• Race Report: 2023 Ghost Train Trail Race

    My new favorite race!

Blog Author Photo
Become a Patron! jack-o'-lantern bridge

Just two days before I ran XTERRA Sugarloaf, while I was fretting about time cutoffs and alpine descents, I got the email I'd been hoping for: I had moved off the waitlist and onto the start list for the 30-Hour race at Ghost Train. This took a ton of pressure off of XTERRA, now knowing that it wasn't the final race of my season.

Better yet, I was going to get an adventure that I'd been hoping for. Ghost Train is well known for its approachable, friendly details. You can camp for free onsite. The race is a series of out-and-backs on a former rail trail, so there is not much technical trail or elevation on each lap. You get to see all the athletes on every lap, as we pass back and forth by each other. Shorter races take place during the 30-hour event to keep up the stoke when the fatigue might be setting in. The aid stations are well provisioned and never too far away. There are period products at every aid station. And the sweetest detail of all: the Halloween decorations! Night laps are made endearingly spooky with luminaries, twinkle lights, skeletons, spiders, elves and 200 jack-o'-lanterns lining a bridge. 

My hope was to use the hard training for Sugarloaf to support a longer but less technical run at Ghost Train, ultimately setting a distance PR for myself. Because you have 30 hours to run, unless you are attempting a 100 mile race, you don't have to work relentlessly on the course. My race plan was to do two laps, have dinner and a nap, and take a third lap after dark to enjoy the decorations. I'd had aspirations at the beginning of summer of taking a fourth lap in the morning, but a sprained ankle and a season of torrential rain and trail closures held my training back. Besides, three laps was going to be a huge jump in distance for me. No need to be reckless.

Race weekend offered perfect weather, a surprise to all of us who had been watching the forecast change from certain rain to a lovely, sunny fall day. My wife came to camp and crew for me, so we spent Friday afternoon setting up our spot for the next day's adventure. We're regular backcountry campers, so even though the more social feel of our campsite was new, we were able to get in.a good dinner, a night's rest and breakfast in the morning. 

The 9am start actually made for a leisurely morning. I had plenty of time to eat, pick up my bib, and prep for my run. Because I'd be running past our campsite every lap, and the aid stations were epic, this was a race where I was able to travel light--just a belt with a couple of soft flasks of Tailwind and two gels. I didn't even need to carry more Tailwind powder to mix because there was mandarin Endurance Formula on the course. I only needed to worry about my feet, and how I might need to take care of them mid-lap.

My feet were going to be the ultimate reason I would or would not make my goals. My blisters had healed from Sugarloaf, but it had been less than two weeks. I never have blister problems, so I don't really have a solid care routine or prevention strategy. I lubed up my feet before the start and carried a tube of chapstick in case they needed some attention on the trail. I had no idea how my skin would handle the friction from this distance attempt, but I was ready to try. 

The first lap was sheer joy! I fell in easy conversation with other runners as we got our first look at the trail. It's more rustic than our local rail trail, but more interesting because of it. While there were some tricky spots that would demand more attention, especially after dark, this was going to be doable. Even better, while there were some occasional itchy signals from my feet, my skin was pretty happy in my shoes.

My second lap, the real atmosphere of Ghost Train came alive. At this point, the runners have all spread out enough that there's consistent two-way traffic on the route, with faster and slower runners having a chance to continually interact as they pass each other. For me, this is the fun of a timed event--the leaders never fully vanish from view. You're part of a constantly moving community, but everyone is still very much a part of each other's day. Everyone at every speed gets continual support and company along the way. There is a warmth and community in this style of race that you don't get when we're all running in a straight line.

After my second lap, it was time for dinner and a nap. I changed into dry clothes for the next lap, had some ramen with an egg and then attempted a nap. I have a hard time sleeping after long runs, and I learned that this is the case for mid-race naps too. It was dark enough and quiet enough, even with the race course less than 30 feet from our tent, but my nervous system could not fully settle down. Both my brain and my muscles were just twitchy enough to keep me up. However, I was warm and cozy and the rest time did what it needed to do, despite never really getting to sleep.

I was excited and nervous for my final lap. Once I made it to the jack-0'-lantern bridge, I'd match my current milage PR. Every next step until the finish would be my new PR, for thirteen more miles. I'd done the preparation and my day was going great: it was just time to commit to the last big lap.

I overdressed for the mild night temperatures, preferring to stay warm and risk overheating than lose precious energy to cold. After a couple miles, I had to take off my windbreaker, which helped tremendously. The trail felt less busy than in daylight, but I was never isolated in the ways that I've been in overnight laps of DEST. The Halloween decorations were definitely worth taking a night lap to enjoy and the jack-o'-lantern bridge is more magical than the photographs can show. The route was still easy to navigate in the dark, and with runners usually in sight, it's easy to double-check yourself out there. 

I made good time to the power line aid station, where the disco lit portapotties were a riot! The volunteers there would cheer whenever anyone relieved themselves, congratulating us for staying hydrated. Then came the hill and the tunnels, which all felt more adventurous in the dark. I was a little surprised how soon and how well I felt at the turnaround, and good thing too, because I started to feel other symptoms of my fatigue. I couldn't pick a snack, and then when I did, the cheese puffs had gone a little stale in the night's humidity. I tried to get the taste and sensation out of my mouth with a peanut butter cup, but didn't remove the paper, so that went poorly too, and while I think I did ok keeping my disappointment to myself, I felt childishly irritated over such minor details. A little Tailwind and some pb&j turned me around quick, but I realized how much harder my night would have become if I were planning on running a fourth lap. 

I made the return smiling the whole way, knowing that while I was exploring my limits, I was also capable of finishing. I appreciated all the decorations and support even more in these last miles, knowing that I was finishing up my miles on the course. I made sure to thank every volunteer for helping me with this adventure. 

I also had a sweet moment when my wife stopped returning my periodic texts, knowing that she felt comfortable enough about me being out there that she could fall asleep. I debated letting her sleep in while I finished alone, but I didn't want her to think she'd let me down. I texted again when I had a mile left to go, and heard back from her almost immediately--she'd set an alarm that projected my finish almost perfectly.

One last loop through camp and I was across the mat and finished! A distance PR and a smoothly executed race plan, both of which I'm extremely proud of. After a finish line snack, I changed into dry clothes and enjoyed the best peanut butter sandwich and cocoa at the campsite. I got sleepy fast, and wanted to bring my sandwich to bed with me--again, childish--but finished before getting into the tent. I still couldn't exactly sleep, but I was warm and tired and drifted in and out while I replayed my new favorite race in my head.



Never Miss an Article!

Join Chickpea's mailing list and you'll never have to worry about missing a training tip or an adventure.

Thank you for subscribing!