Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.
Dan Lopata was one of our winners and the first to tackle his scholarship race. Below is his recap! Enjoy.
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
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…
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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”
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.
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 toROCSPOT… 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:
A few more pics, all pics are courtesy of Amy Lopata:
Stats and splits can be found here at Strava.
NOTE: This was reblogged from Ron’s blog http://ronheerkensjr.com/blog/2014/01/24/short-film-the-beast-of-winter/
In 2010, Ben Murphy began his journey. 5’9″ 220lbs, 70lbs overweight by medical definitions. Ben set about to change his life and began a journey that saw him get into running, triathlons and take on adventures most people never even think of. Just a few short years ago, Ben could barely make it thru a mile. One of the first adventures Ben did was a double traverse of the Crescent Trail, one that would take him 42 miles.
At 10am, on January 18th 2014, he lined up with a group of people that were just slightly as crazy as him. With temperatures in the teens and windchill pushing into the single and negative digits, runners set off for their own journeys. Some running 50 miles, other 100. All runners would face the same course. An out and back of 25 miles (12.5 one way) along the canal path starting in Lockport, NY and running to the turnaround point in Middleport, NY.
I had offered my services to Ben as crew and pacer (for the final 12.5 mile return) and he took me up on that. I recruited Lisa Murphy ,fellows #TrailsRoc runner and ultra runner, and her husband Tom, driver and crew chief extraordinaire. This enabled me to split my duties and be able to film as much as I could.
It was an amazing day to watch a friend set out and —— ….what you think I’m going to spoil the ending?
For filming I brought along my GoPro HD Hero 3 Black and my Sony DSC-WX100. I had the GoPro mounted to a stick the whole day, everything else was filmed hand held. GoPro was recorded in 2.7K and the Sony was recording in 1080p. I’m still impressed at the quality that Sony gets for video. Around mile 49 the batteries in the GoPro ran out resulting in some very shaky handheld footage from the iPhone. For a later mental note, I am not impressed with the nigh-time on the GoPro, but LOVE the results of the Sony at night. The result of the film is lacking in areas. If I had to do it again I would’ve brought my steadicam mount for the GoPro and filmed a lot of the static shots that eventually became the photos, and decide on some sort of narrative before hand. This was one of the most footage I’ve ever had to edit down. 11+ hours worth of video with a goal to trim it under 10minutes. After several rough cuts I got it to where I was happy. Found some music on the Creative Commons on Soundcloud that seemed to fit well then went to work editing it down to its final form.
It feels good again to get back to film and editing. Putting something together with some meaning. It has always been one of my greatest joys in life, and to combine it with running feels natural. So…here is The Beast of Winter (available in 1080p as well)
Well the WTF came and went – but the snow stayed – We could not have asked for more perfect conditions to kick off the winter racing season. There were so many thank yous to offer –
Eric offered up some of those thanks on his site Trails2Brews here.
We had amazing photographers pitch in and give us some great photos to remember the event by
Did you write a post race blog about the event? We saw a few right here – Loved them all – Thanks for the kind words – If you wrote one or know of one – Give us the link so we can add it in! We love hearing what you all thought of our events – It helps us improve.
“6. Nothing can compare to the beauty of trail running in the winter. I never have found this feeling during road races but something about trail running takes my breath away (and no, it wasnt because it was so cold). It was insanely beautiful.”
Daneille – We couldnt agree more!
Thanks so much again – We hope you join us for our next adventure in April – Mess The Dress!
Fresh off of Lisa’s 100 mile report, check out our report from our very own 50K finisher, Ben Murphy!!
Last Saturday, November 3rd, I joined 72 other brave souls in cold, wet, snowy, windy weather (yeah, that photo above is very misleading) for the Rochester Orienteering Club’s annual Mendon Trails Race at beautiful Mendon Ponds Park just south of Rochester, NY. Over 25% of those folks would drop out over the next few hours of trail running. Cold weather (didn’t get out of the 30’s all day + wind and regular intervals of snow) and challenging terrain seemed to be the rule of the day.
…but, then again, this is Upstate NY trail running in November. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The Rochester Orienteering Club’s annual trail race offers participants a 5k, 10k, 20k, or 50k option on a challenging (and hilly with 1,100 feet of climbing per lap) 10k loop of trail down at beautiful Mendon Ponds Park in Upstate, NY. And, at around $20 (depending on your distance), you can’t possibly beat the entry fee!
Those of us who opted for the 50k version gunned off at 8am, :90 ahead of the others. That meant we’d all be into our second loop before the more sane runners gunned off. This was my second ultra (my first being almost exactly one year ago) and – surprisingly to most people – only my fifth trail run up over the 30k mark. I continue to be amazed by ultra and by what the human body is capable of if only the mind will let it.
I am not a hot-weather, road runner type of guy. I’m not fast, but I can go long, and love inclement conditions, so Saturday’s weather on challenging trails was definitely my cup of tea! And, although not speedy, I hit [just barely] my goal of a sub-15 minute mile pace with a finish of 32.07 miles and 5,500’ of climbing (11,000’ elevation change) in 7:57. Which placed me dead last. Yup. A testament to the pace being pushed on Saturday (actually, a course record of 3:52 was set!). And a testament to the course and conditions – there were 20 DNF’s on Saturday.
I loved the solitude of this race. It was a race, but… there weren’t very many people around. I was alone the vast majority of the time – which I absolutely thrive on. I love solitude out in woods, it’s very peaceful and spiritual for me… got plenty of that on Saturday!
My strategy – as I’ve learned through painful trial and error – was to take it easy and begin the race with the end pace in mind. I was looking to finish the day at under a 15 min/mile pace, which may seem slow, but for trail ultras that’s a respectable benchmark as far as I’m concerned. And… over 2:30/mile faster than my ultra pace a year ago, so I’m cool with that sort of improvement.
Laps 1 and 2 flew by. I really can’t differentiate the two in my head. I completed lap one in 1:08 and lap two in 1:24, so kept the pace fairly brisk for the course and conditions.
Before lap 3 I switched out of my Columbia OmniHeat longsleeve tech top for a simple micro-fleece-lined shell (Champion C9 – cheap as dirt ($30 at Target), tough as nails). I love my OmniHeat, but with the temperature dropping and the wind/snow/rain picking up, it wasn’t quite cutting it.
The first few miles of Lap 3 sucked. I was hurting – more mentally than physically. My brain was really at a low point by then. There was never a place on Saturday that I wanted to throw in the towel, but round about mile 15 was a low place mentally… which I expected it to be because that’s usually a low mental point for me in long trail runs. And than, again – just like I expected – I got a second wind round about mile 20 and… just kept cranking through the loops from there. My last three laps settled into a (literally, give or take less than a minute difference) 1:48 / lap pace and the rest of the race pretty much flew by from there. (You can view the Race Results / Splits by clicking here…)
As the day wore on there was more and more solitude out there. It got cloudier. Colder. Snowier. But I loved the peacefulness of it all. I also experienced “some new ultra things” that made me realize that I’m steadily getting better at this and understanding my body more and more each time I head out. The first thing was being able to recognize the difference between physical energy drain and mental energy drain – and being able to successfully refuel each of those things separately and effectively. The second thing was the experience of my body core trying to pull blood circulation out of my hands as it got colder out and my body tried to stay warm. I’d literally be running along and my fingertips and hands would start feeling numb – not from the cold, but from the blood circulation in my extremities slowing as my body tried to triage blood to its core for warmth. A strange sensation to be sure, but certainly one that’s important to be familiar with in cold-weather ultra pursuits (which I have A LOT more of coming up), given that there’s a very fine line between that sensation and the early onset of hypothermia.
My favorite parts of the race were the inclement conditions, interacting with the other members of our amazing trail running community, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife (saw several good-sized buck running through the woods), giving high-fives to the cheering boy scout troops out for hikes on the trail that day, and the awesome volunteers. And the warm soup, beer, and hot fire in the lodge afterwards certainly didn’t hurt either!
Lastly, a very special thank you to the TrailsROC crew + friends who all came out during various parts of the day to wish all the racers well and to be there to cheer on and support at the loop each time! I never cease to be amazed by this crazy group of people who… well, we all met less than a year ago… and there aren’t many people who’d come out to cheer runners on for 8 hours in the freezing cold on a Saturday. My ultra-brain seriously can’t recall everyone who was at the pit stop throughout the day, but you know who you were, and I do know that I can never thank y’all enough for the “how’s it going?”, “awesome job!”, “what do you need and what can I get you?” at every single loop! The Rochester/Finger Lakes region seriously has one of the best running communities anywhere. THANK YOU!
So… what’s next? That’s another post… coming soon!