We almost died during Ragnar PA: A recap, and what the race could have done better

It was dark. Not a soft dark, there was no whisper of lights from distant street lamps or glow from houses who left the outside lights on to ward away any curious runners. It was dark. The dense thick woods boxed in the s-curved road leaving my only sight to be a circle of light from my headlamp.  All that could be heard was my solitary breathing which spiked with the crackling sticks besides me from small animals dashing for cover and a frogs deep “CRRROOOOOAAAAKKKKK” which made my heart beat spike. Without warning the road in front of me which was previously  straight for 4 miles forked leaving me with a 50% chance of making the correct choice, and a 50% chance of more darkness.

Just after sunset

On May 22 I received a message from Sam on Instagram, I followed her on social media for a long time but never met. She told me that they had a team for the Pennsylvania Ragnar but they were down a few people, would I want to join? I thought about it, Sam and I were both on the same compression sock team so we had things in common, but still there was at least 8 other people who I knew nothing about. 8 strangers, a van, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania… what could possibly go wrong. Sure I was in!

During the weeks leading up I started learning about my team during a long thread of emails and I was feeling better about my decisions. They had everything planned out to the exact second including how fast we will run each leg, and our expected finish, time all before the race started. These were my kind of people. I felt less like a future Law and Order episode and more like this was going to happen, I was so excited.

The van 1 gang which was also van 2 cause you know 10 people and all

Friday June 15 came quickly. I met my team the night before and learned they were real people who were all about running and not dismembering my body and getting a full criminal minds episode written about them. At 8am Sam lined up at the start line and on the horn with a toss of her shirt our race was off. After that horn was blown at the start line we learned a few things about this race that we wont forget, and perhaps a few things that Ragnar can change in the future.

  1. FILL UP EVERY SINGLE WATER BOTTLE YOU HAVE BECAUSE THEY ONLY HAVE WATER AT EXCHANGES

I just finished an 8 mile loop, it was hot. There was 4 people running before me and we had a sip of water left in my water bottle. Our gallon jugs were empty for the hydration of the runners before me and after. I looked around the exchange on leg 13, the only water was some run off trickling down the street. how I longed to be that water.

Only a fourth of my hill climb and no water at the end.

In all seriousness, there needs to be more water around. The lack of water causes potential hazards from dehydration.  Not to mention the lack of electrolyte product. Ragnar used to be partnered with Nuun, therefore there was hydration on course, but no more. You are left to find your own water source in the middle of the country were there are barely any places to stop.

2. THE COURSE SIGNAGE IS FAR AND FEW BETWEEN WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE, BUT TOO CLOSE WHEN ITS OBVIOUS OF THE DIRECTION. 

On all 4 of my legs (we only had 10 people 6 of us had extra miles) there were places where there should have been more directions. During my first 4 mile leg I ran 3 miles before I saw a sign that I was going the right way. I stopped several times to check the map on my phone because I could not believe that Ragnar would keep us uninformed on a highway for this long.

How many other vans had a rescue mission count

Our lack of signs got so bad that we had to add another tally section to our car, instead of just kills we had to add “Current Rescue Missions”. During my night leg the road forked and with no explanation of where to go. I texted my team asking for help but with spotty phone service I ultimately had to make a guess and thanked my lucky stars that it was the right one.

Also we found on certain highways where all you could go was straight there were signs telling you to keep going, in addition to cones blocking off the shoulder. I think runners could figure out that if there was cones on the side of the road they were on the right course. Please move that sign somewhere else.

3. HIGHWAYS. TRACTOR TRAILERS. 55 MPH SPEED ZONES AND THE CONSTANT FEAR OF DEATH. 

These roads were not safe. When I participated in the Wasatch Back Ragnar the roads were back country roads. we were lucky if we got passed by 10 cars that were not Ragnar Vans. The PA roads, main roads. Some which did not have any shoulder.

See that road behind me, that’s highway 903…

I’d understand if some of the sections were on highways, its hard to make one town connect to another without a highway, but I do not understand why ALL the roads had to be on highways. Sam actually fell on a downhill section and fell into traffic. 55 MPH TRAFFIC. I’ll let you do the math on what the worst case in scenario could have been.

4. LACK OF FOOD. 

I fully understand that food is not provided. Sure I brought my own, but people get hungry, food runs out, and in the later miles up in the Poconos rest stops end you’re alone.

Cup of noodles always wins

Leg exchange 28 had food for purchase and at midnight after our legs we were going to head there… but it did not open until 3am. Instead of waiting around we decided to bite the bullet and sleep instead, which led to some of our worst legs to finish of the Ragnar ever. Have you ever tried to run 6.4 miles on an empty stomach? Let me tell you, some of those wild fast moving cars start to look pretty good to jump in front of.

6. ALMOST DONE JUST GOT TO FIND THE EXCHANGE.

It was more than once we ended up in a cold sweat and panic because we could not find our exchange point. We found that the direction location given was more of a guideline and you had to drive around lost for about 5 minutes before you located the exact exchange point. Not very efficient if your 6:30 mile runner was running a 2 mile leg.

6. YA YOU FINISHED HERE IS A… HOT DOG?

Wait a minute. You’re telling me I ran all the way from Lancaster to Jim Thorpe, 200 mile-ish for a hot dog. No a choice of hot dog hamburger. No a choice of a gluten free bun. No choice of a vegetarian option. MAN I AM STARVING AND ALL YOUR HANDING ME IS A HOT DOG. Come on Ragnar. Would it have costed you that much to add a little extra for this meal. Hell, I was so hungry I might have even purchased food from you, but you gave me no options. I’m not mad, just disappointed.

Too bad the medal wasn’t made out of chocolate

7. HERE IS A RECYCLING BAG, BUT THERE IS NO RECYCLING PICK UP.

I thought Ragnar understood the importance of keeping the environment clean. I thought they understood the importance of recycling, but when asked where we can put our recycling bag that we collected during the trip they responded with, oh we have garbage.

Did I have fun? Yes I had a blast. I met 9 people that I wont forget. We worked together as a team to kick ass and run 200ish miles. We met crazy people along the way who either pushed us or gave us a great story. We drove down dirt roads and thought we were going to get murdered. We overcame starvation and learned to run on an empty stomach. We survived dehydration. We learned how to read a map/sun dials/smoke signals when we got lost. We played dodge ball with cars. What does not sound fun out of all of that.

To be honest, I do not think I will ever run Ragnar PA again. And I might make a more radical suggestion that no one runs it ever again, it was fun but it was not worth the fear that went into some of it. If safe roads can not be found to run on, why not move the race. How about a Jersey Coast race, there are lots of fun coastal roads down the shore with locals that would be willing to do anything for runners.

Moral of the story before I keep rambling on, I had a blast. I learned a lot about my body. I properly fueled and did not have a bad leg, I did not die on the elevation climbs, and I learned even more about team work. Team Rocket I’ll join you again… Just not for Ragnar PA.

Cheers

-Lauren

P.s. I also didn’t get my shirt Ragnar… but I’m not mad, just disappointed.

Almost.
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