"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation, a report by Charlie Ban

I had the good fortune to be able to spend a few days at the cabin that my coach Steve Taylor built, along with his brothers and friends, in Giles County, Va. I ran, ate, slept, read and explored the mountainous region of the New River Valley near and in the Jefferson National Forest in a 4.5-day stretch that turned out to be just what I needed to push my marathon training forward with renewed vigor.

After my work schedule quashed my plans to spend a week in northern California, I was looking around for some kind of running retreat, and Steve graciously offered me the use of his cabin when I asked him for suggestions. It was a few hours away from my usual weekend destination in the Canaan Valley, WV, but it was worth the trip, and, as he said, the price was right.

Steve has been a great coach and friend since I met him in October 2001, while visiting the University of Richmond for the first time. We talked at the time about our shared acquaintances Kristin Price (whom he and his wife Lori coached the year before at Virginia Tech and I knew from my nascent road racing career) and Scott Munro (whom he tried to recruit to come to Tech and I knew from high school track and his years living with my friend Charlie at Penn State).
Though he was rightly skeptical of a middling former Division III runner whose transfer made me possibly ineligible for a while, he gave me a fair shot and stuck with me through
a two week adjustment to Richmond's crippling summer heat and humidity in which any lesser coach would have cut me to get me out of his hair and saw his patience pay off when I finished among the varsity runners in our alumni race.
He has continued to encourage me in my pursuit of the running lifestyle and his offer to let me stay at the cabin did a lot to get me through part of a hot and muggy month and spend time recovering from the rest of the world. My other running-heavy trip, Reno, was also work-centric, so I didn't get the chance to nap, veg out and unplug from the world like I did in Giles County.

The view from the cabin's back porch.

Mountain Lake

I drove through the afternoon Saturday and arrived at the cabin around 6. After unpacking a little, I headed to the Mountain Lake to get an eight mile run before dinner. I started at 4000 feet and climbed until I reached a transformer station at the top of that particular hill. As I added distance to my run on different trails, I started to get a chill- I was no longer in the Washington area where running with a shirt was silly.
I headed to Perisburg to Queen's Pizza and Subs for dinner. Steve told me he ate there four nights in a row earlier this summer and it did not surprise me one bit. Great menu here- New York-oriented food without having to deal with New Yorkers.
I had a steak and cheese sub and a medium pizza and devoured it all. I fell asleep around 10:30, since there was no electricity to enable me in staying up too late. I planned to get up early and do a long run in the Cascades Recreation Area, but I ended up sleeping until 8:30, which was a little later than I had planned.
I headed back up to the Mountain Lake and parked farther down the road at the biological center. I ran to a grass-covered road and followed it until I hit the trail system, took that to the hotel and then followed the road back to the parking lot, then added on 33 minutes out and back farther out on the road to total 10 miles. I leafed through the new copy of Running Times and read fellow Spider track and journalism enthusiast Dan Petty's article.
After a nap, I read The Best Game Ever. It was a non-fiction book. It was a good book. It was about a football game. Some people say it was maybe the best game ever. (Is this satire of grade school book reports doing anything for anyone?)
That evening I took the camera out to the War Spur Trail and took some shots as I ran another seven miles. I tried to connect to the Appalachian Trail, but the farther I ran the less it seemed like I was making any headway.
Some parts of the War Spur Trail were so wild I couldn't always exactly follow the trail, and I very well may have veered off into the woods a few times.
I went back to Queens and had another steak sandwich and a dozen mild chicken wings, which were naturally too hot for me until the actual temperature cooled down.
The War Spur Trail, just look for where there aren't any ferns and run there.
Breathtaking view from the War Spur Overlook.
Where does the trail go, anyway? I don't really care, it's just good.
You have to duck a little.

Cascades Trail

I got up early on Monday and went to the nearby Cascades Recreation Area to start my 20 mile or so long run. I started with a 2+ mile trip on the second of two trails to the waterfalls. The trail was mostly large rocks and I moved very carefully, not wanting to destroy my legs in a fall. After a while I got sick of it and moved up to the trail across the creek, which was wider, softer and mostly dirt and small rocks and I was able to open up my stride and feel natural. I took that back to the parking lot, stopped at the bathroom and grabbed a drink from the car. I headed back out, intending on making a trail if I had to. I passed the waterfall and found a logging trail Steve had mentioned. I followed it until I wound up seemingly in someone's yard, and kept going. I ran out to the road and then followed it up the mountain for an hour, and I was moving pretty quickly at this point, enjoying the climb and the challenge.
The backdrop of the Cascades Trail area.

I wondered how recently anyone else had been out there, and whether I should have brought any water with me. Every almost every 3.5 minutes I saw a beer can, so I started considering them unofficial half-mile markets.
The Cascades Trail (in the fall). (I didn't take this)

It wasn't terribly warm, but I was moist with sweat and needed to wring my shirt out when I turned around after an hour of running and climbing but it was wet with effort, not my skin's tears. It had been a while since I had been this comfortable on a run, probably since my last day in Reno.
Later, I found I had started at about 2200 feet and stopped around 4100.
Logging Trail (in the fall). (I didn't take this)

The trip down was fun, though with all of the rocks in the road I wasn't exactly tearing irresponsibly down the mountain. I did get back to the car 11 minutes faster than it took me to get to the turnaround. I added a loop out on the road and back for an even 2:30, which I approximated to be about 21 miles. I took a nice nap in the afternoon and glanced through Bruce Fordyce's Marathon Runner's Handbook, which I curiously checked out of the Falls Church library, hoping to see what he suggested. Turns out, not much, but some of the anachronistic running fashions made for amusing photos.
I stopped by Howard Nippert's house down the road to check out his home remodeling effort. He has pretty much torn the house apart and undid all the damage and neglect the previous owners contributed and has a great project going on. Howard is an old Virgina Tech teammate of Steve and Lori's and one of their best friends. He kept increasing his racing distance and is now one of the county's top ultrarunners, competing in distances that make me ill to consider. He set me up with a road loop the next morning, then I hit Queens again for a chicken sandwich and fried mushrooms.

Running clothes have a way of adding up.

Clover Hollow

I drove out to Newport to the Clover Hollow Road loop that Howard suggested. Not having a detailed map, I wanted to drive it first, and of course, I missed some crucial detail as to where I should turn. Howard said to just stay on the same road and it would create a 6.2 mile loop, but I couldn't remember where he told me to park.
So, I just parked at Clover Hollow's intersection with Placid Lane, with the blessing of the woman who lived on the corner, and set out at about 10:40. I ran 40 minutes out through beautiful rolling farmland and turned around and came back, finishing five minutes faster than when I came out. It turns out the loop included a small portion of Jones Lane, which I passed about 1.5 into the run. I ended up doing about 11.25 miles in 80- minutes- 7:08 pace. Not great, but it was hot and sunny and I was a little worried about getting lost. I really enjoyed the views, though.
I liked the rolling hills.

It got a little gross

I went to Christianburg to see Inception, then came back to the cabin for my afternoon run.
I was headed down to Whitt-Riverbend Park for some flat recovery running. I crossed the train bridge, which was a little frightening, and ran along the tracks, looking for a break in the fence to get to the park. I smelled a pungent oder, much like the pellets you could feed to animals at the zoo when I was younger. When one such trip to the fence proved fruitless, I climbed back to the tracks and was staring right into the eyes of a deer. On its side. On the train tracks. With no flesh or fur anywhere but its head, otherwise just a skeleton. I must have an iron stomach, because the smell was enough to choke me- I am shocked I didn't vomit.

I eventually didn't find a way in farther down the tracks, so I headed back, then right before I crossed back over the bridge I saw there was a wooden frame on the fence at about the same level as the barbed wire.
I could climb onto it and jump over the barbed wire. I did a few laps around the park, running a trail along the New River and back up to the campground area that was perfectly flat. I probably did about 6.5-7 miles. Then, back over the fence and up the hill to the cabin and a korean stir fry dinner in Pembroke.

Pandapas Park and the trip home

I got up Wednesday and met Howard at Pandapas Park in Newport.
We ran around for nine miles and toward the end I noticed the humidity and temperature start to creep up. I ditched the shirt and had some Gatorade and headed back out for six more miles, but about a mile in I started to get lightheaded, so I went back to the car and decided to put off some of the distance until my afternoon run.
I drove home, with a stop in Salem to check out Roanoke College, where my brother Edward is starting in a few weeks. It's a nice enough place, but it left me missing Hampden-Sydney, despite the persistent boredom and lack of women. I tried to go to Roanoke to see a few sights suggested by my stepmother, who grew up there, but just as I was arriving, a heavy storm moved in and I headed back home.

I made a detour into Centreville to do my afternoon run at Walney Park. When I got out of the car, the discomfort inherent in northern Virginia punched me in the face, then the kidneys, then the groin. This was going to be miserable. I headed off for my first of three 3.25 mile loops on the wood chips and dirt. It's a really nice park, and it feels softer than anything else on which I run. The heat got to me after about 20 minutes, but I kept pressing. I started to feel better around 35, then I stopped to use the restroom and the heat that I felt the second I stepped into the confined portable bathroom was too much to bear. The smell wasn't a factor, it was just so hot. I was once again nauseated, but managed to hold onto my lunch. I stopped after 6.5 miles and headed home, after 20 minutes of trying to stop sweating.

This wire counts the number of people who enter Walney Park, both to keep records and to put Joe Wiegner out of a job.


  1. Sounds like a nice vacation... it looks so pretty there! I'm jealous.

  2. I am JEALOUS! You ran in many places where I used to run...

  3. When I am healthy, I need to do something like this. Great post.

  4. I'm pretty sure I've eaten at Queens Restaurant. I remember eating at an Italian place in Pearisburg when I hiked the AT in 2003, but I'd have to check my journal (at home) to be sure which place I went to.