BROOKLINE, N.H. – Barely six weeks had passed since Patrick Caron delivered an eye-popping 100-mile performance at the 2016 Ghost Train Rail Trail Races when he made what seemed at the time to be an ambitious declaration.
Caron’s pronouncement on December 6, along with the UltraSignup notification that he had registered for the 2017 race, caught plenty of people’s attention. After all, his time of 14:51:21 was one of the 10 fastest 100-mile performances in the United States in 2016, so his comment indicated that the native of Needham, Mass., believed he could go faster.
Speaking for most who saw Caron’s post at the time, area runner Lou Loban posed the question: “How much better can you be?”
Loban and the greater New England ultrarunning community got Caron’s answer on Saturday, Oct. 21, when the 20-year-old returned to the Ghost Train starting line at Camp Tevya in Brookline, N.H., and delivered an absolute masterpiece of a performance. He went toe-to-toe with Alexander Jinks – the 2016 Ghost Train runner-up – for the first 30 miles or so before picking up his pacers and steadily leaving the field behind him, lapping numerous runners multiple times on the out-and-back course that spans a 7 1/2-mile rail trail between Brookline and Milford.
“Last year’s experience at Ghost Train felt pretty magical to me, so I wasn’t sure what I had in me for this year, and if I could beat my 2016 Ghost Train self,” Caron admitted. Fitness-wise, I was certainly faster, and I’ve been able to run faster times at all my races this year thus far. Experience-wise, I’ve certainly learned a lot over the past several months when it comes to training, mental strategy, and racing ultra-distance events, so all things accounted for, I should have felt confident in my ability to beat my 2016 finishing time and course record of 14:51, but you never know what can happen over the course of 100 miles!
“I went into the race shooting for low 14 hours, although I would have been happy with anything in the 14-hour range. The main goal was to run a more even pace start to finish compared to last year, and pick things up in the last 40 or so miles if I was feeling strong.”
Aided by crew captain Jon Frederick, Caron’s nutrition was ready for him at the end of each out-and-back so he could snack without stopping. Meanwhile, Matthew O’Brien paced Caron for miles 30-45, followed by Kevin Tilton for miles 45-60. From there, Caron enlisted speedy Greg Soutiea – one of the few runners with the foot-speed to hang with Caron for an ultramarathon distance (Soutiea ran 100 miles in 15:04:50 at the Run4Water 24-hour event in Tennessee in April) – to pace him for miles 60-90. Caron maintained his scoring pace throughout, averaging around an 8:15 mile.
Caron planned to have Frederick run the final 10 miles with him, but Caron said he ended up running a majority of the final miles solo as a result of some miscommunication. His pace may have slowed slightly during the solo miles, but at that point Caron was eyeing the 14-hour barrier. About an hour later, he got a final shot of adrenaline with an unexpected pick-me-up courtesy of Soutiea.
“Greg, after catching a quick break and preparing to volunteer for the night shift, decided he wasn’t going to leave me out on the trail alone, and he headed out and met me for the last 1-2 miles back into camp,” Caron said. “At that point, I was really cruising, and he helped me pick up the pace even more, leading me into Camp Tevya to lay down the last quarter-mile on pavement. It definitely made a huge difference having his upbeat attitude and hearing his motivational words those last few minutes!”
Guided by the glow of their headlamps, Caron and Soutiea sprinted into Camp Tevya side by side, Soutiea’s voice rattling the tents of support crews as he barked out encouragement to Caron. Arms pumping and knees lifting high, Caron dashed through the camp, through the covered bridge and back through camp. He pumped his fist in the air as he crossed the finish line to a roar of applause.
Final time: 13:50:43.
Caron had just run one of the fastest 100-mile performances in the world for 2017. While his legs went the full distance, Caron heaped praise on his support crew and pacers for playing a critical role in his success.
“Having pacers for much of this year’s race played a big role in my 61-minute PR on the course, and I can’t thank them enough for taking time out of their day to spend some miles with me,” Caron said. “Their conversations kept me smiling and laughing, and they allowed me to just focus on the trail ahead, not having to worry about anything else.”
While Caron delivered the most head-turning performance at Ghost Train, he wasn’t the only one whose day was a smashing success. More than 250 runners took part in the ultramarathon distances at Ghost Train this year, including an event-record 65 finishers of the 100-mile race within the 30-hour time limit, easily surpassing the previous record of 42 100-mile finishers from 2016.
A particularly noteworthy performance was turned in by Jinks. The 31-year-old from Montpelier, Vt., was largely overlooked at the 2016 race despite finishing second in an impressive time of 17:10:00. At the time, that was the fourth-fastest time in course history. Jinks returned in 2017 and – just like Caron – made a massive improvement on an already fast time. Jinks’ second-place finish in a blazing 15:25:00 this year was the third-fastest time in course history (trailing only Caron’s times in 2017 and 2016). It also represented a 100-mile PR for Jinks after he placed fifth overall at the Vermont 100 in July in 17:04:54.
The depth of talent in the men’s 100-mile field didn’t stop with Caron and Jinks, however. In fact, six of the top-10 times by men in course history were delivered this year. Will Swenson – the 2016 TARC 100 champion and men’s podium finisher at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in 2016 – ran a smart, consistent race and steadily climbed through the field throughout the day. Ultimately, the 45-year-old resident of Andover, Mass., finished third overall in a 100-mile PR time of 16:08:35. Close behind Swenson was 46-year-old Jeff Ingalls of Newburyport, Mass., who finished fourth overall in 16:26:53, a PR time for the distance by more than three hours. Michael Bielik, 38, of Forest Hills, N.Y., finished fifth overall in 17:20:12, and 38-year-old Brian Butterfield of Southborough, Mass., was the sixth-place male finisher and eighth overall finisher in 17:32:32. Bielik set a personal record time for 100 miles with his race, while Butterfield earned his first 100-mile finish.
Rounding out the men’s top 10 were Dima Feinhaus, 54, of Waban, Mass., in 18:16:04; Sylvain Olier, 41, of Andover, Mass., in 18:32:40; Carsten Braun, 49, of Greenfield, Mass., in 18:44:54; and Thomas Gennaro, 31, of Boston, Mass., in 19:12:46.
While the men’s record board was rewritten, the women’s course record survived by a few minutes despite numerous strong performances from the deepest ladies’ field in race history. Defending champion and course record-holder Claire Gadrow earned her second straight victory at Ghost Train, and the 48-year-old from South Kingstown, R.I., missed breaking her record by just eight minutes while finishing in 17:23:58. She now owns the two fastest performances on the women’s record board at Ghost Train.
It took a veteran performance from Gadrow to secure the victory in a field as deep as this one. Challengers Deirdre Lowe and Kara Spera have the proven speed and toughness to compete for the win at just about any distance, and both brought their best efforts to Ghost Train. Lowe, 38, of Salem, Mass., was steady and in striking distance for much of the race. The winner of numerous races this year, including the 40-miler at the TARC Summer Classic and 50-miler at the TARC Fall Classic, Lowe earned second-place honors among the women’s field and 10th place overall in her 100-mile debut in 18:44:38. Only one woman – Gadrow – has ever run a faster time than Lowe on the course.
Not far behind Lowe was Spera. The 35-year-old from Lynn, Mass., has already had a monster year in 2017 between hiking the Appalachian Trail, winning the Cape Cod Trail Race 50K and Freetown 50K, and taking second at the TARC Fall Classic 50-miler. Spera added to her successful year with a third-place finish in 19:20:20, the fifth-fastest time on the women’s course record board.
Tammy Volock, 44, of Portland, Maine, finished fourth among the women in 21:29:54, followed by 38-year-old Jenn Brooks of Gloucester, Mass., in 21:59:04. The race was the 100-mile debut for both Volock and Brooks.
In total, 28 runners completed 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Jennifer Kenty, 35, of Medford, Mass. (23:41:52), and Alex Cabrera, 33, of Nashua, N.H. (23:51:51), were the final two who dipped below the one-day barrier. Additionally, 11 runners battled to the finish line during the final hour, capped by 33-year-old Colin Wickes of Norton, Mass., who earned his first 100-mile finish in 29:36:30.
The 2017 race featured numerous first-time 100-mile finishers, as well as many who had their sights set on triple-digits but came up a bit short. Many will likely be back again next year to try to run faster, farther, or both. That includes Caron, who anticipates returning to Ghost Train again in 2018. He proved that Ghost Train didn’t get the best of him in 2016, and he’s not convinced that 2017 was the best he has to offer, either.
“Of course not; there’s always room for improvement!” Caron said. “Especially with how strong I felt the last 10 or so miles, and how I was able to really hammer the pace after entering Camp Tevya. I think I could cut at least a few more minutes off of this year’s time, although you never know. Better to finish the race feeling strong than to blow up and stagger in feeling terrible. It makes for a much more enjoyable experience! I’d like to think that over the next couple of years, with more experience at the 100-mile distance and increased speed – and of course good race conditions – I could break 13:30, and shoot for low 13 hours. For now, though, I’m psyched with how this year’s race played out, and I’m more than happy with what I was able to accomplish!”
Chorney Rocks to 75-Mile Victory
A dozen runners were credited with 75-mile finishes, and none were faster than Yuki Chorney. The 45-year-old from Mont Vernon, N.H., dashed through the daytime hours with a speaker pumping tunes ranging from the Steve Miller Band to Bon Jovi, and she raced through the evening hours via the glow of Christmas lights wrapped around her.
Originally focused on running 60 miles, Chorney felt so good at the end of four out-and-backs that she tacked on a fifth and won the 75-mile race in 12:52:06.
The top three ladies swept the top three overall spots at 75 miles as 49-year-old Kristen Roe of Manlius, N.Y., trailed Chorney in 13:46:35, and 25-year-old Shira Catlin of Newton, Mass., finished in 19:28:22. George Alexion, 58, of Waterboro, Maine, was the top male finisher and fourth overall at 75 miles in 20:29:09.
Ricci Dominates 60-Mile Field
It’s far from unusual to see Laura Ricci near the front of the pack at TARC races. The 34-year-old resident of Boston, Mass., has been a mainstay among the fastest runners – male or female – at Trail Animals races for the past five years since she earned the women’s victory with a top-10 overall performance at the 2012 TARC Summer Classic 50K.
The Ghost Train 60-miler marked Ricci’s longest distance to date, and it also marked her first time claiming an overall win at a TARC race. Ricci topped the rest of the 60-mile field in dominant fashion as she hammered four out-and-backs of the course and cruised to victory in 10:20:41. Her closest competitor was second-place female finisher Megan Valentine, 38, of Jericho, Vt. Valentine was more than an hour behind Ricci, finishing in 11:30:54. The third-place female, Whoohoo Mauricio, 45, of Somerset, Mass., placed eighth overall in 13:26:55.
Michael Lo Presti, 46, of Plantsville, Conn., was the top male and third overall finisher in 11:48:05. The second- and third-place men rounded out the overall top five, and they were separated by just seconds. John Marino, 44, of Newburyport, Mass., earned the men’s runner-up spot in 12:08:54. Just 32 seconds later, 55-year-old Stu Palmer of Brunswick, Maine, crossed the finish line in third.
Forty-two runners recorded 60-mile finishes at Ghost Train.
Kempner Edges Loureiro; Pinault is Top Female at 45 Miles
Adam Kempner’s ultramarathon debut was a strong one. Fresh off of a 3:25:02 marathon at the Beantown Marathon in September, the 45-year-old from North Easton, Mass., bumped up the distance to 45 miles at Ghost Train. He covered the three out-and-backs from Brookline to Milford faster than any other runner focused on that distance milestone and secured the overall victory in 8:07:14. His closest competitor, 50-year-old Joe Loureiro of Andover, Mass., finished less than two minutes later. Loureiro began the day with is sights set on running 100 miles, but his race didn’t unfold as planned and he finished off a 45-mile performance in 8:08:52. Jim Rollins, 49, of Moultonborough, N.H., rounded out the top three in 8:16:03.
Among the ladies, none completed the 45-mile race faster than Meredith Pinault. The 40-year-old resident of Belmont, Mass., was the seventh overall finisher at the distance and the top female in 8:57:47. Seven minutes later, 44-year-old Ann Tarrant of Falmouth, Mass., finished in 9:04:51 to secure second-place female honors and ninth place overall.
The ladies’ podium was rounded out by 47-year-old Laura Bleakley of Bedford, N.H. Bleakley used Ghost Train as a final long training run in preparation for the Pinhoti 100-miler on Nov. 4, and she secured the third spot among the ladies and 10th overall position among 45-mile finishers in 9:23:51.
Fifty-nine runners finished the weekend with 45-mile finishes. The top 15 did so in less than 10 hours, and the first 33 completed the distance in less than 12 hours.
Haggerty, Truan are 30-Mile Winners
Seventy-nine runners completed the 30-mile race, but the battle for the top spots wasn’t close as both the men’s and women’s winners ran away from the field.
Men’s champion Sean Haggerty, 47, of Wellesley, Mass., was the overall winner in 4:12:45. Women’s champion Ashley Truan, 34, of Wixom, Mich., was the second overall finisher in 4:20:30, 10 minutes ahead of third overall finisher Greg Stone, 59, of Falmouth, Mass., who logged a time of 4:30:23. Matthew Henschel, 38, of Jamaica Plain, Mass., rounded out the men’s top three in 4:33:37. Jen Hebert, 39, of Holden, Mass., was the second-place female finisher in 5:07:55, and 47-year-old Jessica Cover of Richmond, Vt., placed third in 5:51:27.
In addition to the ultramarathon distances, a 15-mile race was offered on Sunday, Oct. 22. Ninety runners completed that race, led by men’s champion Chris Dunn, 23, of Kennebunk, Maine, in 1:29:38, and women’s champion Kathryn Zioto, 31, of Boston, Mass., in 1:49:56.