Following my grueling Marine Corps Marathon outing, I was physically exhausted and took a two week hiatus from almost all physical activity. For someone who can burn 3,000 calories in 3 hours, this was a problem, so I gradually began to re-engage my exercise regimen. I avoided running due to lingering pain in my right foot and ankle, but managed to get in a few bike rides commuting to work, and with Veteran’s Day approaching and the promise of excellent fall weather, I set my sights on cycling Mt. Weather in northwestern Virginia. This is a pretty tough climb – 3448’ total elevation gain over 28 miles. But this route also took me back through some interesting personal and national history. An interesting ride.
For those unfamiliar with Mt. Weather, some background.
The Appalachian Trail skirts the ridge along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern Virginia. Mt. Weather sits astride Loudoun and Clarke Counties in the area between Rtes 50 and 7. The northwest edge of the mountain descends toward Bluemont, VA at Snickers Gap.
I parked in the Post Office lot on Snickersville Turnpike. Turning left out of the lot, you will begin climbing- gradually at first - but persistently. A road sign indicating Rt 7 will take you there to the right, but you can also head straight toward the hairpin along old Snickersville Tpk.
Rt 7 is a major east-west corridor. Eastbound traffic comes barreling down from Snickers Gap, so exercise caution as you cross the median to the westbound lane. You will keep climbing up Rt 7 heading West (left). The shoulder is adequate on this stretch which help take the edge off the relentless climb and the traffic. Taking it one crank at a time, I kept it in a low gear on my small 39-tooth chainring.
When you reach Mt. Weather Rd, take a good look ahead: if you can survive the first 15~20 minutes of this route, you will be okay. In other words, it can't get any worse than that. Here, I felt no shame going with my granniest gear.
Despite its hellish vertical challenge, the road surface on Mt. Weather is outstanding. This may have something to do with the high security Emergency Operations Center at the summit. The Center is a standby Disaster Recovery Site for the US Government - in other words - it's a doomsday bunker.
In fact, my father tells of one of his early job duties as a junior civil servant. In case the unthinkable ever were to happen, his job was to drop everything - including yours truly - head for the hills, and stack sandbags around Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The Cuban Missile Crisis kept the sandbags full and my dad on edge, though he shrugged when I pressed him on whether he would actually take leave of his family and complete his mission.
Some people believe a tunnel connects it to Washington, DC via Langley. It’s probably full of haz-mat suited figures out of an Austin Powers/Godzilla movie set. If Metro has anything to do with it, I'm sure most of the escalators are out of service. But the road itself is in pristine condition just in case.
During 9/11, it was reported that members of the U.S. Government were helicoptered to the site.
In 1974, a TWA flight from Columbus, OH crashed into the mountain, likely triggering a DEFCON-4 response from the bunker's keepers, while bringing unwanted attention to the facility. I remember the crash because my grandfather's home was in the flight path on that tragic night. The crash site is not far from where his house once stood near Horseshoe Curve in Pine Grove on old Rt 7.
The initial push toward the summit takes you past the Bear's Den Youth Hostel. This is a very well-appointed hostel by Appalachian Trail standards, and from the rock outcropping on the west-facing ridge you can enjoy a majestic view of the Shenandoah Valley below.
The descent from the summit comes in fits and starts, but building speed on the downhill generally sustains your climb over the subsequent rise. But the final mile is a steep downhill that will grab and hold your attention.
Making a careful right onto Rt 50, you continue to descend - very fast - and there is no shoulder on 50. Thankfully, the right lane is generously wide, but you will rocket downhill with cars on your left at a high rate of speed. Be sure not to miss the right turn onto Mt. Carmel Rd - it is well marked.
The road to Frogtown and Rt 7 is rougher than Mt Weather, but still in decent shape. The entire road is paved, save for one 50' section with hard packed gravel outside of a quarry. Ebenezer Road intersects Frogtown Rd. It goes by my grandfather’s gravesite at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Sections of the road are prone to dip and curve, but then open up to gentle vistas of farms with the mountains rising in the distance beyond the autumn spangled treeline.
The road will eventually rejoin Rt 606 and take you down to the Shenandoah River. The River is not very wide, but it is picturesque. There is a rough hobo / river rat campsite you can stop at - maybe drink a couple Busch Lights with the locals and trade gossip. The road will hug the River all the way back to the bridge carrying Rt 7 west toward Berryville.
You will have to climb up Rt 7- the shoulder is wide, but rough for road tires. Sharing the narrow strip of smooth road surface is dicey with trucks roaring inches past you doing 75mph, but gather yourself at the turn off for Pine Grove (left turn - Be Careful!). You are only on the road for a mile, at most. This is an alternate to staying on Rt 7, and you will thank me later.
Pine Grove is on Old Route 7. Before the 4-lane highway was built in the late 1970s, it used to climb up from Round Hill past Bluemont, then up over Snickers Gap and down idyllic Pine Grove. This community is nestled between the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah River, and it has always felt like a place apart from both Loudoun and Clarke Counties. There is a general store and a couple restaurants back there, including the Horseshoe Curve Restaurant.
You will re-join Rt 7 near the Mt. Weather intersection. Again, not a great shoulder (for road tires, that is), and a butt-cheek clenching downhill to the Snickersville Turnpike and into Bluemont. The ride is only a little over 28 miles, but it has a bit of everything including Cold War lore, a challenging climb, and a nice cruising stretch to loosen you up for the final push back up the mountain.
Webster’s defines persevere as: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.
I will use it in a sentence: You do not run over the 14th Street Bridge so much as you persevere over the 14th Street Bridge.
It was that kind of a day…
My goal coming into this race was to qualify for Boston with a 3:30:59 – about a 7:59/mile pace. This was my first race at this distance, but I have a solid base of 10Ks, 10 milers, and a half marathon (NYC 2010) beneath me. Having just missed qualifying for the New York City Marathon with a half marathon time of 1:31:08 (needing 1:30:00), Boston Qualifier, or BQ, was attainable. An “NYCMQ,” however, was a ridiculously fast (for me) 3:10. No “grace” time of :59 like for Boston. The thought of missing out by 68 seconds for a marathon distance qualifying attempt was too much. If I ever do qualify for NYCM before I’m 50, I’ll have to do it over 13.1 miles for mental health reasons alone.
Training and Logistics
The other thing – and I can’t stress this enough – is that I came to the marathon race ready with almost 450 miles logged since August 1. I also was coming off my first season of triathlon, and had just completed the Nation’s Triathlon in September which included a 10K run for the Olympic distance event.
I followed a training plan that I had used for other races. The Hal Higdon page provides a pretty basic template. Most training plans provide a basic punchlist that includes building base mileage, speedwork (track intervals), maybe some hills, cross training, and long runs. I followed the plan closely, even to the point of doing treadmill workouts, which I hate. That just underscores the CabinMan’s dedication. Kind of sad.
The other on-line tool (again: free) that I used was the McMillan Running Calculator (warning: turn your volume DOWN before clicking this link; it has an obnoxious video clip that loops continuously when the page is open – thankfully, you can mute it, but you have been warned). By inputting a goal time, or previous race result, you can get target speed zones for your track workouts. This takes away the guesswork on the question of “how fast should I be running?”
The other facet to my training was that I trained as often as possible with a group. My “core” group is the Marriott Lunchbaggers – more rabble than group. In this group you will get a cross section of every kind of runner you do and don’t want to become: the over-achiever, the under-achiever, the bait-and-switcher. I fit right in. The critical part of the group dynamic is that their idea of a “rest” weeks might call for 15-20 miles. With triathletes and ultra-marathoners to contend with, picking up a marathon-level training pace is “run of the mill.”
I also did track workout with a DC tri group, the Renegade Striders. This group is more into tweaking your VO2 Max and pushing cruise intervals and ladder workouts. Throw in some core and plyometrics, and it rounds out the bike commuting and swim workouts that comprises my cross training.
I found my spot in the starting corral by the 3:30 pace group. After a slow mile 1 (8:14!) I ditched the group and caught the 3:20 pacers through Mile 6 (Palisades).
The first section of the race course has the most varied terrain. Arlington features long sweeping hills going up Lee Highway from Rosslyn and then down Spout Run to Key Bridge. These hills, which appear more challenging on paper, actuallydistribute more of the work around your leg muscles as you ascend and descend. This is not appreciated at first, but as the course flattened after hitting Georgetown in Mile 8, the quads began to take on the brunt of the work all the way to the finish.
I ran ahead of the 3:20 pacers and felt pretty good heading onto Hains Point and back to the Mall. But they finally ran me down at Mile 20, the start of the accursed 14th St. Bridge, when my 7:30-ish splits became 8:00 slogfests as I entered Crystal City.
Crystal City is more accurately described as a “concrete wind tunnel” than an actual “city.” The buildings are arranged in a fashion to direct maximum wind velocity into your face from whichever direction you happen to be facing; it was unreal. My feet hurt and my quads ached as I leaned into the wind. The runners were spread thinly over the course at this point, so drafting opportunities were scarce.
As I reached Mile 24, John Whitridge – a running buddy from Marriott – came up on my left as we entered the Pentagon parking. He said he was pacing with his brother, Tim, who did not slow down for pleasantries; in fact, he ran ahead like he was late for the early bird buffet special at his local Stuckey’s. Well, John had enough in reserve to leave me in his wake by the time we got through the parking lot and off he went.
The crowd began to build as I approached the finish: people were yelling encouragement for a guy named Scott, so I mentally changed my name to “Scott” for the last mile. For parts of the course I was also “Delaware” and “Jack’s Dad.” Any port in a storm, I say.
I managed to keep things respectable, but just had enough left to sort of “kick” at the finish. The Iwo Jima hill was steeper – but mercifully shorter -than expected. Knowing I could stop running at the top of that hill was a major selling point after 26 miles.
I always wondered how it would feel to run a marathon. I was happy to make it to the end, but I couldn’t decide if it represented running, or just plain perseverence? I know I persevered faster than “Dan Balkey,” but as Scott Hall noted: 5+ hours is A LOT of persevering. But did I actually “run?” And if so, how come the winner finished an hour ahead of me? As much as I was buoyed by the congratulations, in the back of my mind I didn’t know if this measured me as a runner, or someone who merely went out his way to climb over an uncomfortable obstacle that might have been avoided entirely had I politely declined the offer?
But I took on the challenge and – as fate would have it – I succeeded in prolonging my misery another day (or year) by qualifying for Boston. So that is my reward: an utterly avoidable date with destiny. I have only myself to blame, but sharing this with people who have thrown themselves under a busload of pain and second guessing in order to make it to the starting line somehow makes it tolerable, and in our circle – sort of cool. We are the few, the proud, the Marriott Lunchbaggers. God help us.
Mile 1 – 10: 8:14 / 7:55 / 7:31 / 7:26 / 7:34 / 7:28 / 7:52 / 7:13 / 7:21 / 7:24
Mile 11-20: 7:32 / 7:29 / 7:42 / 7:20 / 7:41 / 7:29 / 7:30 / 7:38 / 7:47 / 7:33
Mile 21-26.2: 8:02 / 8:03 / 8:04 / 8:13 / 8:00 / 8:21 / 1:52
Marathon Man 20X
Like you, I embraced the opportunity to bring about change in our country in 2008. We knew then the easy part was behind us, but it was hard to envision how difficult the task of restoring our economy and re-building our infrastructure would be over the past two years. That task was made harder by the stiff headwind of Republican delay and obstruction. Their solution? Go back to what got us in this mess in the first place! Insanity, pure and simple!
Why wait for the Rally to Restore Sanity when you can get to the front of the line Fighting the Tea Party Insanity in Delaware?
Today, I am asking you to help elect Democrat Chris Coons to the U.S. Senate. As county executive in New Castle County since 2004, Coons has demonstrated his committment to his constituents; he isn’t just “dabbling” for Delaware.
But the Republicans have other ideas. They have staked the future of their party – and our country – on a roster of quasi-libertarian ideologues who make George W. Bush look downright Churchillian by comparison! If they win control of the House and Senate, they won’t settle for repealing Health Care Reform– they want to repeal the entire 20th Century!
They could be choosing Jim DeMint as the next Senate Majority Leader. Think about it: we’ll pine for for the “leadership” of “Mr. No,” Mitch McConnell!
Not if I can help it!
Chris Coons is not just important for Delaware; his race is a beachhead for the progressive agenda that has reversed the slide and is finally moving the country forward again! Just as Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts fueled the resurgence of the fright-wing noise machine, this is our opportunity to stand up and restore sanity!
But we can’t win this fight without your support. We need to act NOW! The peak GOTV effort is from TODAY through Election Day, Nov 2.
United We Stand – Divided We Fall
Of course, you would expect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to erect a firewall between foreign and domestic operations up to code and using only documented workers.
And you’d also expect the self-styled pitchfork populists in the Tea Party to rally at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, calling for full and complete disclosure of funding for these 501(c)(6) organizations that can raise and spend unlimited funds without ever disclosing any of its donors.
Well, if they say there’s a firewall, that’s good enough for me. Move along, Heroes, nothing to see here!
Not so fast, Patriot: according to the Think Progress investigation, contributions are funneled from foreign entities via “Business Councils” – adjuncts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
US Chamber staffers coordinate these Business Councils and manage their foreign fundraising. For instance, the Chamber’s US-Egypt Business Council directs potential members to wire their checks to the US Chamber of Commerce. The application also notes that checks should be marked “ATTN: Leila Vossoughi.” Vossaoughi is a coordinator at the Chamber. Unlike AmChams, which are foreign affiliates of the Chamber, Business Councils solicit direct contributions from foreign corporations — the the Bahrain Petroleum Company — directly to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6), the same general account used to run partisan attack ads.
Hmm… not a bad way to make money, if you can get it.
ThinkProgress » Exclusive: Foreign-Funded ‘U.S.’ Chamber Of Commerce Running Partisan Attack Ads
Had enough of “Big Government”? Your libertarian dream destination is just a click away!
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The CabinMan has weaknesses. Too many to list on a blog, but it’s true – I admit it. However, the CabinMan is willing to acknowledge, and in some cases even take steps to mitigate or remove those weaknesses. Fortunately, most of my weaknesses can be overcome – or managed – through medication or meditation. Which one I employ depends on my health plan – those deductibles can add up!
But in striving for a sustainable lifestyle, medication was not the answer. And while meditation provides the CabinMan with some valuable insight, I discovered to my chagrin that sustainability is a journey, not a destination, and course corrections are inevitable.
Here is just one example.
The CabinMan has a weakness for seltzer water. Now, I am not an abuser of seltzer – I’ve seen some bad cases — but there’s something festive to the spritz as you open a fresh bottle. And there lies the problem. The bottles. They add up.
Meditate on that for just one second. That took about 700 bottles.
Though I recycle these plastic bottles, there are external costs: in hydrocarbons to manufacture the plastics; in handling and shipping bottles from distributor to store; and in the cost of recycling.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Recycling is my last option, but the CabinMan has used it as the default option.
As part of my sustainable birthday celebration, I asked for a seltzer maker. It was sustainable in that we were probably going to buy one – celebration, or not – but it saved me having to ask for it for my Sustainable Christmas.
You can go crazy looking at various options. After noodling over different models with S. Efron, our sustainable seltzer consultant, we got the SodaStream seltzer maker.
We found one locally (!) at our local odd-ball grocery/pharmacy/household store called Rodman’s here in DC. Better yet, you can add flavors – such as ginger ale, root beer, and even diet cola – to your bottles. And the SodaStream flavors are made from real sugar, not High Fructose Corn Syrup which has been linked to the so-called obesity epidemic in America.
So put away the meds and meditate on this: Bottoms up!