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Chambersburg runners win competitive Ragnar race

When Chambersburg sophomore Donovan Hazelton crossed the finish line of a race earlier this month, he was met with his teammates, cheers from the crowd and a distinct desire to find a place to hide.

Hazelton needed to get away from the crowd, and for good reason. He was about to lose his lunch.

Or his dinner. Or maybe his breakfast, for that matter.

For Hazelton had just completed a Ragnar race, which involves eight teammates running over a course for no more than 24 hours.

Although he didn't know it yet, Hazelton and his team of seven other Chambersburg cross country runners had won the Ragnar race, held in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains at Big Bear Lake in Bruston Mills, W.Va. The boys were given the full 24 hours to complete the race, but needed just 19:12:08 to earn the victory.

"At about the 100-meter mark, there's a place where you run over this bridge to the finish line," teammate Nathen Snyder said. "We were all waiting for him so we could run to the finish line together. We saw him and started running behind him, and we're in this big trail, all happy, and Donovan just pulls off, goes behind a fence and starts puking. Everyone just kept cheering him on."

The team "Fresh to Death" also included Tyler Best, Brandon Quach, James Merkle, Ben Patterson, Arturo Carrillo and Justin Maxwell.

A Ragnar race is essentially one large relay race. Each teammate has to run a series of three loops - the green loop, which is 3.5 miles, the yellow loop (4.6 miles) and the red loop (6.5) - in turn. For instance, if Best started the race on the green loop, when he finished, Quach would run the yellow loop, followed by Merkle on the red loop, and so on until all eight team members have completed all three loops.

What's especially challenging about Ragnar racing is it is all trail running, and much of the running is done through the night. The boys began the race at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12 and finished just after 11:42 a.m. the next day.

Another challenge was pure time management. The boys said there was typically about four to five hours of down time between each loop. During that time, they had to balance eating and sleeping while making sure they were ready to go when the previous runner finished.

"Whoever was up next would have to be up and ready, so we were trying to estimate when they would finish," Quach said. "I was kind of like The Godfather, trying to help everyone get out of bed because we have to get there prior to when the next guy finishes. I think only got half an hour of sleep during the race, but I slept a lot afterwards."

While sleep is always important, it was also essential to make sure the team stayed entertained and energized. "Fresh to Death" passed the time by making smores, playing Exploding Kitten (a card game) and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

There was also some entertainment value during the actual race.

In one portion of the yellow loop, Quach said the trail was lined with about 100 trees, and strobe lights guided runners through the rows of trees.

"That part was really cool, especially at night with the head lamps," Quach said. "It looked really cool; I did the 'Hotline Bling' (a dance from a Drake song) through that part."

Although the Ragnar race was mostly for fun, it provided some serious athletic training ahead of the cross country season. Not only did each boy have to run a total of 14.6 miles in the race, they all agreed the courses were much tougher than anything they'd face during the high school season.

Carrillo even said his shoe got stuck in the mud during the race. The trails were rocky, muddy and narrow with sharp turns, plus it was difficult to see throughout much of the competition.

"I felt that it helped give experience to different kinds of races," Patterson said. "It was a good experience, and there was a lot of strategizing, too. You really have to calculate how fast you can go on each trail. You don't want to go all out on the red trail, and be dead on the other trails."

The boys' focus has turned to the high school season, but the possibility of another Ragnar race for these victors is definitely not out of the question.