Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Sappy Sentimental Piece (I’m Back)

“I’m Back” I said, probably a little prematurely as I had another 7+ miles to go including Lucifer’s steps, but that is how I felt at the moment.

Sunday June 1st was the 2nd annual Cayuga Trails 50 mile foot race. This year it was host of the USATF 50 Mile Trail National Championship and there were some amazingly fast people there as well as seasoned mid-pack veterans and newbies.

I feel like I’m somewhere in-between the seasoned mid-pack veteran and a newbie. 12 years ago,2002, I had a remarkable, by my standards, ultra year:

  • I ran my second Bull Run Run 50 miler
  • Won the KISS 50 miler in the Finger Lakes Forest (Don’t believe me? look it up in UltraRunning… so what if there were 3 competitors and the 100 mile winner beat my 50 mile split?)
  • DNF’d at MMT100 (87.5 miles) but rectified it with a
  • Top 10 finish at Haliburton Forest 100, and
  • Finished 2nd at the Presque Isle 12-hour run with 68 miles, two miles behind the winner.

Presque Isle, 12 hours on asphalt, my Achilles tendon decided to call it quits, and I began to get lazy.

Fast forward 5 years, 2007, I started running again as I was on the light side of 230 pounds and squeezed all of my breath out as I bent over to tie my shoes. I was commuting to Atlanta weekly and discovered some trails down there, even made it up to Springer Mountain at the head of the AT, but continued to eat crap and couldn’t sustain a flat 10 minute mile for a 5K. In 2010 I was getting back into decent shape, just missing the 2 hour mark on half-marathons, and completing 15 mile trail races. I tried to complete a 50 miler that year but dropped at 50K at 7:18:29 (12 minutes below the cut-off to go on for 50M, but I was done).

Massanutten Visitor

2011-2012 were decent, allowing me to run decent mid distance runs; 20K- 15M, but I was getting the itch. You see, ever since 2002’s DNF at Massanutten Mountain 100M there has been a gnawing feeling in my gut. I have this award, a rock with a plaque designating me as an official “visitor” not finisher, that I look at almost daily. I need to rectify this situation.  So 2013 was the year to get my 50M qualifier for MMT, and Ian Golden had come up with this race on the trails in Ithaca that I absolutely love. I set to work with training plans, registering for races, spending money and time just to end up with a stress fracture in May that destroyed my entire season. I didn’t run again until August and finally wore a bib number at a 20K in November.

2014, Ian deferred my entry to Cayuga Trails Fifty for this year. With vim and vigor I focused entirely on this race. A 24 week training plan went into effect shortly after the 20K in November and I battled through one of the coldest winters I remember to get the adequate preparation in. I never once set foot on a treadmill, although I did have a few indoor track workouts. Going out and running in icy conditions on trails with no traction bullt my endurance, climbing muscles, and core strength and stability. Battling single digit weather workouts (Fahrenheit) built my mental stamina. Come May I felt fit and I took on a 50K with the ambition and goal to go sub 5… I finished in 6:17. Not what I wanted, but learned a lot about myself and a lot about what it would take to succeed at Cayuga Trails during a 6 mile bonk slog.

June 1st 2014: we had been camping in Treman State Park since Friday, hanging out with friends, elites, and enjoying Ithaca fest, but now it was time to run. I set my Garmin up so I would not hear splits, nor would I see any data on the watch except for total climb. I learned at Thom B. that numbers; miles, pace, time, have a way of messing with my head and making me run too hard to obtain some sort of contrived standard that I think I need to live up to. Instead, I would run on feel. The only thing I really planned was to drink an entire 16oz bottle of water between each aid station (spaced 3 – 6 miles apart) and force “real” food into my system at each aid station.

The ram’s horn blew and we were off. Slow and steady, forcing the walk up the first mile, it was easier than I thought. This first hill was at a grade that would have me working hard and running if this race were a half-marathon, but having so many people around me drop to a walk/powerhike was exactly what I needed to see. I said good morning to so many folks I already knew, introduced myself to many I was just meeting and realized that I could actually talk which meant my pace was good. And that is how the day went. I was talking, smiling, chatting, observing, and enjoying the experience from the very start and my attitude never faltered.

I’ve been having stomach issues in my training, but because I wasn’t on a regimented schedule of eating I just slowed down when the stomach hurt, worked out some gas, popped some salt/electrolytes and ran again when I could. I drank an entire bottle between each aid station. I grabbed food at each aid station and didn’t dawdle. I took advantage of my strength which is bombing downhills and used walking uphills as recovery while running at a conservative pace on the flats. The heat didn’t do too much damage as I used a little water from stream crossings and my bottle squeezed onto the back of my neck (the neck is the best heat regulator). Cramping was never an issue (until after the finish) fatigue set in on the last climb, but I still loved every moment.

And that was it. A goal race prepared for diligently, and executed exactly how I wanted it. And now i have a qualifier for MMT 100. I’M BACK!

There’s so much to revel in here, and I’m not that great a writer so it would take more words from me than necessary and would bore you to death. But, a few things are worth mentioning. First and foremost, having my wife Amy there working at the TrailsROC Buttermilk Aid Station, and then crewing me home through the final two Aid Stations was the best. To have a partner who respects, encourages, and supports my passions is the best. In 2002 I was running well, but running was a way to run away from a bad relationship, in 2014 I’m running well but it’s running WITH my wife and best friend, and it strengthens our relationship.

Secondly, the TrailsROC crew, a nonprofit club that builds and maintains trails, hosts races, and builds the trailrunning community in the Greater Rochester, NY area are the best. We had a number of members out there running and encouraging each other as we passed, and we also had the most outrageous insane Aid Station, it was almost too much, I was overstimulated with the attention I got the second time I came through the aid station (they even went and got fig newtons when I complained about it the first time through!). If you are in the Rochester Area you need to check out trailsroc.org, all of their training runs are free and open to the public.

Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company who I am an ambassador for; we also had many out on the course high fiving each other as we passed and our team was manning the Old Mill Aid station that gave me a life-saving Pierogi! Go teamFLRTC (training runs free to the public)

Oven Door Runners; the local Saturday morning informal group that has been around for over 30 years. They’re the ones that started it all for me. I shared the trail Sunday with Dan Kress, Mary White, and Joy Valvano who were also at most of the ultras I ran back in 2000-2002. And Bill Hearne who started Oven Door Runners who is missed much but also very present on every footfall on pavement or trail.

Bill

It is all of the above that allowed me to say “I’m Back” and even when I said it, I knew I wasn’t completely honest. It should be “We’re back”.

I finished the race 108th place in 11:41 and change. The number was/is far less important than the way I got through it. I listened, listened to my body and acted appropriately to what it was telling me. I loved, loved the course, the people, the feeling of my body working correctly and adjusting for when it didn’t, the scenery, the simplicity of putting one foot in front of another and repeating. I lived, and am alive. Nothing is more life embracing than pushing yourself further, than recognizing that you have more life than you presumed that you take advantage of life live it rather than passively accepting what comes your way. It was a stellar day.

So now that it’s over, I get to sign up for The Monster Marathon, and Mendon 50K. Then I throw my hat in the lottery for MMT 2015, with hopefully a Bull Run Run 50 warm up. Beyond that, I need a Hardrock 100 qualifier… hello Grindstone 100!

(I’m back….)

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One thought on “Sappy Sentimental Piece (I’m Back)

  1. Yeah, Dan! That’s hilarious (and heartwarming) that your crew got you Fig Newtons. “What, no Fig Newtons?” I’m with you on that one. They’re so good at races! And to hear about the contrast of why you ran 12 years ago vs. now, and how Amy respects, encourages, and supports you. As Kenny Chesney sings, “That’s the good stuff”

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