Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ghost Train Rail Trail Race Report

Who doesn't like Halloween with it's ghosts, goblins, pumpkins and treats? Perhaps this explains the explosive grown of this unique race that travels between the towns of Brookline and Milford New Hampshire. More likely it's because Race Director Steve Latour and his band of cheerful and supportive volunteers will do just about anything to help runners reach their race goal, whether it's completing their first 15 mile trail race, or 100 mile ultra marathon. I woke up this morning looking for an excuse NOT to run this race because of the rain and 40 degree temperature. I'm glad I decided not to wimp out. It's a super cool race!

Second race in two weeks. This is becoming a bad habit.

I didn't have much of a race strategy for running the 15 mile version of Ghost Train. Based on my results at the Groton Town Forest Race last weekend I knew I could break three hours at GT. That is if I didn't crash and burn in the final miles. A likely possibility given my 4-6 mile training runs once or twice a week. I considered some sort of run/walk scheme but ruled it out given the lack of any significant change in elevation along the race route. The course was basically flat with one hill a mile from the start/finish line so running the entire distance was the best option.

And my legs hated me for it.

My legs didn't listen.

Just like last weekend's race I didn't start until all the other runners began. I took my rightful place at the back of the pack but within a short time I was passing people. Not a lot, but still passing. I was running faster than my planned three hour pace but I decided to just go with it and see how long I could sustain it. I reached the turnaround point at Camp Tevya in 1:22, well ahead of my 1:30 pace goal. I stopped to fill my water bottle and eat a couple of cookies, said hello to my friend Karen who was working the aid station and off I went.

Even I couldn't get lost on this course. 

After the turnaround my legs started to feel tired and heavy. I was still maintaining pace but it was getting harder to do so with every step. Somewhere between mile 11 and 12 I stopped at the last aid station maned by my friend and Race Director Steve. We chatted for a minute or two (thanks Steve, that was my slowest mile of the race) while I downed two small chocolate bars. The sugar seemed to give me an instant boost and I felt much stronger over the final thee miles.

I felt dead-like between miles 10 - 12 but made a miraculous comeback with the help of some Halloween treats.

After the final aid station I caught up with Andrew from Rhode Island, He and I had been running close to one another for 2 - 3 miles but this was the first time we came side by side. The company seemed to give both of us a boost as we picked up the pace over the final three miles. Passing more runners made me forget how tired I was. Well, not really but I'd rather be doing the passing than being passed in the latter stages of a race. I was relieved to cross the finish line in Milford and surprised with my 2:43 finishing time. You can't get splits more even than that and I crushed my time goal by 17 minutes.

I think I need to set the bar higher next time.

Note: photos are not mine. They were taken from the Ghost Train Rail Trail Facebook page.

Friday, October 23, 2015

TUG And The Time Machine

While running in the 2015 Groton Town Forest Trail Race last weekend my mind began to wander. You have plenty on time to think when you run as slowly as I do. I thought back to the first time I stepped foot on these tranquil trails in Groton. It was in the fall of 2009, a year I consider almost magical. A time when all the stars and planets aligned. A time never to be repeated.

It was the year I competed in 23 trail, mountain, ultra and snowshoe races throughout New England and New York. It was the year I finished first male (50-59 age group) in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. It was the year I ran my first 50 kilometer and 50 mile trail races and qualified for the Western States 100 mile run. But none of these accomplishments are what made the year so special to me. It was a small, quirky, good-natured, tight-knit group of trail runners that made 2009 a year I will never forget.

I'm not even sure how it began, but somehow we all became very close friends. Maybe it was because we all ran the same races together or went on long training runs every weekend when we were not racing. Or maybe it was because our personalities just clicked. You know, sisters and brothers from another mother. Some things can not be explained. They just happen.

Some members of TUG running in the 2009 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race.

During 2009, we were spending so much time together that one person in our group suggested we come up with a name for ourselves. You know, sort of like a secret society but not nearly as sinister or mysterious. The name we agreed on was simple and fitting. Our group would be known as "The Ultra Gang" (TUG) and we were all "Tuggers". We were inseparable. Or so we thought.

Running for hours in the woods and covering great distances with my fellow Tuggers made me feel as though I was invincible. In fact, I remember thinking, "I will live to be 100 years old and I will be running ultras when I am in my eighties"!

I no longer feel this way.

I'm not sure if the others felt like me, if they ever thought they were invincible. I never asked any of them. I suspect in some ways they may have. But no matter what we thought at the time, we weren't invincible. We were, and are, merely human beings easily broken.

Several years have passed, and through a series of misfortunes, injuries, accidents, medical issues, and relocations The Ultra Gang is no longer together on the trails. Although we keep in touch and remain friends, the comradery we once shared is not lost, but certainly tempered. At times this saddens me, but mostly I'm happy and thankful for that special moment in time, that magical year never to be repeated.

And as the 2015 Groton Town Forest Trail Race continues, my feet move slowly over the red, yellow and green tapestry of fallen birch and maple leaves covering the trail. My mind again begins to wander. My pace quickens. Running seems effortless. Time is obscured. For a brief moment, I am transported back in time....It is 2009....

I am a Tugger, and I am invincible.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Groton Town Forest Trail Race Report

What a difference a day can make. Saturday,I destroyed my feet running on a hard-packed, crushed stone rail trail. After returning home from that run I performed some Graston on my planter fascia with a large metal spoon and iced my feet for HOURS. I woke up Sunday morning feeling 75% better. Good enough to motivate me to drive one hour north-west to the rural town of Groton to run in the 18th Annual Groton Town Forest Trail Race.

Second race in three weeks.

The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees as I made my to the starting line but the strong wind and lack of sunshine made it feel much colder. I was foolishly wearing only shorts and a short-sleeved tee so my teeth were clattering uncontrollably as I awaited the 12:30 start. When the command to Go was given I let all the other runners pass before I crossed the starting line. I wanted to start out very conservatively in the early miles and didn't want to get in anyone's way. Yea, I'm dead last again!

I ran the first mile behind three women, two of whom were chatting it up quite a bit. The old me would have gotten annoyed with their constant banter but the trail was tight single-track with little room for passing so I just hung back and chilled. Just over a mile, we hit the first hill, one of many STEEP climbs in the first three miles of the race, and I made a move to pass them. I never did see, or hear from them again. Three down, 86 to go (I'm guessing on the size of the field since the results have not been posted at this time).

I ran the next 2.5 miles of constant up and down, twisting, turning single-track alone in quiet solitude. The tail was so twisty that I could see runners through the trees but it was impossible to determine how far ahead they were. I assumed I would run the remaining miles this way and finish as the last male runner. After turning a corner and beginning a long uphill climb, I saw a male runner about 100 yards ahead. I now had a target in sight!

I slowly closed the gap and noticed the guy was running barefoot! I didn't think that was best footwear choice considering the fallen autumn leaves were concealing the rocks and tree roots on the trail. As I passed the barefoot wonder he complained to me that he could not see what he was stepping on and it was killing his feet. You think? I was no long the last place male but I was the last place male wearing shoes!

Miles 4-6 were relatively easy with some flat trail along the Dead and Nashua Rivers. I cruised along feeling very comfortable with my easy pace. The next three miles were the most difficult with 4-6 VERY steep climbs and descents. I'm sure the steepest had to be at a 45-50 degree angle. As least it felt like it to me. I passed a number of people in those final miles but never really turned up the pace. I guess they must have gone out too fast and were fading near the end. It's always fun to be picking off runners as you near the finish line. 

Left, right, up, down and all around.

Not a lot of elevation change but plenty of short and steep ascents and descents.

I'm sure I finished in the back of the pack but that doesn't matter to me. I was back in the woods, running my first Grand Tree Series Trail Race in nearly fours years. The Grand Tree is where I fell in love with trail running, and where I met some great people and became friends. It felt good to come home after a long absence. It won't be another four years before I run my next.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Not My Day

I woke up this morning looking forward to running the Groton Town Forest Trail Race. I had a quick breakfast and a few cups of coffee before packing up my gear bag. I'm not sure what prompted this, but right before heading out the door I thought to check the race website to see if I had the correct race date. Lucky I did. The Groton race is on Sunday not Saturday. Doh!!

With my race plans out the window I needed to come up with a plan B. The Ghost Train Race  is just one week away so I decided to go for a training run on the Topsfield Linear Common/Danvers Rail Trail. All of my training to date has been in very hilly Lynn Woods. Getting at least one training run on terrain similar to the Ghost Train course made sense so plan B was settled.

As soon as I began running in Danvers, I knew I had make a mistake. Although I was aware the trail surface was finely crushed stone, I didn't realize how hard it would be. It almost felt like running on pavement. For someone with healthy feet that wouldn't be an issue, but I do not have healthy feet. Some would say I don't have pleasant smelling ones either but I digress.

Anyway, at exactly three miles and if on cue, my plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuromas and shin splits began playing, "Hell No You Don't" from their hit album, "Symphony Of Pain". I did my best to lower the volume on this wicked little tune but when my heel pain starting feeling like I stepped on a rusty nail I decided to surrender and stop running. That meant a three-plus mile walk of shame back to my car.

I planned to run to the Boxford Line. My feet had other plans.

Don't let the smooth surface fool you. It's as hard as, well, stone you dummy.

I tried to save my feet by taking a spur trail through Moore Woods to a vista overlooking a reservoir. These blow-downs turned me back. Damn you trees!

Calm waters offer the best moments for reflection. Sort of like people.

A vast marshland borders some of the trail.

I tried to save my feet for a second time by taking the swamp walk through the Choate Farm area. But ....

.... I was turned back yet again, this time by a submerged boardwalk. Coincidence or conspiracy? Hmm.

At least it was only a three mile walk of shame.
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