.
crabwalking/etc. is all totally awesome. We'll settle for any type of forward locomotion, really. Ragnar is more of an experience, less of a race. If you want to train for it, I suggest becoming very comfortable with distances ranging between 3 and 6 miles. Once you have your leg assignment, work on being comfortable with doing those distances on no sleep. Kidding (ok, not kidding), but really, as long as you feel comfortable run/walking the distances associated with your runner number, you'll be awesome. You may or may not see a lot of runners on the course, it just depends on when we start and how fast or slow the people are around us. In my opinion, one of the best things about Ragnar is that you do get to see and interact with other runners, but mostly, it's a beautiful solo run through new territory. If you find that you are uncomfortable running at night, you do have the option to have one of your vanmates run with you (though, you need to have a willing vanmate for this one). This only applies during night hours - you cannot have a pacer during daylight hours. Ragnar does allow bikes on trails, during night hours only. We brought a bike our first year and it just wasn't worth it because we never used it and it was a hassle.
If you are picky about what you wear while running, I'd suggest getting used to wearing a reflective vest, a tail light (red LED) and a headlamp (or carrying a flashlight). These items are required by Ragnar during night hours (which are usually around 7-7, pending time of the year). If you are not in safety gear while running, the team is given one "strike." Three strikes - you're asked to leave the course. If you are NOT running during night hours, you are still required to wear a reflective vest. Tired people driving huge vans in the middle of the night + non reflective person = bad. Tip on the headlamp: wear it over a hat. Petzel sells pretty good ones for about $20 and it's always nice to have your own headlamp unless you like sharing sweaty headbands.
The Not Running
But what in the world do I do while my van is NOT running? First of all, probably eating. You'll eat a lot, though I advise against 3 sloppy joes (apparently outside of the south, these are called steamers?) and ice cream at the same time (now would be the time for an emoticon that barfs). There will also be some hanging out, talking with other teams, taking pictures, and sleeping. Sometimes a major exchange will have showers so you can be clean for at least a couple minutes. Major exchanges tend to be at high schools, churches, YMCAs, or other community based locations. These places go out of their way to be hospitable and often times sell food as fundraisers. Interacting with the local community is such a great part of Ragnar that I promise you won't be bored while you're hanging out and waiting for the other van.
The Creative Stuff
Ragnar encourages letting your [creative] juices flow. Team names are usually hilarious (there was a team in California of Indian guys who called their team "Curry in a Hurry"), inappropriate (DC has the "Sofa Kings"), or both...for example: Flaccid Placid would be totally expected in New York. The more creative, the better. Teams usually make team shirts, come up with nicknames, decorate their vans, have costumes, etc.. Ragnar facilitates best name/best costume/etc. voting among the teams at the end of the race and it's always fun to be a crowd favorite.
Essentially: Ragnar is a crazy running party. What fun is a plain, white, 12-person van? (Don't answer that.) Decorating a van, even just with window paint, is super fun. (And it's easier to find your van at the major exchange - major bonus - there can literally be hundreds of vans at exchanges).
And now, you are ready to Ragnar.