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" . . . The race itself was, well...wow! Some weeks back much murmuring started when
Andy Jones-Wilkins registered. Some of my veteran runners and Derek Griffith of CO Runner
mag. made mention of his capabilities. I promptly changed the time that the last station had
to be in place...an hour earlier. Speculation was rampant when it came to the subject of the
projected "Top Five." As RD I have to say I was almost a little intimidated...my event has always
had a balance of experienced runners and newbies to the sport, and my regulars like the very
down-to-earth atmosphere. No emphasis on PRs and elite-status here . . . "
- Susan Reynolds, RD; excerpt from her race report to the ultra list on January 19
In its fourth year the Ghost Town race not only grew to almost double its size from 2008, it also grew to attract a sizeable field of fast runners. As the entrants' list was updated on the race website Jim and I noticed names of elite and near-elite runners who were entered for the first time. It did surprise us a bit, since the race has been pretty much under the radar the past three years.

We were happy to see that Andy Jones-Wilkins was entered. Like many elite ultra runners, he's very gracious and down to earth. That's one of the reasons we love ultras -- fewer prima donnas than most sports, even road running. At how many marathons do you see the fastest runners encourage the slower runners or stick around to wait for them to finish?? We first saw Andy at the Teton 100-miler in 2007; he quietly and efficiently won that race. He's won others, too, and laughs when he talks about all the times he's come in second.

Those are good traits to have: self-effacement and a sense of humor.

Andy Jones-Wilkins and RD Susan Reynolds at the finish

There were other names we recognized of runners who are strong but we didn't know enough about their speed to know if they could challenge Andy -- guys like Scott Eppelman, Paul Grimm, Pete Stevenson, Dave Coblentz, Jason Halladay, Bobby Biles. Others like Tim Long who ended up placing in the top ten we had no clue about, but we know now that they can run well on a hilly course at altitude.

I imagine it was fun to be a volunteer out on the course and watch the race unfold. I know it was an exciting finish for those of us who worked the finish line!

But let's back up several hours and take this chronologically . . .


This was Susan's schedule for race day:

Sunday, January 18
4:00 a.m. Matt and I are up and loading the truck for Station 4
4:30-4:45 a.m. Matt and Adrian head off into the wilds and the dark
4:45 a.m. cabin opens for runners to change clothes, leave keys, food/beverage, check-in with Joan
5:30 a.m. volunteers pick up station supplies and rosters then head to their stations
5:45 a.m. cabin should be empty except for those volunteers wishing to stay inside, everyone else should be gathering outside
6:00 a.m. race starts
All morning lots of activity along the route and at the finish line
Im guessing the first place finisher will arrive back at our place between 11:30 and noon
12:30 p.m. first cutoff Station 4
4:45 p.m. second cutoff Station 7
6:00 p.m. everyone off the course, the race is over
6:00 p.m. post race bbq

Another busy day for everyone involved with the race!

As at ATY, I was up before Jim on race day. I had promised Susan I'd help her with late registration in the cabin starting at 5 AM. Joan Nashelsky, veteran GT volunteer and Susan's right hand woman on race day, was checking in the runners. Susan primarily made sure the safety volunteers were present and the aid station volunteers got all their supplies, rosters, and last-minute instructions.

Joan, center with clipboard, checks in runners before the race.

All was running as smoothly as can be expected on race morning when the biggest glitch of the day occurred: two local volunteers with an attitude pretty much told Susan they'd do as they pleased during the race, instead of following her specific instructions. They literally got in her face and she fired them on the spot. I didn't see that confrontation in the front yard but heard about it from Susan after the start of the race. It rattled her but she rose above it and kept going all day, sure in the knowledge that she'd done what was best for the runners and the longevity of the race. Sometimes RDs have to be assertive to maintain control and assure the safety of the runners.

It was a clear morning with temperatures a little below freezing at our camper. Runners could come into the cabin to check in and get some hot coffee and breakfast but there wasn't room for all of them to stay inside to keep warm at once.

Jim stayed in the camper as long as he reasonably could, then came over to the cabin to check in. I hugged and kissed him, wished him well, and watched him line up with the other runners on the road in front of the cabin. He was still tired from ATY and planning on running an easy pace during Ghost Town. His goal was to finish in about nine hours, but any official finish would make him happy since he wasn't trained for either the hills or the altitude at Ghost Town.

It was one of those "What was I thinking?" kind of races. It sounded good several months ago!

Promptly at 6 AM the race began. It was still dark and I didn't take any photos until the sky was lighter:

Start/finish line

The first and last section of the race: great view of the runners coming in at the finish


After the race began I walked back to the camper to eat breakfast, feed Cody, take a shower, and get dressed for warmer temperatures during the day. I would be helping Susan inside the cabin in the kitchen most of the morning and outside at the finish line until the end of the race at 6 PM.

I've already mentioned the plethora of food provided to the runners, volunteers, and crews during race weekend. Susan and Matt were busy for days before the race preparing cookies for the aid stations, delicious chicken enchiladas for the finish line, banana bread and cornbread for the post-race BBQ, and much more. During race morning I helped Susan, Joan, and another woman cut up vegetables and fruit for two crocks of homemade soup and more apple crisp. I also helped with washing dishes and setting up a serving line in the cabin for the food and beverages available as the runners finished the race (almost a 7-hour period of time on Sunday afternoon). 

Near aid station #1

Susan was a whirlwind in the kitchen, preparing more food and always thinking ahead to other tasks that needed to be done. She didn't really relax until we went outside to organize the finish line area and wait for the first runners to appear.


Ghost Town finishers received a personalized certificate with their name and time at the end of the race. Susan chose a photo from the course, printed out 75 certificates, and hand-wrote the runners' names on them.

My main job during the afternoon was to sit near the finish line, get each runner's official time from Susan or Joan, write it on the correct personalized certificate, and give it to the runner before (s)he disappeared. Here is Jim's certificate:

(And now you know that he finished and in what time!)

Finishers also received a backpack from LL Bean that is embroidered with the race logo and date, and a special gift from Susan (more delicious chocolate):

Last year Susan wrote the times on the certificates and handed out them to the runners but it was so hectic she wanted a different system this year. That's where I came in. It was fun for me to have that connection with all the finishers and it freed Susan up to relax and talk more to the runners after they finished the race.

As the recipients finished, Susan handed out the seven special awards in the categories she has created (see farther below for a list of the awards and this year's winners). In addition to their finishers' certificate, backpack, and chocolate, those folks also received a nice LL Bean duffel bag embroidered with the race logo and type of award, a certificate for a pair of running shoes from Bobby Biles' Fleet Feet store in Albuquerque, and a water bottle:


It took just a few minutes to get the finish area set up and ready for the first runners. We wondered who they would be; there is no radio contact in this race and none of the aid station volunteers were back yet. The previous best finish time was just over six hours. This year Susan expected the first runner up to an hour earlier so we were on full alert by about 11 AM.

I'll let Susan describe this year's exciting finish (another excerpt from her post to the ultra list):

". . . Last year we at the finish line watched with our mouths agape as Pete Stevenson and Paul Grimm duked it out for 2nd and 3rd place. I probably reveal my lesser experience when I relate that I didn't expect a fast sprint at the end of 38.5 miles, but it happened in '08 and in an even faster and more amazing sprint it happened in '09.

We'd sent a car ahead to spot for the lead runner. When the volunteer returned we at the finish were told 'There are two running shoulder to shoulder and they're less than a mile and a half away.' The binoculars came out and we stood, waiting. Finally they were spotted. Sure enough, two runners seemed to be running as a team . . . shoulder to shoulder, arms in sync, feet moving at the same pace. They came closer. They stayed together. The excitement grew. They were moving fast.

Tim Long

And then one made a break. The other tore after him. And then it was over amid much amazed cheering. Tim Long, 41, of Boulder, CO had edged Jones-Wilkins by 5 seconds. The course record was adjusted down some 45 minutes as the '09 winning time is 5:21:01. The 6 hr. mark had finally been broken, and by no small margin . . . "

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Now that was fun to watch!

Like Susan, I was surprised there would be such a strong finish after a race this long. We could see Tim and Andy gutting it out, stride for stride, the last half mile or more. If you look at the splits you can see that Tim and Andy were usually within seconds of each other at the aid stations. They averaged an 8:20/mile pace during the race but Tim mentioned to me that they were doing closer to 6s as they each tried to shake the other in the final miles.

This is a great example of two athletes pushing each other the entire race. That mere five-second difference at the end? Wow.

You can see how spent they are right after finishing:

Man, it feels good to sit down!!!  Tim, left, and Andy re-group right after finishing.

But like all well-trained athletes, especially elite ones, both men recovered quickly and were soon comparing notes, walking around, and laughing with Susan and the finish-line volunteers and spectators.

Andy and Tim pose with Susan soon after regaining their breath.

Jim and I were surprised to learn that Tim was this fast. He was so humble when talking to us about his running prior to the race that we had no clue. Andy's very low-key, too, but more people are aware of his race history.

The runners came in regularly enough the next six hours that none of us at the finish line ever got bored. Susan looked the most relaxed that I'd seen her all weekend. Much of the work was done, she had reliable volunteers out on the course that she could depend on, and she was able to just enjoy sharing the satisfaction of a job well done with each of the finishers.

Marty Duchow, right, finished 7th.  Scott Eppelman, 6th place, won the Marty Duchow Award,
however, for the fastest time by a "low-lander" (lives at 1,000 feet or below)

I enjoyed being a part of it, too. Doing the certificate times helped me to learn names of runners I hadn't met before, although I don't remember them all. CRS.

Here are some more photos of finishers coming across the line and/or socializing afterwards:

Rona Van Willigen, first female; her husband, Bobby Biles
(in black jacket.), was third overall.

Susan poses with Mark Dorian, who RDs several races in the El Paso area.

Abi "Ultrarunningmom" Meadows is second female

Runners relax under one of the big cottonwood trees.

I had a good view of the incoming runners. Around 3 PM I started watching even more closely for Jim. Since there weren't any volunteers manning radios during the race, I had absolutely no idea how he was doing or when he'd be finishing. Then I saw a gait that looked familiar in the distance, and soon I could see for certain that it was him!

Jim approaches the finish.

I'm pretty sure that's a smile on his face, but he claims it was a grimace:

Jim was as happy to sit down after the race as anyone else but he wasn't trashed. He knew he was still fatigued from ATY and not ready to push hard on hills at altitude. He ran a steady, comfortable pace and finished in 9:45 hours, 55th out of 70 finishers and second of four men over 60. Since he hadn't run the course before, he really didn't know what to predict time-wise. Although he wished he could have run the race faster, he was glad to finish under ten hours. He developed a blister that would have been uncomfortable if he'd been out there much longer.

Jim thought the course was pretty and said the aid stations and volunteers were great. He used his own stash of Heed for his energy drink but ate some food from the aid stations.

The main thing he didn't like about the course is the pavement. About a third of the distance is on asphalt NM 152 at the beginning and end of the race. He much preferred the dirt road and trail sections of the course.

Jim (R) chats with Walt and Kendel Prescott (center) and another runners whose name escapes us.

Jim was on his own after the race because I was still helping at the finish until the last runners came in at 5:42 PM. After he got some chicken enchiladas and other hot finish-line food inside the cabin he went back to the camper to take a shower. Then he came back out and sat near my table, socializing with other folks who had finished.

Soon after the last runners finished everything shifted to the back yard, where Matt and Gabe had set up tables, chairs, and several fireplaces and fire pits. Since the weather was so nice the post-race BBQ was held outdoors. Matt manned the large grill, turning out great hamburgers to go with egg salad, vegetable soup, banana bread, and a variety of other dishes.

Matt the grill master "wears may hats" during the race.

No one left hungry! It was nice to sit by the warm fire, reminisce about the race, and talk about upcoming events around the country where we'd see our friends again later this year.

By 7:30 PM Jim and I were both ready to go back to the camper to get ready for bed. It had been a long day for both of us. Since I was on my feet and moving all day, too, I felt almost as tired as if I'd run the race. We both slept well Sunday night.


Seventy-two runners began Ghost Town, including Bill Halm in the DoubleMasters event. All but one finished. You can find each runner's splits and finish time at this link on the race website.

This is a list of the award winners from a post Susan sent to the ultra list on Monday:

1st place male finisher - Tim Long, 41 yrs. old, CO, time: 5:21:01
1st place female finisher - Rona Van Willigen, 40, NM, time: 6:51:53

Jeff Johnston award for most improved runner returning from '08:
Tammy Parsons, 45, NM. Tammy ran 1:30:56 off her 2008 finish time.

Martin Luther King day award for 19th finisher:
Keith Lascelles, 37, Ontario, Canada, time: 6:54:27

Marty Duchow award for 1st lowlander to finish:
Scott Eppelman, 42, TX, time: 6:02:10

Oldest finisher award (for the 38.5 distance):
Jim Simpson, 67, CA. This award is strictly about honoring the oldest to
beat the clock.

The Bill Halm award for the first finisher in the DoubleMasters (27 miles,
minimum age: 80 yrs.):
Bill Halm, 81, NH, time: 7:48:42

About three miles from the finish

Each award winner received a personalized LL Bean duffel bag and backpack (both shown farther up in this entry), a pair of running shoes, a water bottle, and a finisher's certificate.

I'm guessing the guy who could most use some new shoes is Jim Simpson, who won the Oldest Finisher award. After the race he was talking about putting 3,000 miles on each pair of his running shoes! Jim retired twenty-seven years ago at age 40. He has run about 600 marathons and ultras. He's quite a character and reminds us of several other retired runners who live most or all of the time in their campers, vans, or truck campers and travel around the country to run races.

Jim and I are almost there! We just have to unload our house in Virginia when the housing market improves . . .


After three days of  pre- and post-race events and meals, the Reynolds still weren't done showing outstanding hospitality to their remaining guests. Runners who either stayed on the property or in Hillsboro Sunday night were invited back on Monday morning for breakfast in the cabin.

Susan wears her invisible chef's hat . . .

Susan, who also "wears many hats" in her role as race director, whipped up some excellent frittatas for breakfast and served them with leftover fruit, banana bread, and bagels. It was a delicious finale to a great weekend and gave us one last opportunity to socialize with the Reynolds, Abi Meadows and Bob Culp, Dave Coblentz, and several of the other runners before headin' on down the road to the next race . . .

Jim, Abi, and Bob look ready for another race on Monday!

This is the fourth year for the Ghost Town race. We were impressed with the terrific organization, high standards, special features, and extraordinary hospitality extended to us and the other runners by Susan and Matt. They sincerely want everyone to feel "at home."

At the end of her report to the ultra list, Susan commented that both the race and she had "grown up" a bit this year. Much of that was probably due to the large increase in runners who were permitted to start the race this year -- it increased from only 47 starters in 2008 to 72 in 2009. The more runners, the more organization, preparation, volunteers, headaches, and rules required to maintain the quality of the race while still trying to retain its family ambiance.

Next year Susan is capping the entrants at 77, double the distance of the course. The majority of those entrants are likely to be "alumni," folks who have run the race previously and are given the opportunity to register at a reduced rate before Susan opens registration to the public in September. I think that feature is pure genius! Susan knows how to retain both runners and volunteers.

Coming back down to AS #1

We don't know if we'll return to this race next year or not. Across the Years is very important to us and will be on our schedule for the foreseeable future. Ghost Town comes too close after ATY for us older folks to adequately rest between races. And there are all those paved miles that are tough on our joints . . . but it's still a unique event in a beautiful location, and those are two things that draw us to certain races. We have six more months to decide about GT '10.

Next entries: wintering in southern Texas

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil