Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the tag “ankle”

What Are You Made Of?

DNF

3 days out from my second DNF of the year for missing cut-off times at ultras, the question, “What are you made of?” has been running through my mind. Yet it is never a question that runs through my mind while I’m running ultras. I find this curious.

So let’s examine my more recent DNF’s. Last year in September I dropped from doing the Monster Marathon (Full) at the half-way mark, why, because I was tired and didn’t care. Later in October I rolled my ankle at 5 miles and DNF’d the Danby Down & Dirty 20K at the 10K mark, I wasn’t really into that race either. The problem in both of those cases was that my head was not in a place that gave respect to what it takes to complete those races and I quit mentally long before my body quit. I can even say this with regard to Danby because my lack of respect for the course resulted in not taking proper precautions and care of my foot placement; respect that should have been a given knowing this course very well.

This year I DNF’d Massanutten Mountain 100 miler just shy of 70 miles because I missed a cut-off. I was exhausted, couldn’t move fast, my feet were destroyed, and I wasn’t fit enough to go the distance in the time required. All that said, even though I questioned myself at times regarding whether I could go on, I did not leave the course until I was told I had to.

3 days ago, I missed the last aid station cut-off at Twisted Branch Trail Run 100K by just over a ½ hour. I was running into that station, trying to get there and move on. I had enough reserves in the bank to go the extra 6.5 miles but I did not have the time and I was pulled again. During this run I was questioning around the 40 mile mark whether I was capable of pulling off these harder races, and trying to decide whether I should continue attempting them, but I never stopped moving forward (except a few times on climbs to prevent my heart from bursting out of my chest). I think I even pulled one person out of the second to last aid station with me with the minimal/impossible hope of making the last cut-off. I deferred the decision about trying to attempt more of these things until I had some time away from this event.

Now that there has been some time, 3 days, and one recovery run, 3.25 miles, I see that my mind and body are both still working. That actually my mind is stronger now than it was last fall, because it didn’t question the idea of whether or not to move forward even though it was questioning other things. That my body is more durable than I thought, because in comparison to most other runners I know who attempted Twisted Branch I was one of two who actually put together a recovery run yesterday (that I saw) and the other one was the 2nd place finisher.

So last night, while talking to Amy about Haliburton Forest 50 Miler, her first attempt at a 50 coming up in two weeks, we got on the Haliburton board on Facebook and I agreed to pace a 4 time Badwater finisher through the night of the 100M race after crewing Amy for her 50. I am also sweeping the last 25 miles of the hardest 100 miler (Virgil Crest Ultras) in the Northeast US the following weekend. I think I have also determined that I will shoot for the Mendon 50K in November and take it seriously, unlike what I did with Monster and Danby last fall. Because:

right now, that is what I’m made of

These past two DNF’s on the hardest courses I have ever run, showed me a resilience I haven’t seen in myself in a while. It’s a trait I like. They have shown me a mental fortitude that has been lacking in areas and times of my life recently, and I can learn to apply that in other areas. They have shown me unconditional support from a community that celebrates what we do accomplish on a day and helps break down how to do it better the next time. I crave community even though I’m a loud introvert that tends to push people away. Interestingly enough, the inability to finish these last two events have shown me what I have working for me as opposed to what is working against me.

Do I know what I’m going to do next year? Will I attempt MMT100 or Twisted Branch again? I don’t know yet, What I do know is that I won’t shy away from long endurance treks that allow me to be outdoors and allow me to challenge my misconceptions about myself.

What do you have that’s working for you? What are you made of?

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The Mountain Moves for No One

You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional

~ Mark Udall

mass trail

13 years ago, filled with piss and vinegar, running away from a failed marriage, behaving in unseemly ways that contradict my morals and ethics (which are socially, not religiously bound) I arrived at a mountain certain that I would finish a 103.7 mile footrace on it…

I failed.

Fast forward to May 16th-17th this year, I arrived at the same mountain, with the intention of finishing the 103.7 mile footrace on it. Spoiler alert, I made it just under 70 miles in 24 hours before being pulled from the course…

I succeeded.

Yes, I covered fewer miles this year. Yes, I didn’t achieve the intended outcome. Yes, I still don’t have a buckle from Massanutten Mountain 100 Miler. But I still succeeded.

On May 15th at 6:00 AM Amy and I headed to Massanutten Mountain for my return engagement with Virginia Happy Trails Running Club’s (VHTRC) premiere event. This return engagement was a long time in the making and made possible by a generous scholarship from #TrailsROC, the running club I belong to in Rochester. I don’t just mention #TrailsROC because it is my obligation to as a result of the scholarship, it is because this group and its members are indicative of the larger reason why I consider this outing a success.

Mountain

Yeah, that thing out there that looks like a race profile? That’s where I’m going to run!

Sunshine Road Trip

Amy was coming along because she wanted to crew for me. This alone is a new experience for me, I was nervous because I have never had a crew before, I have always just relied on aid stations and drop bags in the past. This change in behavior was going to be different, I was worried about feeling responsible for my crew, I was worried that Amy was going to take my gruffness the wrong way, I was worried about a change in routine. Some of this was founded and some not. It took some getting used to as I was expecting bottles to be handed to me right as I passed through the first aid station, but waited for them to be brought out of the cooler. Also, I ran right by where Amy had set up shop going into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station because it was before the aid station and I was concerned about getting to the aid station and having my number recorded so I had to walk about 50 yards back to Amy’s set up. And then there was the little dispute about a buff vs. a bandanna. All of that was minor… the actuality of the situation is that I have never had better care and attention through aid stations in my entire ultra career. Amy knows me, she knows when I’m feeling good, and when the wheels are off. She made sure that anything I needed or asked for was at the ready. She got me coffee, chicken broth, socks, shirts, shoes, bandannas, buffs, headlamps, batteries, pepperoni jerky, ginger root, ginger ale, tailwind, trekking poles, mountain dew, turkey sandwiches, pierogis, quesadillas, bacon, water, bag balm, chocolate covered espresso beans, and she made sure that officials knew I was on the course still when they thought everyone had come through……. Just amazing!

Crew

Some Crew tools and supplies

May 16th.

3 AM is an early wakeup call, but it happened, I threw on my #trailsROC shirt, my sleeves, my Northface Nearly Naked Long Haul shorts (which elicited some great comments later as I was pulling little bottles out of hidden pockets all over the place at an aid station), 2-Toms chafing solution (which doesn’t work well if you’re wearing cotton underwear… there’s a lesson learned) SmartWool Socks, NB MT110v2 shoes, Ultimate Directions AK Race Vest with bottles, and a buff. I headed down to the start to check in and they were cranking “Get up, Get on Up” James Brown J Hanging out I got to see fellow #trailsROC runner Yoshi and get his picture with me. The scene is surreal, you have a PVC pipe made start/finish line with a clock counting down to 4:00 AM and tons of people just leisurely sitting in seats under a tent. It wasn’t until 3 minutes of 4:00 that anyone got up to get near the start line, and then promptly at 4:00 AM Kevin Sayers says “go” in the most unassuming start for one of the most epic races ever. I have seen the cannon shot and start at Kona, I have seen the Boston and NYC marathon start, I have felt the immense power of the understated simple “go” at the MMT 100 mile footrace, and it is no less spectacular than any of those others.

Mass Start

OLD SKOOL

Yoshi

Me with the Super-Human Yoshi

Start

and… “go”

I don’t want to get into a play by play here, but I just want to mention that the first four miles of this race is a gentle uphill (600ft) of road. A guy I was running with quipped, “This is Bullshit!” which became quite the code for, “Yup, this is what I signed up for, let’s have fun with it.” Heard it while climbing Short Mountain, heard it while climbing Kern’s Mountain, heard it while descending into Elizabeth Furnace (Where I saw fellow #trailsROC runner and now VHTRC runner Angie K.), even said it while not being able to run the ridge at the top of the climb out of Elizabeth furnace. A bunch of us were having fun with this as we went along.

Angie

Angie K.

We also had a ton more in common, I wish I could count the number of times I heard people talk about that reason we were out there was to grapple with our demons. Not that I actually believe in demons, but I do have issues in my life and my psyche that I grapple with: alcoholism (in remission for 23 years), chronic depression, crippling self-doubt, and anxiety. These come out at the worst times, dealing with work, family, bands, household economics, marriage relationship, socially, politically, etc. One of the things about an ultra of this magnitude is that it is a tangible experience that reveals how wrong I am on so many counts when these “demons” rent space in my head. Part of the reason for this is that they show up during the event, and that happens usually at about 4.5 miles in a stretch of 9 miles without an aid station. What am I going to do? Sit down in the middle of the trail and cry/die because no one is going to lift me out? No, I put one foot in front of the other until I reach the next aid station. Usually around 6 or 7 miles in that stretch I realize that I continued to move forward even when I thought I couldn’t, and realize that my worry, self-doubt demon was just a false thought.

“Tired is not an injury”

Gap Creek

Gap Creek 4:00 AM 5/17. 24 hours and done.

While I had the intention of going the distance, I also realistically knew that it might not happen. I told Ron Herkeens Jr. before the race that the only way to get my off of the course was to pull me off, even if it meant crawling. Mile 54, Habron Gap Aid Station, I was greeted by a volunteer who asked how I was doing, and if I was okay (must have looked dazed after 4 miles of exposed road running from the last aid station (that had guacamole). I just looked at him said, “Yeah, I’m okay, tired is not an injury.” He laughed and said that was the best quote he had heard all day. I had beat the cut-off by about an hour at this point and was told to sit and fuel up for a while because the next climb, Kern’s Mountain, was 2.5 miles and 1300+ feet of climb. So I took some time, changed my shoes, socks and shirt, got a buff, ate some broth, got my trekking poles and set off. Kern’s is really tough, not just because it’s huge but because that four miles of road traversed before climbing it, affords a daunting view of the mountain to stare at. It’s breath taking, not just because of the beauty and anticipation/fear of the climb, but because breath is already gone from traversing 50 miles to this point. But tired is not an injury, and with numerous rest breaks I climbed this thing through the night and traversed this section to Camp Roosevelt with 15 minutes to spare before the cut-off. I didn’t dilly-dally, but I didn’t know that I had another 1000 ft of climb ahead of me, and a steep descent. I missed the next cut off at Gap Creek by 45 minutes, happy, grateful, sad, disappointed, proud, humbled, basically every emotion I own except one, the one that is my truest demon, the one that dogs my every step every day… Anger. There was no anger. THIS IS THE SUCCESS.

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

~ Sir Edmund Hillary

What did me in? My feet which were blistered pretty badly and in pain with each step. I was exhausted, there was no gas left in my tank, even though I fueled and hydrated really well. Basically out of the quote at the beginning of this piece, I was not fit. I can blame all sorts of things for this: long cold winter, rolled ankle in October that never completely properly healed, job/family constraints, new medication… but those are just excuses, the real reason is that I didn’t devote enough time to my fitness. I am 20 lbs heavier than I was last year when I ran Cayuga Trails 50. I have not been paying any attention to diet, which I never do. I have rationalized all of my missed workouts away. But as Steve Prefontaine said, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” I have myself to blame for not finishing.

But of my success the reality is because I have so many incredible people around me, my life is completely different than it was 13 years ago, I am not finished with this event by any stretch of the imagination, I did not quit.

Rock

My demon is not the DNF, nor the rock that goes with it, my demon was/is my anger that does not allow me to see the beauty. The voice that says I’m not fast enough, I’m not good enough, nobody likes me, I’m a second-rate bass player, I’m not an asset to ROCSPOT… this is the voice that obscures the vision that sees: the community of #trailsROC, and Oven Door Runners, the community of my Soul Matters group at First Unitarian, the community of ex-drunks and druggies that infiltrate all areas of my life (work, music, First U, running), the community of my family, my kids, my incredible ultra-babe wife, the community of like-minded scientists and activists in ROCSPOT. This is the voice that obscures the vision of the beauty of the trail, the vista at the top of the climb and during the climb, the ridiculous finds of neat notes buried in old books at Sibley Music Library, the thrill of being a part of helping Rochester out of energy poverty and hopefully economic poverty, the smile in my wife’s face, the achievements of my oldest, youngest and in-between children. For a moment, for 24 hours, this demon was slayed.

And that is the magic of the mountain. It doesn’t care, it is just going to stand in my way and everyone else’s way and knock us down until we find a way up and over in order to see that incredible vista of all the things surrounding us and supporting us.

I’ll be back. Will I finish? I hope so. Does it matter? Yes, but not as much as all of the things I find along the way, and hopefully give back.

I owe so much to this one:

ultrababe

ULTRABABE (Yeah, I’m with her!)

A few more pics, all pics are courtesy of Amy Lopata:

Yoshi run

YOSHI!

First Aid

Edinburg Gap 12.1 miles in

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Furnace about 50K into the race

Stats and splits can be found here at Strava.

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.

speedbump
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.

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