Ragnar Relay Pennsylvania Race Recap 2017

By Janelle @ Run With No Regrets | race recap

Jun 09

Last weekend, I finally completed a race that has been on my bucket list for years: the Ragnar Relay in Pennsylvania!

I took on the challenge to run 3 legs totalling 13.1 miles out of over 200 miles from Lancaster, PA to Mount Pocono and was so lucky to be part of the City Fit Girls team.  All 12 of us were first-timers of the Ragnar Relay and I’m hoping that it won’t be our last!  I’m so excited to share my recap of the race with you!  Warning:  it’s a long one!

I’m linking up with MarciaPatty, and Erika for Tuesdays on the RunSusie, Debbie, Lora, and Rachel for the Running Coaches Corner and Annmarie, Nicole, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday!  

So excited to share my recap of @ragnarrelay Pennsylvania with team @cityfitgirls! #cityfitgirls… Click To Tweet

Check out my recap of the Ragnar Relay in Pennsylvania with the City Fit Girls team! Find more running recaps and adventures at runwithnoregrets.com!

Ragnar Relay Pennsylvania Recap

It was way back in October 2016 when the first whispers of running Ragnar began amongst the City Fit Girls Facebook group.  I immediately jumped at the opportunity and signed my life away because I knew that I would be running with the right group of people!   Many years ago, I tried to jump on a Ragnar Relay team full of guys and gals that I didn’t know well and were much more advanced runners.  That ended up falling through, but since then, I’ve kept Ragnar on my radar.  Now I had my chance to finally experience it for myself!

I knew that I would most likely have a full racing schedule in the spring, but the early June timeline was perfect and would be a really fun way to close out the season.  That was the plan until I ended up signing up for the Rock ‘n Roll Seattle Half Marathon occurring 2 weeks post-Ragnar, haha!  Regardless, payments were made over the next few months, and before I knew it, the big weekend was here!

The Night Before

Another race that I didn’t anticipate signing up for was the Buffalo Half Marathon, the Sunday before Memorial Day and 6 days before Ragnar.  We drove to my hometown of Buffalo from Philly and I had an amazing race (and PR!), but once I got back home, I really had to scramble to get ready for Ragnar, physically and mentally.  I had no idea how much I should pack, what snacks to bring or anything!  I started packing on Wednesday, but it wasn’t until about 7 pm on Thursday that I completed the task.  I ran to CVS and picked up some KIND breakfast bars, 2 family packs of Twizzlers (natch), and some hand sanitizer for the road.  I was Runner #1 in Van 1, and my van-mates were keeping in communication, so I knew we already had plenty of snacks and supplies.  We had a Group.Me for our van and our entire team, which was a really great tool!

Katy, the leader of Van 1 and Runner #2, hosted Jess (Runner #4), Kiera (Driver Extraordinaire), and me at her place in South Philly the night before the race.  She was also kind enough to serve dinner, which was great because, with all the last-minute packing, I didn’t have time to eat!  I was able to drive down to her ‘hood and find a pretty close parking spot.  We packed a few things in the van overnight and tried our best to get an “early” night’s sleep sometime around 10-10:30.  I’m an early riser in general, but 3:50 am is a bit early, even for me, so I knew it would be a struggle.  Kiera and I had daybeds set up in the basement to sleep while Jess had a room upstairs.  While I was full of nerves, it didn’t take too long to fall asleep!

Getting to the Race

So we technically didn’t drive in a van, but a Ford Expedition, and it was roomy!  To get to the race, we had everything perfectly coordinated, thanks to Katy.  After a quick change and light breakfast, we left Katy’s place a little after 4:30 am and took a short drive over to Valerie’s place (Runner #6) in Center City with the rest of our vanmates MeiMei (Runner #3) and Rachel (Runner #5) to get everything perfectly packed before hitting the road at 5.  It was still dark out and eerily quiet downtown as we started organizing our racing clothes and accessories into the storage bins provided by Sharon, our awesome Team Captain (Runner #9).  Such a smart system!

The race started in Lancaster, PA, about 1.5 hours away from Philly.  The drive was nice and peaceful and we were able to see the sunrise along the way.  We had to get to the starting line by 6:30 in order to check in our van, receive our bibs, placards, and safety flags, and review a safety video.  By the way, that safety video was pretty obnoxious…not a fan!  Since I was the first runner, I was already dressed in my running gear and anxiously waiting to get going.  We also used the brief downtime to decorate our van and I did a few warmup moves in preparation for the kickoff!

The Starting Line

Before I knew it, it was time to get ready to start the race.  Katy let me borrow her bib holder so that I wouldn’t have to pin it on my shirt.  I believe the waves started as early as 5 am, and we had a 7:45 am start time.  There was a small cluster of runners at the start, and I lined up in the back.  Before I knew it, they were counting down 10 seconds to start, and I was off!   Kiera took video of my takeoff, and it’s posted on my Instagram page!

Leg #1: ~3.9 Miles, Moderate

Somehow, when I calculated my 10K race pace for Ragnar, it translated to me running a 9-minute mile.  Because I was the first runner, I wanted to have a strong start and set the right tone for the race.  It’s very important to have accurate pace times because if you are too fast or too slow, you could get stuck at an exchange and be penalized.  No pressure, right?!

The race started in a park and then headed to the downtown Lancaster area.  I ran over a bridge that had a decent hill, but overall the route was pretty flat…at first.  A few years ago, Bret and I had a weekend getaway in Lancaster, so as I ran through the city, I was very familiar with my surroundings – lots of cute houses and thankfully some decent shade.  There were some super speedy runners ahead of me and a few runners behind me, but I wasn’t worried about that.  The weather was actually getting warm and I focused on keeping hydrated, usually drinking water/Vitalyte at the various traffic stops.

At one point, I saw my van drive by and they cheered me on – what a great feeling!  As I continued to run, a woman passed me and abruptly ran past a couple of women that were walking down the street.  She scared them to death since she was coming from behind and didn’t let them know she was passing!  How rude.  There was one guy that was running ahead of me and I used him to pace me, until I passed him.  At one point he caught up and we said hi.  I remember saying that it was much hotter than I thought it would be!  Then I made my way over another bridge (I wish I took a picture) and into a park where there were some people pulled over and cheering.

Pretty soon I saw my City Fit Girls again.  They pulled over and I waved to them and as I saw the point where I had to head into a trail…but first I had to go up a giant hill.  As I braced myself, the team told me to “run with no regrets” and it gave me a boost…but it was HARD!  I love running through trails, but this one was a doozy – it took me a bit by surprise and my breathing became labored.  I knew that I was losing precious time and I was so tempted to walk, especially as a couple of speedy guys breezed past me, but I kept moving.

I was glad to get out of there and on a flatter trail, then I had a glorious downhill back in the park where I would meet Katy for our first passing of the slap bracelet.  Sorry it was so sweaty!  Everyone said I did a great job and finished so fast, and I was glad to be one run down, 2 to go!

Splits:  9:02, 9:14, 10:16.

Downtime After Leg 1:  Lunch and Afternoon Lounging

As soon as I was done with my run, I changed into my “loungewear” and put on some compression socks.  I brought 3 pairs for after each run and paired them with my OOFOS OOmg recovery shoes…a perfect combination! Everyone was doing a great job on their first legs.  It was so much fun to follow them along from exchange point to exchange point, cheering as we drove by and pulling over in some areas for an extra boost.  Most of them had some amazing views of farmland on the run with a beautiful blue sky and puffy clouds…I have to admit that I was jealous!

At Exchange 6, we finally got to see the second half of our team as it was time for Van 2 to get to work!  I think we were a little salty about the fact that they started so much later in the day than we did, LOL! They were still so fresh, clean, and well-rested, haha, and meanwhile, we looked like we just came from battle!  It was great to hug Captain Sharon (Runner #8) and tell her how well things were going, even though the hills were no joke!  We were having a blast!  We wished them well as most of them had some really challenging legs to “look forward” to, but I knew that they would do great!  Katie was Runner #7 and she was kind enough to make vegan Superhero Muffins for our van…SO good!

Once we saw Van 2 off, we drove to a local spot for lunch.  I was a little leery about getting service in “small town PA”, but we had a good time and the food was actually pretty tasty!  We had SO many snacks in the van all day long that it was nice to get a break and eat some real food!  I had Greek-style grilled chicken sandwich on a pita with fries.  It really hit the spot!

We still had plenty of downtime, so we pulled over at Exchange 13 where I would eventually pick up the baton from Janis, our 12th runner.  The exchange was at a local church and was packed with people camped out and taking a nap in the sun.  After having lunch, I was ready for a nap!  I took out my yoga mat and towel and had a decent nap under a tree with MeiMei, Katy, and Rachel.  Eventually the bugs drove me crazy and I gave up.  Kiera ended up leading us in a group yoga practice outside of our vehicle, which was definitely what my body needed!  We also had fun listening to music and just generally being silly.

 

Leg #2:  3.7 Miles, Moderate

Originally, my start time for leg 2 was supposed to be around 6:30, but we were running a bit behind schedule so I anxiously waited to start up again.  Since I was struggling with running with my phone in my hand in leg 1, I decided to switch things up and borrowed Rachel’s SPIBelt to carry my phone.  I also made a change in my fuel that was probably a huge mistake…instead of using the Vitalyte powder in my water for electrolytes, I used this raspberry-flavored powder that was just awful.  It was a free sample, probably from a StrideBox, that I  decided to pack with my things just to try it out.  Big mistake, Janelle.

I was excited as Janis made her way to me and we did the cutest hand-off.  She had just powered her way up a super steep hill and lucky for me, I was able to fly down that same hill to start my leg.  Unfortunately, it gave me a false sense of security and I highly overestimated my abilities in this section.

This was definitely my toughest leg – physically and mentally.   I didn’t bring my headphones to listen to music at any point during Ragnar because I wanted to fully enjoy my surroundings, but there wasn’t a whole lot to see here.  No farmland, just running through a residential area.  There were a few cars that passed me along the way, but overall it was very quiet.  At one point there was an adorable boy, maybe around 10 or so, carrying a sign and standing on a hoverboard across the street.  His parents were also out on their lawn cheering on the runners.  I told him I liked his hoverboard and he thanked me. No young man, thank you!  I passed a couple of people early on, but there was one runner ahead of me that I kept my eye on but could never catch up.  I was a little nervous running around the sharp turns since I was on the shoulder, but thankfully I didn’t have any close calls.

Unfortunately, this leg had no van support so I wasn’t able to see my team at all.  That may have been a good thing though because, after my second mile, the hills got out of control!  I have had my fair share of rolling hills, but this was ridiculous….very reminiscent of running the King of Prussia 10 Miler.  I was really struggling to breathe, and then my left shin and calf decided to give up on me.  It hurt like hell and I knew that that stupid electrolyte powder did me no favors.  I was slowing down significantly and practically limping along, but I refused to stop.  I knew that all of my teammates had hard hills to climb and I wasn’t going to complain.  Thankfully, as I made my way up the final uphill, a spectator told me that once I got to the top, the rest of the way was downhill.  I did my best to “surge” to the top so I could fly the rest of the way!

And indeed, the rest of the way was a net downhill and I was relieved to be able to pick up speed and redeem myself for the tough middle section of the run.  I was so happy when I could see the exchange point ahead…I made it through!

Splits:  8:53(!), 11:05, 10:14.

Downtime After Leg 2:  Overnight and Surprise Rain

Thankfully, the downhills helped my shin and calf feel better, but I knew that I needed to change and stretch as soon as possible.  Now, we were heading into the evening hours, and Katy would be the first to run with night gear.  All runners would have to wear head lamps, tail lights, and safety vests from 8 pm to about 6:30 am, if I remember correctly.

We had some serious concerns about the night runs, especially for Van 2 because most of their second legs were at least 5 miles in complete darkness.  Katie had over 9 miles, Becca (Runner #8) had 7.5 miles, and Sharon had 7 miles that sounded particularly unnerving.  We hoped that we would be able to double up with some of our Van 2 teammates, but it turned out to be too complicated logistcally.  MeiMei, Jess, and Val had night legs that went through trails…how scary!  And Rachel’s leg was along a creepy road with uneven footing.  Fortunately, Jess was able to join Val for her leg and we could be sure that they were safer together.  We tried to see our runners along the way whenever we could.

Once we were all done, it was time to prepare for bed.  We ended up staying at Exchange 18 for a few short hours of “sleep” before it would be my turn to run.  I will say that I had probably the worst sleep that I can remember.  I got less than 2 hours of sleep and it was not REM sleep, lol. I decided to sleep outside along with Kiera, Katy (temporarily), and MeiMei (who had a hammock) and was definitely dressed for the chilly weather, but the ground was hard and the noise from other runners was just disrespectful!  It never occurred to me that I would need earplugs, but I won’t make that mistake again!   Thankfully, the ladies took good care of me as I would be running next and Jess let me borrow her sleeping bag, which was amazing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that everyone who slept in the car didn’t have a blanket – I was using a small pillow that turns into a blanket and I would have happily gave it to them to share!

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Before I knew it, it was about 3:00 in the morning and it was time for us to leave the exchange.  The ground was wet from the morning dew, it was still dark, and there was NO ONE left at the Exchange.  Super creepy!  We drove to Exchange 24 where I would take the slap bracelet from Janis for the last time.  As we were parked and waiting for my start time, it started to rain.  And it wasn’t light rain, but a steady, eventually heavy rain.  Wouldn’t you know that I unpacked my rain jacket because there was no rain in the forecast?  Oops!

Thanks so much to Val for letting me borrow her rain jacket, head lamp, and tail light!  It was my first time running with a head lamp and I wore it with my hat.  I was a little concerned about layering because it was pretty cold outside, so I threw on my City Fit Girls long sleeved shirt over my short sleeved shirt.  And then my Nike+ watch gave a “low battery” alert.  Seriously?  I was making all kinds of rookie mistakes, smh!

I went to the school’s bathroom before my run, and as I went in, I was surprised to see dozens of runners sleeping on the gymnasium floor.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Apparently, our Ragnar guide didn’t make it clear that we would have an option to sleep indoors overnight at this exchange…but then again, I also heard that people were sleeping in the school illegally and had to be escorted out by police.  Awkward!

Leg #3:  5.5 Miles, Hard

The rain was steadily coming down and it was pretty darn chilly, but I was ready to finish my last leg as best as I could!  I went back to my proper fuel and had my Knuckle Lights on, ready to go!  It was still dark out, but since it was a little bit before 5 am, it wasn’t as scary as it would have been if it was 3:30 in the morning, as was the original plan.

As it was time for the exchange, Janis was running with Sarah, the driver of Van 2.  They didn’t look happy at all, lol!  Fortunately, it was already raining when they started running so it didn’t catch them by surprise.  The ladies stayed in the car while we made our exchange, but I could hear them cheering for me.  I didn’t see Van 2, but I assume they were somewhere nearby.

I headed on the path off school grounds and headed on a residential road to begin my longest run.  I was actually in really good spirits and if you don’t know by now, I love running in the rain…it makes me feel like a badass!  After the super speedy runs that I had the previous day, I was going to run smart this time and start at an easyish pace.

This was definitely my favorite leg and the funny thing was that it didn’t feel all that hard to me!  My watch worked for about 1.25 miles before dying, so I had no idea how far I had gone.  I had a runner ahead of me with a really cool vest that changed colors…so I focused on that.  The Knuckle Lights were a miracle worker and made me feel so much safer because the lights were so bright.  The next time I do a Ragnar, I’ll  recommend that the entire team uses Knuckle Lights for the night legs…the headlamp really doesn’t help you see at all.

The rain was heavy for a good portion of the run and I didn’t want to risk damaging my phone so I didn’t take any pictures.  I wish I did take pictures though because it was THE most beautiful scenery, even though it was so cloudy.  I ran past these gorgeous wineries and saw rows sand rows of fields in the distance.  And farmhouses!  At last!  The sun began to rise and I literally heard roosters crowing at about 5:30 am.  It was so surreal!  Meanwhile, I did have a few challenging hills and I did feel the fatigue kicking in from my previous runs, but I was loving every moment.  I also didn’t have any more shin/calf issues, halleluiah!

The only downside about this run was that I didn’t get to see my vanmates along the way.  As I was running, I would see various vans drive past me, leapfrogging their runners.   A few even pulled over so that they could cheer on their teammate.  I kept hoping that Van 1 would sneak behind me every time I heard a vehicle slow down…but it never happened.  Once a runner passed me around the 4-mile mark with my teammates nowhere in sight, I had to accept reality.  I tried not to think about it too much, but since everyone else in the van had so many times where they were cheered on throughout their legs, I was a little sad to not get that extra love.  But anyway!

I knew that I was coming close to my finish line.  I started to pass a few runners at the end as I was picking up steam and one of the runners that we met earlier on the trip said we had 0.3 miles to go…the truth was we were just around the bend!  I triumphantly made it to the exchange and saw Rachel cheering and Katy ready to go.  And I was done!

Splits: 10:43, ??  I finished in about an hour so I had about a 10:30 to 11-minute average pace.

Downtime After Leg 3: Recovery and Brunch!

The rain actually started to let up during my last leg, but then it began to pick up again.  Katy, MeiMei, and Jess’s runs were pretty rainy, but by the time Rachel and Val ran their runs, the blue skies were back!  Let me tell you…there are some real benefits to being the first runner done!  I was finished at about 6 am, so I had the rest of the day to recover, and that’s what I did!  We still had snacks on snacks on snacks, and while it took me a while to get changed into some clean clothes, and my quads were hurting with each step, I felt great!

Val was our last runner so we met up with the rest of our team at Exchange 30 at an old drive-in theater.  It was extremely muddy and crowded out there so I didn’t get to see Val pass it off to Katie, but once again it was great to see the rest of our team and give them a hug.  Thankfully they made it through those night runs and were in pretty good spirits.  Since it was a major exchange there were a few vendors out and they were already selling Ragnar gear.  I just got some free jerky from Krave and kept it moving, lol.

Once again we had some decent downtime so we went to have our first proper meal in almost 24 hours.  We went to a really chill spot called Chat N Chew that serves breakfast all the day and let me tell you…we had a hell of a feast!  Jess and Val went to the wine and spirits to pick up 2 bottles of champagne and we had mimosas with our breakfast!  I had some really good French toast with bacon and eggs.  It was a lot of food but I killed it!  I only wish I had a little more to drink, haha!

Finishing with the Team

Once we were done with our meal, we started breaking down our van in the parking lot, which was sadly almost ruined from the rain.  More than half of our team was heading back to Philly on Saturday night, so they were going to take Van 2 back.  Becca, Janis, Sharon, Katy, Jess, and I were staying overnight in a motel. We divided all of the snacks (we brought WAY too much stuff LOL) and made sure we’d be ready to split once we all finished the race.  Katy was on top of keeping us organized, once again!

We went to the final exchange where the finish line was located, checked out the merchandise and hung out in the grass for a while.  Most of us were changed into our official City Fit Girls outfits and wearing our Ragnar finisher shirts.  It was a really warm day!  They had a really cool full pressure massage apparatus that was 10 minutes of heaven for my feet and legs!

It wasn’t too long that we found the rest of our team and we geared up to run to the finish with Janis as a team.  We knew that Van 2 had even MORE hills to contend with…Becca had 10.5 miles of pure hell and Kathy and Janis weren’t playing around either with their mileage.  I did not envy them at all, but they are all such strong runners and handled those hills like champs!

Finally, Janis was coming and it was our time…everyone was getting their phones ready as we ran up a short hill (really?) and made it through the finish.  It was awesome!

After the Race

After the race, we took some group photos, hugged, and just let all of our emotions pour out.  I was definitely getting teary-eyed and I know that I wasn’t the only one.  What an incredible accomplishment!  None of us had done this before, and we all made it through in one piece!  It was tough as hell, but we pushed through and gave it all that we had. We ended up 12th in our division…not too shabby!  These ladies…so much love.

And before you knew it, Van 2 was getting packed/unpacked and it was time to start saying our goodbyes.  I wish that everyone could have stayed overnight, but we will all see each other again!  We created so many memories and a lot of inside jokes….I could write a whole post about the silliness of Ragnar!

Those of us who were staying overnight went to dinner sometime after 8 pm and had some decent grub, though the service was pretty slow and when you’re hangry, that could be a problem, haha!  Thankfully, Becca was able to get some custom vegan nachos from the restaurant and they looked pretty good!  I ended up getting some BBQ chicken fingers and a house salad, my first veggies in a very long time!  And of course I got a cocktail to drink, you know me!  Janis had really a funny exchange with the waitress when she was carded at dinner…you wouldn’t believe it, but she’s in her 50’s!  She’s a great example of the gift/curse of looking young for your age…I guess I have that to look forward to, LOL.

Then we headed to our motel to get some real sleep at last!  As we were waiting to get the room keys we heard a loud BOOM – I thought it was a gun since again, we’re in the middle of nowhere, PA, but they were actually fireworks!  Everyone else was scared to death LOL (that’s life in Philly!), but I thought it was hilarious!  Jess, Katy, and I bunked together while Sharon, Becca and Janis were in the other room.  After a decent shower, Katy turned on the Calm app and we were all asleep pretty quick!

Wake up time was sometime around 7:30 and we were heading back to Philly by 8 am.  The drive back took no time at all and after unloading the van in Philly, I was back home by 11:30.  Ragnar was officially complete!

Takeaways

The Ragnar Relay Pennsylvania was an unforgettable experience and I’m so grateful that I could finally complete this race!  I have no real complaints at all – it was just what I hoped it would be, and again, being with the right people makes all the difference.

Pros:

  • Well-organized overall.  There is so much coordination involved for this type of event and Ragnar did a great job.  I appreciate all of the volunteers who helped all weekend.  I was initially worried about following the signage during my runs, but they were extremely helpful and I never got lost!
  • Friendly atmosphere and people.  Most of the people we came across during Ragnar were very friendly.  I had no idea about the “magnet culture” so that was a pleasant surprise.  We even shared snacks with some folks.
  • A great mix of runs of various difficulties.  While Pennsylvania is clearly one of the toughest Ragnars around, I think that a wide range of experienced runners could and should do this type of race!  I definitely had one of the easier slots as Runner #1 and I’m grateful for it, especially since I was coming off of a half marathon the previous week!
  • Free pizza at the finish.  Obviously not the best meal when you’re a vegan, but it certainly hit the spot for me!

Cons:

  • Back to back exchange points without bathrooms.  This was a pretty big problem.  There was one bathroom, literally one toilet, at a gas station where we had to wait in line for over 35 minutes, including our next runner.  Volunteers were telling people at other exchange points to “go behind the barn”…not good.
  • You’re nickel and dimed for everything.  Ragnar is pretty darn expensive!  Considering how much you spend to get there, including hundreds of dollars for volunteers, I would have appreciated more free stuff.
  • Van directions weren’t always accurate.  We had some issues with the van directions at times, so that was a bit of a challenge.
  • Night running didn’t feel the safest.  Based on my teammates’ accounts, flashlights like Knuckle Llights should absolutely be mandatory for night running.    Headlamps just aren’t safe enough.  Some even felt the need to carry pepper spray on their run!

Shoutouts

Thank you to my incredible teammates:  Katy, MeiMei, Jess, Rachel, Valerie, Katie, Becca, Sharon, Takia, Kathy, and Janis.  LOVE you guys.  I’m so glad we all could do this together.

Thank you so much to Kiera and Sarah for being our drivers and easing the burden for us and being entertaining along the way!

Thank you to Alexia for being one of our volunteers!  I’m sorry we didn’t get to see you!

Thank you to Sharon for taking the lead and making it happen, and Takia and Kiera for letting us rep City Fit Girls and enabling us to get these HOT black CFG outfits!

So this is clearly the longest post I’ve ever written, LOL but it’s worth it!  The Ragnar Relay Pennsylvania was unbelievable and I’m grateful that I have found a group of women with whom I can share this experience.  The City Fit Girls are the best, y’all!   I’m glad that I got to know you all better and that you got to know me better.  While doing the Ragnar, I realized how many more special memories I’ve missed by not being more active with this inspiring and fun group of women.  So this is a real turning point for me and I look forward to coming back to Wednesday night runs!  No more excuses!

If you can get a team together to do Ragnar, DO IT!  I’m already thinking about where we should go next!  If you read all of this, bless you!  PS, check out City Fit Girls for more fun picks from Ragnar!

Have you ever run a Ragnar Relay?  Where did you go and how was your experience?  

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