Deirdre Lowe is just a few short weeks away from having her legs take her into unknown territory when she tackles her first 100-mile ultramarathon, the Ghost Train 100, on Oct. 21-22 in Brookline, N.H.
Patrick Caron knows the Ghost Train experience plenty well. He delivered an electrifying performance at the 2016 race when he finished 100 miles in less than 15 hours – one of the year’s fastest efforts by an American runner at that distance. Not satisfied with his frighteningly fast time, Caron will join Lowe at the starting line for another ride on the train.
Both Lowe and Caron will head to Ghost Train with momentum at their backs and confident performances on their legs thanks to dominant efforts at the TARC Fall Classic on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, Mass. Caron ran away from the field, defended his title and in doing so broke his own course record with a winning time of 6:58:11. Lowe raced to a third-place overall finish, earned first place among the women and established a new women’s course record with a time of 8:51:50.
“The Fall Classic course was fun because it is very runnable but has a couple moderately technical spots to keep things interesting,” Lowe said of her first race on the course. “Even though it’s a five-loop course, it didn’t feel overly repetitive or boring, and the hours flew by.”
The speedy performances came on a day where course conditions weren’t perfect and weather conditions were challenging. The race began at sunrise under a misty rain with temperatures in the mid-40s. The precipitation was a consistent theme throughout the day, sometimes coming down in heavy bursts, even as the temperature rose into the 60s.
“In the beginning of the race, the course wasn’t very muddy at all, and traction was fairly easy to find,” Caron said. “But as hundreds of runners trampled over the same narrow sections of trail, the mud became more apparent and conditions became a little more messy.”
Although it was wet, runners benefitted from cooler temperatures.
“Overall the weather was great; not too hot or cold,” Lowe noted.
Caron agreed. He made his ultramarathon debut at the Fall Classic in 2015 when he finished second, and he returned a year later and won. Both years were scorchers.
“I think the chillier temperature made for better racing conditions than it years past,” he said.
Caron entered the race with a goal of breaking seven hours, a feat no runner had previously accomplished at the Fall Classic. He set out at a fast pace and spent most of the day running solo, save for moments when he lapped runners on the loop course.
“For me, it was a nice mental boost knowing I ran this year’s race several minutes faster than last year’s, in non-ideal conditions, and that I did so while running alone for the entirety of the race,” Caron said. “At the 2015 and 2016 TARC Fall Classic, I was able to run with the leaders of the 50K race.”
Caron’s closest competitor was 41-year-old Sylvain Olier of Andover, Mass. Olier has dueled with Caron at numerous races the past two years, but he was unable to hang with the younger speedster in what was also Olier’s final tune-up before Ghost Train. That said, nobody else could hang with Olier either. He finished second overall in 8:30:22.
For much of the race, Lowe found herself chasing Kara Spera and Scott Deslongchamps for third place in the overall standings. Spera, 35, of Lynn, Mass., and Deslongchamps, 47, of North Grosvenordal, Conn., ran much of the race together. Lowe was steady, however, and ultimately she passed them and closed out a solid final big run before tapering for her 100-miler.
“I saw the Fall Classic as a good opportunity for a final long run before Ghost Train,” she said. “The three-week time period between the two races is perfect.”
Spera and Deslongchamps tied for fourth overall in 9:09:49, followed by 39-year-old Jason Devarennes of Maynard, Mass., in 9:23:37, and 26-year-old Carolyn Harper of Somerville, Mass., in 9:44:39.
Seven of the top 10 overall finishers were Massachusetts residents. That included 10th-place overall finisher Michael Latham, Jr., 30, of Brockton in 10:27:35. Nineteen runners finished the race within the time limit.
Swenson, Lucas Blaze to 50K Victories
While the 50-miler has been a part of the Fall Classic lineup for the past three years, the 50K has been a staple of the event since the beginning in 2011, and it was the largest race of the weekend with 87 finishers.
Just like Caron and Lowe at the 50-mile distance, 50K winner Will Swenson also used the Fall Classic as a Ghost Train tune-up. It was the first victory of what has been a monster year of racing for Swenson. He opened 2017 by finishing 16th overall and winning a division national title at the Bandera 100K in Texas. He followed that up with a top-10 finish at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in Virginia, and then finished fifth at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Wachusett Mountain. That string of strong finishes follows a year where he was the TARC 100 champion and finished on the podium at the Rocky Raccoon 100.
Swenson’s Fall Classic victory didn’t come easily. The 45-year-old Andover resident faced a fierce challenge from a challenger nearly half his age. Matthew Deyo, a 23-year-old from Cambridge, Mass., made his ultramarathon debut and gave Swenson stiff competition throughout. Ultimately, Swenson’s strength and experience carried the day and he earned the victory in 4:08:11. His time was the sixth fastest in course history. Deyo finished a few minutes later in 4:10:44. Just 14 seconds made the difference in the battle for the final spot on the men’s podium as 38-year-old Beau Langevin edged 47-year-old Steve Levandosky. Langevin, of Biddeford, Maine, finished in 4:16:56. Levandosky, of Hopkinton, Mass., placed fourth in 4:17:10.
While the top men delivered close competition and fast times, so did the ladies. In fact, the top three all turned in top-10 all-time performances on the three-loop course. Heather Lucas didn’t quite surpass Larisa Dannis’ course-record mark of 4:36:04, but Lucas did deliver the third-best ladies time ever while winning in 4:44:55. It was a noteworthy performance for the 33-year-old from Hopkinton, Mass., as she ran 34 minutes faster than in 2016 when she placed third.
Lucas’ closest competitor was 33-year-old Mae Polson of Somerville, Mass. Polson, who made her ultramarathon debut in May at the Pineland Farms 50K in Maine, posted the fourth-best time in course history while finishing second in 4:55:33.
Laura Ricci, a 33-year-old Boston resident, rounded out the ladies’ top three in 5:06:40. For Ricci, who has been a regular podium finisher at the TARC Summer Classic for the past five years and was second at the 2017 Spring Classic 50K, it was an impressive Fall Classic 50K debut.
Half Marathon and 10K Winners
In addition to the ultramarathon distances, the Fall Classic offered half marathon and 10K races. Nicholas Brown, 34, of Natick, Mass., was the men’s winner in the half marathon in 1:42:05 while 31-year-old Laura Specker Sullivan of Jamaica Plain, Mass., was the women’s champion in 1:50:56. Seventy-seven runners completed the half marathon.
Marc Almanzan, 34, of Jamaica Plain won the 10K in 44:06, while Kalie Marion, 26, of Brighton, Mass., was the top female finisher in 53:51. Seventy-six runners finished the 10K.