Letter from the President (April 2020)

Back a few years, just out of high school, friends and I would make the long trip to the Delaware beaches, as one of my friends had access to his parents’ trailer. This was years before MapQuest and Waze, so everyone had their own fastest route. For us it was the back roads through Chester County, and then south down routes 41 and 1. 

There’s a little town on this path called Avondale, and one night on the way back I was driving my mom’s powder blue Datsun 210. It was dark, and I remember I was driving without shoes on. Now these little towns on the route were notorious for speed traps, so you tried to pay attention. I may have peed my pants when not just one, but multiple police cars popped out with their lights emblazoned. As I scurried to put on shoes (because that must have been why they wanted me), an officer reached the driver’s side door. I’m ready with license and the best innocent look I can pull off as I roll down the window.  The officer’s gazillion watt flashlight nearly blinds me, and all I hear from the officer is, “Sorry, you can go.” I didn’t get the impression he was going to explain further, and I realized this wasn’t simply a speed trap. Something bigger was going on. 

Avondale is also home to a Catholic Church: Iglesia San Rocco. North America has about 2 dozen churches celebrating the works of Saint Rocco. He was born in Southern France around 1348 and died imprisoned by his own uncle before he turned 30. When his parents died, he gave away the family fortune and headed to Italy. News traveled slowly in those days, and Rocco arrived during an epidemic of plague.  It is there that his legend was born as he tended to the sick and saved the life of a Cardinal. 

Rocco himself eventually fell ill and was banished to the forest where, with help, he survived, carrying a scar on his leg the rest of his life.   

So, “Where’s this going?” you ask… Well, Rocco headed back home incognito after some time abroad, and his uncle imprisoned him for being a spy. Rocco, possibly to avoid fame or for whatever reason, never divulged his true identity and died in the prison.   

Hang on–we’re still going.

Fast-forward to 1918: while the world is in the grips of the Spanish Flu, the local bishop of Zamora defied the health authorities and ordered evening prayers on 9 consecutive days in honor of Saint Rocco. In the Catholic Church, this saint is honored as the protector against the plague and all contagious diseases, so it seemed reasonable to pray to him. The churchgoers lined up, kissing the saint’s relics, and Zamora goes on to record the highest flu-related death rate in Spain. To this day, on August 16, St. Rocco–the patron saint of dogs, invalids, the falsely accused, and bachelors–is still celebrated

So, there’s a little history, and it explains why in jest it was thrown around as a great name for a 50k to replace so many other races that were cancelled this month, including HAT 50K, which was canceled about 2 weeks before race day. Who would have thought the final race in the Shiver Series would be the last local race for our members and community?

Initially, with all the local runners training for spring events, it seemed reasonable someone could do something local respecting the guidelines of the CDC and still cover the distance. As the days passed, however, the news and threat became more ominous and any event seemed impractical.  

At some point in the future, there may be an organized group run replicating the 25 miles and twin peak series of trails that Brandon Bean banished himself to mark solo in the woods of Neversink and Mount Penn. Thankfully, unlike poor Rocco, his only scar was the temporary orange ribbon left for people to follow individually.

If you’re not aware, the Club has stopped holding the organized Wednesday Night Runs and the next Pacer Meeting for April 9th will also likely be canceled. The Charlie Horse Half Marathon and the Dirty Pony 5k for May 23rd are the first of the Pacer Club races that we’ve had to cancel.  Shaun Luther, as the Race Director, identified the likely impending situation and was able to minimize the financial loss that can occur when a race of that size is canceled. 

Our next race, Run for the Ages, is scheduled for June 28th, and we will need to adapt to the guidance of the CDC, the State, and the Nolde Forest Environmental Center as the date gets closer. 

When we are able to resume our general membership meetings, there we will need to discuss the real impact this virus will have on our local community, sponsors, and our charity partners, and how we can respond as a club.

Zach Barker, from Fleet Feet, set up a “Berks County Solo Runner” page on FB and I’ve seen many of our fellow runners posting runs (and, in some cases, PR accomplishments). Hats off to Zach and what he’s started. You see often in these FB posts runners admit they barely laced up the shoes and forced themselves to just minimal miles. Turns out, though, once going, they find an extra one or two or simply a pleasant moment that breaks up the emotional gray clouds. I hope our Club members remember our local shops and support them as they have supported us.

I don’t know when it will happen or how it will happen, but we’ll get out of this situation same as the world has done multiple times in the past. When that Officer said, “Sorry, you can go,” I understood there weren’t more questions for me to ask. I wasn’t priority–there was something bigger. And that’s where we’re at now, as we try to follow and respect those putting their life on the line.

Time to quit typing–got to go wash my hands ……. Steve

COVID-19: Finding Purpose as a Runner

by Tom Chobot

A friend has a brother who has been in a dark place almost his entire life. A talented musician as a singer and guitar player in the Baltimore area, his story is nonetheless a series of bad life choices, drug addiction, and poor personal money management. He was never able to stay with the same band for very long, keep a steady job, nor own much more than the shirt on his back. For decades, his sense of purpose and self-worth were at rock bottom. Then came COVID-19. Somehow, he landed a job in a grocery store stocking shelves. Almost instantly, he became showered with expressions of appreciation by his employer, his fellow workers, and customers, for filling a vital and, some might argue, risky position. For the first time in his life, he is doing something with high responsibility and importance, at least by his own standards, and is being recognized for it. Our friend said that she has never seen her brother take such a dramatic turn for the better. For the first time in his life, he has found purpose.

Perhaps the point to all this is that humans, by nature, seem to have an instinctive and burning desire to find purpose. Moreover, we all have one somewhere. It just takes some more time than others to find it. Two weeks before my mother passed in 2006, she told me that she never understood what I got out of running. She had only watched me race twice out of the hundreds of races and thousands of training miles over 4 decades. In fact, she told me she thought I was nuts. But what she did understand is that it made me happy. She then told me something that has changed my life. She said, “If running is what makes you happy, so be it. But don’t keep it to yourself. Find a way to use it and share it to make other people happy. Let running be your way to make the world a better place.” In other words, she told me to find a way to make running my purpose.

This brings us to the present–the days of COVID-19. What can we do as a club and as a running community? As I pondered this, I was reminded of the many discussions I have been part of, involving strategies and mindsets needed to be successful in the wonderful sport of ultrarunning. These discussions were often led by a few well-seasoned and highly respected gurus in the club who some regard as the Jedi masters of the sport (including myself), and are largely responsible for its immense popularity, at least within our own group. They have mentored most, if not all, of us to some degree.  Many of their lessons can be applied during these trying days with a little creativity. We have an opportunity here. Perhaps in some way, we can indeed brighten the lives of those around us simply by sharing these thoughts and applying what we have learned.

  1. Don’t think about the finish line. It’s too far away. Think about getting to the next aid station. When you get there, regroup, refuel, and focus on the next. One section, one mile, one obstacle, one step at a time. Relentless forward progress.

No one knows when this will end. Keep your thoughts here and now.

  1. You are going to feel good, then you’ll feel bad, and eventually you’ll feel good again, many times over. An ultra is a series of ups and downs over a long period of time. Be ready for it.

There will be good days and there will be bad days, but not every day will be bad.

  1. This sport is about problem-solving on your feet. Unexpected things are going to happen. You won’t know what, when, where, or how long it will last, until it happens. Evaluate what’s happening, and what you can do about it. Can you do something now, or can you make it to the next aid station and deal with it then? Be resourceful, work the problem, and take them one at a time.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the grand scheme of the circumstances. Break things down to manageable degrees.

  1. Stay disciplined. Maintain a realistic pace. Monitor your hydration and nutrition intake and do what needs to be done, and don’t base it on how you feel.

Stay healthy, not just for yourself, but for those who depend on you.

  1. Don’t try to do this by yourself. Utilize your crew, your pacers, and the other runners around you. Except for a few ringers in the front, the other runners are not your competitors–the course is. They want to see you succeed as much as you do. Learn to feel the same way about them.

Your friends, neighbors, loved ones, and co-workers are a resource to you just as you are to them. They, too, need to find purpose. Let them.

  1. The dark times (night running) are the hardest times, and the easiest times to give up. The sun will always come up eventually and change everything. Just get through it. 

Constantly remind yourself and others that this, too, shall pass.

  1. Solitude is part of the game. There will be long stretches, sometimes hours, where you won’t see another living soul. Don’t just accept it. Embrace it. For some, this is the best part.

We are trained to deal with solitude. Not everyone is. Remember that.

  1. The harsh reality is that not everyone will finish. In some races, it may be as low as 50%. This is part of the challenge that we all accept going into it. Be supportive and encouraging when needed, but also be compassionate, consoling, and caring when appropriate. 

Not everyone will make it out of this situation unscathed. Each of us has a human responsibility to support not only those who are struggling, but to comfort the loved ones of those who don’t reach the banner.

  1. Remember that everyone else is going through the same thing. We’re all in this together (heard that recently?). The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, especially when it comes to the human spirit.  

As runners, we can indeed contribute to the greater good. We know how to deal with adversity and struggle. More importantly, we know how to come together and draw strength from each other. We have skills which we can share and use to mentor those who are less skilled for something like this. Let’s do our part.

Keep running and stay safe.                                       

“Run for the Ages” Not Canceled Yet

Race Director Donna Hey wants everyone to know that a decision is still pending on whether or not we will be able to hold the Deena Andrus Memorial Run for the Ages 10k Trail Chase on Sunday, June 28.

If anyone has any questions, advice, or suggestions, Donna is willing to listen. Feel free to email her: Donna.Hey@hotmail.com.

In the meantime, follow the race’s Facebook page to keep abreast of updates.

If a decision is made to cancel, an email will be sent to all registered runners and club members.

Charlie Horse & Dirty Pony Canceled

Due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 virus, we have sadly come to the decision to cancel both the Charlie Horse Trail Half Marathon and the Dirty Pony 5K. We have been monitoring this situation closely for a few weeks and have been holding off making this decision, hoping that a way forward would become clearer. However, we do not want to spend a lot of money in preparation for the race and then not be able to refund entry fees if we have to cancel at the last minute.

The Pagoda Pacers Athletic Club uses this race as a fundraiser for the Berks County Special Olympics, and despite not having the race this year, we would still like to make some sort of a donation. We have appealed to the runners who pre-registered to consider donating their entry fees to this fine group, assuring them we will pass along 100% to that organization.

We would also like to appeal to the membership at large to consider making such a donation to compensate for the loss of this fundraising event. Click HERE for more information about donating to Special Olympics programs across Pennsylvania, including here in Berks County.

Shaun Luther and Libby Crockart, Charlie Horse Race Directors

Race Results (March 2020)

Email race results to Race Results Coordinator Karen Rule at raceresults@pagodapacers.com.

March 2020
Ugly Mudder (omitted result last month)
Paul Makurath1:57:542nd M68+
Naked Bavarian 20 Miler
44/288Jess Gockley3:19:396th Female
45Diane Grimm3:19:551st F 60+
138Chris Fisher4:00:12
161Tamra Fisher4:07:57
212Sandie Kincaid4:38:31
249Barbara Raifsnider5:15:56
250Michelle Henry5:26:24
Shiver by the River 5k
16/306Jon Durand20:10
93Janine Beidler27:05
133Shannon Govern29:07
139Tanara Govern29:24
142Larry Drogo29:32
157Steven Holgate30:37
164Lauren Massaro31:01
165John Thompson31:02
246Rose Hagy38:14
278Jerrold Atwell45:31
280Joanne Patti46:22
281Helene Horn46:23
283Madison Thompson47:20
287Whitley Cooke48:22
294Charlie Crowell, Sr.51:03
Shiver by the River 10k
11/120Mark Yourkavitch41:59
12Scott Thomas42:06
15Raine Fussner42:41
16Jeff Fussner42:43
19Laura Yoder43:44
35Dan Govern48:25
46Elaine Cook50:20
51Mike Yoder52:15
52Tania Salaneck52:48
57Katie Thomas53:19
58Jackie Snyder53:22
59Jane Setley53:25
60Beth Kohl53:27
65Colleen Fitzpatrick54:15
66Tony Agentowicz54:24
73Andrea Adam55:06
79Kristen Rothenberger56:38
88Blair Hogg59:14
99Barb Raifsnider61:20
103Ellie Alderfer61:54
Bel Monte 50k
13/84Matt Brophy7:00:31

What the Heck Is a “FKT”?

by Shaun Luther

Simply put, “FKT” is the acronym for Fastest Known Time.  FKT, as a term and a concept, was developed by Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin, and the backstory is well described in this article from Trail Runner Magazine

Bakwin and Burrell

As is mentioned in the article, Buzz and Peter started a message board to track all the FKT records. That message board has since migrated to the website https://fastestknowntime.com/

Besides being a clearinghouse and repository of FKT attempts, it also has some great content on the people that are attempting some epic routes.

So why is this different from someone bagging a Strava segment? While Strava is a useful tool in tracking and verifying results in a FKT attempt, just being the fastest to run down the block in front of your house will not make the cut for a FKT.  Below are the essential criteria, according to the fastestknowntime.com website.

What qualifies as a  F.K.T.?

–The route is notable and distinct enough so that others may be interested in repeating it.

–Routes may be of any distance or time duration.

–Races:  We generally don’t track FKTs for race routes, since the race websites do that, and race results aren’t normally reported to us. But, an FKT set in a race is still an FKT.

–Routes may be on any surface – road, trail, off-trail.

–We have a few Routes between very iconic landmarks, such as buildings or bridges, but we generally do not accept these because there are usually too many possibilities, and also we have found that most are not of general interest (few repeats).

–The focus is on running and hiking in order to be thorough, accurate, and reliable. Climbing, cycling, paddling, skiing, and other sports are great, and we may establish separate categories for them in the future, but not at this time. One may use any means of self-propelled travel during the FKT attempt, provided that (1) At least 50% of time must be running and/or hiking, vs. other sports, and (2) Ropes may not be employed for more than 10% of the Elapsed Time, and climbing grades 5.8/5a and harder even without a rope are considered climbing, not running or hiking.

–Motorized travel for the sole purpose of linking important features may be allowed, for example during the Colorado or California 14ers.

–If you completed a route but came up short of a new FKT, definitely post a comment on the route page letting everyone know what you did. However, do not submit a new FKT because unlike Strava’s leaderboards, for example, there are no second or third fastest listings; only the fastest, posted chronologically as they were completed.

Perhaps some of you have jumped ahead and did a search for FKTs in Pennsylvania and came across the entry for Blue Marsh Lake Circumnavigation from April 2019. Yes, that’s me, I ran around the whole lake in 3:37:15. Now some will say, “That’s impossible, isn’t it 30 miles or something?”  No, the distance I ran was 17.64 miles.  

For years, there have been discussions about how fast you could actually run around Blue Marsh if you used shortcuts. In fact, the very first Dave & Shaun’s Excellent Adventure was sort of an attempt to see how fast teams could do just that. After reading about some of the FKT routes, I thought I would put a stake in the ground and document a route for the fastest circumnavigation of Blue Marsh Lake.

My first task was to see if what I was planning was even FKT-worthy. I summarized what I was trying to do in an email and sent it off to the fastestknowntime.com guys. I had decided to add some guidelines to this route, since my run wouldn’t follow a fixed and marked trail, and future attempts probably wouldn’t either.  

Guidelines used to determine this route and future routes:

–No swimming. No portion of the lake or tributary streams was crossed that could not be either hopped across or waded across. This eliminates from route consideration the large bridges on Rt 183. There is one exception–the bridge on N. Heidleberg Rd at the very north end of the lake–mainly because to find a place to ford Northkill Creek and Tulpehocken Creek/Union canal above the bridge would force you to trespass on private property. 

–No trespassing. This route was either on park property, State Game Land property, or public roads. This also takes out for route consideration going across the dam at Stilling Basin that is posted with “No Unauthorized Personnel” signs all over it. Also the Old Dry Road Farm property may be out of play. Some maps show it as part of the park, others show it as a separate entity. There are periodically “No Trespassing” signs up on the property. I avoided it just because its status is unclear.

Much to my surprise, Peter Bakwin himself replied to my email and said that the proposed route certainly met their FKT criteria. and it looked like fun. With Peter’s blessing, I set about trying to plan my route.

I was pretty confident on the shortest/fastest route on the south side of the lake. So I spent a few weekend runs in February and March of 2019 scouting out possible routes through the Game Lands on the north side of the lake.  Anyone that has done any trail running with me knows that I don’t have a problem with bushwhacking, getting lost, or getting my feet wet. There was a lot of all three when trying to find the shortest runnable route around that part of the lake.  Topographical maps are helpful. GoogleEarth is invaluable. But both don’t really tell you if that particular hedgerow is impassable or if that green area is just a field or a shoe-sucking swamp. With a route finalized, I set Sunday, April 7th, 2019 as my target date for the attempt.  

April 7th turned out to be a bit warmer than I would have hoped with temps up into the mid 70s with bright sun. With not a lot of leaves yet on the trees, shade was going to be in short supply. Since this was an unsupported attempt, I packed up my smaller Camelbak with about 30 oz of water and a couple of GUs and headed out to Blue Marsh. Since I was going to run counterclockwise around the lake, I chose to start at the Justa Rd. Game Lands parking lot mainly because the deepest stream that was going to have to wade across was Spring Creek, and I didn’t want to have to run too far after that if I didn’t have to. The run itself went pretty much to plan and was actually really fun because of the diversity of terrain. You get a few miles of trails, then some bushwhacking, then some road, then some more trail, refreshing stream crossings, etc. Since this really was all about setting the route, I wasn’t really trying to “race” it.  I just kept a steady effort and tried not to let the temps and sun bother me too much. My water use was pretty close to plan; I think I had about 5 oz left and I didn’t even touch the GUs. The next day I submitted my FKT report to fastestknowntime.com. Since this was a new route, I had to submit the route and then separately submit my run with a short write up along with my Strava data as proof of the FKT. A few days later, I got an email from fastestknowntime.com saying the attempt was accepted.  

So, it’s been nearly a year since my FKT, and no one has improved on my time. I really don’t know if anyone has even attempted the route. I am sure that, within our club, there are many people who could really improve on my time. No doubt. With all the spring races that have been cancelled, this may be the perfect time to use that winter training on a FKT attempt. Have at it.  And in keeping with the whole ethos of FKT, I would have no problem sharing tips and info on the Blue Marsh route should someone want to attempt it.

Side note: While I was writing this article, Jim Blandford did a scorchingly fast solo run on the Buzzard course. Several people, including me, urged Jim to submit the run to fastestknowntime.com. Now there are two Pennsylvania FKTs held by Pacers. And right now I am in the planning stages of another FKT attempt, but more on that later.

Also, for another good read about the attraction of FKTs, click HERE

Shiver by the River: ’19-’20 Series Wrap-Up

The 30th Shiver by the River is complete. We had 636 individual runners, with 304 runners completing the series.   Results of each race, plus the series results, can be found on pagodapacers.com. Awards which were not picked up at the banquet are at Fleet Feet (formerly A Running Start), 705 Penn Ave, West Reading.  Once our virus restrictions are lifted, stop by during normal business hours to pick up your trophy.

As always, THANK YOU to all the Pacers who participated either by running, volunteering, or both! We sincerely appreciate all of our volunteers, whether you helped us at one race or every race; especially those of you who were willing to do whatever was needed to make this series another success! I don’t want to mention specific names for fear of forgetting someone, but volunteers, you know who you are, and runners, you know who they are – you see so many of the same volunteers parking cars, at the water stop, at the same registration table, at the same intersection, or inside the farmhouse refilling snacks, bagels, and soup.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!  

The awards ceremony was again held at the Temple Fire Company, in Muhlenberg Township.  Fleet Feet of West Reading provided $25 Gift Certificates to our overall winners. THANK YOU to the following for the donation of door prizes:  

Yuriko Beaman & Spark Joy Yoga  – Yoga Mat, Free Yoga Lesson, Bottle of Gatorade

Fleet Feet – (30) $10 Gift Certificates

Ron Horn and Pretzel City Sports – (2) Gift Certificates plus a Hat from the Gifted Runner

Alecia Bradley – Items from Este Lauder and Clinque, plus Perfume and Flower Pots 

Karen Rule & Shillington Eye Associates – Gift Basket

Stephan Weiss & Uber Endurance Sports – Gift Basket

Ellie Alderfer – Cookies plus miscellaneous items

Brandon Beane and Origlio Beverage – (10) 12oz 12 packs of beer or hard seltzer; (16) 12oz 6 packs of beer; (2) 12oz cases of  beer, which were split into (8) 6 packs 

Mike Whalen – Basket of Food Items

Gary Stern – Artwork

Michael Reager and Run PA – Run PA shirts, hat, decals, magnets

Georgine McCool – Basket of misc Food Items, Coasters & Knife set

Road-ID – Gift Certificates

Pagoda Pacers – Gift Baskets 

Polly Corvaia, thank you for putting together various gift baskets and then contacting some of our local businesses to sponsor a basket. 

Laura Yoder, thank you for making arrangements with Run PA, who set up a tent outside of the farmhouse, which added to the race experience.  

THANK YOU to our sponsors:  

Kohl Pharmaceutical Research, LLC

Shillington Family Chiropractic Center

Fleet Feet – West Reading 

Please patronize both our door prize contributors and our sponsors.  Please contact Sue Jackson at shiverdirector@pagodapacers.com if I missed any door prize donors.   

If anyone has any comments, concerns, or questions concerning the series, please feel to contact one of the race directors. We do value your input, and we do read the surveys, making modifications when possible.   

Once again, thanks for all of the Pacer support, both runners and volunteers!!!!!!!!!   We hope to see all of you next year.

Sue, Kelsey, Georgine & Tiffany