Monday, January 18, 2010

Ghost Town 38.5

The Ghost Town weekend in Hillsboro, New Mexico was definitely more getaway than it was race. Susan, the tireless race director, is a force of nature, and while we were all there to run 38.5 miles through the hills of the Gila Wilderness, the race almost felt secondary to the event itself.

Any time the pre-race dinner is preceded by a Greek dance performance illuminated by stars and candlelight, you can bet you're not at your average trail race.

After a trip on Saturday from our stop-over in Santa Fe, which included a visit to urgent care to attend to poor Alistair’s fingers that had been pinched in the car door (nothing too serious, but some major pain for the wee nipper), we were more than ready to decompress once finally at our destination.

Showing off his war wounds

So after the dancing and the feast - lashings of pasta from Susan and her band of tireless volunteers, plus an assortment of pot-luck contributions (a real family affair) - we were treated to three or four minutes of ancient Greek verse (recited from memory) by Susan’s husband Tom. As I said, an event in and of itself with a run thrown in for a little extra fun.

The race is essentially an off-road marathon sandwiched between two road 10ks - one uphill the other down. Race morning came bright and early, with approximately 100 runners assembled in the brisk 6:00 am air.

Not really in the mood at 5:30 in the morning

Paul Grimm sporting a pink Snuggie

Lighting was required for the first six miles up the hill to the dirt-road turn-off, and Andy Jones-Wilkins, myself, Pete Stevenson (a fellow Fort Collins’ite) and Rochelle Wirth settled into an easy pace through the opening few miles, getting up the six-mile climb in the social manner typical of ultra races. Andy and I opened a bit of a gap on the other two through the last couple of road miles and then once on the dirt Andy dropped back a bit, and I was left to run alone, which is essentially where I remained for the rest of the race.

I hadn’t run a step since Bandera, eight days prior, with the exception of a two-mile shakeout run the night before, so I wasn't sure how to approach the run from a racing standpoint. The no-run thing was partly crazy schedule, which included a jammed three-day work trip to New York mid week, and partly a sore overextended knee that was slow to heal.

Eight miles into the race and my legs were already feeling the way they had after the first 50k at Bandera, so I knew the run was going to be a slog, but I welcomed it as useful mental training. Being out in the lead so early, I didn’t really know if I wanted to try and push for as fast a time as possible or just do enough for the win. I ended up straddling the two options, pushing at times and taking it easy at others.

Coming into the Vista aid station (I think), a couple miles from the turn

On the way back from the turnaround, both Andy and Pete were a lot closer than I thought they would be - six to seven minutes - so I was forced to up the tempo as I knew they would be pushing each other hard. Pete was no more than 20 seconds behind Andy and he looked hungry (in a predator-type way) and I was sure that he would be coming home in front of Andy. The fourth-place runner - Rochelle Wirth - was also looking very strong, and while Jamie Donaldson was evidently running Ghost Town as a training run, it would have taken quite a run to beat Rochelle who ended up destroying the previous course record.

Going into the race, I had been thinking that a five-hour run would be a good goal, and after a bit of mental calculation from the turn, I figured that if I could get to the road and the last six miles in 4:20, I would give it a shot. I got to the road in 4:23 and was actually pretty thankful to be taking it easy through the last six miles, which I ran in 46 minutes for a 5:09 finish and a new course record.

Heading out on the last six

Alistair and Dana were waiting at the finish and I got to cross the line with Alistair in tow, which is always special.

For winning the race, I got a beautiful turquoise and coral necklace (huge chunk of turquoise), a $50 Fleet Feet voucher and a big thing of local Hatch Chiles - love it!

Andy ended up fending off Pete with a 41 minute last six miles providing - as he put it - the crusty cheese filling in a Fort Collins sandwich. Pete continues to get stronger each year he runs this thing and looks to be in great early season shape as he prepares for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this summer. He and I will be sharing more than a few miles on the trail this winter/spring as we build up to an exciting 2010 of racing.

The weekend was rounded off with as much fantastic homemade food as one could get down - enchiladas, corn bread, soups, cookies and on and on and on - good conversation and a few (too many) brews from home.

Tireless race director, Susan Reynolds, and I at the post-race dinner

The Ghost Town weekend is a cult classic that has to be experienced to be believed. Sign up early if you want to run in 2011; this year sold out in a day - maybe two.

On a side note, a few minutes after we got back from the 11-hour haul home, we welcomed our newly adopted Rhodesian Ridgeback mix to the fold. More on Teio in a later post.


  1. 2 course records in 8 days, perhaps that's a record. And this lucky RR gets to run with you, won't be long before he's (she) picking up the pace. Graet races and even better adaption!

  2. We were talking on our run today how Nick is a force. Congrats.

  3. Really impressive, Nick. Great job.

  4. Man! Great, great job! What an awesome start to the year for you! Keep it up.

  5. Damn dude. So now you are like an ultra bad ass with wins, CRs, sponsors, groupies ... when's the movie?

  6. Another week, another congrats. Even more impressive given the lack of running in between races. Hope you take a little break before really gearing up for a strong summer.

  7. Wow. I see a 100 miler with zero support in the near future. Old school and bad ass. Keep up the good work! (btw, wife and kid don't count as "support" despite what GZ has argued in the past).


  8. Right on Nick. Congrats!! You're on fire. Best of luck to you.

  9. Solid performance! Looking at your calendar you could snag another CR next weekend.

  10. Congrats Nick! Does this mean the feet finally quit throbbing after Bandera?:-)

  11. Thanks all.

    Rick - got Teio out for his first FoCo run today. Three miles easy and he was ready for more. Super focused on the trail - no pulling, sniffing or stopping, just forward momentum. Thanks for all the tips on the breed.

    Todd - come on up! If you can put up with trudging through the snow for a few hours, then the TMT is a bag of fun. Good people up in the Laramie/Cheyenne running community.

    Chris - yeah, just about, but the more technical sections at Ghost Town hurt way more than they should have.

  12. Nick,

    Great post and great run. You have certainly gotten off to a great start to the season. Good luck with your build-up to WS and I look forward to seeing you again in Squaw (if not before)


  13. Great job, Nick, thanks for sharing about what sounds like a cool NM race! (And thanks for laying down a solid CR!) Looks like you've done quite a lot...for January!

    "big thing (of local Hatch Chiles)" == "ristra"

    Congrats! Enjoy your new canine friend!

  14. Cool report! That sounds like a really fun race from the sound of your report and the Race Director's. I would love to do a run like that.

    Do you have any recommendations for a fun 50K trail run around colorado as my first 'ultra'? I'm thinking about the Greenland 50K, but don't know much about it.

  15. Mike - yeah, an unusually busy January. Heading up to Laramie at the end of the month for more. Room in the car if you want to get in on the action.

    Aaron - I've never run Greenland, but understand that it is pretty flat and groomed. If you want the exact opposite, you might try the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty. Later in the season, some of the trail runners here in Fort Collins put on the Blue Sky 50k. HMI in Leadville is normally in June/July and pretty challenging. Probably some others, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head.

  16. Well done Nick - does this mean you have to/will want to defend these wins next year? Thomas, William and Maddie send their love and best wishes to Alistair - they saw the blog yesterday and felt sorry about their cousin's predicament. Good luck for the next run... RC

  17. Thanks! That Golden Gate Dirty Thirty looks really fun.

  18. Thanks, Dad! I have an open invite for Bandera, and would like to go back and defend. Not sure on Ghost Town - long, long drive.

  19. Nick,

    You are a racing machine! Nice work!

  20. Nick, thanks for the recommendation, I did the dirty thirty and it was a lot of fun! I think I'm hooked. I signed up for the steamboat 50 too.

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