Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the tag “Bonk”

The Usual Suspects / Old-Skool

I love Old-Skool races, the races without much swag, without much glamour, without big booming speakers, with maybe some Christmas lights, or Tiki Torches, or just a line drawn in the dirt by dragging your foot across to delineate the start and/or finish of the race. Maybe the finish line is made of wood, or propped up by ladders. These are usually the tell-tale signs of a race that would rather focus on what happens during the event then on attracting people who aren’t really into doing the event and are more into getting their swag and party gear. It’s also usually a tell-tale sign that the event is going to be tough, and not something that you’ll see your coworker in the next cubicle asking his/her drinking buddy to sign up for because it will be fun. The fact is, it will be fun, but probably not for them. The other thing about Old-Skool races is that you see the same faces at them; the usual suspects if you will.


Twisted Branch 100K is a new race that meets the criteria of Old-Skool with the exception that you sign up online via ultrasignup (I only know of 4 events that are still snail mail only events, and few more that have a snail mail option). This race is so Old-Skool that most of the course markings were limited to the already blazed trees of the Bristol Hill Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail, Part of Main Finger Lakes Trail, and also the Triad Trail in Hammondsport. Old-Skool also means 100K really equals 105K, we usually put an “ish” at the end of distances related to these events to keep the griping from the road runners to a minimum. So on August 29th, 2015 at 5:00 AM the usual suspects lined bunched up behind a dirt-drawn line punctuated with a Christmas Tree Light Arch and took off from South Bristol by foot to attempt to make it to Hammondsport beach 105KM away by 11:00 PM.


The usual suspects this year were neat for me. I’ve been running with a number of people who are relatively new to the ultra-trail scene, and they are great people. They embrace the trail, love the beauty of their surroundings, run for the right reasons (IMHO), but they are also young, fit, and fast. I think they only run with me to humor me, and so I can humor them with tales on old when you could show up at a 100 miler the day of the race and register 5 minutes before the start. Now you have to register 6 months out just to have a chance to get on a waiting list. Along with these new usual suspects, I saw some of the old usual suspects that were around back in the day. Christine R. and her husband/crew Joe from Ithaca, Dan K. and Joy V. from Oven Door Runners, and Barbara S. from Dryden who I remember passing me at 2002’s Massanutten Mountain 100 miler freaking out because she said she just saw a rattle snake. We had a nice chat and walked down memory lane prior to the start of this race. All of these people are SERIOUS ULTRA VETS. Spoiler alert… none of us finished!

You see, there was a time that finishing an ultramarathon wasn’t a given. There was a time when the races had terrain and time cutoffs that were stout, and no, you weren’t allowed to go on because of liability and the rules. It seems that lately road marathons have become the new half-marathon, and trail 50Ks have become the new marathon, and 50 milers are for marathoners looking for an extended hike after their 50Ks. Some of these races have cutoffs so lenient that I could walk them and finish. Now, I think there is a place for that, I think it is important to have events that cater both to the competitive and to the individual looking for a supported long run. I also think there need to be events that are true challenges, not for the faint of heart. It’s nice to see that Twisted Branch is one of those to add to my list.

I have two challenges l would like to complete: Massanutten Mountain 100 Mile Foot Race and Twisted Branch 100K. In my experience and opinion they are equally as demanding with technical footing at times, steep extended inclines and descents, and demanding cutoffs.

What can I say about my race? I was better trained and more fit for this than I was for MMT100, so I felt confident, but not overly so as I DNF’d MMT100 earlier this year. So I took off at an easy pace with Sean Storie and Rob Feissner. I’d say this kind of freaked me out as I never have run 3 miles with Rob before, but we were all stuck in a conga line on single track so everybody was running pretty much the same pace unless you were up front. When we got to our first road crossing I sent them ahead so I could set up my trekking poles knowing there was a decent climb into Camp Cutler. Unfortunately… or maybe fortunately one of my poles was jammed shut. So after about 5 minutes, and letting almost everyone in the field pass me, RD Scot Magee said he’d take my poles and try to fix them and get them to me later on the course. I didn’t see Scott again until my day was done. So I said “fortunately” because my originally race plan was to stand at the starting line for 5 minutes after the start, let everyone go and then run my own race. This is basically what happened at mile three, which was even better, because when I started catching people, they were spread out enough that I wasn’t fighting a conga line to pass them. I found my own rhythm, my own pace, and the people I train with weren’t around so I couldn’t get caught up in running their race.


This is pretty much how the day went. I was living basically on Tail Wind alone which was working until Bud Valley (Mile 39) where I needed something solid in my stomach, because even though youncan get all your nutrients from liquid Tail Wind, you still get hungry after many hours on the trail. I played cat and mouse with Sean Storie a bit before Bud Valley where he picked up poles and his pacer/wife which put quite a bit of pep in his step. I will admit it was tough going at that aid station as heat, my weight, and my head/thoughts were getting to me, but the mantra “tired is not an injury” was going through my head and after grabbing a grilled cheese sandwich I marched forward.

Ultras, for me, ebb and flow. The Grilled Cheese helped me out of a funk, and at the top of another climb that grilled cheese moved the bowels. Taking a load off, or out if you will, lightened me up and I busted into the next aid station feeling better and ready to move.

For Picture Of Grilled Cheese Read Jeff Green’s Report

Up to this point, I had no idea of how close I was to cutoffs. What I do during long events is I set my Garmin to show me only the total ascent, which because of Garmin’s particulars is usually very wrong on the watch and therefore is a particularly meaningless number. The only reason I bring Garmin is so I can track it and look at the data later. So coming into this 46ish mile aid station I overheard someone saying that it was going to be tough to make the next cutoff. I had kind of suspected I was pushing it, but wasn’t sure. As I was leaving this aid station I said, “I heard it’s unlikely I’ll make the cutoff,” and Michael M. (Aid Station Vollie) said, “I don’t know, you’ve got 4 hours to get there.”

I’m not talking about those kinds of cutoffs

CRAP! Ultra math… it can be so disheartening. I knew the cutoff at Urbana was 12 miles away and I had 4 hours to get there. 3 miles an hour… 20 minute miles… I can run a 20K in 1:45… I’ve got a huge hill to climb and another stupid little hill that seems huge after that…. I’m not going to make it… Shut up and go!


I shut up and went. Got to the water cooler 4 miles later right before that huge climb, and probably spent a good 5 minutes just refilling and drinking and psyching myself up for the climb. I stopped at least 4 times during that climb before I finally forced myself to run the last quarter mile of climb to the big pond at the top. As I was circling the pond I saw an orange shirt out of the corner of my eye. Christine Reynolds had gotten a Cheesburger catered to her at the last aid station and found new life! It was the first I’d seen her all day, and she was coming up to pass me. We chatted, a bit and I let her go… er she dropped me like a used bag of chips.


The wheels were offish at that point, but I slugged it out to the 54 mile aid station where I caught up with Chris again. Shots of tequila haven’t looked that good in over 20 years, but were exactly the threat I needed to see to get me out of there, basically pulling Christine with me. There was talk about how tight the cutoff was, and how I wanted to miss it but also didn’t want to miss it. I was tired, mentally, physically, emotionally. But somehow I kept finding ways to pick up my feet and run on runnable sections. The last descent into Urbana is gorgeous during the day, but we were in the dark, so I had the unfortunate knowledge the others didn’t; knowing that if anyone fell to left, they were going into a gorge. Regardless, I kept running. I finally got to Urbana where Amy/wife/crew was asking me if I was okay. I said I was fine, just tired. I actually felt good… at least good enough to tackle the last 6 miles, so I asked if I was done. I was told I missed the cutoff by a ½ hour. My day was done.


After sitting for a while, absorbing the fact that my day was done, Amy and I decided to not go to the finish (something I would normally do, but I don’t really want to see the finish of this race until I earn it). We decided to head to Mike W’s place where a number of the new usual suspects would be converging, drinking, and crashing. We had just enough time to shower and make guacamole before people started coming back from the finish line. To hear the stories of the finishers, the people who didn’t finish (I wasn’t the only one), the crews, the pacers, the volunteers, and the praise for the RD was amazing. These new usual suspects get it. It’s about the event, it’s about the participants, it’s about the volunteers, the families, the trails, the effort, the pushing of boundaries, the successes, the successes that didn’t see the finish… It’s about the community, and so much more. This is the type of event that builds character, and that strengthens the bonds of community. Running/trailrunning is usually seen as such a solo endeavor, but when it comes to these events, the really challenging events where finishing is far from guaranteed, trailrunning is anything but a solo event.

My deepest gratitude to Scott Magee who’s inaugural event (his first time ever being an RD) was world class. UTMB has designated this course as a 3 point race (they only go up to 4 points and a 100K getting 3 points is unheard of). The Old-Skool usual suspects are already getting their heads around next year’s event and hoping they win a coveted free entry from the pool of DNF’s (the odds aren’t great given the number of DNFs). They get it. This is an ultramarathon, the way ultramarathons were meant to be.

As I continue to move away from organized events (other than sweeping and volunteering) This one stays on my list, because it is the perfect event, designed for people who love to run long, love to challenge themselves, and love nature.

Numbers (Musings on the Thom B 52K)


3:20 – Alarm goes off

4:10 – Start the drive to Ithaca

6:05 – Roll into race parking lot

These are some of easier numbers that don’t get in the way when approaching an ultra.

On May 10th Amy and I headed down to Hammond Hill State Forest where I ran a 52k. Yes they bill this course as a 52k because each lap of the four lap course is around 8 miles. Truth be told, according to my Garmin, each lap is just shy of 8 miles and the entire course measured 31.43 miles; therefore it’s a 50.58k. Also each lap is just shy of 1000ft of climb (depending on which software your using etc., I use Strava’s data, although RunKeeper clocked me in at over 5000’ of climb)

Knowing some of these stats ahead of time, and knowing how well I’ve been running under similar circumstances (climb, distance, trail conditions) I got the stupid notion in my head that if I could maintain sub 1-hour 10k’s I could do this course in FIVE HOURS – mistake number one (never think you can do an ultra in any given amount of time, because every ultra is different).

Race Report:



At just a little before 7:00 AM fourteen of us were given instructions – yes, 14 – and we were then instructed to “toe the line” which was represented by two citronella torches. Everyone then lined up a good 5 – 10 feet behind that imaginary line, and then the ceremonial “Go” was shouted and we were off. The goal for most in the pack was not to be lapped by Cole Crosby, well, at least it was my goal, but as he ran off up the first 216 feet of climb in the first half-mile, most of the rest of settled in for our first hike of the day.


There were about 6 of us in tight little pack, chatting away as we headed up the fire road. I was actually feeling like we were walking too slow and I was a bit claustrophobic, so I quickened my hike to a power-hike and hit the single-track ahead of the rest of the group. I then broke off into a run. I was moving well, but breathing was labored and I was sweating profusely, so I thought that I should back off. The problem was that I didn’t want the pack to catch me and then start a game of cat and mouse where we make the trail more technical than it has to be. I say this because I tend to negotiate downhills better than most, and others tend to catch me on the uphills; I wanted to keep the amount of passing to a minimum in order to negotiate the trail as best as I could with fewer obstacles and in a way that I could run my own race. Do you see the faulty logic here? I took off faster than I should have, therefore not running “my own race” in order to get in a position to run “my own race”. Add to this the evil Garmin that allows me to see my average pace, and the fact that I had numbers running through my head, it was a recipe for an early disaster. Looking at my first mile split (10:29 with 155 ft net ascent) had me disheartened so I pushed even faster clocking in an 8:48 (20 ft net ascent) mile two. But, I was feeling good, just as good as I would on a 14 mile training run, I think I forgot that 14 miles is less than half the distance I was going to run today.

The course is stunning, beautiful long stretches of runnable single track, a small bit of fire road, few mud pits, and about a half-mile of really technical stuff at about mile five of each loop. The day was warm, but not tremendously hot, but we haven’t had enough warm days to properly acclimate. Nice cool breezes greeted us at summits of hills where you could look through the trees over immense, beautiful valleys. It is everything I remember of the Finger Lakes Trail in the Ithaca region.

The event was low key, no balloons, no inflatable arches, no PA systems, or any of that; the course was the magnificent, overwhelming, feature that supercedes any gimmick you might see in road races, and, unfortunately many trail races these days. The cost was a mere $38 making this one of the most affordable races anywhere ($1.21 per mile)




Back to my race. I finished loop one in exactly 1:15 putting me on track for a 5 hour finish. I did some mental math and proceeded to think I should back off just a little, but shoot for 5:15 or 5:20. So my second lap was 1:21ish. Everything was working, or so I thought… I did make some errors. In training I take 1 clif blok every 3 miles, during the race I took 2 every 3 miles. A couple things here, first, I should probably stop being so regimented and fuel by feel, second, why was I doing something different than I do in training?


So I was moving along at an okay clip on the third lap but began to feel things unraveling around mile 18 – 19, and the wheels started falling off in the last two miles of lap three. The shorter distance races began at 10:00 AM and the front runners of the 13k were beginning to pass me, and I began to worry that Cole Crosby was going to lap me, so I continued to push flats and run uphills when I should have been laying back. I came through the start finish to start my fourth loop at 4 hours 7 minutes. Cole finished the race 10 minutes later (I didn’t get lapped!) I started to have stomach issues around Mile 18 – 19 I backed off on my intake of clif bloks. I finished lap three extremely tired and not quite right in the legs. Amy offered me Swedish fish (my favorite) but after two sleeves of black cherry clif bloks the thought of red, waxy, jellyish, sugar was repulsive. She asked how I felt and I said tired but my body was good. This was the truth.


I started the final trudge up the first half-mile of the course and the people who I had pushed past in mile one all started passing me. Doreen Fanton who was running the 26k passed me, and I think I heard her say that I was looking good, if she did she was lying. I got on the single track and assumed the ultra-slog approach, shuffling my feet along minding the roots. By Mile 23 I was done. My stomach was messed up, my legs were shaking, I felt nauseous and flu-like. I think the combination of heat/sun, too much water, too many simple sugars, and going out way too fast all caught up with me.

Death Slog for 6 miles, constantly thinking “should I just vomit?” “should I stop and rest?”, vomiting probably would have helped, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of that taste in my mouth so I forced it back. Stopping would have been the death knell as I wouldn’t have gotten back up. Now I’ve experienced this condition before a few times, but never in a race 50k or less. That said, I just relied on relentless forward progress, and hoped that the stomach issues and leg fatigue would sort themselves out sooner rather than later. It was later; 6 miles of trudging, walking, knowing I’d finish but throwing any number I may have had in my head out, including the sub 6 hour number I told Amy to expect me in. But then the most remarkable thing happened. At 29 miles, things settled down in my stomach and legs stopped shaking. I started running the gentle downs, then the flats, and then the gentle ups, then power hiking the more severe ups, and finally hammered the last mile descent.

The experience of hitting the bottom and then working through it to gain life again is one of the most amazing things in an ultra. I’ve had this happen at Bull Run Run 50, and at Haliburton 100. It is amazing what happens when everything in your head tells you that you can’t go on anymore and you defy it, and subsequently the body figures out it is capable of so much more than you ever thought. I won’t lie, I cried a little during the death march. I questioned my entry into Cayuga Trails 50 (which this 50k is a training run for) I questioned myself on everything from my professions, to how good a parent I am, to my music, etc. everything that is important to me came to a head during those 6 miles. I’ve been trying to process all of my mixed emotions about this race for the past 24 hours, and I think it is locked up in the final eight miles. It’s an allegory for life, I’d pushed hard for much of my life (miles 1 – 23). Then things got dark; alcoholism, bad marriage and subsequent divorce, bad jobs, poverty, difficulties in the music industry… times where I questioned everything about life (miles 23 – 29). But then the recovery happened – slowly at first, then picking up steam, and the hammering downhill to the finish. And, just like ultras, as is life, it’s not one constant arc, there are little highs and lows, big highs and lows, moments of invincibility, and moments of near defeat. Then when one event is over, we move on to the next event and we just keep moving forward come what may.

And, if we’re lucky, even in the darkest moments, we still stop in awe at the crest of climb to look through the trees over an immense valley while feeling the breeze cool us off.

I finished in six hours 17 minutes. I could have run faster, I could have planned better, it wasn’t the race I wanted going into it, but it was the race I got, and coming out of it I recognize that it is exactly the race I wanted, if only I’d known.


Isn’t it amazing what happens when we get past the numbers and just throw them out?

Numbers for those interested:

Strava Data Here

31.4 miles

3912 feet of climb

6 hours 17 minutes 2 seconds

Goal pace (5 hours) 10min/mile

Actual pace 12min/mile

Calories ingested – 600

Calories expended – 5,898

Water ingested – five 16 ounce bottles

Runners starting – 14

Runners finishing – 12

Place – 7th (6th male)

Place after first two laps (4th)

Place after third lap (3rd)

Goal time for CT 50 before entering this race – 10 hours

Goal time for CT 50 now – just finish it

Miles to date 2014 – 685.3

Climb to date 2014 – 42,196

Time on Feet 2014 – 4 days 17 hours 17 minutes

and here’s a couple shots of some of my teammates:



 Many Thanks to the support I get from my team at team FLRTC


And from my friends at #trailsROC

Biggest thanks to my wife

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