Ghost Train Rail Trail Race set

BROOKLINE – The fifth annual Ghost Train Rail Trail Race, sponsored by the Milford and Brookline Conservation commissions, will be held from Saturday, Oct. 26 to Sunday, Oct. 27.

The race is run along a 7.5-mile course along the old railroad tracks that were used in the late 19th and early 20th century to ship granite from Milford and ice from Lake Potanipo in Brookline to Massachusetts. Although the rails were removed during World War II as scrap metal, many of the ties are still in the ground and visible along the trail.

The event consists of two separate races: The ultra race, in which runners have 36 hours to complete 100 miles, which will kick off in Brookline at 9 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 26, while the 15-mile race will be held from 8 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Oct. 27, beginning and ending in Milford.

The runners loop back and forth between the Milford and Brookline ends of the trail. Along the way, they encounter ghosts and goblins, illuminated pumpkins, the grim reaper and other seasonal decorations. Many runners and volunteers dress in costume.

“We have a lot of fun with it,” said Steve Latour, race director. “Most ultras are held in the summer, so we are the only race guaranteed to be haunted.”

New items this year include motion-activated decorations, as well as train whistle sound effects and motion-activated lights in the tunnel under Route 101 that will create the effect of an oncoming train as runners pass through.

The first year the race was held, Latour said there were only about 30 runners. Thanks to a story in “Ultra Running Magazine,” the event has grown every year. Last year, there were 120 runners who finished the ultra, and more than 225 runners have registered for it this year, along with 65 entrants for the 15-mile race. There are runners from 22 states and 19 from Canada.

“This is a great fundraiser,” said Buddy Dougherty, chairman of the Brookline Conservation Commission, who oversees the Brookline end of the course. “Every year, we do a little more. The first year, we made $600 and used it to pull out roots and regrade the trial. Last year, we spent $3,000 to put a fence around the railroad trestle. The Brookline and Milford Conservation commissions share the proceeds, and everybody benefits from it.”

Assisted by many dedicated volunteers, Latour makes sure everything is in place before the race starts so he can focus on his main goal – running the ultra race for the third time. An avid runner, he has completed 19 marathons and 30 ultras. That’s 3,500 miles, or roughly the equivalent of running from Hollis to Minneapolis and back.

What compels someone to run that far? The adrenaline rush and satisfaction that comes from the accomplishment.

“Growing up, I saw the Boston Marathon on TV,” Latour said. “Most runners who want to do long distances work at that. Once you complete a marathon and realize you can run that far, and then you hear of people running even further, it doesn’t even make sense. For me, it was like a mid-life crisis. I was working a regular job, married, had a house, very ordinary, and I wanted to something extraordinary and this came of it.”

Latour trains for the ultra by doing a longer run of 10 to 20 miles on weekends, with a 50-mile run added at some point. When running that distance, he said, you don’t go as hard or as fast as you would in a shorter race. He also has a training partner, a friend who meets him for those 4 a.m. runs, especially on those days when he’d rather stay in bed. The accountability really helps, Latour said, as well as the companionship. He has completed the 100-mile distance in 26 hours, which amounts to a steady, non-stop rate of 3.8 miles per hour.

“It can be tough to do long training runs,” he said. “I experiment to see how much food and drink I need. I take salt pills because you sweat out so much salt. Every half hour, I eat 200 calories: most people don’t eat that much but that is what I do.”

In addition to bathroom breaks and snacks, some runners stop at the aid stations along the route to rest for a bit. Latour said fast runners can even afford to take a half-hour nap, but he prefers to keep moving.

“Between the exertion and adrenaline, I may want to stop running, but I don’t even want to sleep,” he said.

As is typical in ultra races, the Ghost Train provides pacers – volunteers who will accompany the competitors for the last 30 miles of running. Pacers are available as early as mile 30 in this race, and runners may have a team of pacers who each run a segment of the remaining distance.

Latour said that one of his favorite aspects of this race is that it loops back and forth, so you get to notice details about your surroundings.

“In most races, you don’t get to see the leaders, but here you get to see everybody,” he explained. “The scenery can get dull but seeing people is fun. For 13 hours, you’re running in the dark and wouldn’t see the scenery anyway. Spectators are encouraged to attend the race and cheer on the runners. The terminal ends are Camp Tevya in Brookline and the Milford DPW. The course runs along Route 13 between North Mason Road and Scabbard Hill Road, and is open to the public year round. For additional information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/ghosttrainrailtrailrace/home.