After the Reach The Beach Ragnar I had almost entirely positive things to say so when part of my team asked me to join them on another Ragnar adventure I couldn’t sign up fast enough. While I still had an AMAZING time, I wouldn’t exactly be recommending the Ragnar Pennsylvania to anyone and was glad the person I recruited had run a Ragnar previously, as I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I knowingly signed them up for what was to come.
As is custom with Ragnars, multiple people dropped out in the weeks before the race, leaving my team short. We ran with 9 last time, which was a fun challenge, but this time we had multiple teammates new to running that we didn’t want to dump a 4th leg on. I was thrilled when my Instagram friend Lauren answered what I thought was a far fetched invite to run around Pennsylvania with 9 strangers. With her, we ended up with a team of 10 so only 6 of us had to take on the 4th leg. I found I still really enjoyed the rotation caused by not having a full team so everyone got to hangout with everyone, instead of just your van of 6 out of 12. Though the fourth legs of both of my Ragnars were very short legs (3 & 4 miles) and my worst by significant amounts. I want to say sleeping in the van both times is what killed me so if you’re also crazy enough to take on a fourth leg I would recommend having a means of sleep that isn’t crunched inside a van.
Like the previous Ragnar, we rented campsites for the nights before and after the race, which I would highly recommend! It’s cheaper (since you’re already spending a decent amount on the race) and bonding with your team by the campfire is pretty sweet. The night before the race we saw multiple horses and buggies traveling around our campground and I was starting to get excited for the rolling farmlands the course was sure to offer.
We woke up bright and early to head to the start where I would be sending us off for the first leg of our adventure! It was really neat being the first leg since you actually start at the same time as all the teams in your time slot. The track kid in me kicked in and without really thinking about it I decided I was coming in first.. Until 2 seconds in when we hit the highway. Not long stretches of highway either, this was highway with tons of intersections and on ramps that required you to click the cross sign buttons. I stayed behind the other guy who seemed to have the idea of being first, following him as he zigged and zagged across intersections, through traffic at least 7 times in the first 1.5 mile stretch. We changed direction so often I can only imagine he had done some research into the course in order to traverse it this quickly. There was absolutely no way I would have felt safe navigating it at a decent running pace without him in the lead. The rest was more of a residential neighborhood, but I just couldn’t believe they started us in the middle of roads I would never run on for training, without having blocked anything off to cars.
Even though I ended up in second, I arrived at the exchange feeling victorious.. only to find no one from my team there. As I looked around in my confusion, a volunteer asked if my team was supposed to be here. When I replied, “yes”, her response of, “oh that’s been happening all day” was a pretty good indicator of what the rest of this race was to be like. It was honestly crazy how many more times we got lost on the way to exchanges during PA than RTB when we had no cell reception for 90% of RTB and almost always had it in PA. RTB had ample signage for not only runners but also separate ones for vans. For this race, the signage was lacking for runners and non-existent for vans.
My team arrived a few minutes later and I hopped in the van to be carted around for the whirlwind of cheering the next few hours were to be. We quickly found that the roads of Pennsylvania were nothing like those of RTB. Almost the entire route in New Hampshire had road shoulders wide enough for multiple of the large Ragnar vans to pull of in. In PA you were lucky if there was any road shoulder at all. This made cheering significantly less of a thing since you couldn’t just pull over and hangout and instead had to pull into random peoples’ driveways, hoping they wouldn’t mind you staying just long enough to cheer on your runner.
Three of us jumped out at the exchange and watched as the van sped back in the direction it has just come from. I started to stretch and get ready for my next leg with no real idea of when it might start. It was too hot to sit on the pavement and I moved into the grass. I put my cellphone in my FlipBelt, something I hadn’t though I would need to during a daytime leg. After a few minutes we got word they had found our lost runner. He had run a mile off course but was back on track now. In the end, lost runners seemed like a relatively common occurrence. During one of Lauren’s legs she came to a fork in the road with no sign of which way to take. She texted us that she was lost with a runner from another team as well.
I don’t remember much of the actual leg except it was more winding roads with no shoulder, very sunny with no shade, and VERY hot. I was pretty much reduced to a pile of salt by the end of it.
While I found this night leg significantly less terrifying than my night leg in RTB, this one was definitely filled a with way more actual danger. The entire thing was along a high traffic highway winding through the mountains. While they put safety cones out to help, the shoulder was still barely wide enough for passing people and was paved in two separate strips of different heights. The leg started on an rather steep incline that lasted for 3 agonizing miles, then sent you screaming back down almost all the elevation you just climbed in the next 2.5ish. It’s honestly a wonder I didn’t kill myself as I rocketed down the mountain at the insane pace the decline demanded with the blur of the woods directly to my left, cars to my right, and darkness before me. After hearing about/seeing my teammates’ legs I want to say this was one of the most well taken care of legs, when it really could have been one of the least. There were a number of signs informing you to keep straight when you literally had no other choice if you didn’t plan on running off into the woods. AND there was a water stop when it was the middle of the nice cool night. Not only did I not need water (and would have KILLED for it to be out on one of my day legs instead), but it was also pushed way back off the road in a completely unlit little truck stop, which I wasn’t about to be stopping at even if I had needed it. Everything was going smoothly until I hit the first and only possible turn. It was an intersection with another highway and as I was getting closer I could see cars zooming through it. As I tried to look both ways while still moving, I didn’t see a pothole in front of me and stepped into it with one side of my foot, twisting my ankle and throwing myself into the intersection in front of a car. Luckily, it had been a super courteous driver that had seen me coming from further down the road and slowed their pace to a crawl/stop to let me pass without breaking my stride. After a few seconds of pain making me think I was going to have to call my team to pick me up, my ankle seemed good enough to at least finish up this leg. As I slowly sped up to a jog again I hit part of the highway that had tons of large loose rocks scattered on the pavement and I thought to myself it was kind of funny I had already fallen because if I hadn’t I definitely would have now. I ended up able to finish my leg back at a decent pace, iced my ankle immediately, and had no further issues with it!
My last leg was uneventful, just rougher than 3.5 miles should ever be. I felt so bad for my teammates who had longer runs out in the heat that day and didn’t even have the option of a sketchy water stop. Even though we got lost on the way to the finish line, the last leg was a decently long and uphill one so we were able to cross the finish as a team this time!
Overall, I wouldn’t really recommend Ragnar Pennsylvania, especially with Reach The Beach (and possibly other great locations) being decently close. Having only run the two myself, I wasn’t sure if it was PA being exceptionally bad or RTB being exceptionally good, but from my other teammates experiences it sounded like a little bit of both. The roads of New Hampshire seem to almost be made for these activities with their seemingly infinite shouldered roads for people to pull off to hike or site see. The roads we ran on in Pennsylvania were mostly almost the exact opposite. There was also a notable lack of the covered bridges and horses and buggies that the race claimed covered our route. RTB was not only much safer, but also way more scenic. It was also an AMAZING experience to have locals at almost every transition participating in the event and providing food, amenities, and friendliness not because they have to but because they genuinely enjoy it. (I guess this is a more specific RTB perk.) So it seems in the end I’m once again recommending everyone run Ragnar Reach The Beach 😂
- Print out the leg information and put all the pages into a binder for organization!
- Wear more lights than they say! Reflective stuff is great when a car’s headlights are pointed at you so they can reflect, but at intersections when they aren’t you might as well not have any reflective gear on. A single head lamp and tail light are just one little point of light on each side of you.
- Put your clothes for each leg in a Ziploc bag to keep them separated, dry, and you can vacuum seal them to take up less space!
- Bring swimwear (or extra clothes) and a towel! You never know what lake or river you might pass with time for a dip!