WARNING: A copious amount of reading ahead! Turn back now or if you so desire, enjoy the copious amount of rambling verbiage that lay before you…
It’s hard to really sum up a weekend like the previous one. It’s an emotional weekend. It’s a physically draining weekend. It’s a constant comedy of ramblings and silliness type of weekend. It can even be a stinky weekend. It’s an “eat all the vegan snacks” type of weekend. And for certain it’s a weekend that goes by way to flippin’ fast!
This was my fourth Ragnar; third as a member of Strong Hearts Vegan Power and they’ve become a second family for me. I’ve raced on a few different teams, and there really is no comparison because they all had people who meant a lot to me but if I HAD to compare them one thing would separate SHVP from the rest and that’s equality. No matter who you meet on this team there is a connection that goes beyond primal, it’s a fundamental understanding you are both on the same level and the thing that you are about to do is so important to each and every one of you. While we may have an A, B, C, D and even an E team we are all one Strong Hearts Vegan Power family.
We had members converge upon PA from all over the country, this time we even had a married couple (Corey and Channon who were in my van) who came from Chattanooga, TN. A good portion of the team is from New York, Boston and Philly but we’ve got folks from the West Coast as well. For most, the trip started on Thursday. I left my house at about 7:30am to make it to Worcester (Marie’s house) by 10am.
At about 8:15am a series of events played out in front of me and I wasn’t as quick to react, I crashed my truck into the guy in front of me that stopped short. Thankfully this was not some sort of calamitous foreshadowing of the weekend, just a blip in the road; literally. After assessing the damage and realizing it was just a glancing blow, we traded info and were on our way.
I got to where I needed to be, albeit earlier than I thought I had to. Shortly after I showed, the rest of the Boston contingent arrived. We arranged all our stuff in two vans and off to Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary we went. The plan was to drop our camping gear there as we would be camping out Saturday night after the race. Some of us thought it’d be smart to set up our tents before hand so we got that done and got back into the vans to head to Philly to meet more teammates and look for food.
One of our sponsors was Blackbird Pizzeria, an all vegan pizza joint in Philly. Not only do they do pizza but they do vegan cheese steak subs and the most glorious seitan wings. We got in kind of late and I think they were overwhelmed. I did reach out when we were about 30 minutes away, but they were busy and 10-15 more bodies on top of their rush was formidable at best. Since we had nowhere else to be, we were patient. Most of us had not been to Blackbird before so between the table, we ordered just about everything they offered. I chose the habanero seitan wings and cheese fries. I sincerely regret not getting the cheese steak, but my stomach can only hold so much and with all those miles coming up, I didn’t want to have to deal with gastric stuff mid run; that would NOT have been good. The wings were great, some of the pieces were quite thick and weren’t as cooked as they could have been, but again; they were overwhelmed so I will give them a pass because the flavor was off the charts. The cheese fries were amazing. I’d give them a solid 4.5 stars!
After sleeping the night away (thanks for the hospitality Erin), 4am came really quick and we were out the door by 4:30am. We hit a Wawa for coffee and off to the start line we went for pre-race meeting, team photo and to see our first team off. We had three teams taking off at 830am including my team for the weekend; team C. Even though we officially started at 8:30am, we were van 2 and that meant we weren’t on the clock until runner six hit the first major exchange at Salisbury Township Community Park, which is where we headed off to.
We checked in, watched our safety video and relaxed a bit. While walking around we had to come to terms with a few things. We were in farm country and we surely would see some stuff that bothered us. Looking around at some of the farms close by not only did you see animals grazing but there were some of those small white containers (veal crates) all grouped together. You know, the one’s where young male cows are hidden away from their moms to live a short life and become veal? Yeah, those things were all over and the realization was horrifying as there was not much anyone could do. The best thing we could continue to do though was to stay visible, it was hard not to notice a bunch of (mostly) tattooed vegans dressed in black with “Strong Hearts Vegan Power” emblazoned on the front in white lettering. And that’s a big part of the reason we are at these things, to represent the animals and be a voice for them.
I’m not sure the exact time but Michael Harren was coming in and the hand-off to Corey was imminent. There were a couple other teams hanging out waiting for their runners so we all crowded the exchange and Michael rounded the corner, came up to the line and… WHAT? Yup, Ragnar moment for sure and the slap-bracelet bent a weird way and it hit the deck. Corey recovered and Team C van 2 was on the clock!
It wasn’t until a little before 4pm that my first run started. The sun had peaked and it was beating down. In my first 2-3 miles my water bottle was empty and I could have used an aid station, but I didn’t see one anywhere. This would become a running theme for the weekend. There were either no aid stations on my run or the one’s that were there didn’t have anyone at them or water in the jugs they so blatantly left unattended.
The hills were rolling and there was not as much elevation as my next two runs were going to have. As I mentioned, this was farm country and most of them are run by the Amish. You could see them everywhere. If they weren’t flying by trying to run you off the road in a horse-drawn buggy, they were zipping along on push scooters. Yeah one Amish guy did try to run me off the road all the while staring me down, it felt very Amish mafia so I just kept running)Even in the hottest heat of the day, the younger kids were outside playing basketball in button down shirts, suspenders and jeans. I started to get into a zone thank to Pandora and the amazing playlist I had going. Nothing like a Black Tongue beat-down as you run through Amish country. The total run was 6.3 miles in 1:08:04 with an elevation change of only a couple hundred feet. Not the best time or pace but I was trying to save something for later, it was about to get real.
At this point, once your van is done you do one of two things, get food or sleep. I say either or because sometimes that is all you can do. We basically lived at Giant Food grocery stores on our time off. Our first stop I grabbed some fresh strawberries, watermelon and a couple of green juices. Everything I bought had a coupon on it and the juices were buy one get on free. This seemed to confuse the person behind the counter and they had to call over some back up. I got over $10 worth of fresh fruits for $3 though; I’m a cheap vegan and look for a bargain everywhere and anywhere I am!! After scarfing our grub we did head to the next exchange and waited for van 1.
I didn’t start my next leg until almost 2am. I was prepared for the hand off and headed up the mountain for some nasty elevation. I was about to see 800+ feet of elevation gain in a 2.5 mile climb. Good thing is there was also a 2.5 mile downhill. Getting up was a challenge as my legs we already a tad tired but I slogged on and actually got some kills headed up the mountain. Not being the fastest runner, I am not one to notch too many kills, so it was nice to get some under my belt. I did this run without music. I’m not a huge fan of running in the mountains late at night without being able to hear what is possibly coming out of the woods to eat me. Luckily the bears didn’t see me so I was off the menu; Aaron didn’t see me either so I was doing a good job at not being noticed (just kidding Aaron). The backside of the mountain was great and I gave it all I had. Again, I’m not a fast runner but using momentum was able to log 7:20 for a good amount of the run down. 6.8 miles after starting this leg of the race I handed off the slap-bracelet to Britt. After our van was done we went to the next exchange and I think we actually got some sleep; I’m sure I did because I woke up not knowing where the heck we were, haha!
At 2pm I finally started my last leg and it was going to be brutal to say the least. I was getting out of the port-a-potty just as Brian was hitting the exchange and I wasn’t ready. I grabbed the slap-bracelet though and started the 800+ feet of elevation gain in two miles span; it was a soul crusher for sure. 3/4 of the way up the top the van had pulled over to give me my handheld, again I was unprepared to start this leg. I started pounding the water right away and probably should have tried to save it. I was losing steam fast and for the first time I slow to a thru-hike like pace. As I hit the top I felt a wave of nausea overcome me and I ran for the woods. I lost whatever I had in my stomach and was out of water.
I have never had this happen before but I’m sure a combo of the heat and the abuse my legs were taking from all the elevation changes had a bit to do with it. I got myself back together and put one foot in front of the other and got a run going again. I felt something in my handheld shaking, yet I knew there was no water. Luckily, Johnny had squirreled away some GU Chews for me and they came in really f*cking handy at that point.I ate them with sincere ferocity and got into a zone to finish this leg. 5.8 miles later and 900+ elevation gain, I did!
The rest of the van crushed it and the final 4 runners got a great pace going as we headed toward the finish line. Channon brought it home for us and as she came toward the finish we followed behind her, along with van A, and finished together. There was an overwhelming sense of elation for the team, more so for myself. I’ve done races with elevation before, but PA really taxed my ability to sustain forward momentum. I’m so proud of my teammates, not just C team but ALL of the teams. Everyone truly shined in what was probably the toughest Ragnar course we’ve run to date.
We headed toward Tamerlaine after the race for a pizza party and to crash. I seriously don’t know how long it took me to fall asleep but it was quick I know that. The next morning we awoke to the sounds of farm animals starting their day. There were roosters crowing, goats bleating and in the distance (not at Tamerlaine) a peacock was screaming at the top of its lungs. Well, that’s what it sounded like to me. Gabby and Peter (co-owners of Tamerlaine) as well as other volunteers were getting things settled and were also working on an amazing breakfast for SHVP. There was coffee, bagels from a local shop and just about anything you could want on them. I simply had a untoasted sesame seed bagel with almond butter, I was more looking forward to the view out of the back of the veranda more than anything. There was this stunning sense of peace that came over me just sitting there enjoying my breakfast. With all of the hubbub of the race, it was wondrous to slow down and just be present. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that calm and it was beautiful.
Members of the team that had camped on site were waking up and starting to make their way to the veranda for rations and coffee as others who had stayed at local hotels showed up as well. Everyone enjoyed a fantastic breakfast filled with joy and friendship. There was talk of the race, obviously, but it seems that Tamerlaine kind of took over for people and the animals were calling. We all had to go see them.
We first went to hang with the turkeys and the newest resident, Pecan the pig. Things started getting a little hairy when the male turkeys started getting competitive with one of the woman from the team, we had to leave the pen so they could calm down. We made our way over to the goats and they were all so amazing. They were not shy at all and wanted nothing more than to cuddle and to be scratched.
We toured the farm some more and met other residents such as all the roosters and chickens. Some of those chickens were saved from the Kaporos ritual (the link is horrifying, watch with caution) that is held in Brooklyn. All of the animals here were saved in one way or another. Whether it was from a slaughterhouse or some crap backyard farm where the owners got over the head. Tamerlaine is doing some amazing work. It was mind-blowing to know that the fundraiser we had for them that ran concurrent to Ragnar raised over $10,000 for those animals. Some of the donations were from readers here and I thank you as do the folks at Tamerlaine.
Later on in the afternoon it was time to head back to the real world so we got the MA contingent together and off we went. Minus getting caught in some major traffic in CT, the drive was far less eventful than my ride to meet them on Thrusday. Here’s where I finally wrap this up and thank you for sticking with me and reading, but I also want to thank the folks in SHVP. When I say this I truly mean it, I love you guys! It’s hard to put into words what you have done for me just by being here and showing me kindness. I am humbled that you have accepted me as one of your own and cannot wait to see you all next!!!
Lastly, thank you to our sponsors The Herbivorous Butcher, Dandies, Blackbird Pizzeria, Grindcore House, GU Energy, Little Secrets and Newzill! Your support not only helps us do what we do but shows the integrity that stands behind your business, thank you!
I’m a blue-collar, no-frills, vegan cable guy trying to show the world
how health is not just relegated to those that can afford it, or for the
typical health nut. My cholesterol was once at dangerous levels, life
defying levels, and I made the change to a plant based diet. I started
running, quit smoking cigarettes and now, in my 40’s, I am in the
best shape of my life. The bonus is, it doesn’t cost what you think it
is, all it takes is commitment to a new lifestyle. Ⓥ #vegan #deathracer #ultrarunner #nespahtens #shvp