|Crew & pacers! Missing Chris & Amy. PC: Josh Katzman|
“The journey is more important than the destination.”
I heard this quote a few days before Ghost Train Rail Trail 100 in an Usain Bolt documentary and it was bouncing around my head come race day.
I decided to run Ghost Train back in January knowing that it would be my second 100 (if I finished Vermont 100 which I did). I had no idea how the recovery from VT would play out and how to exactly get back into training after my VT break. With some advice from Amy Rusiecki, I simply backed out my VT 100 training plan six weeks and got to it. I felt strong during my two big build up weeks of 73 and 77 miles.
I assembled yet another cracker jack team of sighted guides and crew and was ready to roll come race day. I was aiming for a sub-24-hour finish and was hoping to run consistent loops (Ghost Train is a 7.5 mile trail out and back so each loop is 15 miles).
Chris, who crewed me during VT, gave me a ride up and was my first guide. This was Chris’s first time guiding but because the trail is runnable I wasn’t too nervous. We arrived around 8:00AM which gave us plenty of time to set up our stuff, get my bib, and eat before the 9:00AM start. I decided to start a bit closer to the front than last year to avoid the huge bottleneck for the first few miles.
The Yeti howl went off at 9:01 and we headed out. The goal was to run about a 3hr:15-minute loop and head out for the next loop by 12:30pm. We started with my friend Keith, who has been a guide with the Coastal Athletic Club and was running his first ultra (congrats on finishing 45 miles!!!). After the turn-around I tried to fist bump Keith as he passed and mistakenly punched some guy in the chest jamming my fingers! Sorry, sir. We also shared a few miles on the way out with Chris Wristen, who writes Mass Ultra, which was a treat.
We hit the end-point at the Milford DPW, quickly topped off my water and Tailwind bottles, and headed back within a minute or two. Chris was nailing the guiding including the one technical section around mile 5 (on the way out) in which there is a small climb up then back down. We ran by ourselves the way back and I was constantly trying to slow down so my splits were in the 10-minute range. We cruised by the mid-point aid station and sailed into Camp Tevya and the start/finish point in 2 hours 44 minutes. We were a bit ahead of schedule but I wasn’t too concerned. Not stopping at the AS played a factor.
Elapsed Time: 2:44 (not counting aid station)
Kim M., who guided me for a loop last year when I ran 60 miles, was up next. We walked out of Camp Tevya to give me time to eat half of a homemade egg and cheese burrito to make sure I was getting in enough calories. My next guide and informal “coach” Amy was already texting to make sure we slowed down so Kim and I took it easy. She maneuvered the trail easily including a new, very steep, set of stairs at one of the road crossings. I tried my best to keep our running pace in the 10-11-minute range while knowing that the small climb up would make for naturally walking breaks.
The temps climbed into the high 70s so I focused on taking a few salt tabs and staying hydrated. I was craving something cold coming into the aid station at CT and Jim Roche, who was guiding me later in the day and volunteering, hooked me up with a tasty popsicle! That hit the spot.
W rolled back into Camp Tevya still ahead of schedule and I was feeling good.
Elapsed Time: 6:13
This was also the second year that Amy R. was guiding me and this year she upped the ante with two loops. We left a few minutes before 4:00pm and I knew I was entering some tough miles. I was focused on getting down as much food as possible.
Thankfully, Jill and Lucy had arrived and made sure I ate pickles, changed my socks, and I left with pockets full of fuel.
The first trail section out of Camp Tevya is arguably one of the toughest stretches b/c the running lanes are just slightly off-camber. Amy and I settled into a decent jog and I let her know that I would be walking coming out of the mid-point aid station.
Amy was stoked to see the section where they pulled out/put crushed gravel over the old rail ties which were magnets to trip over. This new section was incredibly flat, smooth, and fast.
We shared a few miles with Shane from the Somerville Road Runners. Shane mentioned that he listened to the Ultra Runner Podcast episode with me which was a bit embarrassing. I think Shane was gunning for his first 100 and he was running strong.
On the return trip we went up and then down the small climb. Coming down is tough because there are a ton of rocks and the big roots create awkward steps. As a sign that I was tiring, I feel over moving slowly and banged my knee and elbow on two big rocks. Those were going to hurt in the morning.
I was still distracted by the hill and took another spill on a flat section. I immediately rolled over to pop back up and found myself on top of a stick perfectly placed in a spot that it should not have been.! This got me to my feet in a hurry J
I fell 4-5 times during GT even though it is a very runnable trail. This has nothing to do with my guides seeing that every time they were calling out the obstacles. I am actually proud that I fell because this showed that I was running hard. Sighted folks frequently fall and as I tell my daughter while skiing- “If you do not fall then you are not pushing yourself.”
Elapsed Time: 9:46
It was around 7:30pm and time for our headlamps. After fueling up and saying good-night to Lucy (she and Jill were sleeping in a tent!) Amy and I headed out. About 5 miles in we passed the 50 mile mark! Time to count down but boy was I already feeling it. I was lapped yet again by the leader Patrick and this time his guide Greg, who Amy coaches, was playing some tunes on a portable radio/phone. Amy impressed me with her knowledge of old-school hip hop.
I am the first to admit that running with guides for the entire race is an advantage when it comes to having someone to talk with (Ghost Train allows pacers after 30 miles). For the first time (Amy guided me for 15 miles at VT) Amy and I had enough time to really chat and covered such topics as race mgmt, young girls growing up, and sports. This made the miles click by.
Elapsed Time: 13:44 (still on pace for 24-hr finish)
Jill set her alarm to wake up to help crew which was awesome. I said my good-byes to Amy (she was heading to the DPW to volunteer!) and took off with Jim Roche. Jim is an incredibly accomplished ultra-runner (completed the infamous Grand Slam this year) who I know from Facebook and met in-person at Vermont 100. When we took off I knew this was going to be a fun yet long lap. Jim did an outstanding job calling everything out and we quickly synced up our paces. I basically told Jim to power-hike and I would try to keep up with a slow jog! I let him know that there would be a fair amount of walking and I was struggling mentally to figure out a sustainable pacing plan.
My stomach was starting to get tired of the Tailwind and food I was eating so I began to get nervous about getting in enough calories to keep moving. I used my new re-usable bowl to take in some broth/soup as frequently as possible and kept mixing in ginger ale.
We ran into the women’s leader Clare at the mid-point aid station and for some reason I got a burst of energy. I ran up beside her (she was on mile 96) and I offered to “pace” her. We chatted and learned that one of her triathlon friends has guided my friend and super athlete Erich Manser. About two miles out she pulled away and cruised to victory!
The trail seemed to get longer and longer especially the last stretch before hitting Camp Tevya. I kept asking Jim if we were close and he kindly said to keep moving.
We got back to Camp Tevya right at 2:30AM which is when my pacing chart called for me to be leaving for my next loop. However, I had built in a 30-minute cushion so I was OK. We were heading out for our coldest loop and unfortunately my two long-sleeve shirts were not going to cut it. Thankfully, Jim had an extra layer and light-weight jacket-thanks man.
Elapsed Time: 17:27
My final full lap and my good friend Michelle was now guiding me. My stomach was not nauseous but my appetite was pretty much shot. I was trying to force down pickles, broth, and potatoes. Jill gave me a good pep talk prior to leaving to stay positive. I was trying my best. I was pain free but my body was tired. Were the quicker earlier miles coming back to haunt me?
I trudged on and was trying to take the trail in sections: get to the first road crossing, cross the wooden bridge and amazing lit up pumpkins, etc. But everything seemed longer.
We came up on Melissa from Newton near the steep set of stairs and I got to chat with her for a bit. Such a treat getting to meet so many runners and good people. Unfortunately, I was doing a fair amount of walking even though Michelle was working hard to keep me motivated.
We rolled into the DPW for the final time and Amy R. rushed over to take care of me. All of the volunteers are amazing!!!
On the return trip I began doing a 6/2 routine-6 minutes running, 2 minutes walking which got me in a decent rhythm.
We headed out and began the slow trek back to Camp Tevya. A mile or two out the sun came up which is always a boost.
I averaged 19 min miles on the way out and 18 on the way back which for the first time put me over the 24-hour pace (approx. 14:20 minute miles).
Elapsed Time: 22:09 7:08AM which put me at about 45 minutes to an hour off pace.
Lap 7 (5 miles out and back)
My spirits were down knowing that a 24-hr finish had slipped away. Jill pushed me to figure out a plan B which I hadn’t done for Vermont 100 (except for finishing). I thought back to post-Vermont and how disappointed I was in myself for essentially mailing it in and simply wanting to finish.
Michelle and I walked out of Camp Tevya for the final time while I was eating some soup. We hit the trail and I started to immediately run. I told Michelle I would run to the big road crossing (about two miles), walk a bit, then run to the aid station.
While walking I took time to take in the foliage and beauty of the trail. I took the first picture of me on trail in this nice overlook. I told myself how lucky I was to be out there which helped to pull me out of my funk.
We came up on the mid aid station and the hardcore volunteer jumped up to help me but I kept on running. His atta-boy cheers lifted my spirits. The 15 milers, who started at 8AM Sunday from the DPW, started to run by us in the opposite direction which was a nice distraction.
|5 miles to go!!!|
We finally hit the orange cones that marked the 5 mile turnaround. Only 5 miles to go!!!
We were now running in the same direction as the 15 milers and this gave me a boost of energy. After a much needed porta-potty stop at the AS, I took off and kept telling Michelle to pick up the pace. I was in full blown manic/4th wind mode and even began yelling (sorry about that) at the 15 milers to move aside as we passed them. Ride the energy for as long as you have it, right! We cruised through the super runnable section where the rail-ties were removed (thank you!) and kept pushing.
I walked a bit and at that point I realized I could finish under 14:30. For some reason 24: twenty something sounded better than 24:thirty. My pace slowed a bit but I kept running. After another short walking break I ran the last 2 miles to Camp Tevya. I hit the pavement and kept asking Michelle how much time we had. In my mind we were flying.
We cruised past the aid station and I told Lucy to wait for me there. I was running hard and nervous about negotiating the covered bridge turnaround with the 15 milers. Thankfully a few kind runners stepped aside to let us pass through. I was back to manic stage breathing hard and kept asking Michelle for the time.
Lucy was waiting for us about 200 yards out (she was still in her footy-PJs and rain boots) and we crossed the finish line holding hands.
24:25:39! We ran the last 10 miles in 13:40 pace to finish my second 100 of the year!
|100 miles. DONE!|
Reflections & thank yous
· Chris, Kim, Amy, Jim and Michelle-what a dynamic team of guides who took time out of their weekend to support me. Thanks so very much.
· All the runners: so many people said hi and shared words of encouragement, many of who knew my name (being a runner who is visually impaired tends to make me stand out) but I did not know there’s. And I met many Facebook friends in person which is so cool. The trail running community is the real deal.· Volunteers: there is no better feeling than being able to roll into an aid station and have volunteers wait on you. Especially throughout the night in cold temps etc.
· Although a much easier course, I am happy to have shaved close to four hours of my VT 100 time. Even more so, I am proud to have rallied late (I found out later that I passed two 100-milers) and pushed for that second goal.
· I struggle with being a runner who is visually impaired and often just want to be a “runner.” This is on me to figure out and work through. But I finished Ghost Train exactly in the middle of the pack (29th overall) which gives me tremendous self-validation that I am an average trail runner, regardless of my vision. I am committed to working with race directors and supporting my fellow runners with vision loss to be active in hopes that it will be a normal thing to see us out on the trails and participating in ultras (and all races for that matter).
· I had no idea what to expect going into Ghost Train. My body felt recovered after Vermont but I didn’t know how it would hold up. Thankfully, things worked out.
· Thanks to Josh Katzman, the Trail Running Animals Running Club crew, and the long-time community members for putting on a wonderful race.
· I wore one pair of shoes the entire race! Topo Athletic Terraventures. Thanks Topo for your support.
· I rotated between two Nathan Sports packs both with front bottles. I also appreciate Nathan’s support.
· Garmin 220 watch for 50+ miles then Michelle wore my old Garmin Forerunner for a few hours.
Barreled Souls Brewing quad at Picco Restaurant