BROOKLINE, N.H. – From the first hour to the final minutes, the Ghost Train Rail Trail Race featured a masterful mix of spooky Halloween ambiance and robust ultrarunning spirit at the 13th annual event on Oct. 15-16 on the Milford and Brookline Rail Trail.
More than 300 runners gathered at the starting line at Camp Tevya in Brookline prepared to complete as many out-and-backs of the 15-mile round-trip section of rail trail as they could within the 30-hour time limit. After new Race Director and longtime volunteer Rob Fiero gave a quick pre-race briefing, he sent runners on their way. Some aimed for two passes through the course and a 30-mile finish, while others dreamed of completing many more. Ultimately, 49 runners finished with 100 miles – and one runner went even farther.
It was a perfect weekend for chasing big goals as runners were treated to some of the most comfortable running conditions in Ghost Train history. A year ago, as night fell on the course, so did a heavy downpour that soaked runners, volunteers and the course, causing some runners to stop sooner than planned. This year, it was dry and pleasant with highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s and little more than a light breeze to provide a bit of chill.
Plenty of runners capitalized on the ideal conditions by taking their time to enjoy the foliage and stop to take photos of the myriad decorations aligning the trail, including everything from festive jack-o-lanterns and ghouls, to skeletons roasting marshmallows, playing cards and drinking Fireball. Others watched the scenery fly by in a blur as they pushed the pace in pursuit of fast times and victory.
In the 30-mile race, 52-year-old Sean Haggerty of Wellesley, Mass., threw down the fifth-fastest time in course history as he completed his two out-and-backs in a speedy 3:54:06. Runner-up Brian Butterfield, 43, of Southborough, Mass., followed shortly after in 4:03:19 while 20-year-old Zachary Paige of Ellington, Conn., was a distant third in 4:17:24. In the women’s field, 43-year-old Deirdre Lowe of Salem, Mass. – a Ghost Train veteran of many distances – earned the victory in 4:38:10. It was the seventh-fastest women’s time in course history, though Lowe also owns the course record from her 2016 victory (4:09:00). Gina Ryan, 38, of Millbury, Mass., followed five minutes later in 4:43:59 to secure the runner-up spot, while 37-year-old Jessica Chevalier of Orford, N.H., rounded out the podium in 4:55:22. Of the 121 finishers of the 30-mile race, the top seven finished in less than five hours.
A course record was also threatened in the 45-miler where 38-year-old Bridget Ybarra of Merrimack, N.H., led all 51 finishers and clocked the third-fastest women’s time in course history at 7:16:00. Her closest competitor, men’s champ and overall runner-up Steven Blase, 44, of Barrington, N.H., followed in 7:52:00. The women earned three of the top four overall spots with Claire Gadrow, 53, of South Kingstown, R.I. (8:09:00) and Laurel Burrill, 65, of Salem, N.H., (8:11:50) taking the next two spots. Wayne Ball, 48, of Feeding Hills, Mass. – the men’s 100-mile champion in 2021 – finished fifth overall and was the men’s runner-up in the 45-miler in 8:16:00, a few minutes ahead of 36-year-old Kathryn Zioto of Winchester, Mass. (8:24:00). Antone Debettencourt, 46, of Westerly, R.I., rounded out the men’s podium in 8:35:00.
Fifty-seven runners finished their weekend with 60 miles, and Ghost Train veteran Gregory Lowe, 58, of Lynn, Mass., led the way in 11:19:14. Women’s champion Lindsay Spigel, 44, of Belfast, Maine, was the next finisher in 11:42:59, followed by 65-year-old John Brown of Northbridge, Mass. – a five-time 100-mile finisher at Ghost Train – in 11:53:09. Davis Clarke, 25, of Winchester, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 12:47:25. Molly Karp, 40, of Natick, Mass. (12:55:20) and Jenny Cavanagh, 33, of Weymouth, Mass. (14:12:30), were the second- and third-place women.
Leading the pack of 20 75-mile finishers were two of the fastest performers at that distance in Ghost Train history. Mikael Sodergren, 39, of Medford, Mass., hammered out the third-fastest men’s time in course history to win in 15:40:10 while overall runner-up and women’s champion Lotte Black, 24, of Ambler, Pa., posted the fifth-fastest women’s time in course history in 16:15:30. Joining them as the only sub-17-hour finishers was 23-year-old Brennan Clarke of Winchester, Mass. (16:55:50). Four more runners completed 90 miles before running out of time. Yushi Feng, 44, of North Easton, Mass., led that group in 26:03:58. Other 90-mile performers were 44-year-old Christopher Brown of Hollis, N.H. (27:16:47), 41-year-old Alicia Gibson of Manchester, N.H. (28:55:39), and 47-year-old Leslie Franchella of Lexington, Mass. (29:45:43). For each of the four, it marked the biggest mileage weekend of their ultrarunning careers.
Long after most of the runners in the shorter distances had wrapped up their races and most had headed home, the 100-milers were still zipping through the course by the glow of headlamps, moonlight and jack-o-lanterns. Shortly after 3 a.m., the first of the 100-milers finished. Durgesh Mankekar began the day with a look of calm confidence on his face, hopeful that his legs would give him 100 miles for the second time this year and third time ever. His legs cooperated, and the 45-year-old from Medford, Mass., dashed through the course at a steady clip from start to finish and ultimately finished first overall in a personal-best 18:21:42. Shortly after Mankekar finished, fellow Medford resident Jennifer Kenty joined him at the finish line. Kenty, 40, earned her fourth Ghost Train 100-mile finish and second straight women’s victory. She was the overall winner in 2021 in 17:41:06 – the third-fastest women’s time in course history. This year she logged the seventh-best time on the record board in 18:52:51.
Mankekar and Kenty led a group of 11 runners in finishing 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Joining them were women’s runner-up Jennifer Boshco, 38, of Billerica, Mass. (19:31:01); men’s runner-up and three-time GT100 finisher Scott Warren, 53, of Reading, Mass. (20:57:18); third-place male and first-time 100-mile finisher Andrew Godzinski, 57, of North Reading, Mass. (20:58:48); fourth-place male and two-time GT100 finisher Amiad Zionpur, 47, of Natick, Mass. (22:41:54); third-place female and first-time 100-mile finisher Jessica Ozturk, 27, of Waltham, Mass. (22:59:13); as well as five-time GT100 finisher Justin Fitzgerald, 38, of Groveland, Mass. (23:14:50); Melissa Kwasniewski, 45, of Fort Edward, N.Y. (23:15:40); first-time 100-miler Adam Gallagher, 39, of Cranston, R.I. (23:28:25); and two-time GT100 finisher Mike Justason, 40, of Wilton, N.H. (23:42:12).
With the sun climbing high as the 24-hour mark passed, a few dozen more runners completed their final out-and-backs through the course and crossed the finish line as 100-mile finishers or a distance shorter. One runner, 48-year-old Judy Proteau of Marlborough, Mass., reached the 100-mile mark and kept on going, ultimately finishing her weekend with 105 miles in 26:15:42. Proteau completed 45 miles at the 2018 and 2019 Ghost Train races, and then hit 100 miles at the 2020 Hamsterwheel and 2021 Notchview Ultra before setting a personal-best for mileage at this year’s Ghost Train.
Five 100-milers were still on the course as the golden hour arrived. One of them – 66-year-old Gary Richards of Belmont, Mass. – had gone the distance before. He made his 100-mile debut at Ghost Train a year earlier, and Richards soon added a second successful finish in 29:16:01. The other four were first-time 100-milers who ultimately battled their way to the finish line. Elisabeth Chaput, 44, of Westford, Mass., was the first to cross the line, doing so in 29:08:56. Shortly after, 40-year-old Sarah Brandt of Salem, Mass., became a 100-mile finisher in 29:22:58. Michelle Rach, 45, of South Windham, Conn., joined them in 29:36:49.
That left Christine Da Silva as the final runner still chasing a 100-mile dream. After executing a smart, patient race plan for most of the race, the 35-year-old from Everett, Mass., narrowly made the 90-mile cutoff to go back out for her final 10 miles. Still, she pushed onward, her goal within reach. After Da Silva reached the turnaround and began to make her way back to the finish, bike support volunteer Laurie Brown rode up and joined Da Silva for some moral support during the final miles until she encountered some hand-made signs from her husband that provided a final burst of energy needed for her to get to the finish line before it closed. Cheered on by friends, family and volunteers, Da Silva finished in 29:56:10. Though she came frighteningly close to the 30-hour cutoff, she beat it with less than four minutes to spare. It was the closest a runner has come to the cutoff without going over in Ghost Train history, and it provided an uplifting ending to another edition of the haunted race.
Happy Birthday, Beth!
The Ghost Train Rail Trail Race wasn’t only an early celebration of Halloween. For Beth Shiff of Ogunquit, Maine, it also served as a birthday bash. Shiff spent her 67th birthday running her first ultra at Ghost Train in 2019. She opted for a similar celebration for her 70th birthday and rounded up some friends to take on two trips through the course for 30 miles. Shiff sported a tiara and sash proclaiming “70 & Fabulous” as she clicked away the miles on a comfortable, sunny day and ultimately finished her second ultramarathon in 9:55:00.
A year ago, Katie Chapman was in tears during her 30-mile race at Ghost Train after receiving a phone call that her husband was in the hospital on a ventilator in Scotland with a less than 50% chance of survival. Devin Chapman ultimately survived the health scare, and both Katie and Devin celebrated their good health – as well as their 20th wedding anniversary – by running 45 miles together at the 2022 Ghost Train Rail Trail Race. Katie wore a white tutu and singlet with “Mrs. est. 10/19/2002” while Devin wore a black T-shirt with “Mr. est. 10/19/2002” across the front. The happy couple from Litchfield, N.H., completed their celebratory run in 13:30:30. Katie noted on Facebook that they plan to return next year and run 60 miles together.
Perry, Schultz Cruise to Victory in 15-Mile Race
Runners in the 15-mile race had four hours on Sunday morning to complete their out-and-back pass through the Ghost Train course. Six runners needed less than half the time.
Alexander Perry, 33, of Albany, N.Y., ran nearly perfect splits on his way to the overall victory. He completed his first 7.5 miles in 49 minutes flat and the second 7.5 in 49:26 on his way to the victory in 1:38:26. Ben DiMaggio, 48, of Boston, Mass., was a distant second in 1:50:42.
Topping the women’s field was Tracy Schultz. The 40-year-old from Waltham, Mass., finished third overall and hammered out a 1:53:11 performance. Women’s runner-up Rebecca Pellerin, 27, of Cambridge, Mass., joined her in the sub-2-hour category, finishing fifth overall in 1:58:27.
The other two sub-2-hour finishers were Brian Hack, 35, of Somerville, Mass. (1:57:39) and Christopher Stivers, 36, of Somerville, Mass. (1:59:14). Jenev Caddell, 43, of Amherst, N.H., was the third-place female in 2:09:12.
New Races for 2023
Prior to the start of the 30-hour ultra, Race Director Rob Fiero announced that two new races will be part of the Ghost Train festivities in 2023: a 100-mile team relay and a nighttime 30-mile race – the Haunted Sunset 30-miler – that will allow runners to pass through the course with its Halloween decorations aglow.