Life's little adventures, accompanied by a running watch

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Ghost Train Tale of 100 miles

I finished Ghost Train 100 miles in 29 hours, 6 minutes….I will warn you that, although it shouldn’t take you that long to read my recap, this is a long one!

Two years ago, I ran my first 50 miler at StoneCat.  After that race, I remember wondering, “what’s next?” but having no dreams of attempting anything longer.  It never even entered my mind.  Until it entered my mind!  I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but as I registered for Ghost Train 15 mile race in 2013, my little secret was that I was actually preparing to scope out the course to determine if I could handle 6.666 legs of it…for 100 miles.

I remember the race director making his pre-race announcements to us 15 mile racers last year… something to the effect of, “You’ll see runners out there who have been running through the night trying to complete 100 miles, so please be kind/encouraging”.  I remember tearing up each time I approached one of the 100 mile racers.  I was in complete awe of them.  They looked so worn out, so tired, and yet, still so determined.  I was going to be one of them.

I quickly found a training schedule that I believed would work for me.  I’ve never been a huge weekly mile girl and wasn’t looking for some lofty sub-24 hour finish.  Nope, just wanted a schedule that would complement my life and not over take it.  I knew my life would be disrupted by the intensity, duration, and the ultimate race itself, but I strived to keep some semblance of balance.

In the end, I completed nine 26.2 mile or greater training runs, with seven of them 30 miles or greater and always followed by a second long run the next day.  All in the name of “time on feet”.  I was able to incorporate three solid trail races; 18 miles at GAC Mother’s Day race, 50K at Pineland Farms, and 50K at TARC Summer Classic.  This trail race training provided immense confidence in footing, navigation, and fueling. 

Fueling and night running were also practiced.  I’ll admit, I got lax with the fueling practice and Scott was there to remind me that I needed to train with real food, not just GU.  So, he found a great recipe for chicken ginger over rice and that became my main staple for Ghost Train.  In fact, I never took even one GU during my entire 100 miles!  I didn’t get a lot of night running in, but also knew it would be difficult to try to emulate 13 hours of night running.  Knowing I had secured pacers to help me through the night miles, I didn’t get too worked up about it.

I spent the day before the race packing, cooking, and mentally preparing.  I also grabbed hair elastics that I wore on my wrist, removing one each time I returned after a full leg.  That seemed like a great way to symbolically count off the legs.

The race – first 30 miles
All of my training included a run:walk ratio, though during the race I wasn’t as timed/rigid as it had been during my training.   I was lucky to have Carrie with me for the first 30 miles, since she actually registered for the race.  We took pictures, chatted, and ran a nice easy/steady pace.  Other than having to accommodate to my slower pace, Carrie truly got the best of Lisa!

Staying hydrated with diluted grape Gatorade and eating something every 30 minutes, I felt fantastic!  Interestingly, I fell only once – heading back from the first leg at mile 15.  Because the weather was actually a bit warm on Saturday (did I mention this race was flanked by 2 nor’easters??), I took a couple salt tabs during the day.  By the end of 30 miles when I left Carrie, I felt my legs starting to work a bit.  Nothing seriously painful, but just knew they were getting ready to work a bit harder.

The race – evening miles
Sue T took the 6:30 pm shift and, although not a big trail runner, was ready to head into the darkness with me!  I was still feeling decent and had long since decided to embrace the darkness.  The temperature still felt unseasonably warm, but I changed out of my shorts and short sleeve shirt and into capris and long sleeve shirt anyway.  Sue had saved up many stories for our run together, even writing them down on a post it so she wouldn’t forget!  By now, I was experiencing some steady Achilles discomfort.  When Sue asked if she could help by massaging, I said yes! and a mid-trail massage ensued.  After letting Sue know my plan to eat every 30 minutes, she began providing helpful time checks.  What we didn’t know yet was how funny they would become.

Sue:       It’s 10:45…… night.
Lisa:      [ laughing ]
Sue:       It’s now 11:13….pm…..same night.

And so it went….

The race – midnight miles
As I approached camp to pick up Meaghan, I thought, “Here come the hallucinations I’ve heard about!”  But no, it was real – Meaghan had wrapped herself in battery operated Christmas lights!  She had alluded to having something up her sleeve…I just never thought it would be Christmas lights!   Not only did the lights give me a shot in the arm, but all of the runners coming towards us as well.  The comments, chuckling, and thumbs up (yes, I could see because my light source was pimped out) that came from Meaghan’s “costume” was such a boost for all of us.  I was definitely more tired and had actually started yawning during Sue’s leg.  That continued and followed me into Sue D’s leg.

The race – graveyard miles
I was not a happy camper during Sue D’s pacing leg.  I was tired and very quiet.  But Sue had tricks up her sleeve too.  She made a great booklet of affirmations/encouragement that she started reading to me each mile.  This was no small feat because she was doing this via headlamp.  And she managed to stay on her feet and not fall.  Sadly, she dropped it at some point and we never found it.  She, like the others, kept me moving, gently suggesting we “run a little bit” to keep the forward momentum going.  It’s also during these miles that I began to see things that weren’t there.  That was a little weird, but having a friend with me helped me not over react to my newfound hallucinations. 

At mile 75, I hit bottom.  My head was clear enough to know that my legs and feet hurt, but were working fine.  But the sleep deprivation had gotten to me.  I couldn’t see straight, I was emotional, and I couldn’t imagine taking another step.  I became overwhelmed with what was still left ahead of me (and no one uttered a word about having a full marathon ahead of me – thank you).  I reached the turnaround and sat down.  Scott and friends could see I was in a bad space and worked hard at finding the right mix of consoling and tough love.  What got me out of that chair at mile 75 was all due to them.  They reminded me that the sky was already brighter, that full daylight was only minutes away, that I would feel recharged from the daylight, and on and on.   They were so right!

I left the chair and never looked back.  Sue and I spent the next 7.5 miles talking and listening to songs she queued up on her phone.  One of my favorites came on “Just Give Me A Reason” (Pink/Nate) and she dared me to reach the high note.  Always up for a challenge, even at mile 75+, I nailed the note.  I’ll never listen to that song in the same way again!   In addition to the daylight and Sue’s music and encouragement, I was hailed as a rock star by the 15 mile racers starting their race.  Their encouragement simultaneously reduced me to tears and charged me up.  At mile 78, I was greeted at the aid station by bacon and pancakes.  Oh.My.God.  I filled a cup with a combination of the two and marched on.  What a lift!

The race – daylight again!
In my underestimation of the latter miles, I did not have pacers lined up for the final 17.5 miles.  Meaghan took care of that!  Her boyfriend Chris, who I had met once just the week prior, took on the challenge of pacing me for 7.5 miles.  He kept me running, eating, and drinking and was a godsend to me.  He grabbed me food at the aid station as I closed my eyes in the porto-potty.  I realized this type of catnap was far too dangerous.  My head bobbed and the thought of falling through scared me enough to exit quickly!

At mile 90 (gulp, still feels surreal to say that), Meaghan took on a second pacing challenge to get me through those final 10 miles.   It was a slow go, but she would count down from 10 (felt like 100!) on each running segment and then we’d walk.  Rinse/repeat.  I was never so happy to reach the 5 mile turnaround…

Sue D and Wynn (Sue T’s hubby) met Meaghan and me a mile-ish from the finish (could’ve been a couple of yards for all I know).  I was so happy that I was able to actually be running at mile 97, 98, 99…. I finished in running form and with a huge smile on my face!  I was surrounded by my friends and there was Scott, smiling, cheering me on, taking video…and grabbing me as I finished to hug me and congratulate me on my successful 100 mile completion.

Doesn’t get any better than that.

Check out my VIDEO that Scott created from a collection of photos and videos taken over the 29 hours, 6 minutes I was out there.  There’s great music that accompanies it too, if you want the full experience.

My fantastic crew!
Thank you to all who encouraged and supported me!  Thank you to my friends who gave up their weekend and their sleep, paced me, cooked for me, changed batteries for me, massaged Achilles for me, tolerated my whining, cheered me up, and helped me realize this remarkable goal I had set for myself a year ago.  I love my tribe.

And the most special thank you goes to Scott.  My goal became his goal and my pain became his pain.  He is my rock always, but he continues to amaze me with this strength and support he so freely gives.  Without him, this goal wouldn’t have been possible. 

And now, I rest and reflect (and watch my video over and over!!)  J


  1. You are a rock star in every way!!!
    I loved reading about this - your crew sounds wonderful and like the greatest group of friends/runners ever. I can't get the video to open - I will have to try again later because I'm sure it is awesome!!!

    1. Thank you Kim! Yes, my crew was the best and I'm so grateful for them :) I've heard some have trouble w/ that link; others don't. I'll repaste here just in case -

    2. P.S. I hear the link sometimes works better pasted into Safari :)

  2. Wow. I loved reading this! I cannot believe you did not have pacers for the past 17 miles, but your awesome friends managed to step in and help. That is truly amazing :) What do the crew sweatshirts say? Get a close-up please!

    1. OK, I just watched the entire video (AMAZING-your husband is incredible!) and I did get to see a close up of the sweatshirts. And you were smiling in all of the photos? I do not believe you hit a low at all in that race!

    2. Thanks Amy!! My husband is amazing (slight bias!). My friends as well. I wasn't smiling the whole me....but a good part of it :) Why not, right? I volunteered to take on the challenge and did my best to have the strongest and most supportive people around me. I never thought I wouldn't finish (until mile 75), but really, how could I not finish? Really awesome experience...

  3. Reading your re-cap was as moving as watching the video. I'm so proud of you! Everything happened as it should. If I had been there the first tear-drop would have done me in. I LOVE your friends and I especially love your husband.

    ~ Mama

    1. Thanks mama! It really did all happen as it should! Not to say "I told you so", but I knew a tear drop (or 5,000) from your daughter would make you crazy. I feel bad that we went all radio-silent on you when we did, but Scott & friends took such good care of me :)

  4. Congratulations!!! This is so fantastic. I have so much admiration for what you accomplished. I love how balance was important to you and you didn't let the training take over your life. So awesome!

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! I would say my toughest part of training wasn't the actual miles, but more of the time it took that obviously had to be diverted from other things, people, etc. I think I managed it OK and knew there would be some times that would be harder than others (especially those 30/20 back to backs - whew!). I'm not out to win these things or make it my career (as if I had a choice!!), so balance for me is key.

  5. wow! so so awesome!! You are indeed a rockstar!! Congratulations on such an accomplishment. :)

    1. Thanks Michelle!! Definitely felt like a rockstar when I finished the thing :) It's also reset expectations for me. As you know, just signed up for Maine Coast Challenge; it struck me as funny that, prior to my ultra races, I might've had doubts if I could run a 1/2 on Sat and a full on Sunday. Not that I'm cocky, but damn, I've been doing that for the past 6+ months!

  6. Wow!! Wow!! This is amazing!! Congrats!!!

    1. Hey Maureen! Thank you so much :) It's fun to be back in blog-world again with you!