For my first race of 2011 I headed back to southern New Mexico to run the Ghost Town 38.5 for the 4th and last time. Once again Susan put on a great event with fantastic volunteers and fabulous food. Ghost Town always seems more like a family reunion than a race.
I carpooled down with Kristel, Victoria, and Nick Pedatella on Friday and our plan was to camp out on Susan’s property and take the day on Saturday to relax. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Hillsboro in time for dinner at Susan’s but there was still some good apple crisp left over and Nick, Victoria, and Kristel got their first dose of Susan’s story telling …including one interesting bit about the history of Hillsboro’s brothels back when it was a booming mining town.
Saturday was a nice lazy day with an easy 3 mile jog to start the day, a soak in the hot springs in Truth or Consequences, and a huge pre-race dinner. The Saturday dinner included several tables of potluck contributions from the runners and mountains of food from Susan’s kitchen. Ghost Town is one of the few ultra events that I run where I actually gain weight by the end of the weekend. Susan’s lead kitchen volunteer, Tim, did an amazing job coordinating everything. Tim was working away in Susan’s kitchen from the time that we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday evening. I’m pretty sure he never left the kitchen the entire weekend.
Race morning was a bit chilly at about 30 degrees but compared to previous years it was pretty mild. I was feeling good after a fairly restful week but a bit nervous about the race. Personally I hoped to have a good run and beat my time from 2010 and if I was lucky, I’d see how close I could get to beating Nick Clark’s record. Now I don’t really believe that I can outrun Nick. But he set the 2010 record a week after running a course record at the Bandera 100k and he was a bit beat up so I figured there might be a slim chance. And before the race, Susan did her best to stir up some trouble and somehow my 5:09 to 5:20 goal turned into a show down to see whether Nick Pedatella or I could break 5 hours. Jason Koop managed to sneak into the race below Susan’s radar but both Nick and I knew he’d be fast and would probably be the guy to beat.
From the start Nick and I took off at a brisk pace on the road and ran together for the first 10 miles. When we left the Stone Hut station heading out on the short out and back, Jason was right behind us. At the crest of the hill after Stone Hut, I decided to stretch out my legs and push the pace on the long downhill before the spur trail and managed to pull ahead out of sight of both Nick and Jason. The spur trail was mostly covered in ankle deep snow so it was definitely slower and harder this year. I just focused on chugging along at a steady pace through the snow. On the way back down the hill, I got my first chance to see how Nick and Jason were doing. They looked just fine coming up the hill together a little less than 2 tenths of a mile behind me.
About 15 miles into the run I was still feeling pretty good and keeping up a brisk pace but my hamstrings started to really tighten up and ache and I really have no idea why. I’ve beat myself up pretty good on past runs but never had any issues with hamstrings. They didn’t seem to be getting worse and weren’t slowing me down. It was just a little more uncomfortable than I would have liked at this point in the run. So I shrugged it off and pressed on.
The drop down into the turn around at Cave Creek also had quite a bit of snow so it was a bit slower and trickier than past years. But I made it to the turn around right on pace for a 5:09 finish goal. Unfortunately Jason was still lurking behind me looking really strong about a quarter mile back. Nick had dropped back a little further but was still only half a mile behind me. Both were too close for comfort.
From Cave Creek to the Hilltop station, I got to see most of the other runners out on the course. Everyone looked like they were having a great day and the positive energy from the rest of the field was a great boost to push through this tough section of the race.
At about mile 27 just before heading up the last big climb, Jason finally caught up with me. I was definitely feeling the distance in my legs at this point. I’d been running much faster than I’ve run in previous years and while the pace felt OK, I could tell that I just didn’t have the base training miles on my legs that I’m used to and these last miles of the race were serious work. The finish line was still a long way down the road so I let Jason pull ahead. I figured I’d just stick to my own pace up over the hill to Stone Hut and then really push the last 9 miles in to the finish to see if I could reel him back in. I arrived at the Stone Hut dog leg just as Jason was on his way out so I figured I was still in decent position to fight for a first place finish.
I really didn’t know what kind of runner Jason was. I just knew that he had a lot of experience with some fast finishes but most of his ultras were longer mountain races. I really hoped that he was more of mountain runner than a road runner. So I hauled ass down the road from Stone Hut as fast as I could keep my legs moving. For a few miles back down to the highway, their are several sections where you can see a mile or more ahead. When I got my first view of the long road ahead I hoped to catch a glimpse of Jason to get an idea of how much of a lead he had on me. No luck. He was gone. Nowhere in sight. It turns out, he’s a hell of a fast runner on the road. In the last 10 miles of the race, Jason dropped me by 10 minutes to finish with a new course record in 5:06.
With Jason gone and Nick nowhere in sight behind me, I had to struggle to mentally stay focused to keep pushing my pace through to the finish. I had to remind myself that I started this race to run as well as I possibly could. I wasn’t going to let myself shut down in the final miles to just cruise in for an easy 2nd place finish. Those last 6 miles on the road were damn hard. I didn’t have anyone to chase and there wasn’t anyone chasing me. It was just me and my brain against my legs. My hamstrings were screaming and if I let my concentration drift for just a few seconds my pace would instantly drop. I kept pushing down the road one guard rail post at a time and eventually Hillsboro came into view and I turned the corner onto Susan’s property to finish in 5:16. I wasn’t anywhere near first and quite a bit short of my 5:09 stretch goal. But it was a new PR for me by almost 9 minutes and the 3rd fastest finish time in Ghost Town history.
While it would have been nice to win, I’m still really happy about my run. I checked my splits compared to last year and the snow and some of the uphills that felt slower really weren’t that bad. I only lost about 43 seconds in the snow on the Spur trail. The trip to Cave Creek and back was only a minute slower than last year. And I may have started out fairly aggressively running the first 10 miles about 4 minutes faster than 2010 but in the last 8 miles, I shaved over 4 minutes off of my 2010 pace. So I think I ran a pretty good race and look forward to seeing what I can build off of this for the rest of 2011.
For the rest of the day I enjoyed a nice warm day in the sun with good friends. Nick ended up aggravating an old ankle sprain but managed to make it to the finish in 3rd place not too far behind me. Kari and Chris tied for 1st place for the women. Kristel and Victoria finished their run together in 2nd for the women. Mary had a solid run finishing her longest ultra event yet. And Jennifer finished her first ultra. She looked great out on the road when I saw her on my way back from Vista and she looked just as good running the last mile to the finish line.
As usual, Susan had a ton of food out for the post race – home made enchiladas, soups, cookies, chips, and fruit. And that was just the snacks to tide us over until the full post race BBQ. In the last 4 years, I think this was by far the best Ghost Town event yet. Aside from Susan’s great work, we had a really great field of runners this year. It’s really too bad that this was the last year for the event. But I’m sure I’ll see many of the Ghost Town alumni out at many other races. And it sounds like Susan may have some plans for something new in the future.
Thank you Susan and the rest of the Ghost Town regulars for 4 good years!
You can check out Susan’s website for a full list of race reports and photos.
Jeff Genova put together a pretty good slide show of photos from the event in this video:
I didn’t carry my camera out on the course but got a few photos from the weekend here: