BROOKLINE, N.H. — Technically, the Ghost Train Rail Trail Race declared itself back with the sound of a train whistle blown by co-Race Director Theresa Berna at 9 a.m. sharp on Saturday, Oct. 16. While that moment on the grounds of Camp Tevya signified the official start of the 30-hour ultramarathon, in reality the event’s return was truly felt in the weeks and final days leading up to it.
The race takes place on the Milford and Brookline Rail Trail, and the 7.5-mile long path that runners race out-and-back multiple times presents the least technical terrain of any Trail Animals Running Club event. What it lacks in tricky footing and big climbs, it makes up for with an abundance of spirit and tradition that have lured runners back year after year since 2009.
There is a certain magic to Ghost Train that makes it unlike any other TARC race or New England ultramarathon. Sure, preparations such as permits and port-a-potty reservations begin early, along with assigning aid station captains and other critical responsibilities—that’s all standard stuff—but Ghost Train’s magic potion is the props, pageantry, and celebration of ghosts and ghouls that make it the largest Halloween-themed ultra party in New England. The race directors, volunteers, runners and their crews go all-out in embracing that spirit, causing the excitement to build weeks in advance.
The COVID-19 pandemic tried mightily to stifle the Ghost Train magic. Though the pandemic forced the 2020 event to be canceled, runners’ passion for the race wasn’t diminished. In fact, it may have strengthened even more. For months, runners and volunteers alike held out hope that the race would return in 2021. Once they received word that the Ghost Train would ride again, they poured their hearts into training, planning and scheming.
More than 100 pumpkins were once again procured that would be carved and ultimately line part of the course at night—a long-time Ghost Train tradition. Costumes were crafted, both for volunteers and some of the runners. Skeletons were placed along the trail pretending to roast marshmallows. A tunnel was decorated with lights and monster jaws. Various ghouls were stationed along the course, including a knife-wielding Michael Meyers and a Forest Demon at base camp to threaten runners who linger too long.
Additionally, a new chapter of Ghost Train lore was written in the days leading up to the race as co-Race Directors Theresa and Kurt Berna crafted a folk-style Ghost Train anthem. First released on social media, the song found a spot on the pre-race music mixtape just after the traditional playing of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”
After weeks of preparation, pomp and circumstance, it was time to start.
“It’s been a long, hard year, but we are so grateful to be here,” Theresa Berna told the runners, before pausing mid-sentence and staring, mouth agape, at runner Yuki Chorney who was decked out in ghostly face paint and a black veil, her latest in a series of elaborate Ghost Train costume creations that she’d ultimately wear for 100 miles. “Oh my God, Yuki! You look amazing!”
After gathering herself, Berna continued: “At the sound of the railroad whistle, we will start.”
Moments later, Berna sent the runners on their way.
For the next 30 hours runners tackled anywhere from 30 to 100 miles while racing out-and-back on the course. Most who opted for 30 miles were treated to a dry, unseasonably warm day where the temperature crept close to 80 degrees.
“I didn’t think it would be this warm in New Hampshire,” noted Janna Chernetz of Scotch Plains, N.J., early in her second of four passes through the course with the temperature already up to 74 degrees.
Those who ran longer, be it 45 miles on up to 100, felt the wrath of Mother Nature as the temperature dropped to 50 degrees and an overnight thunderstorm soaked the runners for several hours.
Regardless of distance, all of the runners were treated to many miles of leaf-peeping as the fall foliage was in prime form.
“These falling leaves … man, it’s beautiful!” exclaimed Adam Dodge of Lake Park, Fla., admiring the mixture of gold, red, bronze and brown that surrounded him while trotting through the course on his way to a fourth-place overall finish in the 100-miler.
While some runners passed the early miles taking in the scenery, those at the front of the pack in the 30-mile race put their heads down and pushed hard. The result was a wild finish among the top men. Fifteen miles into the race, it appeared that Dylan Schulze of Goffstown, N.H., was on his way to a blowout win. At that point, Schulze led Mike Veilleux of Weare, N.H., by 9 ½ minutes and Matthew Lyons of Wakefield, Mass., by 12 minutes. A lot could change in the final 15 minutes—and plenty did. Lyons accelerated during the second half of the race. He closed to within a minute of Veilleux by the time he reached the final turnaround, but had gained no ground on Schulze who continued to push the pace. Schulze slammed into the wall during the final 7.5 miles, and Lyons closed hard. He quickly pulled ahead of Veilleux and rapidly closed in on Schulze. Lyons had Schulze in his sights as the pair raced back into Camp Tevya, but Schulze dug deep and mustered a final push to hold onto the win by just six seconds. Schulze’s winning time was 3:57:44, followed by Lyons who negative-split the course in 3:57:50, and Veilleux in 4:01:03.
In the women’s 30-mile race, Linnea Laverty of Waltham, Mass., led nearly wire to wire. She built a four-minute lead during the first 7.5 miles and consistently maintained it the rest of the way, ultimately winning in 4:43:02. Deirdre Lowe of Salem, Mass., finished second in 4:48:04, and Jessica Chevalier of Orford, N.H., rounded out the women’s podium in 5:19:24.
Though many of the runners in the 45-mile race had to endure some rain, those who finished on the podium didn’t have to weather the overnight storm. Claire Gadrow of South Kingstown, R.I., led the way, taking the top spot overall in 8:11:05. Abby McKie of Boxford, Mass., finished second in 8:24:00. Heather Catchpole of San Diego, Calif., rounded out the women’s podium in 10:06:00. Davis Clarke of Winchester, Mass. (9:05:58) and Joseph Mello of Milford, N.H. (9:30:58) led the men’s field, followed by Eric Chorney of Mont Vernon, N.H., in 9:55:37.
The 38 runners who completed 60 miles didn’t escape the rain, though some only had to deal with it for a little while. Chris Rosol of Somerville, Mass., and Molly Karp of Framingham, Mass., both finished in less than 12 hours, winning in 11:22:50 and 11:59:00, respectively, and evading a few hours of the downpour. Justin Escaravage of Manchester, N.H. (12:51:42) and Mark Bonderud of Monmouth, Maine (12:58:14) were the second- and third-place men while Jenn Miola of Lunenburg, Mass. (13:39:31) and Melanie Williams of Manchester, N.H. (14:26:11) joined Karp on the women’s podium.
Fourteen runners finished 75 miles, led by Kathryn Maier of Bolton, Mass., in 18:09:00 and Peggy Edwards of Ledyard, Con., in 19:37:25. Christine Feder of Westborough, Mass., finished fifth overall and joined them in the women’s top three in 21:38:55. Christopher Williams of Manchester, N.H., led the men in 20:26:05, narrowly holding off Kent Walker of Acton, Mass., who followed three minutes later in 20:29:45. George Alexion of Waterboro, Maine, was the third-place man in 21:53:30.
Of all the big-time performances that were turned in at Ghost Train—and there were many—nobody had a day quite like Jennifer Kenty. Kenty is no stranger to 100-milers, having completed the 2016 TARC 100 (31:17:32) and the 2019 Vermont 100 (29:35:43), as well as two prior 100-mile finishes at Ghost Train (23:41:32 in 2017 and 26:45:35 in 2018), but the resident of Medford, Mass., delivered an inspired effort this time. She started fast, but didn’t appear to push too hard. Her splits remained consistent throughout much of the second half of the race, even as the rain fell. Kenty left the field behind early and never looked back, racing to the overall 100-mile win in a personal-best time of 17:41:05. Kenty’s time was the third-fastest by a woman in race history, with only Claire Gadrow going faster (17:15:30 in 2016; 17:23:58 in 2017).
The race also marked the 100-mile debut for long-time TARC Race Series competitor Laura Ricci of Boston, Mass. Ricci arrived at Ghost Train with a solid year of racing under her belt, including a victory at the TARC “Don’t Run Boston” 50K and a runner-up finish at the Moosalamoo 36-miler. Ricci ran relaxed early and then dug deep late, ultimately finishing second overall in 20:10:49.
Wayne Ball finished third overall and topped the men’s field in 21:48:55. For Ball, who nearly even-split the final 40 miles of his race, the performance marked a personal-best time for 100 miles. It was his first time racing the distance at Ghost Train, but at least his fifth time finishing a 100-mile race. Men’s runner-up Adam Dodge of Lake Park, Fla., followed shortly after in 22:22:11. It was Dodge’s third time finishing 100 miles at Ghost Train, but his first time dipping under 24 hours. Dodge held off third-place male Doug Beaulieu of West Newfield, Maine, who finished five minutes later in 22:27:16.
Moments after Dodge and Beaulieu crossed the finish line, the still-costumed Yuki Corney of Mont Vernon, N.H., finished in 22:47:56. She was sixth overall, third-place among the women, and first among the costumed runners.
More runners soon followed. Christopher Barry of Keene, N.H., quickly joined Corney at the finish line in 22:49:25. A few minutes later, Matt Dibb of Scituate, Mass., finished in 22:58:36. Casey Mendrala of Ludlow, Mass., was the ninth overall finisher in 24:02:13. Christopher Parker of North Andover, Mass. (24:30:03), Johnny Bristol of Newmarket, N.H. (24:36:07) and Victor Pereira of Foxboro, Mass. (24:48:32) were the next to cross the finish line. For the next five hours, 100-miler finishers kept coming until 40 in all successfully made it before the final cutoff.
Novis, Hagerty Victorious in 15-Mile Race
On Sunday morning, with the rain gone and several weary ultrarunners still navigating the course, 34 runners took part in a 15-mile race covering one out-and-back pass through the course. Andy Novis of Medford, Mass., Kristen Hagerty of Concord, Mass., and Benjamin DiMaggio of Boston, Mass., started fast and gradually opened up a gap on the remainder of the field. Novis ultimately finished first overall in 2:02:25, followed by Hagerty in 2:06:40 with DiMaggio a few strides behind her in 2:06:44. Nicole Mikolajczak led the next pack of runners and finished fourth overall in 2:12:07.