Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the month “December, 2014”

Training Derailed – The Trail to MMT 100

Yeah, so two posts ago I mentioned, “training plans are basically suggestions.” To prove my point, I threw mine out the window this week. Last week I was on target, running my 6 miles on Tuesday, 5 on Wednesday, another 6 on Thursday then gearing up for 14 on Saturday. But, I got a sinus infection and a really nasty head cold. Combined with that, the kids had to be everyway, everywhere, everytime over the weekend and I had three gigs from Friday night through Saturday night. Thus my weekend long run plans were screwed.

Justifying my lack of getting out there I tallied up my time on feet playing gigs from Friday to Saturday and it totaled 10.5 hours, enough in my mind to equal the 20 miles I was supposed to cover from Saturday to Sunday.

Sunday I was laid up, Monday I was laid up, Tuesday I intended to go 14 trying to play catch up and I chickened out, but this morning I regrouped with the Wed AM trailsroc crew, and plugged in a nice and easy 5K.

So this is what happens frequently to me, I miss some time due to circumstances, I look at my plan and I formulate ways to play catch-up. This is a BAD idea. So I missed some mileage, does that make it necessary for me to get an injury? The next thing that happens is I take my idea for making up the mileage and say “I’m going to run 14 on Tuesday,” Tuesday rolls around, it’s raining and I’m scared that I don’t have the fitness level needed to go 14, and think “what if I hurt myself?” I then opt to watch TV and get another big fat 0 in the books (not even the 7 planned on my schedule). So I think, “Yes, Wed AM trailsroc crew is running from the start of the 0 SPF course, I’ll meet up with them and then when they turn at 1.5 miles I’ll run to the 7 mile turnaround and get my 14! This plan is AWESOME!”

Wednesday morning rolls around, and it’s 5 AM, and I think, “what am I, stupid?” But because I told Ben Murphy that I’d see him in the morning, I’m committed to at least showing up. So I go, get my 3.3 miles in (.8 miles short of 1500 miles for the year, so maybe I’ll go out later… I say knowingly that I won’t) and feel great. I realize that my fitness level (which is still at a low point) after 5 days off, has not really suffered, that I can plug some more miles in later today possibly and get my 7 in tomorrow then be ready for 16 on Saturday, and it’s all really okay that I didn’t get the miles in. I don’t need to make them up. I have over five and a half months to get ready for this event and this is no big deal. It would be a big deal if I continued to talk myself out of running by continuing to talk myself into some stupid plan to make up lost time. And, this is where the importance of groups, training partners and accountability come into play for me.


If it weren’t for trailsroc’s Wed AM crew and my word saying that I’d be there, I might have just slept in this morning and taken another goose egg for the day. But it’s these people that carry me when I can’t carry myself, and they do it because I have committed myself to them; to be there to lead or co-lead when Ben has another obligation, to share in the sunrises (when they come back, hopefully in three or so weeks), to review our races, and share in each other’s running and personal victories and failures. These are my people, and when I’m running with them it is less about training and more about community, and yet it IS ultimately about training, because they get me back on track.

I love long solo runs, I think I am an introvert with a vocal exterior that I use as a shield. But I also love group runs, as they remind me that I’m not the only one who enjoys long solo runs. There is a spirit amongst like-minded people, people whom I may not agree with politically, or musically, or religiously, but the like-minded love of the outdoors, of using our bodies to move through the environment and become part of it, and the sheer enjoyment of our surroundings pulls us together. Something about the base simplicity of foot against dirt levels the playing field and makes all of the other things of life insignificant. We are all just humans moving from point A to point B in the simplest, purest way, and that reduces us all to being nothing greater or less than being human.

I like it, and suspect you do too.

A big shout out to trailsROC for being the community that keeps me and many others moving with relentless forward progress.

No Thank You, I Don’t Drink. The Trail to MMT100

If you read running blogs you might get the idea that in order to be a trail runner or an ultrarunner you need two things (If you’re guy, one if you’re a gal)

  1. A beard
  2. An insatiable thirst for beer

Neither of these are true and actually have become quite boorish in my opinion. The only facial hair related things of any interest to me in the ultra world are following Matt Flaherty’s Mustache and Rob Krar’s Beard. Why? Because they are the fastest ultra facial hairs on the planet. I’ve even heard the argument that facial hair makes you run faster… somebody ought to give the heads up to Kilian Jornet.


But honestly I can deal with the beard thing as I have sported an Imperial (known in most circles as a soul patch) for quite some time now.

The beer thing? This is bothersome.

Hi, I’m Dan and I’m an alcoholic.

I won’t tell you whether or not I go to meetings, or have ever gone to meetings. That’s not my point about this. My point is that I have not had a drink in 23 years, and most people whom I’ve run with know this about me. So why do you keep offering?

Now this wouldn’t be that big of deal to me if it were just a controlled social thing, and people were actually drinking one good beer.


But when you’re bringing PBR’s, Genny Light, and Coors to the party, you’re not drinking for taste. And, some of the group runs I have been going on recently are resembling Music Festivals which in my opinion have just turned into open air drug houses where people really don’t care about the music, they just want to get high. The group run is for the run, or is it for the beer afterwards? If that’s the case, why not take up hashing – drinkers with a running problem? I like the hashers because they state what they are about. They’re good people, and a group that I don’t run with because that is not my focus, and not where I find enjoyment.

Add to this the number of local athlete’s we have lost recently due to drivers under the influence of chemicals; I find it hypocritical when people have raised their heart rate, which makes the chemical reach the brain faster, drink after a run and get behind the wheel of a car. And, don’t give the Designated Driver business, because I’ve seen that as the exception rather than the rule.

Now, once I got sober, I did not expect the world to change before my eyes and everyone to change their behavior because of my alcoholism. I had to learn how not to take a drink in a world and culture that alcohol is prevalent everywhere. Heck, I play live music in bars as a substantial part of my income. But, I expect drinking in a bar, and when I am working, I go in do my job and leave. And, yes, my wife drinks… No I am not her personal DD, she is responsible a 6 pack lasts for months in our fridge. So even though I’m complaining about this running scene, I have dealt with it and will continue to do so as long as it is part of the culture.

That said, I know a significant portion of the trailrunning and ultrarunning population who are recovering alcoholics. I’ve known some who have “slipped” on the trails. I know most are reticent to talk about the fact that they no longer drink because it prompts all sorts of stuff from perceiving that people think you’re judgmental of their drinking behavior (which I’m sure some readers will place me in this category right now), to feeling the shame of what happened when they drank, to feeling “broken” because they can’t take part in what looks like everyone else is doing. And, the ironic thing about this, is many turned to running as a method to deal with their alcoholism. I have no real research, but I would bet that the percentage of revering alcoholics among the trailrunning population is much greater than the percentage of recovering alcoholics in the general population.

It seems that many runners would give you hell if you offered them a cigarette, but think nothing of offering someone a chemical that has the power to kill them.


I don’t expect this rant/blogpost to change anyone’s behavior. I am partly writing it as catharsis, and partly because I hope at minimum it makes someone stop and think. I will still go to group trail runs, I may even hang out after some, I will not make a stink publicly about behavior I witness (I may just leave), and I won’t make people uncomfortable unless they want to feel that way around me.

If you don’t drink, and you run with me, know you’re not the only one, and it’s pretty cool to find the simple joy and wonder of the trail without enhancements.

Happy Trails


Training Plans – The Trail to MMT100

So I’m supposed to be writing a training plan for Amy for a 50k that we are looking at doing in April, but instead, I’m starting this blog post. I am pretty good at writing plans, provided I have the correct information in hand. So what is needed to write a plan?

  • Distance or time of goal race
  • How long until race day?
  • Athlete’s history and current fitness (what is the longest they have run and how recently have they run it. How long did they work up to this distance, and how much time off had they had?)
  • Athlete’s time commitment, i.e., how many times per week to run/ workout
    • Athlete’s schedule (are there days of the week they absolutely cannot run because of work/family etc)
  • A variety of cookie cutter plans of which there are plethora of on the interwebs to draw ideas from.

 My standard approach for ultras is long runs on the weekends, building up to back to backs, short runs just to stay loose during the week, and step back weeks every three weeks or so.

Most of the cookie cutter plans you find on the internet or in Relentless Forward Progress (my go to book for training) tend to be super high mileage plans. While this is good for people whose only job is to run and who don’t have kids, for the rest of us Ain’t nobody got time for that! (Unless you’re Mary Eggers!) So when those plans start expanding mileage midweek, I usually don’t. Those runs are just to keep the body loose, unless you’re doing speed or hill workouts, which those should only be once a week. I also like to incorporate strength training in people’s schedules in the form of pilates or yoga classes, and yes I’m a hypocrite because I don’t do them.

So I will give you a sample of what Amy’s training schedule looks like for Iron Master’s Challenge 50K (her longest run to date is 30K)

For Amy’s plan she wanted to look at 4 runs per week and some extra stuff with options for indoor training. She also wanted some back to back runs and 2-3 20 milers in the plan. I decided that working with Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Marathon Training Program combined with Relentless Forward Progress’ 50K at 50 miles/wk program would give me the info I wanted. Now Higdon’s Plan is an 18 week program and Bryon Powell’s is a 24 week program, so I need to alter some stuff given that Amy has 20 weeks until race day. Why did I go with these plans? Higdon’s has lower mileage during the week, but I like how Powell structures long runs and back to backs on the weekends. So here’s how it lays out:

Amy's training plan

This plan is much more in line with Higdon’s and has Amy focusing on strength because of her IT issues and 4 big weekends. Now, for me, these types of training plans are basically suggestions. We run because we like it, and want to see what we can do; we don’t run to torture ourselves. Last year I was really fatigued during my training for Cayuga Trails 50 and so I logged a 2 mile week. It was exactly what I needed. I also worked with someone who would beat themselves up every time they missed mileage on their long run… that is a recipe for disaster.

If the plan isn’t working and you find yourself hating the idea of running RE-EVALUATE the plan, maybe even re-evaluate your goal. Re-examine your motives; is your goal for going long because you think that’s the way to get respect among your fellow runners? Are you doing it because you want to prove to yourself that it’s possible regardless of injury history and prior training? Or are you doing it because you ENJOY going long, ENJOY the challenge, ENJOY long times of solitude? Remember, we GET to do this, we CHOOSE to do this, it is NOT a requirement, so if there is no joy, why bother? Find the activity/distance/plan/races that bring you joy and pursue them.

This is not to say if you enjoy doing this, that there won’t be days of training that are major slugfests just to get through.

Joy ≠ Easy.


Some of the other things you will notice are substitute ideas for training. We are both training through the winter which is not always easy, and mileage numbers can skew the idea of effort. That said, we are getting a 3 month membership (groupon deal) at our JCC, which has ellipticals, stairmasters (which are great for simulating many of the climbs we will encounter), an indoor track, and a pool. The idea through the week is the keep the engine and mechanics loose while the specific training for the long run and the course are found in the weekends. Furthermore, we are exploring the idea of snowshoeing this winter which is an amazing workout and great strength builder.


How to climb Massanutten Mountain inside

My plan is a bit more aggressive. I started the cycle last week and it continues for 6 months. I relied on Relentless Forward Progress for my plan. I combined the 100 mile training on 50 miles/wk with the 100 mile training on 70 miles/wk. I’m using the midweek mileage from the 50/wk plan with the weekend mileage from the 70/wk plan. My biggest week ends up being 61 miles. Again, as the plan is merely a suggestion, I will most likely drop some midweek runs or mess with the mileage depending on who I’m running with. I have also incorporated a Time ON Feet (TOF) range for my long runs in case I’m out in deep snow or snowshoeing. The formula I used was taking the mileage and multiplying it be 10 min/mile for my fast range and 14 min/mile for my slow range as I believe this is probably the pace range I will be covering during MMT100. For example a day that I have 20 miles scheduled, like January 17th, there may be a ton of snow, so if I go snowshoeing I have worked out that I should be out there between 3 hours 20 minutes (10 min/mile) – 4 hours 40 minutes (14 min/mile). I can guarantee, even at the high range I would not cover 20 miles on snowshoes, but a 20 mile running effort will be achieved.

So how could I enhance my training without increasing mileage? Here’s where I will say,

“do what I say, not what I do”:

  • I would examine my diet and eat better.
  • I would get a coach
  • I would focus on speed / tempo / hill runs on Thursdays (which I do to a low degree)
  • I would incorporate Yoga/Pilates/Strength into my schedule

Why don’t I do these things? First, for my goals I can’t justify the cost of hiring a coach. Second, at the present time the JOY of eating what I eat is greater than the deficit it creates in my running. Third, I do some speed/hill work but not to the extent that it burns me out.

My objective is JOY, I will never again win an ultra (yes I did once… kind of), but I enjoy going long. I will do what is necessary to capture that joy, and I will drop whatever destroys that joy. Training is not my job, it is my pleasure.

BTW, after virtually 8 weeks off of running because of my rolled ankle, I knocked out a nice 34 mile week for my first week of training for MMT! Felt slow and out of shape, but felt like a runner, and I have 6 months to get in shape! This is JOY!

5 Miles on Wednesday Morning… or Am I Really a Humanist? (The Trail to MMT100)


I’m actually not a fan of human beings, they are so destructive. A friend of mine has started a new running company with a mission of people first, environment second and profit third, and while I think his aims are commendable I think the priorities are out of order, I think the environment should be first and people second. But really, it’s hard for me to even say that, because if we were really putting people first, we would inherently putting the environment first as people do not live in a vacuum. When we destroy ourselves either through global warming or nuclear annihilation, we will all be gone, but you know what will remain? Yup, the earth will still be here, and better off that we are not.

The AHA (American Humanist Association) defines humanism:

Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.

I suppose I can get behind this statement, and there are other interpretations and definitions that talk about how reason, experience, science, and the environment from local environments to the universe affect our experience as humans. I also understand this, but I find it all far to human-centric, like we are the most important thing in the universe, and that is where I question if I am a true humanist, because I don’t believe we are.

Other than thinking about how out of shape I am and how overdressed I was during my 5 mile run this morning, this was the topic that I mused on.

Part of the reason I think about this question is that when it is just me and the trail, far away from humanity, I see what else the world has to offer and how insignificant humanity is. I am surrounded by trees that are far older than me, I watch the cycle of life with fat squirrels gathering nuts and getting ready for winter, and deer getting their winter coats. I see the leafless trees seal off their branches to conserve water through the winter, and I watch the streams and ponds freeze over and realize there is still life teaming under the surface.


And even though we continue to pollute this world, contribute to global warming, cause the extinction of plant and animal species, lop off the top of mountains to grab coal, and explode oil rigs in the ocean, I am convinced that life will prevail long after we have killed our own species. This actually falls right in line with natural selection; when the genetic makeup of our beings is no longer able to support us in the environment that we have created we will cease to exist and the genetic makeup of species that have mutated in order to live in that environment will prosper. So in the words of George Carlin, “The Planet is fine, the people are f@cked.” And so I present his routine:

Okay, after watching that I think I’m a humanist after all, one of those self-centered white liberals who doesn’t like plastic, but that’s because I think it’s an eyesore;  one of those do-gooders that cares about the bees and the whales because I do want to live in my own little perfect habitat. But isn’t that just the nature of being human? I am self-centered, and when I’m not self-centered I’m still usually human centered doing service for other human beings. But I am most at peace (which is self-centeredly my greatest concern, ironic huh?) when I do service to nature, cleaning up trails, and observing what the world/universe has to offer that is not of human concern. At the same time, just like establishing National Parks and ecological habitats, I think these self-same environmental actions are what is best for humanity, and therefore humanist actions.

5 miles alone in the woods certainly helps with perspective. And, the answer to the question… I’m still not sure.

P.S. The idea of the earth defending itself with viruses is just one way it does it, another way it does it is through cloud cover and global warming when we keep extracting and burning the resources in the earth.

Ankle – Ugh! (The Trail to MMT100, Day 2)

Started the day at the General Practitioner’s reviewing some medication I’m on. I brought up the fact that I still have swelling in my ankle 8 weeks later and she is sending me to ortho, but not without mentioning that I should move on from running. Whatever.

8 weeks, it has been 8 weeks since I rolled my ankle at Danby Down and Dirty, and it’s still swollen. I’ve been told it could be ligament damage by a chiropractor, and like I said in my last post I am skeptical about the efficacy of chiropractic. Oh well, maybe orthopedics will help, I want to make sure that those doctors understand that not running is not an option.

Later in the day I went to the Chiropractor and she said she also would recommend ortho. So after getting Ben Gay on my back and getting it cracked for $4 (thanks Obama!) I went home and gathered up Amy for an Easy 6 at Mendon Ponds.

DanAmy Mendon
At the Water Tower (Mendon Ponds, photo credit Amy Lopata)

I intended to walk quite a bit of this workout, but after 1 ¼ miles my ankle was loosening up, so I kept a slow and steady pace while walking all of the uphills and minding where I placed my left foot. By the time we got to Post Meadow Speedbump, a nasty little hill with incredibly steep grade, I ran most of it. So all in all, I am quite happy about this run.

Post Meadow Speed Bump (photo credit Amy Lopata)

On a side note, and maybe I’ll do a separate post about this, the topic of trail stewardship came up in my Facebook feed today. I am of the opinion that race organizers and events should follow this formula:
1. Good stewardship
2. Servicing the runners
3. Profits way way down the list.

If you can’t do number one, don’t do the event. If you can’t do number two, you won’t do the event more than once. If you focus on number three to the detriment of number one and number two, expect to be called out by people like me.

All that said, my disappointment today lies in the fact that there are spray paint markings on rocks on our trails and there are still non-biodegradable plastic flagging hanging in the trees from a Zombie event put on in October. This race was put on by an event company called groundassault.com events, and Fleet Feet Sports of Rochester also sponsored this event. I do my best not to mention organizations I have problems with opting rather to let my silence speak for itself while building up organizations I do respect, but I think it is necessary sometimes to educate people on what NOT to do by using specific examples. This event focused on profit above all else ($75 entry on race day for a 5k) and their presence is still hanging in the trees.

Please support groups that support the trails.

They are easy to spot, they are the ones who do trail maintenance days, have caps on trail events that are far below what the DEC, city, or county allows, and have people diligently cleaning up after their events directly following those events. Some regional groups that are great at this are trailsROC, Red Newt Racing, Goose Adventure Racing, Genesee Regional Off-Road Cyclists, Trail Methods, Medved Running Outfitters, Finger Lakes Running Club, The Rochester Orienteering Club, the guys putting on the Twisted Branch Trail 100K run, and Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Company to name a few. Support these folks, they care.

The trail to MMT, 100 Day 1

So it begins. Rather than saying the Road to MMT I thought it better to stick with the trail theme, although it does look like I will be utilizing roads during training.

Dan Run

Anyhow, today is day 1 of my training cycle for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run (MMT 100 from here on out), a little jaunt May 16th – 17th put on by the good people at Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC). I attempted this run back in 2002 and was unsuccessful at completing it, you can read my report here. Probably not the wisest choice for a first 100 mile attempt but I had a good year in 2001-2002 winning the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) 50 miler in the Finger Lakes Forest and redeeming my 100 mile DNF by finishing top 10 at Haliburton Forest 100 that September.

… but…

I’ve always had a nagging itch about the DNF at MMT100. I’m sure I will get more into my previous attempt in other posts, so that’s enough for now. Today starts the training cycle that should culminate in arriving at the start line of my second MMT100 attempt. My Comeback has been moving along over the past few years, but not without its bumps in the trail. I sat out most of the 2013 season with a stress fracture of the fibula, but came back with a goal to complete two ultras including the Cayuga Trails 50 race in Ithaca to qualify for entry. I trained smart through the winter and spring of 2014, met my goals, closed my season out, and then promptly ran two events I shouldn’t have. First was an attempt at the Monster Marathon in Virgil, NY where I DNF’d at 13.1 miles because I just didn’t care and was fatigued. Then after having a great time sweeping 25 miles of the Virgil Crest Ultras Course I went to run the Danby Down and Dirty 20K in October and rolled my ankle HARD, DNFing at 6.2 miles. That was 7 weeks ago and my ankle is still not healed, and I have residual swelling.


So I start the cycle with a day of rest, and 6 miles on tap for tomorrow. I have a couple of doctor’s appointments tomorrow, one in the AM with my GP, and one in the early afternoon with my chiropractor. Okay, it probably doesn’t help that I’m skeptical about chiro, but the price is right, so I’m giving it a go. Once I’m done with that apt I will head out to hike/run depending on my ankle those 6 miles and see how it goes. I have run a few times since rolling the ankle so I know I can do it, but I want to be careful that I’m not doing more damage.

So here we go. Over the next six months I intend to journal about this process. I will do my best not to bore you with stats, paces, mileage, heart rate, climb, etc (unless I find it fascinating, and I will either link Daily Mile or Strava here, or you can find me there) but rather I want to share the emotion, the people I meet along the way, some history, influences, my running supports like trailsROC, teamFLRTC, the good folks at Medved, and most importantly my wife.


I must warn you. This Live, Love, Listen Blog is more than just running, I am a musician, an activist, a humanist, and an atheist, I will muse on a number of subjects both within my training reports and outside of them. Music and “spirituality” from the perspective of a humanist/atheist are among my favorite pastimes. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Welcome to the adventure! Feel free to share and comment, give advice if you can (I most likely won’t take it because I’m an idiot) have fun.

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