Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the tag “Medved”

Twisted Branch 100K, Amy’s journey from my vantage point.

I witnessed Twisted Branch from a trainer/crew perspective this year. Watching Amy work through this race to her cutoff at Italy Turnpike was impressive to say the least. The heat and humidity knocked out many a participant by that point, yet she arrived in great spirits with really only her feet holding her back. Able to walk, break down camp, and do 9 loads of laundry the next day tells me that her fueling, heat management, and  pacing were right on during a day that dropped many seasoned veterans.

She says, “I had no business being on that course,” with regard to her experience and standard pace, but I would disagree, and so would Scott Magee the Race Director. His mission statement,

“It is our mission is to provide a supported, safe, and challenging ultra-marathon event which showcases the Finger Lakes Trail System, the beautiful forests of upstate NY, and communities that surround the trail. We are committed to protecting the health of the Finger Lakes Trail system, as well as our relationship with the Finger Lakes Trails Conference, the NYS DEC, surrounding communities and the private landowners who make this trail and event possible.”

says it all. He isn’t putting on a race designed to only cater to elites, to people who have a chance at finishing, he is putting on an event that is safe, challenging, and showcases something amazing.

The safety lies within the supports he has built into the event with a medical adviser, aid stations approximately 6-7 miles apart, course markings, sweepers, even paramedics at 40 miles taking people’s vitals. Challenging includes challenging terrain and cutoffs for even the elite athletes which saw Daven Oskvig (2016 champion) break down at 39 miles and almost drop out but come back to life within the hour and take 3rd place. But also the cutoff of 8 hours at mile 28 (and over 6000’ of gain) presented novices with a challenge to work through the most hilly and scenic section of the course to obtain a goal. And then the showcase… The Bristol Hills Branch of the FLT takes one through Naples, Italy Valley, Branchport, Lake David, Urbana, and finally Hammondsport, through scenic Finger Lakes forests, wine and corn country, singletrack trail and beauty that is unmatched in NYS. I would say mission accomplished!

Now most who know me understand that I’m pretty opinionated about ultras. For the most part, I think there are races that appeal to all-comers, and races that appeal to seasoned veterans. I get upset when people sign up for a 100 miler only intending to run 50 miles of it and therefore take a spot from someone who wants to attempt all 100. I believe the qualification standards for Hardrock 100, Western States, Massanutten, Crewel Jewel etc. are all appropriate, and I do not believe that ultras are for everyone. This race is different. As of yet, it has failed to sell out and so I have no qualms about all-comers and even novices running it. Scott stresses in the mission and in action, that this is a safe event. This event offers an opportunity for runners who have run their local 50ks to test their meddle against what more storied ultras are like, and give them the opportunity to discover whether or not it is “for them”. This is an ultra that I believe teaches every participant something they didn’t know about themselves whether they finish it or not. It is an event, in what I believe the true spirit of the original ultra is, that tests one’s limits. A finish is not a given in this race, and that’s the point of ultra IMHO. To me this is the best ultra in the northeast because of this aspect and because of its mission.

So back to Amy; she had no illusion that she would finish this race. She had already run to Italy Turnpike twice before in training. Her original goal was to make that cutoff and finish at Bud Valley. She had to find an hour in that course based on her two previous training runs to make that cutoff and given the conditions, 90 degrees and humid, that was unlikely. So Amy changed her goal and focused on the more important one she had set for herself – to not be miserable and enjoy the course. And, while there were miserable moments, Shay Road, the experience was a win and she was happy with her day. She did find 40 minutes on the course as well! We then went on to other aid stations and the finish to cheer on our friends. Amy decided that this race was “not her bag” but was glad she experienced it. Lessons are still being learned post race.

For me there were more joys. I got to help Amy’s parents witness what she does. I am not sure they really understand, but they were out there cheering here on because they knew it was important to her, and evidently it may have inspired them to re-up their Y membership, or at least get out walking. Two of my kids accompanied us and camped through a storm. Sky was goofy and did his thing, but probably was more bored than he let on. Julius, on the other hand, got up at 4 AM and wanted to come along with me to crew and experience the event. He thought it was really cool and should be a televised or videoed event like the Tour de France, and he was most amazed at people’s attitudes when they had known they were missing a cutoff but seemed happy regardless, and the also the spirit of the people beat down by heat exhaustion or injury. I am so glad that both of them saw people pushing their limits and the joy that can be found in doing so. I don’t think ultra-running is ultimately something any of my kids will end up doing, but I do think the example of ultra-running is one that has taught them to push their limits in any endeavor they undertake.

Finally, I want to say, between the athletes, participants, volunteers, race director, pacers, crew, spectators, communities, etc. Ultra to me, especially this one, epitomizes what is right in the world. People genuinely care about each other out there. They work their hardest while accepting aid and help along the way, and offering help as well. They unite under a common endeavor and shared experience that transcends differences. They get it done and pick those up who didn’t. Even those who didn’t get it done pick up others who didn’t as well as those who did. I love this community.

Thank you Scott for organizing the experience.

Finding Joy : an MMT100 Experience

 “Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

MMTAMY

A couple of weeks before MMT100 this year, Amy and I were in NOLA at a Duran Duran / Chic Concert. We had great, expensive floor seats because we really were excited to get into the whole experience. Sitting next to us were two girls who were stone-faced bored and on their phones through Chic. Not sure how you could do that because Chic was amazing, but maybe they were just there for Duran Duran; nope, stone-faced, bored and on their phones for the entire show. Another guy in front of us spent the whole show standing facing the opposite way from the stage with his arms crossed?????

If you’re not enjoying the experience, leave

Friday the 13th of May, Amy and I were attending the pre-race briefing of the Massanutten Mountain 100 foot race. Among all the usual banter about cut offs, course markings, trail conditions, aid stations, etc. Kevin Sayers the RD said something that stuck out. I will paraphrase:

There is no way you will finish the Massanutten Mountain 100 if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, so enjoy what you’re doing. If you find you’re not enjoying what you’re doing figure out what you can change about you in order to enjoy it. If you can’t do that, do yourself and the volunteers a favor and drop… there’s good food at the finish line.

14 years ago I attempted this silly footrace, young and cocky with a head full of ego I charged into the course and dropped at 83.2 miles because of injury. In the past few years, I got back on the horse to get my qualifications to attempt it again, knowing I had a bone to pick with the course, and I eventually lined up again last year. I dropped at 69 miles because I was out of shape. In both cases I went with something to prove, and while I did enjoy bits of it, my attitude got in the way.

This year was different…
(spoiler alert, I finished… shortest race report ever unless you decide to read on)

In preparation this year I edited a spreadsheet I made last year so I could just look at distance, elevation, and cutoff to each aid station. I packed changes of clothes and nutrition with very limited instructions to my amazing crew (Amy). I packed a drop bag for Veach Gap. So upon trying to drop off my drop bag, I was informed that Veach Gap wouldn’t have drop bags this year. With that news I came up with a possible game plan to pick up a bladder from Amy at the aid station before but it would be a game time decision. (Veach Gap is 9 miles from the next aid station which is 50 miles total and a ton of climb so hydration is critical). Then I just shrugged off the inconvenience of my very loose original game plan being changed.

Still, there were other negatives floating in my head. I had just received an email from someone I perform with letting me know that my intonation on my last gig was unacceptable. My knee-jerk reaction was, “I guess I need to give up music.” Music and running are my “go to” places, and my DNF’s last year combined with this news had my safe places shaken to their core.

3:00 AM comes early… yet I still woke up before the alarm. I put on my gear including shoes I knew would hurt and laughed about already breaking a sweat while taping my feet.

The proverbial gun went off at 4:00 and we headed up 600 ft in 4 miles on paved then dirt road. I remember who I got caught behind in the conga line the year before so I made a point to be ahead of her when we hit the single track this year. I edged her out right before the single track and then realized the person I just edged out wasn’t who I thought it was, she was waaaaaaay behind me. So out of breath and amused at my stupidity I started the climb up Short Mountain.

Midway up this 1200’ climb I stopped, stepped off the trail, and caught my breath. I let at least 20 people by me, some asking if I was OK. I just knew a reset button was needed to be pushed as I was only at mile 7, not even double digits, and my cardio was already out of whack, not fun. So I let my heart-rate drop, found a space between conga lines, and marched to the top. I remembered a glorious sunrise here last year as I crested, but it was still dark this year when I reached the top. Two miles down the ridge the sun came up, more beautiful than I remember from the year before and much further along the trail which let me know I was far ahead of last year’s start.

eating

Eating at Elizabeth Furnace (I actually liked it)

By in large, I kept to myself the entire race, only really talking to people at aid stations or the “on your left” or “please go by” statements passing my lips. Life has been hard and busy and full of interactions and issues with other people, I was really enjoying “me time” and I felt really settled mentally and emotionally as I rolled into Elizabeth Furnace (33.3 mi). It was during this section that I reflected on my family, and my kids. I was able to see clearly what a great place all of them are in and realize how much they have grown, especially emotionally. My oldest is finding her way in career and love, my next oldest applied for a great scholarship (she didn’t get it) and is really finding out what she is passionate about. My next oldest has computers and electronic dance music, and great friends and activities, and the youngest is in the best place of knowing their true self. I don’t like the word, but for lack of a better one I will used ‘blessed’. Maybe I’m just lucky, or maybe I had a hand in how they are turning out, it doesn’t matter, I am really happy with where they are at. I also started thinking about music, and what I needed to do to rectify my situation. I don’t need to quit, I just need to focus on some fundamentals again. This type of rhythmic meditation that puts things in perspective is one of the main reasons I run long and alone in the woods.

I should also mention that as the mind wanders during these runs, it becomes less and less about myself. Looking at the next ridge over I thought of my friend Jeff Young who had just started his through hike of the AT. I thought of my friend Laura Howard who is absolutely amazing at pointing out that I need to focus on positive thoughts and discard the lingering DNFs and musical mistakes I hang onto. I thought of Mike Valone who was out running a hard 52 K that day; a guy who moves at the back of the pack and tends to struggle late in races, but who’s joy for these events and the people in and around them is unmatched by anyone. It takes being alone for me to realize how well surrounded I am by good great people. The greatest of which was crewing me and who I would get to see at many aid stations.

Skipping ahead, I didn’t take the bladder before Veach gap, I ate lots of potatoes including lots of perogies Amy sent me on my way with, and I ate lots of Ramen (and even some fruit) I avoided sugars. I cruised into Habron Gap (54 mi) something like 2 hours ahead of my time last year. Got out much quicker and trudged up the next 1300’ climb to Camp Roosevelt.

Camp Roosevelt (63 mi) was where I was basically done the previous year. This year I was in and out without seeing Amy, who was parked conveniently where I finally saw the van on my way out and tapped on the window. I had a much needed clothing change for the upcoming night time run. With 5.8 miles until Gap Creek this section is up 1200’ down 1300’ in rocks and mud and is what I considered the worst section of the entire course. Last year it took me over 4 hours to complete and I missed the cutoff. This year, I danced over rocks utilizing my trekking poles, I savored the moment I felt a blister burst in my heel allowing the warm puss to slosh in my sock, and I was just amused at the stupidity of the section, of what I was doing and how I was feeling. Two hours later I was at Gap Creek drinking broth and getting ready to climb Kearns Mountain and attack its 3 mile rocky ridge.

Then I missed the turn…

1.5 miles of extra rolling fire road happened before I realized it (even though I ran this section back in March), so 1.5 miles back to the turn I went. I good 3 miles/45 minutes before I hit the big climb known as Jaw Bone. I wasn’t put off too much, I was just worried about Amy because she saw how well I was doing and this next aid station I would be coming in much later than expected. Regardless I just put one foot in front of the other because I knew I had put the worst section behind me already and got to the 2 mile downhill road section that let me run into the Visitor Center (78.1 mi).

Birdknob

“Trail” up Birdknob

Sunrise number two on Birdknob, 1000’ up from where I left the Visitor Center is a glorious thing. But it was getting colder, not warmer, so battling hypothermia I rolled into the next aid station that was featuring Knob Creek and Hennessy as the beverages of choice… so I ate more broth and trudged to the Picnic Area where I knew Amy was waiting. Two aid stations left!

Restroom

Broken at the Picnic Area

The picnic area was running low on supplies, I grabbed broth and then used the men’s room which was ridiculous itself as there were no locks and one roll of TP between the men’s and women’s room. This was the first time I sat since the start and would be the last until the finish. I was noticing that standing was harder than moving and I didn’t want to sit because I knew that it would be too easy to not get back up. Anyhow, this was a critical juncture, I knew how close I was (16 miles) but I knew it wasn’t a given. I wanted to be back at Gap Creek with 3 hours to spare for the last 6.9 miles. I wanted it, I was crying because I wanted it, I was hurting, I was sure I could get it, I wasn’t sure I could get it… I just had to keep moving. I still had Big Run to get over and one more time up Jaw Bone, but comforted myself that the hardest part was over after Camp Roosevelt…

WRONG

Big Run is a measly 1300’ climb. I remember doing it in March no problem…

Here’s the deal, in March, it was the first climb at mile two of a 26 mile run, now it was the tenth significant (900’+ ) climb and it was at mile 92. In March it had been bone dry with forest fire warnings. This time when I rounded the bend to the climb I was confronted with a  literal 1300’ ascent up a rocky stream with yellow flagging tape marking the way.

I stopped

I stared

I stared some more

A volunteer came by leaping from rock to rock and said, “yeah the water is running a little higher than it was when the leaders came through.” and then bounded away…

I stared some more…

I probably stared for 5 – 10 minutes

I was pissed, I was angry; this was the first real WTF moment I had during the entire event. I was outraged, I was demoralized.

Then I heard it:

“Enjoy what you’re doing. If you find you’re not enjoying what you’re doing figure out what you can change about you in order to enjoy it. If you can’t do that, do yourself and the volunteers a favor and drop… there’s good food at the finish line.”

This stream/waterfall suddenly looked absurd, it then looked silly, and then it just looked stupid, and if there is anything I excel at, it’s stupid. I laughed at myself, I knew I had signed up for this, it was my choice, if I wasn’t going to enjoy it, then why did I bother? 40 minutes later I was at the top.

This is where I won, this was my internal finish line, this was why I came.

I get to choose, not necessarily what is in front of me, but how I approach it. This is the a-ha moment, that some people get naturally but it takes 93 miles of a ridiculously hard ultra for me to get it. I can enjoy where I’m at, what I’m doing regardless of the circumstance, and that enjoyment makes everything easier (more enjoyable… go figure).

In the past week and half since this moment, I have trying to figure out how to apply this lesson to the rest of my life. Yes, it is much easier to choose joy, when you also chose the obstacle in front of you, like 103.7 miles and a 1300’ river climb at mile 92. But how do you choose joy when surrounded by things you didn’t choose; politics, religion, economic situations, other people… This is hard. What I’m finding out is that the situation and the people aren’t what I need to enjoy and be happy with, it’s me. I need to enjoy my positions when it comes to politics, the environment, the economy, and my job. I need to be secure that I’m good with where I’m at, inside and out. I don’t need to let other people and obstacles dictate my emotions or my joy, and it probably ticks them off if I’m joyful in the face of their conflict with me (that’s their problem, not mine, but I do love good Schadenfreude).

Gap Creek

Gap Creek

So there it is. I made it to Gap Creek with 2:50 to go 6.9 miles. Got up and down Jaw Bone, into camp and crossed the finish line at 35:37 that’s 23 minutes to spare.

The End

Finish

Could not have done this without her

BTW Girls at the Duran Duran show, you might better enjoy a Morrisey concert

Some stupid numbers I enjoy:

14 = my lucky number (my birthday) – How many years from my first attempt to my finish

123 = My bib number – 1 wasn’t enough, 2 wasn’t enough, but the 3rd time was the charm

10ish =the number of hours longer it took me to finish MMT 100 as opposed to Haliburton 100

2 – The number of buckles I have earned

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”
~Bill Watterson

 

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.

Lineindirt

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.

Blaze

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.

conga

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.”

cutoffs
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!

math

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.

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.

Guac

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.

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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