Monday, January 18, 2010
Ghost Town 38.5 Race Report
For the second year in a row I escaped the snow and cold of Idaho over the MLK Jr. holiday weekend and ran the Ghost Town 38.5 in Hillsboro, NM. This year Susan Reynolds, easily the most communicative Race Director I have ever met, put together another wonderful weekend with several delicious meals, lively Greek dancers, and a really great race.
The race starts with about an hour of darkness on a gently ascending paved road and a lead pack of three quickly developed with Nick Clark, Pete Stevenson and I arriving at the Junction Aid Station in about 49 minutes. At this point the course transitions to dirt where it stays for the next 26 miles. This was also the point where Nick, who had traveled down from Fort Collins, CO, pulled away at a steady clip. He held the lead for the rest of the day and ended up winning in a Course Record time of 5:09 just eight days after he had won the Bandera 100K also in Course Record time. Clearly, Nick is poised for an outstanding season!
With Nick off the front I settled into a relaxed pace and enjoyed the steady climb up the dirt road leading to “the spur” (a 700 foot, 1 mile out-and-back singletrack section leading to the high point of the course). I arrived at the top of “the spur” in 1:57 and realized I was a couple minutes ahead of my 2009 pace. I also realized that Pete Stevenson, an experienced Ghost Towner also from Fort Collins, was right on my tail. As it turns out, Pete and I ended up playing “trail tag” throughout the rest of the day.
The descent down the spur is always fun because, in addition to it being the only real technical downhill on the course, it gives runners a chance to say hello to one another as it is the first out-and-back. I enjoyed seeing a bunch of familiar faces all with the same “I am so glad to be out in the mountains running” look in their eyes.
At the bottom of the spur the course turns back onto the dirt road and continues the steady climb to the Hilltop Aid Station. From Hilltop the course descends briefly to the crossing of Percha Creek and begins a longish grind to the Vista Aid Station at Mile 18. It was on this climb that Pete caught and passed me noting that I was not nearly as chatty as I had been earlier. He was right! The work had gotten much harder. I was really amazed with Pete’s climbing ability throughout the day. Maybe that 250-mile week at the end of 2009 gave him incredible climbing legs? Whatever it was, it was clear to me that I could not hang with him on the ups.
So, topping out at Vista, I tried to hammer the down to the Cave Creek Turnaround and was able to run the 2-mile descent in 13 minutes catching back up to Pete. He, of course, caught back up to me before the re-arrival at Vista (Mile 22) and got out of the Aid Station about a minute ahead of me. He would hold his lead all the way back to the final 10k of pavement.
I was also slightly more motivated coming out of Vista because in addition to wanting to stay close to Pete I had seen Jamie Donaldson, here for a training run, and she told me Nick was only a “couple minutes ahead”. So I hammered the downhill back to the Percha Creek crossing, ran up to the Hilltop Aid Station, grabbed my last two gels and decided to push the pace as hard as I could to the Finish. By the time I got to the Stone Hut Aid Station (Mile 29) Pete was rolling out of there and I guessed he had about a two-minute lead. The Aid Station people also told me Nick was 10 minutes ahead of him. At that point I just put my head down and ran.
On this final dirt road section there are several places with long sight lines and in one spot I saw Nick far in the distance and knew he was out of reach. However, a couple minutes after that Pete came into view and it looked like he was getting closer to me. By the time I got back to the pavement Pete was within a minute. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to hammer the pavement like I did last year with Tim Long but time would tell.
I slowly caught up to Pete about two miles into the 6-mile pavement section and we chatted briefly. I pulled slightly ahead and just tried to hold my pace. About 2 miles before the finish Paul Grimm pulled up in his car and said, with a smile, “you better make sure Stevenson doesn’t pull a Ninja Move on you!” I assumed that meant Pete was lurking back there so I bumped up the pace a little and just tried to hold steady steady.
I ended up finishing in 5:19:34. It was 1:30 faster than my 2009 time and good enough for 2nd place (this year by 10 minutes, last year I was 2nd by 5 seconds!). Pete pulled in a few minutes later and we all had a great time chatting and eating enchiladas through the afternoon. Once again, I was happy to be running in the sun with shorts on and I lingered at the post-race festivities as long as I could. Driving away into the New Mexico sunshine I reflected on the day with a smile and a longing to return to the Land of Enchantment in 2011.