2016 Ghost Train 100 Mile Ultramarathon

2016 Ghost Train 100 Mile Ultramarathon

I remember saying I’d never do a 100-miler. I remember seeing the folks doing this when I ran my first 50 miler at GTRTR in 2012, and thinking “Why would anyone want to do this.” I remember explicitly telling Steff there was no way I’d run a 100 miler and laughed at the idea. Eric broke the course record for GTRTR in 2013 and couldn’t walk for a week, my mind was made up.

Then I ran a few more 50 milers, and I started logging a number of 50ks as well, and realized I really enjoyed those distances. I also started thinking about what my personal goal for 2016 was going to be. I enjoy setting New Year’s goals for myself, rather than resolutions. At least for me, goals are better mechanisms for forcing oneself to follow through on what might be a resolution. “Train more” has a bigger meaning when you have a 4-day long adventure race at the end of the year. I remember setting past goals for competing in big races, and for some reason this year my brain kept whispering “do a 100” instead of “lol no way”. I remembered loving the volunteers and the course at Ghost Train, and that part of my brain won out. I signed up the day registration was allowed. I was committed now, no excuses.

I had buried myself in work the few weeks prior to the even, so I wasn’t really even thinking too much about the race. My training leading up to this was a lot of running to/from work, and several other ultras this year. I was feeling good leading up to the race, I had been PR-ing several different distances (5k, half marathon, 50k) and knew my body was up to the challenge.

I can’t stress enough how lucky I was to have 3 people give up their weekend to help me on the course too. Not just any weekend, but a crappy, rainy, overnight event with lots of downtime as a pacer. I knew that just having someone alongside to talk to / listen to would make the race that much more enjoyable. Eric, Dan, and Steff all agreed to help me finish my first 100 miler, I couldn’t have done it without them. You all rock.

0 - 30 miles

09:00 - 14:45

I’ll break down the race into the segments it was actually done in. The format for GTRTR is a 15 mile loop, 7.5 miles out, then back on the same trail. For the 100 miler, that 6 loops, then a short modified 10 mile loop. There is aid at both ends, and aid in the middle, so you’re never far from food and drink. I love food at ultras, forget the healthy stuff, it’s all soda, coffee, cookies, crackers, salty soup, chicken broth, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, etc, and it’s wonderful. There were also 2 things I did planning wise that I think made a huge difference. First was carrying a water-bottle. Initially I wasn’t going to, but made the call as the race got closer that I’d rather carry a little extra weight to help me if things go south. Second was packing a dry-shirt for every single loop. I had dry clothes when I did the Get Stoked Rogaine, and it made a world of difference when the weather went south. Mentally, something as small as changing a shirt can be the world in the middle of a huge race.

Evan and I on the first 30 miles

So anyway, first 30 miles (2 loops). I stayed with my friend Evan who was running 45 miles on this race, and it was a good thing. He kept my pace back with his GPS watch, as I kept trying to push it a little faster than I probably should have been. There was no rain on the first loop, and everything felt great. No pain, no soreness. On the second loop the rain kicked in which wasn’t great, but still the body was feeling good. I had a goal of making sure I felt really good after 45 miles, so my pace was keeping that up. I was averaging about 90 minutes a leg, 3 hours per loop early on.

Food, hydration, bathroom breaks, etc, everything seemed to be clicking. It was great. Only one “woods” event - just to remind me that maple leaves are nature’s charmin. Clocked in after 30 miles and then got ready to head out on loop #3.

30 - 45 miles

15:00 - 18:15

Evan wanted to slow down his pace on this leg to make sure he could finish strong, so I took this one solo. I changed shirts before starting this leg, which felt life-changing. Again, there wasn’t too much that was memorable on this part. Pace felt good, I walked when necessary, and kept up a nice jog pace throughout the loop. I met my goal of hitting 45 miles and feeling good at that point.

It’s worth noting that I never even had that fleeting notion of potentially quitting up to this point. Almost always during a race you have that mental voice that makes so much sense by saying “you should just stop and go to your warm car”, but that never really came up this race. Mentally I was incredibly focused the entire time, there was no way, outside of injury, that I wasn’t finishing. It was refreshing to have that burning in my brain the entire time.

45 - 60 miles

18:15 - 21:50

Eric was pacing me on this loop, and we started out around 6:30pm, expecting we’d get back around 10pm when Dan and Steff would be there to take me through the night. As we started I said again my main goal of this leg was to feel good after 60. I decided the wheels could start to come off after 60 miles, but I wanted to feel really good up until that point.

Yeah, ok pumpkin

What a mental difference having someone to run with makes. Eric and I just chatted while doing a nice run/walk pace for basically the entire loop, which distracted my brain to a point where the lap just flew by. Night was setting in too which was incredibly cool, as the course started to get decorated with lit pumpkins, folks in costume, and all manners of “spooky”. It was really funny at the end of one of the loops, Jessica Goldman (who ran across the country a couple years ago) set up a tent and was dancing around with pompoms and a sign saying “you’re imagining this”. Classic.

The only physical thing was that alarming me a bit on this lap was the amount I was stopping to pee. Almost like clockwork every 20 minutes or so I would have to pull over and pee on the side of the trail. It was very clear, which was a good sign, but urinating that much during a race can be a sign of hyponatremia, or excessive water intake, which can be extremely dangerous as it can start to rupture your cells. Eric and I speculated that because of my history of cramping, and with the weather causing me to sweat more than I expected, I likely overhydrated in the first 45 miles, and I should tone it down going forward. I was averaging a little over one bike bottle of Gatorade/water every 7.5 miles (90 minutes), so I decided to slow that down a bit. This was good, and as the race went on this symptom went away.

I was really excited to see Dan and Steff at the 60 mile turn. I knew seeing them would give me an extra mental boost as the night wore on. Just like in ARs, I was worried about the sleep monsters getting to me in the wee-hours of the morning. Having them run with me was going to be awesomely fun and memorable, and they were going to help me keep those sleep monsters at bay! Eric and I made our way to the turnaround line and I got ready for the rest of the night.

60 - 75 miles

22:15 - 01:50

Physically, the wheels started to come off mid-way through this leg, as was kind of expected. I remember telling Dan and Steff how hard this was, but I was going to keep powering through it. Eric took some video footage which I’m sure is hilarious given my state of mind at the time. Steff was going to pace me on this leg, then Dan was going to get the real late night shift. I chugged a 5-hour energy and headed off on the next lap.

Cool late night time lapse of headlamps and pumpkins

When we started out I teared up a little and gave Steff a big hug. It meant a lot to me that she was coming out for 15 miles with me in the middle of the night, there were a lot of emotions rolling through my system at this point. And so it goes, with our run/walk jaunt for lap #4. For the first 7.5 of this lap, we were actually keeping a good run/walk pace. We talked about a lot on the trail, Steff was taking all sorts of awesome pictures while we were out there and doing a great job of mentally keeping my mind from wandering. As we neared the turn I could tell I was starting to have some issues with thermoregulation. It wasn’t that cold out (mid-40s), and I was wearing double layers, gloves, and a hat. However I could feel myself getting colder. At the turn I changed shirts again, put on a third layer and a super-light wind-breaking layer to try to stay warm. I also threw on my racing tights (I would rather have extra layers and strip, than too little and freeze on the course.)

My legs really started to get bad on the road back to the start. I can only describe my calves as a single giant cramp. I never really experienced any shooting cramps yet on the race, but my calves were just bricks at this point. We walked most of the way back with Steff playing some tunes on her phone and dancing along the trail to make me laugh. It definitely worked and raised my spirits! On the way back there was another pop-up aid station that spun up about 2 miles from the start that was making turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches, and it was just about the best thing that could have happened. I’m convinced I will never have food as good as those sandwiches were, and I could not stop talking to Dan/Eric/Steff about the grilled cheese tent for the rest of the race!

This is my happy face

75 - 90 miles

02:20 - 07:00

So, the final approach. Dan got to tend to me for this last leg, and we kicked it off around 2am. I was very acutely aware of my mental state at this point, and told Dan that I was seriously hurting, we’d be walking, that I hoped he didn’t mind that I probably wouldn’t be super talkative. The nice thing on this leg is that I was able to break out my trekking poles to alleviate some of the stress I had been putting on my legs. It allowed me to keep a robust walking pace without hurting as much.

We started out and I was feeling a bit weird around my inner thigh area, almost chafage like, but I had been applying plenty of bag balm and figured it was nothing. However 2 miles in I knew something was up, and told Dan I needed to pull off into the woods to figure out what I had done. I stripped down and realized that somehow, I had managed to tear a massive hole in the inner thigh of my compression shorts, so the fabric along the edge was rubbing in an odd way against my leg. Fortunately I had my racing tights on over these, so I just ditched the shorts entirely, threw them in the trash, and happily continued on my way with my tights on.

The next 5 miles went pretty easily, and the sky actually cleared up for a bit and the stars showed through which was awesome. Dan was talking to me about every manner of everything, and apparently on the way back to the start I was having conversations with him that just didn’t make any sense (like calling Amazon Prime → Amazon Boulder, seeing things in the woods, talking about the sun running away.) Apparently I also started hallucinating things in the woods at this point, and he had to continually grab me and pull me back on trail. I remember none of this, but it was funny to hear about afterward. We made it back to the start again and I was convinced Dan was ready to go to bed and be done with my zombie self, but instead said he wanted to come out with Eric and I to see me through the final 10. And away we went…

Incredible pacing crew

90 - 100 miles

07:00 - 10:00

At this point I had it in the bag. It was 7am, I had until 3pm to finish it off, the goal was to get this last stretch in under 3 hours. I joked that it was a good thing Dan was coming along, that way Eric would have someone to talk to as I was a total zombie at this point. As much as I wanted to join in conversation, I could tell that as soon as I started to, my pace would slow down as I wasn’t focused on moving forward anymore. This caused me to quickly flip back into “heads down zombie mode” and just plow ahead. Also worth noting at this point that it was starting to get really sunny, it was in the high 40’s and I was still having some serious thermoregulation issues. I was wearing 3 base layers and a hard-shell on top, and I wasn’t even able to take my hood off because I would start losing heat at an uncomfortable rate. This persisted well after the race too when I got home.

In any case, hitting the turnaround was a great accomplishment, and I knew at that point it was just a walk back to the car. We made it all the way back to the finish, and all sorts of emotions were going through me. At the finish, you actually walk past the finish line, go about 150 yards up the road to a small turnaround, and then come back. Lined up on this road are volunteers who stayed up all night, runners who had finished earlier from shorter distances, family, and friends. Every, single, person was cheering you on in this last stretch. To say that emotions were raw at this point was an understatement, it was hard not to let out some tears and think about what I had just accomplished over the past 25 hours and 23 minutes. I collected my awesome railroad spike award, and went directly to the car with heated seats and fell asleep.

Post-race

A few things post-race. I was physically unable to walk the rest of the day on Sunday after the race was over. My calves were just a giant cramp ball, and I had some series edema in my feet (they looked like hobbit feet). Thankfully Steff is a tough Italian and was able to carry up upstairs, into the shower, and then into bed and made me some food. Monday wasn’t much better, but by Tuesday I was able to move around. Fortunately all the pain was caused by muscle damage, and not joint/bone damage, which would have taken a lot longer to heal. Muscles start building back up pretty quickly. Looking back on it, I don’t know if I would run this particular 100 miler again. I would certainly volunteer for it, but the sheer physical exercise of 100 miles I think I would only try again for a really world class race like the Western States.

In all, I’m incredibly glad I did this, records show that 100 mile finishers are literally about 1 in a million worldwide. My pacers were amazing, Steff dancing, Eric running, Dan chatting me up literally for a marathon distance was the best way to keep my mind away from any dark zones. Now I just have to find the next adventure!

Railroad spike in hand, mission accomplished.

Previous Post

Next Post