abe pagoda.

I snuck in a final organized run in October and it was a fun one.  On the evening of October 21st, Pretzel City Sports, a/k/a Ron Horn (the madman), hosted its second annual Ghouls 'n Fools 6.2 Mile Trail Run on the ridge above Reading, Pennsylvania.

Kicking off at 7:00 PM, the run meandered its way through the woods, demanding the guiding power of either a headlamp or a flashlight.  The Pretzel City crew had been kind enough to hang reflective trail markers and/or glow sticks here or there, but navigation was still tricky. With the exception of a couple of road crossings, the route consisted of mostly technical single(or just slightly wider)track with a blanket of fallen leaves to mask the rocks, roots and downed logs.

Considering the odd demands of this race, I was surprised to find a parking lot busting at the seams with parked cars, cars looking for places to be parked and tons of runners, some in Halloween garb and others cloaked in their standard uniforms of streamlined running shorts and wicking tee-shirts.  I didn't know it at the time, but the night would end with almost 450 official finishers.  What I did know is that there were A LOT of people there to take part in the race.

Ron barked his signature ominous and hilarious pre-race instructions/threats before sending the throng shuffling off into a darkness broken only by the bobbing of headworn beams of light.

Photo courtesy of Derek Schultz
I also pulled off a signature move, placing myself foolishly too far back in the pack, resulting in a first mile that demanded the acrobatics of weaving through the crowd and maneuvering off and back onto the trail to get to where I should have been in the first place.  I am just smart enough to know that I have no business being anywhere near the front of a starting line pack while recognizing that I'm also unlikely to come in dead last.  My intelligence seems to poop out after that point and I end up placing myself firmly in the middle.  Someday (maybe) I will better learn where I belong.  On this night, 10 minutes of hard running were devoted solely to getting to where I should have been in the first place.  The upside to starting too far back instead of positioning yourself too far forward is that you get a psychological boost from passing runners instead of being passed.

Because of being in under the trees and as some of those trees were either evergreens or deciduous trees stubbornly clinging to the last of this season's leaves, I didn't enjoy the benefit of the night's full moon.  Instead, I relied on the light cast by my Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp (love it) and snuck some quick peeks into the beams thrown by those runners just ahead of me.

I'd put 4 miles and one water station behind me before getting my first glimpse of scenery outside of a narrow beam of artificial light.  Topping out on a high point and breaking out from under the trees, I was greeted by the sprawling lights of the city way down below and, high overhead, the towering red lights of Reading's iconic (though eternally peculiar) Pagoda perched on the edge of the ridge.  Passing beneath the out of place structure, I was further greeted by enthusiastic race supporters and the offer of my choice of beer or water (though conflicted, I went with the water).  A few strides later, the pagoda and its corresponding brightness vanished back into the darkness.

Thinking that all of the climbing was behind me (being unfamiliar with the course and unaided by sunlight, I have little idea of how much or how little elevation gain there was), I struggled a bit with an unexpected incline that presented itself soon thereafter.  It was the first time that night that my legs felt heavy.  After suffering a slowed pace for a couple of hundred yards, I sucked it up and got back to running hard.

Most of the remaining track was technical but manageable downhill before one last kicker that consisted of having to clamber over a guardrail before hitting a steep, rocky stretch that ultimately deposited me within sight of the finish line.

I passed the time clock at 52:44 and, as the start/finish was strategically located in the biergarten of the Reading Liederkranz (Did I mention that it's located on Spook Lane?  How Halloween-y.), I headed straight for the beer I'd passed up at the Pagoda water station.  Authentic German accordion music played by an authentic German (at least he looked the part) escorted me to a fine post-race thirst-quenching lager.

I'd ended up 39th out of 440 and, most importantly, I finished with a big smile on my face and two not-twisted ankles.

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