The warm glow of the fire lit up the dark sky as we huddled around it, our breath in the air. 67 miles in, my legs are heavy and the finish line forever away. The sweet volunteer who hands me soup lifts my spirits, the warmth of the broth I can feel throughout my body. I shiver as we cross the bridge, seven and a half miles until we get back to camp. Elton, Coldplay and Petty keep my mind awake as we shuffle away into the dark.
Ghost Train Trail races is one not to be missed. The start and finish are nestled at beautiful Camp Tevya, a Jewish summer camp for kids in Brookline, NH. As my husband and I rolled in, you could tell it was going to be a festive, fun weekend. Pop-Up tents dotted the landscape as runners, crew and volunteers were busily getting ready for the next 30 hours. After setting up our little base camp with friends, Astrid, Jon, and Maria, we dropped our goodies we brought to share (such a clever idea TARC does, each runner brings an aid station item, ours was hot chocolate and pickles, yum!) and grabbed our bibs, keeping warm with blankets wrapped around us. It was a chilly 32 degrees, the 9 a.m. start quickly approaching.
As the countdown begins, cheering ensues. It’s simply wonderful to share the trails with 400+ runners with the same desires; to see how far they can go, to test the mental game. Living in Brownsville, VT, home of the Vermont 100, I knew a flat course was going to be a mental challenge. After finishing VT this year with a 100+ degree heat index and 17,000’ of elevation, Ghost Train was going to be a polar opposite race, 55 degrees (with a low of 32 overnight) and 2700’ of elevation. Also, we’d be running almost 13 hours in the dark, verses roughly nine hours of darkness at Vermont.
The first few miles is a bit of zigzagging, getting ourselves into a nice rhythm. The rail trail is smooth with soft crushed stones and very, very flat. Cruising along the first lap, passing houses, ponds, and beaver chewed trees, the landscape was beautiful. The leaves gently falling around us, the chitchatter of new friendships in the air. The first aid station is roughly four miles in, so much food on the tables, the volunteers are bundled up against the cold weather. Grab and go is our mission early on, capitalize on the light, but stay steady with the pace, so many miles left. We hit the “hill” around 6 miles in. It’s short and steep, with rocks and roots, inspirational quotes are guiding the way on white paper plates. The front runners are coming at us, we high five and cheer on our fellow runners. It’s like one big family cheering each other on. The turnaround, we cross the mat and grab food like it’s going out of style, hard boiled eggs (Fred, your name came up!) avocado wraps, potatoes, you name it, it was probably there. I’m shocked how I’m able to eat so much, I feel ravenous. We turn around, half way through loop one of our six and two-thirds loops.
As we run into camp, the crowds are alive. Running by our tent we see Maria, we must run a wee bit more to a small covered bridge and turn around at the pumpkin. As we get back to our crew stop (minus the crew, oh how we missed you boys and Elaine and Christine..best crew ever) we repack two sleeves of Tailwind and three sleeves of Spring Energy. Ditch the jackets and winter hat for baseball hats and we’re off, stepping on the timing mat to indicate we are heading out on loop two. Endless food awaits us at the start/finish aid station. Loop two brings less crowds to navigate on the trails, as the runners have now spread out. Each loop, checking off milestones, one and a quarter mile to the skeletons enjoying smore’s over a campfire, another mile to the first amazing pumpkin display, another to the water, and so and and so forth. After climbing the one and only hill, we pass through a dizzying tunnel that goes under a freeway of somesort. I feel trippy when I’m in there, like things are spinning. Guy and I have found a nice groove on this loop. We see Astrid again, she’s looking so strong and her endless smiles give us an instant boost. We stop and chat and see how each other are doing. We pass by bowls of candy left by sweet neighbors. Whoever made the chicken and dumplings, I love you. This was a true gift, warmed my body with real goodness.
Loop three is where the mental game begins, for us Blue Collar Runners, we know darkness will be approaching at the end of this loop and with that comes frigid temps. Our minds wander, we could go back to the hotel and finish watching that great Netflix series. Anything to escape the thoughts of being out there for another 17 hours. Our march is a little less peppy, more like dejected. I love being out in the woods with Guy tho, we can pick each other up when someone is down. Guy is letting his mental struggles out, he misses seeing the kids and realizes how much more a 100 means to him, when our boys are there with us. It would be so nice if they were here to keep us motivated. I texted them both, asking for some extra mojo and they send funny “Office” references and sweet messages to keep us going through the night.
Loop four requires a much needed wardrobe overhaul. The shorts and short-sleeves are not going to cut it anymore with the temps dropping fast. I shiver as I slide my tights on and put on a long sleeve, a down jacket, hat, gloves and the best .79 cents we’ve ever spent, hand warmers (don’t forget to pack these!) We have endless hot chocolates (4 spoonfuls is the best number) and minestrone soup along this loop. I don’t want to leave the fire at the halfway stop. The volunteers are truly a Godsend, so happy and positive.
Loop five, we are not super happy campers as we leave this loop. Our friends are looking so cozy by the fire reflecting on their races, it’s hard to leave. We head into the darkness. I put in my earbuds and pull my buff over my nose and mouth, so only my eyes are showing, and drift away to the comforting sounds of ‘Your Song’ and “Yellow Brick Road”. My eyes focused on the reflective tape of Guy’s Hokas. We move on this loop, because half way we’ve made a pact to warm up in the car, and we are getting closer and closer to that reality.
Beep Beep Beep!!! The alarm goes off. Where the hell are we? I still have my vest and headlamp on, we are cozy in the car, warm air blowing. Eight minutes have passed, but it felt like an eternity, five more minutes please. Alarm again, oh my, 25 miles left and it’s hard to leave the warmth of the car. It’s bitterly cold, our hands are frozen, so we grab two fresh packs of hand warmers and set out for loop 5. I’m more dejected on this loop. The thought of a marathon is daunting, but we move on and oddly laugh at the thought of this being our last full loop. No more big hill, no more tunnel, no more mini “no hands bridge”. We dream of getting back to camp so we can start our last and final lap of ten miles.
Last loop! Ten more miles to go. We can officially begin the countdown. A quick change of clothes, ditch the big jackets for smaller ones. The sun is up, we survived the night. It’s still cold, but we get an extra boost from the 15 milers who are zooming by us yelling “great job.” Their strides are so strong and efficient. Guy and I chuckle, that’s what we used to look like! As we count down, we reach the 100 mile turnaround point, five to go. It sinks in, we’re gonna do this. It’s hard not to get a bit misty, we high five the young man rounding the corner with us. This will be his first 100, something incredible to witness. The last fives miles we push on, power hiking, shuffling, the quicker we go, the quicker we get back.
Crossing the finish line with your best friend and partner in life is certainly special and one I don’t take for granted. So many people ask us, how do you do it? How do you not kill each other? It just comes natural to us, I guess. We genuinely like to be around one another, and sharing the sport we love together, just makes it that much sweeter. This is our second 100 mile finish together. Both so different, but the theme is the same. Can we motivate each other to keep going on and off the trails, you betcha!
I can’t recommend this race enough. Few words of advice; don’t let the flats fool you. They will sneak up on you. Coming from the hills of Vermont, we can say we were humbled by the flats. You will use the same muscles over and over for 100 miles. Be prepared to eat your way through a 100 miles. Endless food, not just aid station food, but pizza, chicken dumplings, goulash, rice, it goes on and on. Every little detail does not go unnoticed, like the RD cheering loud for you, it seems, at every turn, pumpkins lit with vanilla candles, exotic dancers (were they really there???) and the volunteers who cheered and cared endlessly for us. Thank you Ghost Train for a fun ride. Will you ride the train in 2020??