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Ghost Train 2018: Living to run another day

Ghost Train 2018: Living to run another day
25 Oct

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.” ~ Bill Bowerman

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This past weekend I attempted my second hundred mile race at Ghost Train Ultras in Brookline, NH.  Although my fitness and mental game were at their peaks, I had an injury going in that I knew could potentially wreck my day (or night, as it were).  However, I’ve learned that sometimes even though things don’t go quite as you planned, things turn out even better than you expected.

I arrived at Camp Tevya with my crew extraordinaire  (Brad and Carolynn) and fellow runners Liz, Kim, Laura, and Mike.  We had managed to get our primo spot and were getting everything laid out as we awaited the start of the race.  A neighbor came over and told us that someone else had told her to make sure she set up next to us, as my crew chief was awesome at taking care of feet.  Apparently our reputation precedes us!!  We got everything set up and finished getting geared up to take off at the sound of the Yeti yell.

the gang before

I had decided to forego my run/walk strategy in favor of just running until I couldn’t run anymore.  It had worked well for me this past summer at the VT100k, as I had figured out the the walking is what caused me so much foot pain.  With that in mind, I settled into a relatively easy pace and ran most of the first 7.5 miles with my friend Peggy, who was attempting her first hundo finish.  What I love most about this race is the social aspect of it all.  You can run in your own head if you like, but if you prefer to chat while you run, well, this race gives you the option for both.

I had scarfed down some chow at the Milford aid station and was heading back to Camp Tevya when I heard a familiar voice.  Familiar as in “haven’t I heard that voice on TV before?”  As I approached the individual belonging to said voice I asked, “Are you Tim?”  He turned to me with a raised eyebrow and said, “yes….”.  Don’t worry, dude, I’m not a stalker.  OK, maybe I am just a little.  I told him how his name had come up on FB  as a recommended friend (we have a few common connections) and told him that I remembered him as the human sacrifice from the Barkley.  He chuckled and said, “geez, I’m never living that down.”  I took a quick selfie as I figured he would soon leave me in the dust, but as it turns out we were pretty well matched for pace at that stage in the race.  We ran the incoming 7.5 miles together, chatting about races and how we got into running.  The time flew and before I knew it we had arrived back in camp.  Thanks, Tim, for getting me a segment PR and my fastest loop ever at Ghost Train.

I had chosen to change my shirt and socks each time I came in to Camp Tevya because again, it had served me well in Vermont.  I sat down to change socks and realized I had a blister brewing.  It was way too early in the race for this nonsense, but given the fact that my gait was altered due to the injury, it was an evil that needed to be addressed.  Brad quickly patched me up, and I had some food and Coke, geared back up, and headed back for loop 2.

Mindy Randall

I realized that the pace I ran for the first loop was not going to be sustainable, so I slowed considerably the second time out.  I was still moving well, eating and drinking plenty, and having a blast.  I leapfrogged Mike and Tim a couple of times, saw Liz and Kim and Laura in passing, and enjoyed the cool weather and the New England October scenery.  At this point, there was still no doubt in my mind that I would finish the hundred.  I blazed into the Milford aid station, crammed more goodies down (hard-boiled eggs, avocado wraps, and bacon – OH MY!!!) and then shot back over the bridge and onto the trail south.

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This was where I’d made a crucial mistake last year.  At the 30 mile mark I had not thought to put on warmer clothes and I paid the price by not being able to warm up the whole night.  That would not happen this year.  I again changed shirt and socks (and yet another blister had to be lanced and patched) and threw on a pair of warm pants.  I headed back out on the trail, this time with Brad in tow.  We covered miles 30-45 pretty well, and I know I ran way more during these miles than I had last year.  I still felt pretty strong and was continuing to eat and drink well, although I did notice that my mouth and throat seemed a bit dry.  This had happened last year, too, but much further into the race.  I didn’t pay much attention to this nuisance and just keep trucking along.  It was starting to get dark and it was very cool to see the new lights in the tunnel.  The volunteers had pulled out all the stops with decorations this year.  I hope they know how much we appreciated their efforts to make the trail as entertaining as possible.

Steve jackson

Back at Camp Tevya, I had Brad check out my injured foot.  It was beginning to feel bruised and I was getting a burning sensation after running for 5-10 minutes.  It would resolve itself after walking for a few minutes but I really didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole if I didn’t have to.  He couldn’t find anything but we patched the area anyway, thinking maybe a deep blister was brewing.  I was still moving along pretty well and was happy to now have Amy Rusiecki as my pacer for the next 30 miles.  I planned to pick her brain clean of whatever ultra knowledge she had while she pushed me forward towards the 75 mile mark.

Miles 45-60 passed much the same way, although I slowed considerably after leaving the Milford aid station.  Amy passed the time by telling me stories of her first 100 and meeting her husband Brian (B-Dog to his friends and competitors, as I found out).  It was so much fun running with her, and she took amazing care of me.  Even though I was hurting and slowing down I still had a smile on my face and was in really good spirits.  I was still on top of my fueling and hydration, and other than screaming quads and that nagging foot issue, I was jonesing to keep pressing on.  I tried to do the math in my head to figure out how I measured up to last year’s efforts, but runner brain took over and I quickly gave up.  Just keep swimming, I thought.

Coming into camp this time was a very different experience.  The world was (mostly) quiet and it was dark, with many runners of the shorter distances now sleeping and the finish line party subdued.  We looped through the covered bridge, across the start/finish mat, and back to my crew.  It was at this point that the very slightest notion of not finishing crept into my head.  The pain in my foot was multiplying and now showing up as compensatory pain behind my knee, in my hamstring, and the right quad was really sore, as it had taken the brunt of unloading the left foot with every stride.  I sat down for probably 20 minutes this time, eating noodles, getting my feet checked, and drinking down another Coke.  I added more warm clothing, changed the batteries in my fading headlamp, and Amy and I headed back out into the dark.

I made it most of the way to Milford before my foot gave up completely.  I was now reduced to just walking and it was taking its toll on all the joints in both feet, and the right leg was now almost useless for doing anything but moseying along on the flat.  The hill and the stairs were brutal.  Any uneven ground sent my foot into spasms.  We got to Milford and I sat by the fire with my feet up on the woodpile while Amy filled my pack and brought me food.  I had maintained a good mental outlook for 67.5 miles, but now I gave in to the emotions.  Amy dragged me out of the aid station and soon after we got back to the trail, she pulled out the big guns.  I had had my students write me notes for my crew to read to me when the shit hit the fan, and that time had come.

Steve Edwards

She read me the first few and my emotions just came crashing in.  All I could think about was letting those kids down.  I tried to summon up the strength to push those thoughts out of my mind.  A mile or so down the trail, she read me a few more.  When the tears came again, Amy asked me to tell her about the students who had written the notes.  I know she was trying to help me get my mind right again, but I had already given in.  The pain in my foot wasn’t likely to get any better.  The compensatory pain in other areas of my body would also continue to get worse, and I thought about what kind of damage I could be doing.  I already had my qualifying race for Vermont, so I had nothing to prove here.  I gave a voice to my concerns and we spent a few miles talking through my decision.  The more I thought about dropping, the better I felt.  Emotionally I was disappointed, but physically all I felt was relief.  We got back to camp and as we passed my crew spot, I looked at Brad and said “we need to have a conversation.”  Amy and I made our way through camp and across the 75 mile mat.  We got back to our crew and Brad sat me down to take a look at my feet.  Although he couldn’t see anything, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t imagine shuffling another 25 miles.  Just as that thought made its way out of my mouth, the wind and rain started.  That was the definitive moment for me.  I looked at Amy and said “can you go tell the timer that I’m done?”  And with that, my ride on the Ghost Train came to an end.  And I didn’t regret it one bit.  The only regret I have is that I didn’t get any photos together with my awesome crew.  I guess some things get forgotten when you try to run a hundred miles.  Couldn’t expect Amy to take any pics with her “I’m stuck in the 80s” flip phone.

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The wind and rain continued to increase as we packed up and headed back to the hotel.  Just before I collapsed into bed for some sleep, I checked out my foot in the harsh light of day.  It seems that the painful culprit was a large blood blister growing under the callus that had built up on the outside of my foot, evidence of me landing heavily on the outside of the instep.  At least now I had an answer.  When I woke up late that afternoon, I had pizza delivered to the hotel, opened a beer, and indulged in Gilmore Girls reruns on Netflix until I flamed out again around 11pm.

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I won’t be returning to this race in 2019, as I plan to do the VT100.  I’ll take what I learned from my 20 hours on the train and hopefully be at 100% and ready to tackle my dream race.  After having done the 100k option a few times now, its time to put the big girl pants on and step up to the plate.  As always, there are too many people to thank for all their help…all my running buddies, my crew Brad and Carolynn, and my pacer Amy.  Most of all I need to thank my incredible husband, Joe, for being endlessly supportive and never letting me give less than my best.

PS: I checked the results and I finished 8th overall, 2nd female in the 75 mile division.  Not to mention that I got to share some of the trail with not one, but TWO Barkley veterans.  Silver lining?

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When your best is just barely good enough. (Ghost Train 100 mile endurance run)

When your best is just barely good enough.  (Ghost Train 100 mile endurance run)
29 Oct

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

~ Steve Prefontaine

 

Pre has been an idol of mine since I started running. Maybe it was because he was a bullied, scrappy kid like I was. Or maybe it was because we shared the same birthday. Whatever the reason, whenever I run I think of Pre; but it wasn’t until I attempted my first 100 miler that his words really meant something to me.

The Ghost Train Trail Races are held at the end of October at Camp Tevya in New Hampshire. This seemed like a good venue for a first 100, considering the mostly flat terrain and the out-and-back course. Laura and I arrived on Friday in Nashua to check into our motel for the weekend, and it became clear very quickly that we probably weren’t staying at the Ritz. After meeting with our crew to set up our camp, we headed out to dinner and then back to the motel. We were awoken not once, not twice, but three times during the night by the, um, colorful clientele. Loud exhausts, drunken screaming matches in the parking lot, and yowling cats (yes, apparently someone living at the motel had a cat that wanted to be let into the room at 4am) all added up to not much sleep. Oh well – who sleeps well the night before a race anyway?

Brad and Carolynn picked us up early Saturday morning and we headed off to the race venue. They had picked out the BEST site…right next to an outbuilding that apparently had outside electrical outlets. This meant that we could have lights and boil water for food during the night. Perfect!! We had picked up our packets the night before and dropped off our bags at the Milford aid station, so all we had to do was wait for the race start. It was such a low-key, friendly atmosphere that I really didn’t feel nervous at all. It would be fun to get out on the course.

The YETI yell went off at 9:01am, and we were off down the trail. The plan was to do a 5:1 run/walk ratio until we couldn’t do that anymore. The trail was a mix of single track, old railroad bed, and a little bit of road. It went through people’s backyards, by picturesque ponds, and over a nice little technical hill that was just enough to keep it interesting. We also had to navigate a steep set of stairs and a tunnel under the highway. Not bad for the first few times, but obviously these little landmarks were going to be tough in the later miles.

   

The first 30 miles went by so fast that I don’t actually remember much about them – except for coconut bra guy. At first I thought I was already hallucinating, but no – I wasn’t. We laughed, got a photo taken with him to prove that we weren’t hallucinating, and started on the return trip to Camp Tevya.

When we arrived back at Camp Tevya at the 30-mile mark we were able to pick up Brad for his first 15 miles of pacing duty. The first 7.5 miles we kept up the 5:1 ratio but on the way back to camp we had to reduce that to running every other run segment. Clearly reality had started to set in, as well as fatigue. It was going to be a long night. It was at this point that I lost Laura, as she was starting to have blister issues. Brad texted ahead to Carolynn that we were two miles out and asked her to get some noodles ready. I was getting cold and the hot food would hopefully help me feel a bit better.

 

I left Camp Tevya with Jamie (who was doing her first 7.5 miles of pacing), leaving Laura with Brad to address her blisters. It was getting dark and colder and I hadn’t put on enough clothing, so all I wanted to do was get to the other aid station and my drop bag. Jamie took off her long sleeve and put it over me, and I felt bad but she assured me that she was ok. When we arrived at the aid station I added more layers of clothes and filled my camp cup with coffee, planning to walk the next couple of miles (which included the hill) and sip some hot coffee. I told Autumn of this plan, as she would be doing the next 7.5 miles with me. She kept me laughing when I hit my low points and kept me moving when I wanted to stop.

 

We had passed Laura on the out and back and discovered that she was moving well and not very far behind us. We arrived back at Camp Tevya and now it was my turn to have a blister taken care of. While Brad dealt with bandaging my foot, Laura arrived and I was happy to see that we’d be able to go back out together. We had run so many training miles together that it just didn’t seem right for us not to finish this race side by side. She waited while I finished up changing socks and getting some food, and we headed back out on the trail with Brad (now doing his second 15 miles of pacing).

The wheels had seriously come off the bus by now. We were 60 miles in and about to enter uncharted waters. It had been dark for hours, we were cold and tired, and there wasn’t much running involved. One foot in front of the other was all I could muster, and it was frustrating to have each mile take so long to pass by. I felt like we were getting nowhere fast, but I just couldn’t run anymore. I had succeeded in shutting out the demons for 60 miles, but they finally got a voice. I started saying how done I was, how hard this was, and how much I wanted to stop. It was WAY too early for that, but I couldn’t help it. What kept me going was remembering that I had so many people supporting me and tracking me, and letting them down was not an option.

 

Earlier in the day I had seen Amy Rusiecki on the trail and she had given me a big hug and told me to never give up. It did my heart good to see her again, this time volunteering at the Milford aid station. We were at mile 67.5 and all I wanted to do was sit by the fire and get off my aching feet. She listened to me whine, filled my cup with coffee, and sent me back out on the trail. I knew she was right to do that, but at that moment I hated her just a little bit. The good news was that this was the last leg we’d be doing in the dark. OK, I could deal with that. It has to get better in the daylight.

Arriving back at Camp Tevya and mile 75, we took some time to rest and eat. It was so cold. I kept thinking that I just wanted to be warm again. I had known that this was going to be hard, but it was still so much more difficult that I had ever imagined. I saw other people suffering out there too, so I knew we weren’t alone. We passed a guy dressed as Fred Flintstone several times, and each time his “yabba dabba do” got weaker and weaker. He was clearly having a really hard time. We cheering him on each time we saw him. It’s amazing how a bunch of strangers become like family when you are going through the same ups and down together.

 

We left Camp Tevya with Jamie on our last full out and back, and it was starting to get light out. Our spirits were lifted slightly by this, but I was still in a very low point. We had been walking for 15 miles, and it didn’t feel like that was going to change. I was exhausted, freezing, and my feet were throbbing. Luckily I had only the one blister (a small silver lining). I was well-fed and well-hydrated and amazingly alert, but I still didn’t want to walk anymore. Again, the thought of everyone tracking me made me leave the comfort of camp and go back out onto the trail.

As we approached the Milford aid station, Jamie said Autumn had texted her and told her she had hot chocolate for us. Nectar of the gods, as far as I was concerned. Amy was still at the aid station so of course she wouldn’t let me stay by the fire and enjoy the warmth. I hated her a little bit less this time; maybe because it was light out, maybe because we were headed back over that dreaded hill for the last time – whatever the reason, I knew that she did the right thing by encouraging us to keep moving. We shuffled back out of the aid station with Autumn and our hot chocolate and headed for home once more.

 

Carolynn was our pacer for the last 10 miles, and she was ready to go when we arrived back at camp. I didn’t want to spend any time here at all because my motivation to continue was seriously flagging and I knew if I didn’t just go back out there, I might not go at all. I shed most of the layers I had put on during the night, refilled my water, and we left camp. Brad decided to go with us as well (I think he realized that both Laura and I were completely shattered and Carolynn might need backup on the trail).

 

It was shortly after that that Brad got a text from my husband, Joe. He had been unable to come up due to work issues, but now had decided to make the two-hour drive from CT to see us finish. Brad assured him that he would arrive in time because we had been reduced to 20-minute miles. The thought of seeing Joe at the finish is the one thing that kept my feet moving for those last 10 miles. I wanted nothing more to do with the trail, the race, my food – I just wanted to stop. It was the most hollow feeling I’d ever experienced. Even at the turnaround mile 95, I felt like those last five miles might as well have been a thousand. I began to understand how people can drop at mile 95, or even 97. The slow pace of our footsteps made those miles drag on for what seemed like hours. Not even the knowledge that we had turned around for the last time that day helped get me out of that low.

I don’t think I let myself believe I would finish until my feet hit the pavement of Camp Tevya for the last time. We had less than a mile to go, and my feet had been screaming for almost 40 miles. I looked at Laura and told her that I thought this would be my first finish line walk. My feet hurt so bad that the pavement was just excruciating. As we approached our camp, I saw Joe and heard everyone cheering for us. My eyes filled with tears and I said “not yet. We haven’t finished yet. Everyone has to finish with us.” So Brad, Carolynn, Jamie, and Autumn joined our little caravan as we headed for the last time through the covered bridge and to the finish line.

We hit the little covered bridge and had 500 meters to the finish. Suddenly nothing hurt anymore. I swear my feet didn’t even hit the ground. Laura and I picked up the pace and we sprinted towards the finish line. I saw 29:03 on the clock as I mustered everything I had left and jumped over the timing mat, smiling like I’d just conquered the world. Holy shit, I thought. I freaking did it. The tears came as my husband handed me my buckle. Ghost Train 100 mile finisher, it read.

We went back to our camp and finally sat down for celebratory beers and to get off our poor feet. About 15 minutes after we finished, we saw our buddy Fred (who is really Benjamin Manning) pop out of the woods and onto the pavement. We gave him a standing ovation as he passed us, and hollered out our best yabba dabba do. So glad to see him make it after all the suffering he’d been though as well.

 

It really does take a village. None of this is accomplished on our own. I had the support of Honey Stinger (my fuel of choice in between the bacon and sweet potatoes of the aid stations).  I had the most supportive and unbelievably crazy training partners (thank you Laura L, Laura B, Crutch, Donnie, Liz, Beth, Nancy, Eric, Jamie, Autumn, Courtney, Tracy and countless others). I had the best crew EVER (my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to Brad, Carolynn, Jamie and Autumn for keeping me going and for mostly ignoring my shenanigans). And of course, I could never ever have done this without my awesome husband Joe, who not only continues to support this crazy journey I’ve chosen for myself, but who also continues to surprise me by showing up unexpectedly – usually when I need it the most.

 

I learned so much about myself in those twenty-nine hours and three minutes that I was on the Ghost Train trail. It wasn’t always fun, but it was a blast. I dredged up amounts of perseverance that I never thought I had. And at the end of the day, I gave nothing less than my best to this race. I hope I made you proud, Pre.