I left on Thursday afternoon to drive up to the team captain's house in Narvon, Pennsylvania. (No, I've never heard of it, either). I spent the night there, and the whole team assembled at 0430 for an 0500 departure the next morning. Our team started running in Lancaster, PA at 0700 on Friday.
This PA Ragnar was not as well attended as last year's event, with only 75 teams in attendance. At the start line, our team only had 7 other teams starting at 0700, compared to the 15 teams or so last year.
I was runner number two. This year's Ragnar was going to be different. For the past three Ragnar races I've done, I started out too fast: killing myself on the first run, and limping along for the second two legs. This one would be different. The first leg was just shy of 8 miles, and I was not going to run that at my 10K race pace, or at my 5K race pace.
First LegI started my run around 7:42AM, just after the sun had come up.
The exchange point didn't quite have the number of porta-potties necessary to make the race complete. There was one ready for use, and one locked with a pad-lock (!). I got my morning business taken care of right before I headed out on my run after the successful exchange.
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About a mile into my run, I realized that I was going to be uncomfortable for the rest of my run if I didn't find a potty again. Well this is a revolting development! Just like a God-send, my course took me past a construction site, where there were porta-potties right on the roadside. I couldn't believe my luck! I made use of it, and got back on course, after a brief delay.
The morning run was lovely, but the temperatures started to rise rapidly. I looked at the pavement I was running on, and realized that I could very easily run this route without shoes at all. I was wearing my Altra Adams running shoes; which don't really look like regular running shoes at all. I came across a bridge on Eschelman Mill road that crossed a small creek. The bridge was made of a material that I could certainly have not enjoyed barefoot. In fact, it may be the first surface that I would have panicked to run over.
The bridge was designed to let snow fall through, so it was a very loose grate of sharp metal. The picture at the link above doesn't do it any justice. I've never seen such a bridge before. Good thing I was wearing the Altra Adams!
By the time I was done with my run, the sun was beating down on me pretty hard. I had used up the last of my water about 2 miles before the finish line, and by that time, my van support had already headed to the finish line for my leg, ready to exchange to the next runner, Beth Ann.
I trudged into the exchange dehydrated and looking pretty worn out. A lady at the exchange noticed my running shirt, which read "I ran naked in 2012", a running shirt that I picked up from the Naked Foot 5k in June of this year. "Too bad you're not really naked!" she shouted. :wink: :wink: tee-hee!
The shoes came off immediately after the run, and I walked back to the van, looking for water. I didn't put the Adams back on for the rest of the race. I was smelling rather stinky, so I changed in the back of the van, hoping nobody was looking in to see my "moon" as I was changing running shorts. There is no modesty among Ragnar runners. :)
Second LegThis route started in the small town of Cumru, just south of Reading, PA. Last year, the route started in the actual fire house, running by all of the fire-trucks and emergency equipment. This year, it was on the street. I really wanted to run barefoot, but was advised against it because of the shady nature of Reading. "You could step on anything out there, hyperdermic needles, who-knows-what!" I ran through Reading last year, and could see what my friends meant by the warnings. (But it wasn't that bad, really!)
I walked to the start line wearing my BFT Huaraches (the BFT Lunas, exactly like these shown). "Are you actually going to run in those flip-flops!?" I was asked. Just then, some guy without any shoes at all, walked past me, took his exchange, and ran like the wind along his course. I can't believe a barefoot runner just walked by me and didn't even give me the secret hand-shake. I'm almost always the only barefoot person around.
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I took to my running route with a borrowed head-lamp. My headlamp was nowhere to be found. Before I walked to the exchange point, I rummaged through the whole van, looked in every pocket, rifled through my luggage, and could not find that headlamp anywhere! I borrowed Kristie's, which was meant to be worn on a hat.
This light wasn't very good, for the simple reason that the front face of the light leaked light into the top of my eyes. It did not focus all of the illumination directly forward, and the resulting glare reduced my vision significantly. The route was changed from last year, reducing the running through downtown Reading. Last year, some of the runners got harassed, and some of the direction signs got stolen by hooligans. Although my route didn't change any from last year, runners 3 through 6 all ran a different course this year from last year's.
The route I took followed Wyomissing Road, and turned right on a gravel path along Parkside Drive. I could not figure out how to follow the gravel path, and spent some time looking confused in the park. The members of my van waited at the corner and helped me along my route. Unfortunately, this assistance they gave me delayed their arrival time at the exchange.
I hustled along the gravel path, again thankful that I did not run this barefoot. I can run barefoot on the most harsh of gravel without any damage to the feet, but I really don't enjoy it. I've never been cut on any surface. I arrived at the exchange, and nobody was there to greet me. I waited around for about 2 minutes, when Beth showed up, took the baton, and headed out.
Here, the directions rather sucked. The Ragnar magazine did not give precise enough instructions to follow our runner closely, and get to the exchange. After being ... well... not lost, but not exactly on course, either, we admitted defeat and had a van member pull out a smart phone to get directions.
The Apple directions application was terrible, taking us along some really wacky, circular paths to get us to our destination. By the time we got to the exchange, poor Beth Ann had zero support from us along the way. She got slightly harassed by the locals along the way, "They're right behind you!" "They're coming to get you!" I had only gotten a slight bit of harassment from the locals, when two guys came out of a bar, one of them said, "Hey, my friend needs to borrow your light for a second."
Another runner on a different team left the exchange, and didn't make one of the required turns, heading down the wrong road to who-knows-where. She was too fast for me to catch, and I was too worn out from my second run, anyway. By the time that Beth-Ann had successfully exchanged to the next runner, Kristie, the girl who had taken the wrong turn had found her way back; and ran with Kristie.
Badly-Needed RestBy the time our van had finished running the second leg, we had retired to one of the major exchanges; a middle-school, which had made available a kitchen with some cheap food, and most of all, their gymnasium had been made available for us to sleep in. Just a few hours of sleep is really needed.
I unfolded my sleeping bag, and found a nice place to lay down. There was a nice lady next to me, all snuggled up in her sleeping bag, with full-sized pillow, out like a light. I didn't care that I was kind of stinky, hadn't taken a shower, and still wearing the running clothes I had run in just a few hours before. I tried to get a little bit of rest, while we waited for the second van full of runners to finish their racing legs.
Sure, I was comfortable! I make use of sleeping on floors quite often. In fact, whenever insomnia strikes, I can find that if I move from the bed to the floor that I can get a better night's sleep without the comfort of a bed. But it was not to be. I was too self-conscious of my snoring. Just as I would start to go to sleep, I could hear myself snoring, and I would wake up. See, there were about 300 people in this gym, and I really didn't want to be that guy who snored and kept everybody else in the gym awake.
In fact, in that dream-like state, as I was dozing off, I heard two people lay down their sleeping bags. One of them whispered to the other, "I don't want to sleep here, that guy is snoring." I didn't sleep a wink after that.
I got up and wandered around the school. I met the race director, (who is probably the second most attractive woman I have ever seen in my life (after my wife, of course)). I told her of the glitches that happened along the way during the Cape Cod Ragnar that I had run earlier this year with team No Joke, back in May. Situations like having a major exchange at a junior high school, but we weren't allowed in the building, and last-minute course changes all over. I told her, "We said this during the Cape Cod Ragnar so many times, 'Carrie would never let something like this happen!'"
The rest of the team woke up, I had a crappy cup of coffee and brushed my teeth; and we headed out to our final leg of Ragnar PA. Christina headed out with a confused exchange; she was inside stretching out and wasn't present when Sharon showed up a little earlier than everybody had expected. In the confusion, Christina left her jacket (and the previous iPhone therein) at the exchange.
We headed out in van 1, while van 2 retired. Well, the instructions after this exchange were also lacking. The runner headed out on a gravel path, while the van had to "figure it out" and get to Grove Road. There was no obvious way to get there, and the map in the Ragnar magazine was too large-scale to accurately show the way.
By the time we had caught up with Christina, she was mad that she got no support from us, "I just ran through the place where they filmed 'Deliverance'" she was nearly sobbing. "... It's OK, I got some van support from the other teams." she snapped at us. We got rather quiet at that moment, and tried not to get defensive. Christina told us that her jacket that got left behind. That wasn't so big of a deal, but there was a precious iPhone tucked safely within. Leaving the jacket behind simply wasn't an option. We weighed all of the different scenarios to get me on my course, and get the van back to the exchange to get that jacket. We decided that the best path would be to let Christina finish her run, exchange to me at the next exchange, and while I was running out my third and final leg, the van would race back to the major exchange, find Christina's jacket, and race back to me before I finished my run.
So there wasn't much point of me running fast for my third leg. If I raced along, I would just have to wait until the van showed up anyway... which brings me to:
The Third LegIt was pitch-black-middle of the night in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. The fog had set in, and all of the particles of moisture in the atmosphere were lit up by my headlamp (which I had eventually found, tucked in my jacket pocket, packed in my luggage).
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I had run this exact same leg last year, as a replacement runner for our runner #2 who had backed out at the last moment. It was familiar territory. I should have run it barefoot; the road was smooth (with a little bit of construction gravel at first). Instead, I took my running leg with my huaraches. I didn't run it very fast, and was rather disappointed by my performance after I finished. I don't remember much of it. It was so late at night, and there was nothing to see but my feet, the white line I was following, and the fog in my face.
For the last half-mile, it did clear up, and I could see the lamps lighting up the exchange. I ran with as much as my poor legs could muster; this was the 18th mile in less than 24 hours, which isn't exactly easy. I greeted the exchange with "I am DONE. D-O-N-E DONE!"
I may have been disappointed with my pace this year, but I didn't run last year's leg any faster.
The Long WaitOf course, just because I was done with my running tasks doesn't mean that I got to drink beer and relax. The other 10 runners of team No Joke had to finish their running tasks, as we supported them. I tried to drive the van as much as possible -- it kept the boredom at a minimum, and also was less uncomfortable with the slight chafing I had built up since the first leg.
When everybody in van #1 finished their racing tasks, we retired to a nice school in Mahoning, PA, which served as the last major exchange before the finish line. The school allowed showers (with towels provided for a modest price), and some food from the cafeteria. After showering and getting all of the running grime off of me, I found my way to the dark and empty gymnasium.
We knew that there would be a very long wait until the van 2 runners made their way to the finish line, and quite frankly, there wasn't much to do at the finish line. We made use of the time, and slept as much as possible. By this time I think the exchange was technically closed, but the people at the school didn't kick us out of the gymnasium. I'm not sure that they could have woken me up, anyway. I think I got in 3 hours of sleep -- pure bliss. No interruptions. No worries about my snoring, just quite comfy sleeping.
After waking up and packing everything into the van, we raced to the finish line to meet van 2. We raced a little too efficiently, as we got to the finish line about 2.5 hours before van 2 was going to finish. With the onset of getting "hangry" (that's hungry and angry mixed together), we found a restaurant nearby, and stuffed our faces with bar-food. After slow service, and some slow delivery of the check, we rushed back to the finish line, where we had only a little bit of time before Sharon arrived at the finish line.
Finishing UpThe finish line was not as fun as last year's finish festival experience. It was partly due to the weather, it was cold and rainy at the finish line. There also weren't as many teams finishing at the same time as us, and we didn't spend much time there.
Most of the team retired to the captain's father's lakehouse at Lake Wallenpaupack. We didn't drink that much, although I did enjoy two very well-made Long-Island Iced Teas, made by Ryan.