Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the tag “Training”

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.

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Unsure

I’m really struggling with the idea of doing more ultras or organized events. This is not because I don’t enjoy them or the community, I love it, but the idea of training for a specific goal, one that I’m unsure that I can achieve is no longer so appealing to me.

I have one big event left on my calendar, Twisted Branch 100k. Between now and then I’m sweeping the Ontario Summit Trail Races (13.1 miles), I’m pacing Ben at Manitou’s Revenge (22 miles), and I’m running the Dam Good Trail Run (14 miles). I’m on board with all of these, but I can’t fathom 18 hours on the Bristol Hills Branch in an event with other people or the training it will take to accomplish it. I’m tired. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to myself or others, I just want to enjoy time on the trails without the pressure that big events bring.

Currently I’m looking at ADK maps, High Peaks and Northville Placid Trail. I’m looking at the Finger Lakes Trail maps and the Bruce Trail maps (Ontario, CA) and I’m thinking about just hiking; day treks, weekend treks and maybe something a little longer. I just want to explore outdoors.

I am still down with the idea of moving faster than the traditional hiker and going light to ultralite, just because there seems to be more freedom involved and much more of connection and flow with the land. I just need to figure out how to make it happen logistically and temporally; I mean I still have a family and job and music and stuff.

Does this mean I’m giving up running? Absolutely not. I will run for fitness, for social reasons (group runs and such) and for mental / emotional balance, but I think the days of “racing” are over. Will I continue to support events? Yes, events that prove to be environmentally friendly. Will I periodically sign up for an event? Sure, but more likely I’ll volunteer to sweep, as the reason for being at the event is to experience the trail (here’s looking at you Breakneck).

So that’s it. I’m on the fence about Twisted Branch and that decision will ultimately be made later, but by in large I think my racing days are done… until they aren’t 😉

The Year in Review Part I (Athletic Endeavors?)

It’s been an interesting year so I will break this up into a few blog posts (looks like 6 of them):

Part I : My physical body

I DNF’d all of my goal races. At Massannutten Mountain 100M I failed at 70 miles, and evidently did it with a smile on my face. At Twisted Branch 100K I failed at 59 miles, again with a smile on my face.

So clearly my attitude at the time of my DNF’s was good, probably because I wasn’t kidding myself that I was actually ready to complete either of them given the training I put in. But upon review I am quite unhappy with the effort I put forth, and the (non)results of my effort were on display at These events.

This brought me to the point of seriously considering if I was capable of doing these things (ultras) anymore. But, as I look back to 2014’s Cayuga Trails 50 and pics of the runs I did two years ago, I see that I do have that in me.

So what changed? Well, I started a new medication which I will delve into in a subsequent blog post, and I also made tons of excuses. So weight gain happened, cold weather and cry-babiness happened. Many gigs happened (next blog), kids, work, running my own business, etc. etc. etc.

All of that said, the year was not a complete loss. I did a number of sweeping jobs, including the last 25 miles of the last Virgil Crest Ultra. I ran Iron Master Challenge 50k with Amy and crewed her to her first 50 mile finish at Haliburton Forest (site of my only 100 mile finish). Also, Amy and I started a quest to hike the entire Bruce Trail in Ontario Canada. We finished the first 50 miles (82K) in the Niagara Region this past August on our anniversary and are heading up in January to knock out some of the Iroquois section on our meet-aversary. So there’s all of that. Not to mention I did complete the entire Bristol Hills Branch (54 miles) in one day (as part of Twisted Branch) which has been a goal for a few years

So this year… goals remain large, MMT 100 continues to be on the bucket list, and now I also have unfinished business at Twisted Branch. Along the way I hope to run Bull Run Run 50M for my 3rd time but with Amy this time. I plan on pacing the guy I train best with, Ben Murphy, at LOViT 100 M and Manitou’s Revenge this year. And, finally I am aiming to tackle a huge endeavor this coming fall, that will be revealed as plans and the reality of it take shape.

What needs to be different? I need some commitment to the process. My training cycle begins Dec 1st (Tomorrow). I’ve been training myself to wake early and get out because life is still going to happen. The only regular dedicated time I can count on is early mornings. The medication thing doesn’t look like it’s going to change soon, but I am looking to counter that weight gain with diet. Amy and I currently looking at some options. Along with those diet options, I’m going to get back into training my body to metabolize fats instead of relying on carbs, this means I’m looking at the Maffetone method of training. I’m working with a HR monitor and am going to train for the optimal cardio, weight loss, fats as fuel burning results I can. This requires a much slower pace, which will mean more time on feet. Don’t expect me to keep up with y’all at group runs anymore. Looks like sweeping remains my past-time, and not just for events anymore

Beyond that, Amy and I will continue with the Bruce Trail, maybe explore some High Peaks in the Adirondacks, Play on the Finger Lakes trail, maybe attempt the Saranac 6r Challenge with a couple of the kids. These are all just possibilities and some may or may not come to fruition this year. So long as we are sucking air and passing gas, we can continue these things in following years… the mountains aren’t going anywhere.

 

Next up… Music

 

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.

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?

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.

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.

Sunrise

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.

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.

Strindberg

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.

Stairmaster_Steppers

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)

Vonnegut

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.

LVTN

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.

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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