Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ghost Train Rail Trail Races - 100 Mile Race Report

My friend and training buddy ran his first 100 mile race at the Ghost Train Rail Trail Race this past weekend in Brookline/Milford, NH and wrote up a report about his experience:

Background: I feel as though an introduction of myself might be necessary because no one knows me and why would you?  Jason Gray, husband and father, teacher, and all around fun guy, maybe, I don’t know.  I’ve been running since February of 2012 after deciding that moving was the only way for my back not to hurt--4 back surgeries, rods, screws, fusion, yada yada.

This year’s goal was to not get injured and most importantly to have fun running.  I decided early in the year that I would attempt my first hundo (100 miler).  This winter was a bitch, but my buddy Jesse, whose blog I’m hi-jacking because I don’t write or blog and he encouraged me to write up a race report, kept me going strong during most of it.  My plan was to do a bunch of 50k’s leading up to Ghost Train, the 100 that I decided on that starts in Brookline NH and goes out to Milford NH and back (a bunch of times).  I ran Twin States 50k with Jesse (a PR for me @ 4:49:28), Bear Brook Trail Marathon (which is basically a 50k @ 5:14:00), the TARC Fall Classic 50k @ 5:13:00, Wakefield around the Lake (in which I paced my dude, Luke, for 35 miles) and a bunch of trail ½’s and other shit.

I’m going to name drop—Justin Contois, the greatest runner that’s ever lived (at least that’s how he’s perceived in my head because he’s responsible for getting me thinking of ultra’s and introducing me to Jesse “I run way too damn early” Veinotte), along with Jesse really got me dialed in mentally for Ghost Train.  I was ready for this race.  Nothing was going to stop me.  I had only run consecutively a total of 35 miles before attempting this 100, but that didn’t even matter to me.  I set a goal, I got ready, and I was going to do it.  I was mentally in the right place.  Jesse agreed to pace me from mile 60 to the finish, so I knew that I would be in good hands—the dude knows his shit. 

The night before the race, my friends Luke and Tom all met for dinner with another friend of mine, Justin Fitzgerald and his wife Dawn, whom I met at other ultras.   Dinner was great, had a beer, and headed back to the motel to try to get some sleep and do some last minute preparations before the race.

Luke, Tom, and myself woke up, got the cars packed up, and headed out to starting point of the race, Camp Tevya, on a very chilly morning.  Luke actually had to hang his head out of the window as the windshield was frosted over, to drive over to the office where we checked out.  We arrived early, set up our tent and personal aid station, and just general pre-race stuff.  We met up with Justin and his wife Dawn and she agreed to take some of our gear to the other end after the race started.  Ghost Train is a 7.5 mile out and 7.5-mile back course so you have an opportunity to have a drop bag at each end, which was nice.

Jay prepping before the race, photo by Tom Ronan
Luke getting ready to go, photo by Tom Ronan

When the race started it was in the lower 30’s and the forecast for the day was partly cloudy in the mid 40’s with rain overnight.  The forecast was spot on.  I ran the first 15 miles with Luke in 2:32, stayed with him to the next turnaround at mile 22.5, and then let him do his thing as I felt I needed to conserve some energy for the later miles.  I came in the first 30 miles at 5:24 feeling pretty good.  My left front hip flexor thingy was acting up from the start of the race and never went away.  It was tolerable, but remained on my mind. 

The next 30 miles took me 7 hours and 15 minutes for 12:39 at 60 miles.  This stretch was full of ups and downs as every step past 35 miles was a PR distance for me and unchartered territory.  I began to take more walk breaks in this stretch as fatigue and inflammation began to creep up on me.  I made it to mile 45 without the need of a headlamp, but it was dark for the next 35-40 miles.  I saw Jesse, his wife Amanda, and their two kiddos, Matthew and Emma, at the Milford side at mile 37.5.  It was a good boost to see familiar faces cheering me on, especially the kids.  It made me think of my daughter and how I told her that I was going to be running 100 miles.  I couldn’t let her down. 

Mile 45, still smiling
I started to develop a pain on top of my left foot.  I decided to change my shoes at mile 52.5 as my feet were beginning to swell and I had a pair that were bigger and loosely tied in my drop bag.  That seemed to do the trick as the pain began to dissipate.  Tom and Jesse met me on the other side with coffee and encouragement, while keeping me moving in and out of that aid station.  Without them, I would’ve sat down, ate something delicious, and probably stayed way too long. 

Sometime right around mile 60, photo by Tom Ronan
I picked up Jesse at mile 60 at the Brookline side and he stayed with me until the finish.  At this point I put on some running tights, a base-layer shirt, and a thin hooded rain jacket for the rain that was coming.  The last 40 miles took me/us 12 hours and 47 minutes.  We did a walk/run thing for probably the first 15 miles or so to make it to mile 75.  After that, it was pretty much just a “do what hurts the least—walk/run/jog/shuffle.”

Jesse was awesome as a pacer.  I don’t know if he’d ever gone that slowly before, but he tolerated it and stuck it out with me—I really appreciate it man! More than words.  He’d go ahead and push the pace a little at times, he knew when to back off and let me rest, he’d ask if I could run to the bridge, and he shut up without me having to ask.  He would run ahead and fill my Tailwind and water and let me know that the aid station had broth or potatoes or anything else that might interest me. 

Around mile 92 coming through the scented pumpkin bridge
I stayed up on my hydration and nutrition during the race and really didn’t have any issues/concerns with that.  Jesse made sure I ate and drank throughout the last 40.  I got to a point where I hurt so bad that I had to engage in butt kicks as I was taking a leak just so my legs didn’t rest and seize up.  Supposedly the loud howling we heard around 1:00a.m. was a pack/herd/whatever you call it of coyotes that probably just made a kill.  I kept thinking that I would have no fight left in me if I were to be attacked at this moment.  I would’ve presented my throat hoping they would take me quickly.   

“One foot in front of the other,” “Some people don’t have legs” “Quitting is for pu$$ies,” “If Contois could do it,” were all things I kept saying to myself to get through to the finish.  A few students of mine found out about this race and emailed me on Friday wishing me good luck.  I couldn’t let them down.  Mostly, it was thinking of my daughter that got me through.  She thinks I’m Superman and even said, “You’re running all day and night and day…whaaaaaat?”  Her smile was on my mind and that made me smile every time I thought of her. 

From mile 60-75 it took me 4 hours and 17 minutes, 75-90 it took me 5 hours and 4 minutes, and from 90-100 it took me 3 hours and 26 minutes.  Wow!  This is the first time I’m actually looking at these splits.  I think you want to do the exact opposite of this, but oh well, it was a great learning experience for the next one.

Nearing the finish, somewhere on the last 10 mile stretch

I remember distinctly at mile 93.5 having a shooting pain go up my right shin and I was sure that I just splintered the bone.  I couldn’t take another step and Jesse actually got worried, then pointed out that the middle aid station was real close and we could have someone call and pick us up if necessary.  We re-evaluated the situation, Jesse mentioned that it could ‘ve been a severe cramp that may have hit a nerve, and I tried to take some steps.  I had to walk sideways for a little while to avoid that shooting pain coming back.  Jesse told me to take some salt pills, which I did, and soon enough the pain was gone and I could resume a “as normal of form as one could imagine after 93.5 miles” death march to the turn-around and then finished the 100. 

Coming down the stretch, photo by Tom Ronan

With about a half mile to go, Luke and Tom came strolling into the woods to guide me back in.  I’m convinced they thought I collapsed and were going to drag me to the finish.  Coming back into the area where the start/finish was, was such an awesome feeling.  I took my race vest off, handed it to one of my buds and ran it in solo.  I saw Jesse’s kiddos at the finish line and gave them a wave.  Luke was convinced I was losing my mind as he thought I was waving at random kids thinking they were mine.  My wife and daughter couldn’t make it for the race.  They both came down with some sort of virus, which I ended up picking up after I returned that put me out for three days (Not good for recovery).  As I crossed the finish line, I looked down at my watch and it read 100.2.  I got a little emotional at this point for the first time in the whole race.  I shed a couple of happy tears, thought about my wife and daughter, collected myself, and then reported to the timing table to receive my very cool finishing railroad spike.  

Finishing railroad spike, photo by Tom Ronan
Overall, it was a great experience.  I saw a lot of brave runners out there pushing their limits in one way or another.  The volunteers were phenomenal, the race was flawlessly put together, and I had a blast. 

I have to thank Luke and Tom for joining me on this endeavor, both of whom achieved PR’s for distance.  They turned into my crew after their day was over, where they could’ve packed up and gone home.  I’d also like to thank Justin Contois for just getting the wheels in motion for this day (mentally and physically)—I miss you man!  Jesse Veinotte is the man!!!  This dude got me training for real, way early in the morning, in the cold, rain, heat, humidity, you name it.  He paced me for 40 miles and over 12 hours.  He crewed for me before that.  He gave me tips, podcasts, emails, words of encouragement, etc…I can’t thank you enough my friend.  Most importantly, I need to thank my wife, Greta, and my daughter, Gracie, for putting up with me throughout this whole thing.  The training, the ups and downs, my piss poor attitude at times, the time I took away from my family to race/train/recover, was all sacrifices they had to deal with.  I truly appreciate them and how they understand this passion of mine.

Results can be found here:

Jay ended up finishing 17th out of 41 finishers, in a time of 25 hours and 26 minutes.

Thank you to Jay for writing up an account on your experience and talking about the determination that it takes to not call it quits when you return to your car/tent/chair every 15 miles. It takes a lot of willpower to push on through the night and we all have our focus that helps us through a long race such as a 100 miler. After seeing everyone out there all night and being part of the Ghost Train again for the second year, I may make an attempt next year at a 100 miler. Not sure where yet, but it will be a big focus race for me next year and I hope to complete it in the fall sometime.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

TARC 100km Trail Race Report - 10/10/2015

The start of the 100 miler at 5am. The 100k started at 6am.

After putting in several mountain training runs in the 50km/8-10 hour range this summer in the White Mountains of NH, I felt fairly ready to tackle the 100km race that has been on my mind since March. I figured what I had developed in leg strength and endurance from those fun runs would translate well to putting in a faster effort on the flatter trails in Hale Reservation, where the race took place.

Instead of driving my own car, I opted for my wife, Amanda, to drive me to Westwood Friday night as there was camping allowed at the reservation. After getting my tent set up, I made my way over to where the pre-race food was and grabbed a bite to eat with Amanda and a few friends I knew from the trails. She ended up leaving to relieve my mom of babysitting duties and I hung out for a while until I got tired and headed to bed. Waking up at a race venue was new to me and it was great to just roll out of bed and not have to plan for an hour or two drive.

After watching the 100 milers take off on their journey through the woods, I made the final preparations to race and headed back over to the start for the pre-race briefing. At 6am, with a Yeti howl (TARC race tradition), the 100km runners headed out into the woods in the dark. The 100 mile course consisted of four 25 mile loops all the way around Hale Reservation and Noanet Highlands on mostly singletrack and doubletrack trails with a short 1/4 mile section of pavement. The 100km course runs a 12.5 mile section on the last part of the loop and then does two 25 mile loops to finish back on the beach. This allowed us 100k runners to run alone and I think it took until about 37 miles in that I saw any of the 100 milers.

Jack Bailey and I decided beforehand that we would try to run together for a bit and headed out in front at a steady pace. It was great to have someone to trade the lead off with and chat about life in general while out there enjoying the weather and beautiful, sometimes rocky trails. We ended up running about 20 miles together (average pace 9:24/mile!) until I decided the pace wasn't going to be one I could sustain for the whole distance. I let him go hoping that I would be able to catch up later, and started to get into a funk that took me about 10 miles to shake. From miles 20-30 I felt like I didn't want to be running any longer but tried to push on through it knowing that during any long race there are ups and downs and surely this one would pass.

Jack heading out into the fields on the approach to Powisset Farm Aid
Nice long views of the early sunlight

I ended up catching up on my fluids as I had started to get a bit dehydrated and got a second wind as the end of the first loop was getting closer. I was looking forward to picking up my pacer Eric Ahern for the final loop and getting a few miles in with him, hoping it would help my enthusiasm and drive to complete the race with a good effort towards the end. Meeting up with Eric and spending minimal time in the aid station, we were off on our last loop of the course, getting closer and closer to the finish with each step. I kept getting updates at aid stations telling me how far Jack was ahead of me in the race, which helped to keep up my spirits knowing that I was still close to his pace.

As the last loop rolled along I would get updates from volunteers saying 8 minutes ahead...6 minutes ahead...4 minutes ahead, and I kept my mind on my pace and nutrition trying to stay in the race and hope that those times kept coming down in my favor. Eric really did a good job pacing and helping the hills move quickly as they were starting to wear on me at this point. Around mile 51(?) at Noanet Aid Station I got word that I was down to 2 minutes in back of Jack and I made an attempt at this point to pass through the remaining the aid stations without stopping, hoping to make up time.

As you approach the Powisset Farm Aid Station, runners get a long view of who is ahead and we could see Jack arriving at the aid station. I grabbed a water/coke mixture and moved through without stopping catching up to him just after leaving and checked on how his day was going. He said he was "ready to be done" and said he had a rough patch just like I did. I kept a constant pace moving past him and pushed the pace back up into the 9:30 min/mile realm for a couple miles and that seemed to do the trick holding him off. Eric and I relaxed a little, but not too much as we had about 4.5 miles to go to the finish. Eric was texting my wife and letting her know where I was at and a projected time I would finish so my son could be ready to run into the finish with me, something he loves to do at these long races. My son usually runs a bit faster than me after I have a lot of miles on my legs and he enjoys treating it as a mini race between the two of us.

It was a great feeling coming around the bend and seeing my family there to cheer me on, and it was an equally great feeling to have completed my first 100km race - the second longest distance I had ever run (Ghost Train 100 miler 2012 still is my longest). After a couple family photos and talking with Josh K. about the race course, I threw on some heavier clothes and sat over by the fire for a couple minutes until Jack came into the finish and I could congratulate him for a great race. He ran 11:44:39 and another runner, John Kemp, whom we didn't know was behind us came in for third place in 11:50:41.

Finishing up with my main man Matthew
Photo by Eric Ahern during the last few miles

Photo credit Josh Katzman or Jim Roche, they took a similar photo

Lots of fun and suffering were had that day on the rocky trails of Hale and Noanet. Congratulations to all the runners in both races, the course was not easy and all the little rocks and seemingly innocent climbs that were easy in the beginning of the race became exponentially harder as the fatigue set in. Once again, as with any other TARC event, the volunteers, course marking and trail vibe was great. Thank you to all the people that helped getting the event organized because it was a smooth, well-run race to be a part of.

Map of the course, in general it went in a counterclockwise direction

Elevation profile of the many small hills (with Blue pace line)
Strava link:
Results here:

Race Statistics:
Half Marathon: 2:06
Marathon distance: 4:15
50k: 5:15
50mile: 9:06
62.5 (100k): 11:37:10, with around 7,000' of climbing, overall pace of 11:09/mile

Gear Used:
Shorts: The North Face Better Than Naked Flight Series
Short-sleeve Shirt: The North Face Velocitee Crew
Long-sleeve Shirt: Patagonia All-weather
Gels: Honey Stingers, and one special Spanish gel donated by Eric
Food: not much, just a few bananas and some potatoes along the way
Tailwind and coke towards the end for fueling

I'll be crewing and pacing my friend Jay at Ghost Train Ultra as he works to complete his first 100 mile race. I can't wait to get back on the trails out there, it is where I ran my first, and only so far, 100 mile race in 2012. It will be a fun event and I hope to help in any way I can to get him across the finish line. Always a great party in the woods as people work to complete their goals they have worked all year for.

Next event coming up for me is the TARC Fells Trail Ultra Winter 40 miler. This time I aim to complete the whole race in decent time after dropping out the past two years. I took a week for recovery and suprised myself with a Personal Record for the 5k distance the Saturday following the 100k in 17:50 and a fourth place. My training through November will be specific to the Fells race.