Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ghost Train Ultra Race Report

After my failed attempt at 100 miles earlier this summer at the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness, I was hungrier than ever to get the job done. However, I didn't know when or what race it was going to be at. Low and behold, the Ghost Train Ultra in Brookline, NH.

I found the race website through the TARC home page and checked out the race's specs. The terrain seemed a lot easier (rail trail) than the MW 100 (mountains and rivers and more mountains and rivers....). The time limit was generous (30 hours) and price couldn't be beat at $30. Also an hour drive my house and the ability to sleep in my own bed the night before were definite pluses.

A 9am start would allow Ben (a former student of mine) and myself plenty of time to set up our aid at the far end of the 7.5 mile trail and still return well before the arrival of the other racers. I had set up two coolers and two shopping bags filled with food and drink for both the start/finish aid and at the turn-around. However, when we arrived at the start, Steve Latour, RD extraordinaire, was setting up the aid table and it was completely stocked with just about everything I had brought.

photo courtesy of Steve Latour

As the parking lot slowly began to fill with racers I was told there were only 8 people running the 100 mile race. The only problem was I didn't know who they were.

Lap 1

So Steve gives us a few directional cues and off we go. Some faster than others. Some off really faster than others. I thought to myself, are these dudes running the 100 or maybe just the 50k? Not sure but I didn't want to be out of contention from the start so I kept them in sight for most of the first 7.5 miles. Another runner caught me from behind, Patrick, from Montreal, and we ran together for a good part of two laps. I knew from the start that going out too hard would kill my chances of finishing this race, so at the turn-around (which I hit in 1:09) I told myself, let them go and run your own race. A slightly slower return leg left me with a 2:23 first lap. I was planning for a 3 hour split so I was way too fast to start. Idiot!!!

Photo courtesy of Steve Latour

Lap 2

With Patrick in tow, we both decided to slow it down. His prior ankle injury was bothering him and I knew sustaining the first laps pace was not helping my chances of finishing. Fueling with GU's, Gatoraide and water did the trick throughout this lap. I really tried to eat and drink as much as I could handle. Way more than I usually do. I also upped my salt intake by taking 3 to 4 S caps each hour. Sometimes I would take just one, if I felt the need (don't ask me how) and other times I would take two. I think I've always had trouble managing my salts, but this race I hit it dead on. I eventually pulled away from Patrick with a few miles to go and decided to unleash my secret weapon.  Lap 2 split was 2:55.

Photo courtesy of Steve Latour

Lap 3

I have never run with music. Ever. I didn't even own an iPod until three weeks prior to the race. A co-worker at the high school actually gave me her old shuffle because she felt bad for me. I figured, why not, I'll give it try and get some tunes to get me going. I've seriously been digging house music lately. Channel 51 on BPM is my go to when I get in the car and I pretty much downloaded a ton of music I hear on it. So off I go, iPod in pocket and now flames coming out of my shoes (my trusty Tecnica Diablo Max of course!).  I was a different experience, running with music, and it kept my mind off the pain and on the beats.

When I checked the splits at the end of the lap, I found out all the dudes ahead of me in the first two laps were done at the 50k mark. This left me in the lead and a little pressure to maintain it. This happened once before at the Big A 50k, me being the prey and the others on the hunt. I felt like I torched this lap and noticed that my lead on the others had grown. Seeing everyone on the return leg allowed me to gauge how far ahead or if I was losing ground. Lap 3 spilt was 3 hours even and 45 miles in the bag.

Photo courtesy of Steve Latour

Lap 4

The music continued and so did the miles. I realized it was getting later in the day and picked up my headlamp and extra batteries at the start/finish. About half way through the "out" it got dark on the trails and I noticed my lamp wasn't really all that bright. I figured it was just about dusk and that maybe it was the dimming daylight playing tricks with my eyes. NO. It was just my batteries getting real low. So instead of switching them out while I still has some sort of light, I just kept running. Running till I couldn't really see in front of me....until I saw a headlamp in the distance. It was Steve, the RD and he gladly let me use his light to switch out my batteries. Note to self: bring small flashlight to help you seen when you switch out batteries, you know the one you packed and didn't bring on lap 4!!!  After the battery change, I could actually see where I was running and seemed to move a little quicker. At this point, I was wondering if Jay, a fellow runner and co-worker of mine, would be arriving in time to meet me on the next lap. Lap 4 split was 3:14.

All photos courtesy of Steve Latour

Lap 5

Jay was there with a special treat. Soup!! Wow did this help me out. Since darkness had fallen, it got really cold. The forecast called for mid to high 30's at night, but someone said it was actually in the high 20's. The hot soup hit the spot and we were off. I'm not sure what happened on this loop, but I couldn't really get into a rhythm. I would run a stretch and then have to walk a bit, then repeat. During this loop, we met up with Jeff Lane, the second place finisher of the 100 miler. He was heading back to the start and had just come off the one "hill" on the course. He mentioned there was guy yelling at him for being on the trail so late and to get the "f" off of it. Jay and I slowly meandered up the hill awaiting our friendly spectator. He started yelling at us from his porch and then a women said, "I'm going to get the dogs after you!" More profanity followed and our pace picked up a wee bit heading into the aid station. While there, the volunteers called the cops and they asked to speak with me. The officer put me on hold a few times then I finally told him that I had to leave and that I was getting cold. I assume the situation got resolved because on our return trip there was no hassle going over the hill. Lap 5 split was 3:57.

All photos courtesy of Steve Latour

Lap 6

I knew at this point it was two laps and its over. No more dally wagging, just run as much as you can and finish this thing already!!  I threw the music back on and things seemed to moving alight. It was really getting cold now and I had to manage how much I was running compared to walking. When I ran too much I would sweat a ton and didn't want to be wearing wet clothes in 20 degrees temps. When I felt the perspiration coming on, I simply took a few minutes to cool back down by walking, then started running again. I met Steve, the RD, on my way out and he spoken with everyone else on course about shortening the 105 mile course to 100. I was on board with this 100%. He told me where the turn-around was for lap 7 and I felt giddy that I didn't have to run those 5 extra miles. I spent little time at the aid station at the turn-around this lap. I just wanted to refill water and get out. No sitting or soup for me. Lap 6 split was 3:56.

Photo courtesy of Steve Latour
Lap 7

The final lap. And a shortened lap at that. Ten miles and I could call myself a 100 mile finisher. I probably ran more this lap than I did in the last two. I just wanted it to be over and I also wanted to do it under 24 hours. I kept going through the times in my head and couldn't really wrap it around my brain that I had 4 hours to do 10 miles. Any other day that would be easy, but after 90 miles I had myself doing advanced trigonometry to find the splits need to do so. The battery on the iPod finally crapped out on the way back in and I was totally fine with it. I actually needed to hear myself breath and the water trickling over the many waterfalls along the course. Birds began to sing and the sun was peaking up. At 6:38 am I finished my first 100 miler.  Lap 7 split 2:13.

Overall I am very pleased with my results. I finished the 100 miler and did so under 24 hours. I'm not sure if I wanted to go any further or if they would have let me gone on for that matter. I did many things differently this time around. To name a few, I used Vaseline on my feet pre-race to reduce blistering, which worked immensely. I used mountain dew and coke in a 1/4 mixture with water for caffeine intake on laps 4 through 7. The only thing I would change is more time flattening the soda. I loosened the caps the day before the race and they still had some fizz to them (the mixture actually shot out of my handhelds bottles!)  Maybe 3-4 days would work. May do some research on this. I used different ways to carry what I needed. I used two handhelds for the first two laps, then a waist belt for the last 5. I brought my Nathan pack but never used it. Never changed my shoes, my trusty Tecnica Diablo Max, or my socks the entire race. My feet felt good and I didn't want to mess with them. Plus, there was no water crossings to deal with so they were dry (unlike MW100).  My go-to food was Halloween sized snickers and Reece's peanut butter cups. My stomach could handle them and they kept me going strong all night.

I thought I managed my water, salts and nutrition during this race very well. Also, managing my body temp at night was crucial in my finishing the 100 miler.

Steve Latour and the rest of the crew did an outstanding job putting on this race. For 30 bucks it can't be beat. Many thanks to Jay for driving out to Brookline, NH to run/walk 15 miles with me and the soup to keep me warm. And finally I'd like to thank my wife and daughter for putting up with me for two years in reaching this goal. Many times I would unintentionally wake them up when tip-toeing out of the house at 4am for run.


  1. Justin congratulations for this race! You are a strong runner and a very nice person. Hope to see you on the trail again.

    Patrick Montreal quebec

  2. Thanks Patrick! I had a blast running with you and felt like the miles just ticked away with our conversations. Keep putting those miles in and I'll see you on the trail soon.

  3. Great article, I’m considering running this in 2019...however I’ve only raced and completed ultras on true trail. 50k and Spartan Ultra Beast. Is this terrain hard packed? Or on pavement? That stuff eats me up, thanks