Spartan Races 2014 – Giveaway!

In the coming season I decided to try a bit different kind of race:

I raced some very gnarly trails all over the US, but this is a whole new level of “technical”.

Check out these crazy obstacle races:


I’m definitely giving it a try.

Fine folks at the Spartan Race shared with me some GOODIES to pass to you:

- First, for everyone there is a URL that will generate a code for 15% off any Spartan Race –

- Second, I’m giving away a free entry for any open heat (non-confirmed start time) in any 2014 Spartan Race in the continental US. Before April 25th, shoot me an email at with “Spartan giveaway” in the subject line and telling me in the email which race would you like to do. I’ll randomly select one lucky winner.



1st place at the 2013 Escarpment Trail Run

July 28th, Windham, NY.  224 runners at the start.

18.6 miles


Here is a great video from the race: 


Had a great day on one of my favorite trails in Catskills mountains.

This is one of the toughest running courses in US. This epic race is being held every summer since 1977.

Result – 2h 51m (in the rain), 6 minutes short of the course record. Solid win and big improvement on my previous best of 3h 11m (3rd place, 2011).


Here is the course description:

THE ESCARPMENT TRAIL RUN IS FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS ONLY!!! The Escarpment Trail is a very remote, rugged hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains in New York State. This single track trail crosses no roads, has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet, and requires all aid to be backpacked in by volunteers. This is not for your average runner but for the runner who trains 12 months a year, and has spent years building a base and gaining long distance experience. Therefore, qualifying standards are required to insure that all participants have experience with endurance events and have a reasonable chance of completing the course within 6 hours.


THE TRAIL… is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance. Contestants must be prepared to deal with any of the forest’s natural barriers, such as bees, slippery rocks, porcupines, black bears (not probable, but possible) and anything else that can be found in the forests of the Catskills. There are numerous places where runners must climb hand over fist to scale a rise, conversely, extremely steep downhill sections add not only challenge to the course, but also a high degree of unwelcome danger. There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you’re not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. Most runners take many. Believe me, you’re going to take a flop or two, or more. Bees!!! In 1987, we ran into lots of them. If you are allergic to bee stings, you MUST run with your own medication.


THIS IS NOT A CARRIAGE TRAIL… it is a treacherous hiking trail. There won’t be a vehicle to fetch you if you if you should decide to quit and it is your responsibility to get to the finish line.This is not a Run-For-All and we are not trying to hype it or make it something it is not. There won’t be people telling you where the trail goes, doctors to wipe your blisters, or a bus to give you a ride to the finish if you decide you can’t continue. This is a wonderful run across wonderful country, a run in which we will share the experience and the friendship with those qualified runners who choose to participate. No awards, no age group categories. Just runners, mountains, and some refreshments at the finish line.

996550_703296679686272_1388012436_nBen Nephew, course record holder and 11 times winner of this race.

Not much to share really. I felt good but still wasn’t sure that I should do this race (due to higher risk of injury in the rain on highly technical trail). My season is far from being over.

Traditionally I race trails in road shoes (yes, even very technical trails, and yes, even in the rain) and this time I also decided to race without socks. It was a good decision in terms of reducing water weight on my feet, but at the same time I knew that by doing this I risk getting  very painful blisters on my feet. And indeed I got some of those. They didn’t slow me down much during the race, but next few days I was in pain while running… I do not recommend doing this unless you’re trying to defeat a National Team mountain ultra-runner and 11-times winner of the race…

As we started the race, Ben traditionally assumed the lead, with Jamie Julia (1:09 half-marathoner) and myself in tow. It took me a while to warm up and I was struggling to keep up with Ben as we climbed the first mountain. About 3-4 miles in, on the top of the mountain, I jumped from 3rd to 1st and broke away.

Rain turned rocky and mossy trail into a very slippery surface, and downhills were particularly dangerous, not letting me to run with my maximum racing speed. So, I was running conservatively with a goal to stay safe and keep my pace relatively constant (see, I’m finally growing up). This strategy worked and I never experienced any major issues, gradually building my lead to 7 minutes, and finishing in 2h 51m (course record is 2h 45m). No accidents except one “rolling” fall at low speed, and hitting a branch with my head less than a mile before finish. Nothing serious.

Very happy that despite wet and cold conditions I still decided to race. Huge respect to all 223 runners who shared with me this magical experience of enjoying Escarpment Trail under the rain. We  once again saw a pure beauty of nature.

This season is going great so far, my next stop – Leadville 100, stay tuned.

Great photos and video – by Mountain Peak Fitness. Thank you!

1st place overall at the inaugural Manitou’s Revenge 56mi race

12 hours-long racing drama on the most rugged mountain trails that I’ve ever seen.

Catskills Mountains, New York. June 22nd, 2013.

Photos by ManitousRevengeUltra, Katherine Varn Hawkins, and Kristina Marie Folcik.


Let me start by saying that 50mi is not my ideal distance. I lost my last two 50-milers (in 2012) with pretty solid gap behind winners (Ben Nephew at Peak 50mi, and Jack Pilla at Frozen Fifty). I prefer to either sprint all-out in shorter events, or be in the “survival” mode for a 100-miler. 50 miles is in-between, when it’s a pretty long way to go, but you still need to be running fast in order to win.
I was not in my perfect racing shape and a bit tired psychologically after my busy spring season. Therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for this race in terms of placing, my goal was to check out rugged Catskills trails and to enjoy the day. I also didn’t sleep at all the night before this race, coming straight from NYC to the starting line.


Getting lost.
This is a traditional part of my race reports, where I describe how I managed to get lost again. This time I’ve done it better than ever: I’ve gone the wrong way before our race even started! With “help” of my gps we messed up the location of start by few miles and had to race our car to the correct location, making it there just few minutes before the start (just enough time to check-in with race director and put the bib on).
The race is on!

After few miles there are 3 of us running in the lead, then it was just me and Ryan Welts (team Pearl Izumi). On the only familiar to me part of the course (Escarpment trail) I went ahead, enjoying early morning hours in the woods and feeling light and fast… And this is a good time to share my pre-race thoughts of the course, just to explain my good mood while running rugged Escarpment trail…


Had I known the whole course, I probably would have been WAY more conservative in the first half of the race. I’ve heard before that Devil’s Path (later portion of the course) is really hard, but I’ve never been there, and in my experience Escarpment trail had the highest rating of technical terrain and I just couldn’t imagine that there are foot trails harder than that. So, I was having a blast on the early (still really technical) trails, thinking that they would be the hardest in the race. As I painfully discovered later, at that time I was actually going on some of the easiest parts of the course.


Here is a brief course description from the race website:THIS IS NOT LIKE ANY OTHER ULTRA YOU’VE RUN BEFORE! This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 17,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous.  To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand.  Expect this course to take you much longer than your average 50 miler. That’s why we are allowing 24 hrs. to complete this monster. Because of its remote and difficult nature, there will of necessity be a limited number of aid stations, 8 or 9, and runners should be prepared to spend up to 3 or 4 hrs between aid stations. You will have to be reasonably self-sufficient. To make matters worse, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along! And to top it all off, the average runner will have to tackle this hardest terrain in the dark.


Okay, back to the race…
After familiar trails were over, everything was new an exciting. First I was treated with several miles of slippery wet roots barely protruding from muddy trail. You either jump on roots or plunge your feet in the dirt. Few times after plunging into sticky mud, my foot was out of the shoe and I had to go back to pull the shoe out. So I was mostly dancing on wet roots. Lots of fun…


And then, after 30+ miles of rocks, roots, and mud, a really technical part had started. It was a crawl, more of rock climbing than running/hiking, I had to use my arms almost all the time going up. It took me 3 hrs to get through next 9 miles.


I was not prepared. I didn’t know what was coming and that I won’t have any water for 3 hrs during climbing in the hottest part of the day. My scant 2 bottles of liquid disappeared very quickly and I was ready to drink from any stream on the way. But there were no streams. And dehydration coupled with overexertion made me a bit more desperate for water. After climbing another huge boulder I almost blacked out, and really had to do something about hydration. Then I saw some water slowly dripping from mossy walls of the mountain. Yep, I just stood there letting water drip from rocks on my tongue and getting some from wet moss… This would have gotten a lot of views on Youtube…

Somehow I made it to the next station in one piece and spent some time there drinking bottle after bottle of water and juice. I was still running first, and remember saying there that if more than 3 people overall will finish this race I will be surprised…


The Hunt:

Apparently, some people had way more fun on the course than I did. During all race Ryan was not that far behind from me, gradually getting closer, and he was on a mission to finish his hunt in a classic fashion, passing poorly-paced leader close to the end of the race… He was only 7 minutes behind me at the end of those steep climbs. And I had no idea of this hunt and of Ryan’s proximity. Why? Let me explain at the end of the report, it deserves a separate paragraph… Let me just say for now that I was led to believe that I was far away from any chase.


Miles 42 to 48 (after the hardest climbing) I was taking it quite easy, trying to get home safe. I still managed to hit some rock pretty hard while running, I screamed with pain, and was limping for few minutes. This is when out of nowhere appeared Ryan and his pacer Cory. They passed me flying around mile 48.

I understood that there was some bluff in their insanely fast pace, just trying to demoralize me. Ryan was having a classic winning scenario for ultra races: staying a bit behind all day just to pull impressive win in the final miles. I didn’t like this scenario and had to start working again.
I stuck right behind Ryan and Cory, not letting them get ahead of me more than few feet. For several more minutes we were going very fast on technical downhill. It’s hard to get away from me on this kind of terrain and I kept up well.

After few minutes I warmed up a little, got into my sprinting mode, and decided to make a counter-offer… I went off trail flying on rocks past Ryan, and quickly disappeared from his view. In the remaining 6 miles to the finish I kept my sprinting pace and opened a 20 minutes gap, crossing the line in 11:51.




Here is Ryan’s recollection of the events (excerpt from his awesome race report):
Down the other side for a bit, then, there he was. Was he limping, cramping? I suddenly came alive and felt the urge to capitalize on his altered gate and make my move. He look startled as I came up on him and he picked up the pace. I answered hoping I could finish him off on this descent. We were flying down the mountain like with 8 miles to go like we had just started an 8 mile race. He missed a sharp turn and I went by. I kept moving down the mountain the best I could over the loose rocks and blowdowns. As the terrain leveled out Denis actually went off trail and passed me. As he went by I noticed his 2 bottle waistpack was nearly empty and I was under the impression there were no aid stations until the bottom of Mt Tremper with 1 mile to go. So, I let him go, again… he had put it in an adrenaline driven gear I just couldn’t match on the flats and I was sure I would catch him on the climb up Tremper or better yet, completely wasted and out of fluids sitting on a rock. Boy, was I wrong!
  I made my way up the mountain the best I could trying to recover a little from our duel in case I had to throw in another surge. After all we were still 6 miles from the finish and I didn’t think I had enough in the tank to run hard to finish at that point. (weak minded fool)
  We then came upon the Willow aid station, to our surprise. I filled my almost empty bladder as the volunteers told me Denis had 5 minutes on me. I tried my best but I just couldn’t run that hard anymore and ended up finishing 20 minutes behind Denis in 12:11:43.


Full results are here.
Third place overall (!) went to fantastic Ashley Moyer, who finished in 13:32. Overall the race was incredible, trails like this can not be found in any other running event. I am happy to be the first person ever completing this course. This race has a great future.

After the race I looked and felt a bit… depleted.
BUT after driving back to NYC I felt great again and even had a short run before dinner. In the next two days I was doing “recovery running” (5 and 6 miles).
I will be sure to go back to Catskills for more of those gorgeous trails in a more relaxing setting.
Quotes of the day:
– “Wow, I ran 15 minutes faster than I did at the Vermont 100 Mile Trail Run”.
– “The Lion will sleep well tonight after being on the hunt all day long. He had the perfect hunt and had the Gazelle down going with the fatal blow about to be delivered..only to have the Gazelle leap up like a friggin’ unicorn and disappear into the enchanted forest. ” – Cory DeLavalle.
Post-race recovery dinner of fruitarians: mangos, kale, sweet corn, and avocados.
BONUS for those who finished my entire report, to make you smile:
My recently found angel called Veronica was helping me at each aid station that had access for supporters. She did fantastic job with driving around and having my nutrition ready for me, but it was only her third time seeing an ultra race and I completely forgot to explain some basic strategies that can be involved in these races (and importance of knowing the details about potential chase).
So, she decided to keep me uninformed about the hot chase right behind me…
At the aid stations when I asked how far behind was competition she just replied “way behind”. After the race she said “I thought 10 minutes is a lot of time. Besides, you didn’t have to know all this chase stuff and worry, because I knew that you were going to win anyway”.

2nd place overall at the infamous MMT100 Race!

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Race – did 106 miles up and down rocky mountain slopes (missed a turn and had to go some extra distance).  This event should be called an “obstacle course”, not running.


Result: 20hr 26 min, 2nd place overall (from 200 pre-qualified athletes). 46 people didn’t finish, average finish time – over 30 hours.

Black bears, rattle snakes, and other wild animals on the way. Drank 80 oranges (freshly squeezed) on the go. If you know any better way to spend a weekend, please let me know.


Here are few more details:

I trained for this race since December 2012, but didn’t start it at my best form due to fast 50k race at Bear Mt just two weeks prior to MMT100.
Elena (my awesome friend, crew, and pacer) and I camped out the night before the race. We both got decent amount of sleep due to Elena’s good and timely planning of drop bags and other race logistics issues. I had nothing to worry about, and was ready to get up and just enjoy the run.
Elena: “This was fun# 1. Denis: “You have your own tent, right?” ME (looking confused): “You said you had a big one…” HIM: “Big? I said bigger than at Virgil, but not big..” This is how our camping experience started!”
My “big” tent
At the starting line
Ready for 20+ hours of fun
First miles were not technical and I ran in a large leading group (a dozen of people) for about 6 miles. When more rocky terrain replaced smooth road and trail, myself and Jason Lantz (last year’s winner) took the lead. The most memorable part of these early miles was running into a large black bear. Jason spotted it on a side of our trail few dozen feet ahead, said “Ooh, look, a black bear! Let’s chase it…”, and sprinted towards it. After some hesitation I followed Jason and we saw a large bear retreating up the hill into dense woods.
While running on rocky trail (my favorite running surface) with Jason, I took several hard falls, hitting hard my both knees and left wrist. It was unusual and alarming to trip so early into the race, when I’m still fresh and the trail is well lit up by bright sun. Normally I can run long time without any issues on this kind of running surface. Probably the problem was that the size of those sharp rocks was a bit smaller than those on which I train at the Bear Mountain.
Shortly afterwards we were chased down by Patrick McGlade and three of us ran together for an hour or two. On the less technical road sections Patrick was pushing the pace and I made a mistake of trying to keep up with his uncomfortably high speed so early in the race.
Around mile 30-35 I finally let Jason and Patrick go. However, some damage has already been done and I needed to recover a bit. This is when James Blandford flew past me up on the rocky hill. I didn’t expect to see anyone so close to our leading group and I also didn’t know that James has completed MMT100  several times already and was 3rd last year.  Moving to 4th position shortly after running in the lead felt pretty discouraging for me.
Trail 1

I was even thinking about dropping out at the next station. I wasn’t sure that I can finish this absurdly technical course with my muscles suddenly shutting off already at mile 35. I was blaming this shut down on my fast race 2 weeks ago and was almost ready to quit, but wasn’t sure how I could say it to my amazing crew and pacer – Elena…  So I didn’t say anything and kept running. I also made my crew work harder than anyone’s else. I had few different nutrition options for this race – bottled juices and smoothies, gels, dates, and fresh oranges to be juiced right before I stop at each station. By mid-point of the race my body made it clear that the only source of fuel that it will accept today is freshly squeezed OJ. I told Elena that I need a bottle of it at every aid station going forward…


We had a box of juice oranges (100 total) and an electric juicer. The original plan was to plug it in the car’s outlet (with a converter), but we have already blew Elena’s car fuse  with my electric massager that I used on the way from New York the day before… Fresh OJ would go bad pretty quickly so we couldn’t make any in advance to be placed in the drop bags. Elena quickly became regarded as the most unlucky one amongst crew people at each station, having to juice bunch of oranges at each station because her demanding runner is refusing to run on anything but fresh OJ. There was no way I could finish without the juice, it certainly helped me bounce back to life.


It took me about 20 miles to recover, and by mile 55-60 I was ready to go fast again, but this time i needed to use my resources more carefully, with some strategy.
Around mile 70 I caught up with Patrick. He was laying down at the aid station, the race was over for him. James was in lead by about 1 hour. I was only about 30 min behind Jason and getting closer.
Jason Lantz at the aid station, after running about 70 miles
Elena joins me as a pacer at the aid station and I finally catch up with Jason (some time before mile 80) and we run together. Meanwhile James is still going fast and with only 20 miles to go it becomes clear to us that chasing him is pointless. The nearest runner behind us is pretty far away, so it seemed like regardless of the speed at which Jason and I would be running remaining miles, the 2nd and 3rd place would be decided between two of us. We both considerably slowed down as it was getting dark (again) and as we didn’t have to race against anyone else. Another highlight of the day was a rattlesnake that was laying right on our trail. Jason ran at the front that time, immediately followed by myself and Elena.  Suddenly he jumps on the side of the trail and I instinctively follow him. Still standing near the snake, Jason gives us a short lecture on the mechanics of rattle snake’s attack and says that  he can make a little demonstration for us by poking the snake with a stick. We talk him out of this idea and keep going…
I felt relatively good and right at the 86-mile aid station Elena and I went ahead while Jason was taking a break. We became so consumed by our break-away that we missed a turn from the road back into the woods (right after that aid station). It took us about 10 minutes to realize that we’re lost. We were running quite fast downhill and the idea of turning around and going back up to look for the course markers was rather painful. Overall we lost what felt like about 20 minutes.
As we found the course and were back on the mountain trails, my blood was flooded with adrenalin while I was mad at myself. I didn’t want to let our navigational mishap at the end of the race to influence the placing at my first MMT100 race. All of the sudden I feel as fresh as 19 hours ago, almost 90 miles back, before the race started. I sprint on the dark trail with 7-8min/mile pace, determined to catch Jason before I run out of miles. Looking back at this sprint now, it feels great to be able to run rocky uphills even at the end of 100mi race.
To my surprise, I caught Jason already at the next aid station. He did not expect to see me there as he thought that I was ahead of him since mile 86. This sudden gift made him visibly more energized and remaining miles we both ran all-out. I was able to break away (again) about 6-7 miles before the finish and finished in 2nd place with 20h 26m, only 5 minutes ahead of James. First  woman (Robin Watkins) finished 5 Hrs later. Most people finished after 30 hrs.
James Blandford, the winner (18h 31m, the 8th fastest time in history of the race)
I think I underestimated the course difficulty and time that I need to fully recover after Bear Mt 50K race. Pretty happy with 2nd place in these circumstances. After finishing I felt like I had some reserves left, but was glad that I didn’t have to use them…    Fantastic adventure, very well-organized race. Highly recommended!
Elena’s (aka “Pacer KGB” or “Professional Juicer”) race report:
My MMT experience can be described in just few words: a box of oranges, a juicer and a hell of a run.
The “oranges” part started at 4am on Sat morning (right after the start) and continued throughout the day all day. It was my 3rd time crewing in a 100-miler, but this one was the most demanding task by far. None of the aid stations overlapped, so I constantly had to drive around the course trying not to be late and that was not easy as Denis was going very fast.
I printed each set of directions in great detail ahead of time as I knew there would be no cell phone service. Between my own google maps and very detailed directions from the MMT site, I nailed that task and never got lost.
Trying to produce freshly squeezed orange juice from the box of oranges and an electric juicer that Denis gave was not as easy. I had to use camp bathroom outlets couple of times, generators from aid stations and just be very creative.
At one point at mile 69 Denis told me that fresh orange juice was the only thing working for him and he needed that and only that for the rest of the race (another 30+ miles) and he basically said needed juice more than me pacing if this became a deal breaker. I knew at this point that if I still wanted to do my run (which I did!), I had to take care of the juice part first as this was way more important. Thanks to aid station generator and some logistics what worked in my favor, this part worked out and he had his preferred fuel for the rest of the race and I could still run.
The “run” part started for me at 7pm at mile 78 and I ended up running about 27 miles with Denis in 5.5 hours. My only goal was to have a nice long training run for myself on a technical and hilly trail at much faster pace than I would do on my own. So, calling me a “pacer” would be wrong as I was actually using Denis as my pacer but I hope my lovely company did help at least in some way. I got dropped by Denis 2 times and I kept working hard trying to catch him which I did once at an aid station and almost did 2nd time as I finished only few min after him. Second time he dropped me was when he was RUNNING up the steep mountain after having 97 miles on his legs and I could not keep up and had to power hike that climb. Everyone I asked about that climb (including the race winner!) said they hiked it, not ran. Well, obviously not Denis! It was truly amazing to witness how someone can run that fast at 80-90-100 miles. But my personal goal of trying to stay with him as much as possible was 100% accomplished and we both got what we wanted out of this weekend. As an added bonus to the run part, I also learned something new about wildlife: I saw 2 big rattle snakes and another crazy looking animal with giant yellow eyes staring at me in the middle of the night from the side of the road.
I ran so fast from this one, I had no idea I could even run that fast after already running for 5 hours! :)
As a conclusion, I would like to say just one thing: “Crewing in a 100 is a very hard task, but crewing a frutarian in a 100 is a whole new level of extreme, but it surely adds to the fun part.” I am happy we did so well together I am ready for new races and adventures! Team CCCP rocks!







Photos by MountainPeakFitness and Elena Makovskaya.

My spring “training” races

I’m not a sprinter, and rarely race anything shorter than a marathon. But following the advice of my friend Elena, this year I decided to use shorter races as my tempo workouts (I dislike doing those on my own).

First on March 9th I unexpectedly won a small 1hr Endurance Race in Manhattan (World Race For Hope): 10.1 miles in 1 hour (5:56 min/mile). Was running third until half-mile to go and barely out-sprinted Troy at the very end. Huge PR for me.


Then on March 30th  I won a 10K trail race called “Wolfes Run” in Staten Island. Highly recommend this race, beautiful course.


And to wrap up my training-racing schedule, on April 13th I raced my bike in the Tour of Battenkill, the toughest bike race in America (they say this, not me). 65 miles of hilly roads (both paved and not) in gorgeous Washington county upstate NY. This race is truly epic as it attracts thousands of cyclists every year and the course is unique.  I had a great day considering I didn’t race my bike for over year and a half, and didn’t really train. I certainly felt more in control than at my previous Battenkill race 2 yrs ago. I’ve lost some explosiveness, but gained some endurance. Got detached from fast leading group around mile 40, and rolled in somewhere in the middle of my field. The hills broke peloton apart in the last 10 miles. Fantastic and challenging course, very strong competition, lots of fun, and of course great training!


What am I training FOR?