My Ghost Town 38.5 Adventure

If I had one word to describe this race, it would be WOW! It was a high altitude, rocky trail, ultra, complete with snow, ice, mud, and dirt. Difficult (especially for a flatlander like myself) but very rewarding, especially after crossing the finish line.
My adventure began at 4 am Friday morning when my husband and I drove to the Jacksonville airport to fly to Albuquerque (I finally learned how to spell that city’s name). We each had a small suitcase to carry on the plane but we also checked one bag that just contained warm clothes since the weather was supposed to be cold and snowy in New Mexico. No snow, but it was indeed cold, so we were both glad for the extra layers.
We spent Friday night in a Hampton Inn near the ALB airport and then left Saturday morning for Truth or Consequences, about a 2.5 hour drive. Of course, since Darcy was with me, we ate well – at a local brew pub on Friday and a steak house in T or C. Susan Reynolds is the RD for Ghost Town and she (along with her husband Matt) had everything under control, from meals to packet pickup to volunteers to aid stations – nothing was left to chance. Of course, as its creator, Susan has been the driving force behind this race from the very beginning, and since this was to be the final running, it was especially important that it go smoothly. We arrived at Susan’s place in Hillsboro, about 40 minutes from T or C, around 3 pm so I could check in and pick up my packet. At 4 pm, Susan held a Q and A session for all participants (including volunteers like Darcy) and gave some last minute instructions. She warned that there may be wild animals on the course (javelinas, mountain lions, bears, not to mention the cows with sharp horns – gulp), snow, ice, water, and so forth. Rattlers should all be asleep (I hope so!!)
I will admit that I had a lot of worry and trepidation going into this race – high desert of New Mexico, altitude over 7500′, cold temps, 38.5 miles, trail (with just a bit of road), rocky climbs, water crossings, plus strict cut-off times at 3 points. And all those varmints. My big question was – Will I make it through this race?? I began to have my doubts, especially after hearing some of the GT veterans talk about the difficulties of this race and the tough going on the ‘spur.’

That evening, I slept in 7 minute snatches, probably a total of 2 hours for the entire night. I was a nervous wreck. And if I had known how difficult the course was, I probably would not have slept even that much. Sunday morning we left for Hillsboro at 4:30 am so I had time to check in before 5:45.  The race began at 6, on the dot. Susan gave the countdown and we took off for a 6.3 mile stretch on the small shoulder of a paved highway. It was pitch dark, even with a full moon, so we really needed our headlamps (we also needed our own hydration system – ie, water bottle for me – cups were only for Gatorade at the aid stations). It was about 34 degrees and I was dressed in layers – tee shirt, long-sleeved bamboo shirt, fleece vest, hoodie, mesh vest, and parka over new long Brooks pants (glad I wore those instead of my crops), mittens w hand warmers, injinji socks, and my trail shoes (which I have decided are the absolute best).

First aid station was at the point where we veered off from the highway onto a dirt path leading up (way way UP!) to the Gila National Forest. At this point, we were on private land but the road was public (road=dirt). I don’t have the maps here in front of me so I cannot be sure of the names and mile markers of the aid stations but there were at least 4-6 of them for the out & back, with the turn-around point at mile 22, if I remember correctly. That one was manned by boy scouts who had to walk the 2 miles in from the preceding aid station because vehicles could not get through. You could send gear ahead to some of the aid stations (I did not) or drop stuff off (I did leave my parka at the first station because I was starting to get warm). There was plenty of food, water, salt, other supplies. I cannot say enough about the excellent volunteers who manned the aid stations – they were just wonderful and I sent the RD an email asking her to thank them for me.

The race did have snow, ice, and water crossings (not very wide and with some rocks for footing). As for animals, they may have been there but I did not see them, thank goodness. My only animal spottings were some cows far enough away not to be a problem. Lots of animal droppings, had to skirt carefully around those piles, but the animals themselves were pretty scarce. Probably noise from the runners ahead of me scared them off. There were about 6-8 cattle guards (without the rugs or wood planks over them as in road races) so I had to tread carefully over those. Anyhow, we were climbing up from about 5000 feet to the highest point of 7500, not all at once (I was glad of that) but over a period of miles – way up, down, up and up, down again, etc. I was fine on the down hills even though they were very rocky and steep (no face plants for me in this race) but those up hills were killers. I could hear my heart beating and had to stop every so often going up so I could catch my breath. I usually never stop in a race and certainly not going uphill, but I just had to do that here.
Around the 12 mile mark there was an aid station and a 3 mile spur (that ‘infamous spur’) that we had to do on the way up. This was probably the most difficult part of the course because the trailwas covered with about 8 inches of snow along with some ice (though not much) and there were some rocky areas to get through and a very steep hill to climb to get to the turnaround point. Thank goodness we did not have to do it a second time! I slid on my fanny in one portion of this section and was glad I was wearing my new long tech pants – otherwise I would have been soaked through and freezing. Looking back, I now think this was my favorite part of the course because I enjoyed walking in the deeper snow, but I am still glad we only had to do it one time!
While the altitude was very difficult for me, the only part of the adventure that I really found problematic was the lack of course markings. Probably because I am such a city kid, I find it easy to get turned around in a forest. I missed the turn back to the trail at the end of the spur, but fortunately a volunteer heard my footsteps and called me back. That was lucky for me!! I was by myself at this point, with most people ahead of me and only a few folks behind me. Then, as I continued on up the mountains, I lost my way twice (!) because I could not see the trail or another person. So I just waited until either I saw someone returning back or catching up with me. I did yell (in my little librarian voice) HELP a few times but to no avail. I lost a few precious minutes waiting until someone ‘found’ me and I could continue. Funny thing was that going back I didn’t see where I got lost and had no trouble sticking to the trail, so I figure I just got turned around on the way up and panicked. Panic is not good for Ghost Town. I think I learned from this experience to keep an eye on the trail ahead as much as possible and look forward as well as down.
There were at least 3 cut-offs for time, so I was very concerned that I would not make those. Fortunately, I made all 3 (halleluiah) and finished the 38.5 in 11 hours and 6 minutes (the course had a 12 hour time limit). When I got to the first/last aid station with 45 minutes to spare before the final cutoff, I slowed down a bit for the final 6.3 miles, because my stomach was a bit queasy and I was pretty tired. No foot problems – or any problems, really – just worn-out and ready for a shower and a nap. However, those had to wait, because we had to head straight on back to ALB, a three hour drive from Hillsboro, to stay at the Sheraton at the airport so we could rise early to return the rental car and head back to FL on an early flight. At the hotel, I showered and we ordered food from the restaurant and had a leisurely meal before totally conking out. It took all day to get back ome – we arrived in JAX around 4 pm, in GV around 6, picked up our dog Tex and the mail, and headed home (where I made lunches, unpacked, did laundry, and fell asleep, in that order).
There were plenty of opportunities to eat at shindigs held at the race director’s home. She hosted several meals, had a band at the pre-race dinner, and offered finishers food at the finish line plus a hot meal as well. But since I am so queasy about eating pre and post race, I stuck with my own diet of homemade raisin nut bread and peanut butter before the race and selected a few peanut butter sandwich quarters, salty crackers, and cookies during the race and after finishing.
Plenty of time to eat after my shower and nap when I felt restored.
For schwag, there were long sleeve cotton tees, very nice, and both Darcy as volunteer and myself as participant received one. And nice cotton bags with the GT logo, same as the tees. Racers also got a pair of MoeBen sleeves, but they are nylon so I won’t use them because I don’t like the slinky feel. They are also sized ‘very small’ so I will probably give them to a runner friend who is very petite and will probably wear them.
The race director wrote a book, Walking Outside the Box, which I had purchased and read long before I had heard of GT, so I brought the book with me to have her sign it. I am building quite a collection of autographed copies of books written by racers. I am planning to develop a list of recommended books for walkers and I will add that to this blog as soon as I complete it. Susan’s book will most definitely be on that list.

I don’t carry a camera on races so I have no photos, but several racers did take pictures so I am posting links to their stories and pictures here:
Christian Griffith’s (GA/9th place finisher) race report complete with photos:

Jeff Genova’s photo album/video:

Steve Grossman’s online photo album (Steve was at the “monster” top of the spur):

For the complete roundup of photos and stories, visit Ghost Town’s website and check out the results, photos, awards, and other good stuff :

First Light Marathon, Mobile, Alabama – revisited

Since Mobile is relatively brief 6 hour drive from my home, the First Light Marathon is always a tempting race to do.  This past Sunday was the third time I visited this town for the race.  I usually leave work a bit early and drive to Tallahassee to spend the night with my son and his family.  Then I leave early the next morning, making the drive even shorter.  The races (there is a half marathon, relay, and fun run as well as the full) benefit L’Arche Mobile, a community for people with intellectual disabilities.  The “medals” are wooden disks with decals on them; members of L’Arche Mobile not only make the medals but also award them to participants at the finish of the race. 

The host hotel is the Admiral Semmes but after staying there the preceding 2 years, I decided to stay at the newer Holiday Inn just a block away.  While the small expo and packet pickup are at the Admiral Semmes, the actual starting line is directly in front of the Holiday Inn, so it made sense to try it.  I’m glad I did – the price was comparable and the hotel is very clean and accommodating.  I had to change my room the first night because I was directly under the Lounge and Bar where a band and dancing was taking place.  No problem – I was quickly given another room on a quieter floor. 

The weather report called for 80% chance of rain on race day but the rain fortunately held off until much later that night.  But it was definitely cold – in the low thirties and it really never warmed up much beyond that.  However, last year the temps were in the teens and had a wind chill of 10 degrees so it could have been worse.  And north of us, the southern states were experiencing snow and ice, so we were indeed lucky.

The course has a 7 hour time limit which makes it very walker-friendly.  No chip timing, but the field is small enough that just about everyone crosses the start line within minutes.  While it is a point to point course, the start and finish are within a few blocks of each other in downtown Mobile.  This makes it easy to get to the starting line and back to the hotel.  Aid stations are every few miles, with water, Gatorade, and enthusiastic volunteers who braved the cold to stay at their posts even for back of the packers like myself.  A few of the aid stations also had candy and cookies.  The course winds through various neighborhoods, some upscale, others not, by several colleges including Springhill College and the University of Southern Alabama, and – my favorite section – through the Mobile Botanical Gardens.  

The pasta meal the night before the race and the post-race meal are both included in the price of registration.  Although I don’t go to the pasta feed, I always get my plate of BBQ chicken and coleslaw after the race.  This year the coleslaw was sort of ordinary, not the super stellar kind they had the previous two years (and worth coming back to do the race just for that treat), but it was still delicious.   There were also sides of green beans and beans and rice as well as hot chicken noodle soup.  And there was apple pie for dessert (and ice cream but it was way too cold for that!).   The shirt is a long sleeve cotton shirt – my favorite.  I give away most of the tech shirts I get but I actually wear the cotton ones.

There is a racewalking category but I enter just as a ‘runner’ so if I feel like running the downhills, I can.  Besides, my racewalking technique leaves a lot to be desired.  I would rather just consider myself a speed or power walker.  Usually I manage to place in the senior master’s category because awards go 5 deep.  This year I finished fifth as a senior master, with a time of 5:48 (better than last year’s 5:55).

Mobile as a city is a bit run down at the seams but still retains a certain Southern charm.  I enjoy visiting a favorite bookstore, Bienville Books, on Dauphin Street – I can always find several used books to buy at good prices, and since I am driving, I can stock up without having to worry about how to fit them in my luggage.  On previous trips I have visited the Museum of Mobile, spending quite a bit of time at the exhibits (on that trip there were displays of horse-racing in Alabama, slavery and its aftereffects in the South, and pirates in the Gulf). 

This race is definitely a good race for 50 staters who want to check off Alabama or walkers who want an enjoyable (if cold) winter marathon.

2011 Fitness Goals

Goals for 2011
I tend to set goals rather than resolutions. Goals are meant to be achieved, at least eventually, and cannot be ‘broken’ like resolutions. So, for 2011, here are the goals I’ve set for myself:
1. Complete a marathon (or ultramarathon) in all 50 states plus DC. I have 3 states left to do – Kansas, Delaware, and Alaska.
2. Do the Boston Marathon. Yes, THE Boston Marathon. I achieved a slot on the Dana-Farber Marathon Team and will be do Boston to help in the fight against cancer. I have to raise a certain amount of money in order to go and will joyfully accept any donations made to my account. Visit my fundraising page at to contribute. I am running in honor of our library technician’s adult son, Michael Umans, who is a cancer surviver.
3. Complete 100 marathons/ultras by the end of the year so I can join the 100 Marathon Club.
4. Finish a 50 mile race.
5. Complete a 100K race.
6. Finish a 24 hour race.
7. Complete a 100 mile race.
8. Walk at least 15,000 steps every day.
9. Start a weight training/strength training routine. Until the past 6 months, I had been weight training religiously 2-3 times every week until work, racing, and other activities (like sleeping) just got in the way. I intend to restart this routine once my traveling slows down a bit. In the meantime, I plan on using some free weights at home to keep from getting too rusty.
10. Get a Wii Fit and practice some balance and other routines.