Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ghost Train Race Report

I don't even remember the last time I used the phrase "Race Report" in a subject line.  My last marathon was 5 years ago, and my last ultra was a DNF (timed out midway) in a 50K - 6 years ago.

Last winter, during chemo, I floated the idea of an ultra to my wife.  There was (and still is) so much uncertainty related to my liposarcoma, and I needed to plan something.  Mentally, I needed to know that I could still plan ahead in my life, prepare for something, and have it happen.  It might not make sense to most people, but I'm sure every cancer patient would understand.

My first thought was to do the 50K at the Maine Track Club 50K/50M.  This has been a favorite race of mine in the past, but I found out that it's now been discontinued.  My thought was that I could do 50K in the 50 mile time limit, so I could finish.  With that race gone, my options seemed more limited.

I briefly considered A Race For The Ages, but that was more than I wanted to do.  I did not want a race that would allow me to accumulate miles for 54 hours.

Finally, a friend mentioned Ghost Train in Brookline, NH.  The format is similar to most 100 milers, and many of the people are there to run 100 miles.  But, it's on a 7.5 mile stretch of rail trail, and you do out-and-backs on the trail.  For this race, you can choose to do 30 miles, 45, 60, 75, 90 or 100.  It might even be possible to shoot for 105 or 120 or more, but I didn't really look into that option.

I told my wife about it and said that I thought 30 miles would be a good goal.  I believe that it was my wife who suggested that with a 30 hour time limit, 45 miles should be possible.  And, she offered to do it with me.  My wife has done 3 marathons - 2 on trail and 1 on the road.  She has paced 30 miles at the VT100.  But, she had never done an ultra.  At the time, I felt like she was simply trying to encourage me, and I honestly never expected her to do the race.

So, last February, I contacted the RD so we could reserve one of the camping spaces at the start/finish area.  He said he was surprised by my early request, because registration wasn't even open.  I explained the cancer story behind my request, and he responded quickly that we had a camping spot.

And then, I screwed up.  I didn't sign up for the race right away.  And, it filled up before I tried to enter.  Luckily, there is a waiting list and we were told it was very likely we would get in if we signed up immediately for the waiting list.  In August, we got confirmation that we were in the race.

So, after 6 years away from ultras, and not being much of a runner any more, how does one train for an ultra.  In one respect, I could say we didn't.  That would be sort of true.  My longest day was a 5 mile walk/run followed by a 3 mile dog walk.  My wife's longest day was a hike of Mt. Hunger that took us a few hours for just over 4 hilly miles.  I did that hike as well.

But, we did CrossFit all the time, we were doing a weekly aerobic capacity class at CF, and we did get out walking as much as possible.  We just never really did any long walks.

Through the summer, we both saw our aerobic capacity improve through the one weekly class at CF, plus running in regular CF classes, and our weekend walks.  And suddenly, it was almost race time and we lamented that we'd not even done a 10 mile walk all summer.  How would this work out?

We left work early last Friday, trying to get to the race starting area in a lull during a rainy day.  We got our tent set up quickly in some light rain, and things stayed mostly dry.  We went to the pre-race dinner with friends.  After dinner, it was absolutely pouring.  We drove back to our tent.  For 20 minutes, we sat in the car, looking at the rain and the frequent lightning, wondering what to do.  I told my wife that I just wanted to drive home, leaving the tent and everything behind.  That wasn't realistic, but I wanted nothing to do with the rain.

Finally, I suggested finding a hotel for the night to avoid the worst of the weather.  I hated to spend the money when I had a free tent spot, but it allowed us to keep everything dry, we could shower in the morning, we would have access to coffee, and we would get a real night of sleep in a warm dry bed.  My wife even enjoyed a couple beers in the hotel bar before we went to bed.

We got up at 6:30 on Saturday morning, got some coffee, showered, got dressed, and had some more coffee.  By 7:30, we were parked beside our tent, and ready to go.  We got our race numbers, socialized with friends, and got ready for a long, long walk.

Just after 9:00, we were off.  We had started near the back, but we still got passed by a few people early on.  By 9:30, we were sure we were dead last, but one runner was late for the start and passed us a bit later.  After she passed us, we were all alone.

At this point, it became like any other ultra.  Keep moving.  Pay attention to your feet.  Eat.  Drink.  Repeat.  We finished the first 15 miles at about 2:45.  We grabbed our headlamps and flashlights and headed out for a second lap.  This one started out faster than the first had, but we definitely slowed down in the darkness during the last 7.5 miles.  We were 10 minutes slower on lap #2 than we had been on the first.  We finished a the second loop at about 8:40.  From there, we changed clothes and headed to Nashua for some dinner.  My stomach was off a bit and I struggled to eat a bowl of clam chowder.  My wife had no such problems (she did say her stomach felt a bit queasy, but I'm not sure I'm buying it), as she ate a burger and fries and drank a beer.

We got back to the tent later than I'd hoped, and we went straight to sleep.  We set our alarm for a bit before 7:00.  The goal was coffee and breakfast at 7:00 and we would start hiking at 8:00.  But, we were both tired.  Sore.  Blistered.  Sleep-deprived.  We talked around the issue of not going out again.  In the end, I think we both wanted to bail, but neither of us would say it first.  So, a little bit after 8:00, we started our final lap.

We were moving OK to start, but by mile 5, I was slowing down.  The turnaround boosted our spirits a bit, but we still had 7.5 miles to go.  But again, like every ultra, you just keep moving and you will eventually get there.  I did have the additional worry of making sure we would finish by the 30 hour cut-off, but we had plenty of cushion and we made it easily.

Our total elapsed time for 45 miles was 29:25.  Our "time on feet" was under 18 hours, but not by a lot.

I have a couple nasty blisters.  So does my wife.  We went to CrossFit on Tuesday and rowed a 5K time trial, but I had nothing.  I should have been able to do this in close to 21 flat, but it took me 22:22.2.  My wife worked hard to get under 30 minutes.  Being short is a huge disadvantage on the rower for my wife.

We rested again on Wednesday, and I think we are going to try CrossFit at an easy level tonight.

Killington opened the east coast ski season this week.  I have new skis and I will start work at Sugarbush in a few weeks.  In the interim, maybe I'll get out to fly fish for a bit, or maybe not.  Right now, I just want to recover from the race and get ready to ski.

After the race was over, my wife did suggest that we come back and try 60 miles next year.  I'm willing to give it a shot, I think.  Maybe.  Probably?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your finish! Hope to see you next year!!!