Friday, August 17, 2007

San Francisco and the Ghost Town Finale

I was very worried that coming to this conference in San Francisco would really mess up my taper for IMKY but so far so good. I packed my swims and bikes for the week to the front end before I left town and have left my two runs for San Fran. I headed out yesterday morning for an easy seven miler along the Embarcadero…the San Francisco water front. It was 5 a.m. when I took off so not a lot to see just city running but let me tell you, the oxygen…good stuff…talk about a performance enhancing drug! Why didn't Bigun tell me about O2? I know he has tons of it where he lives.

I ended up having a great run and went much faster than I would have wanted for this distance considering I am in taper mode. Around mile 5.3 I thought I was headed for a 10K PR so I picked it up a bit to see if I could break it, which would have been quite something considering I was running fairly easy. Turns out I missed it by about a minute but I know that had I been shooting for a new 10K PR I would have done it and would certainly have gone sub 50. Oh, the elevation profile, my Garmin must have had the hiccups during the last mile, the run was basically pancake flat.

The conference goes on, psychologists are huge nerds! Many of the older ones are a mixture of hippie hold overs and “progressive” baby boomers…men who declare themselves feminists and women who are way too masculine. The younger ones all kind of have the edgy hipster look but their years in academia doesn’t allow them to quite pull it off I mean lets face it these are a bunch of Ph.D.s not 20 somethings who spend their time at raves. Of course there is a huge cross section of all kinds or regular people but you get the major themes. In general I enjoy their company, they are very smart people with a lot of interesting things to talk about but OH MY GOD do they talk…it’s friggin’ endless! There is much to be said for the solitary long bike or run!
Anyway, here is the race report for the Ghost Town 38.5 to follow up from yesterday.

Ghost Town 38.5 Ultramarathon
January 15, 2006

The race was the Ghost Town 38.5, an ultramarathon in its first year. The race is centered at Hillsborough, NM, which encompasses mile 30 of this 38.5 mile run. I discovered the ultrarunning crowd to be quite different from triathletes in some respects, much more reserved, more inwardly focused but still very friendly. However, like triathletes, ultrarunners have their own close-knit community and there is always room for the initiate willing to go the distance.

The alarm clock in my room at the Black Range Lodge in Kingston, NM went off at 2:00 am rousting me for a nice long run. All 43 participants in the event met at the race director’s house at 2:30 am for coffee and snacks and then joined a 3:00 am caravan of cars and a couple of rented shuttle vans to head 30 miles down NM 27 to just outside of Nutt, NM where the race was to begin at 4:00 am. The morning was a perfect 29 degrees, no wind, clear skies and a very bright full moon. It was surreal, the small knot of runners shuffling from one foot to the other in the middle of nowhere out on the plains of the Nutt grasslands waiting for the start whistle to blow.

At exactly 4:02 am the start whistle blew and we were off into the darkness. The road was well paved and the moon was full and bright making headlamps mostly unnecessary. Probably a quarter of the runners began the run with headlamps on, me included. However, once the run was underway the lamps began to blink out and so I shut mine off as well. It was so quiet. All you could hear were the rhythmic padding of running shoes on asphalt, controlled breathing in perfect cadence and the occasional muffled conversation between two runners. The pack spread out quickly and soon I was running alone across the plain on a chilly moonlight morning.

Aid stations were placed every five miles with any drop bags a runner may have brought along at miles 10, 20 and 30. I was nervous about this run because I had been sick for the previous two and a half weeks and only two days prior to the race was still feeling low. However, I had a plan and followed it like clockwork. I placed a fresh pair of socks, gels and fresh drink in each drop bag. In my mile 10 drop bag, I included a fresh pair of running shoes. Out of every 10 minutes I ran eight and walked and stretched two keeping myself strictly to a 12-minute pace. My plan was unfolding perfectly. I was exactly on time at mile 10, four minutes early at mile 20 and three minutes early at mile 25. Once I hit mile 25 things began to change a little.

The course we ran was very demanding, gaining about 2000 feet in elevation from beginning to end with 1000 of those feet coming in a steady climb out of Hillsborough at mile 30 to the finish line in Kingston, eight and a half miles away. By the time I hit mile 25 the sun was up and the winds were blowing with gusts to 20 miles per hour coming across the course out of the west. In addition, by mile 18 or so we had started running into big rolling hills, quick long downhill sweeps and punishing steep upward climbs. By the time I was descending into Hillsborough at about miles 28 and 29 the winds were sustained at 20 with gusts to about 40 and my legs were beginning to feel like led.
Once descending into Hillsborough, the course turned west, directly into that incredible wind. Now with the wind full in my face I began to experience a pain in one of my left toes. At the 30-mile drop bag station while changing socks I noticed a large blood-blister had developed at the tip of my toe and had spread up under my nail bed and my toenail was being separated from my toe from the increasing pressure. Welcome to ultrarunning I thought. I had read about this phenomenon before. I slapped on some fresh socks, put on my shoes, sucked down another gel and gingerly got back on the road. This is when the race got interesting in an unexpected way.

Because I was running continuously into a strong headwind, because I was running continuously uphill and because of the cardiac drift caused by 30 miles of running, I could not keep my heart-rate down without moving slowly. You all know that body mechanics are much less efficient at a very slow jog as opposed to a brisk walk or run so I ended up having to speed-walk most of the last eight and a half miles. Whenever I ran my heart rate would quickly bounce up into a zone where I was anaerobic. Even at a brisk walk, my heart rate was a solid 150 to 155. So there I was, surprisingly still in possession of the will and the leg-strength to continue running but the old ticker was not going to let it happen. Maybe it was the recent sickness; maybe I just hadn’t put in enough miles on my feet.

Regardless, I did finish running. I pulled into Kingston at eight hours, 40 minutes and turned on the afterburners, covering the last bit of distance in two minutes. At the finish line, I was greeted by cheers and a little girl, maybe four years old, poking me on the leg and informing me that she had seen some chickens. Great! What a day, what a race. It is definitely an experience I would recommend to any Triathlete. I would also recommend this particular race. The location is beautiful, the race is well organized and the race director is truly dedicated to running a good event. She is also a gracious and generous hostess and the towns’ people of Hillsborough and Kingston are enthusiastic and man a great aid station. Thank you Ghost Town 38.5 for giving me a positive experience that I will not forget!

Fortitudine Vincimus!


  1. Ha ha! that's how I felt at the Bay to Breakers - SF is really a pretty awesome place to run, the temps are perfect and the venue is gorgeous! One of my favourite places. Glad you're having fun with the effing hippies!

  2. Funny observations about the conference, I am an academic also and have often had much the same thought! (Oh, and because I work in literary studies, I must say that the bane of my life is when the NERDIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD describe THEIR OWN ACADEMIC WORK as "sexy"! I can hardly stop myself from flinching, it is not good...)

  3. I hated school...that's why I'm soooo cool...and cutting grass for a living! Ha!

    We have plenty of O2 here; most days it's mixed with plenty of H. Hard to breath that stuff, even if it's at sea level, there honcho.

    What's the water temp there in the aquatic center? It was 56 when I was there...I sort of miss those days and 55 degree SF Bay temps...sniff, sniff...

  4. Thanks for the look back, SB!

  5. That was a nice, moving look back, especially in light of your previous post where you mentioned your grandfather.

    I believe he would be very proud of you for the life you have lived and continue to live.

  6. Thanks for the rest of the story. I enjoyed reading it very much. Enjoy your prep for IM KY and have a safe trip!