Monday, June 15, 2015

Pemi Loop XV: Beast Mode

Almost four years ago I unexpectedly eked out the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Pemi Loop, covering the thirty mile White Mountain running test piece in a 6:46:08 personal breakout performance, less than a minute faster than Jan Wellford's time. Only a few months later Ben Nephew fairly demolished my time with a 6:27:48 and I thought I might be out the game for good. It was difficult to conceive that I might be able to get another twenty minutes out of my body, but for the next few years I continued to hurl myself around the Pemi, only making incremental improvements. 6:46...6:43...6:38. I found myself the awkward owner of the second, third, and fourth fastest reported Pemi times. Speedy or not, every run was a worthwhile and soul-stirring experience.

2015 started off with a bang; good luck in race entry lotteries earned me starting spots in both Western States and Hardrock for the summer, plus the birth of my son in February, a Boston Marathon bib, and I found myself burning my own candle at both ends. Frenzied, spastic road training, a rough winter, and sleepless nights left me burned out and tired by the time April rolled around. I managed to trudge through a cold and wet Boston in a hypothermic 3:17, a full half hour than my ambition had hoped for. Then two DNF's in a row at local 50Ks made it clear that I'd better either get an attitude adjustment or just quit running altogether.

So I went back to my roots; easy aerobic runs during the week and long weekend days in the mountains. No speed work, no structure, I just ran by feel. Balancing family and work life made me realize how much of a gift and privilege running is to me and I gratefully seized every opportunity to get out that I could. Doing this, I managed to string together a few months of solid training in the 75-80 mile per week range with 10,000-17,000 feet of elevation gain. On June 7th I ran a casual Pemi Loop in 7:45. My climbing legs felt strong, I recovered well, and with the route fresh in my mind I knew it was time to go back a week later and see what I could do.

I spent Saturday resting up, picking strawberries with the family, then did my daughter's weekly swimming lessons on Sunday morning. It was nearly noon by the time I rolled into the Lincoln Woods parking lot, only to discover that I'd left my gel flask at home. Welp, there's 1200 calories that I'll have to do without. This left me with 600 calories of Tailwind in my hand bottles. Would it be enough? Not without apprehension, I decided to go for it anyway and make a go/no-go around decision on Bondcliff.

As for the run itself, everything went perfectly. I steadily built a lead over my old splits all day and the thought of quitting and going home never crossed my mind. It was one of those rare days when my mental and physical abilities worked together rather than against each other so that I could sustain a high effort level all day. I paid particular attention to attacking the more marginally runnable sections that I've hiked in the past, as well as establishing a focused rhythm on the rocky, technical descents. I think the yoga I've been doing has helped with my balance and hip flexibility such that my rock-hopping is more swift and efficient.

When I crested Lafayette in less than four and half hours, despite having to ration my calories and water, I knew I'd made it through the hard part and if I could just hold on, all my efforts would be vindicated. Well, I didn't just hold on, I put the hammer down. One unexpected advantage to the late start was that Franconia Ridge was nearly deserted of hiker traffic, so I was free to do my own thing. And then there was the Osseo Trail - in my opinion descending this route is the most exhilarating trail run in the state and it's the main reason I prefer to do the Pemi Loop anti-clockwise. Sub seven minute miles just seem to come effortlessly if you can get your legs out in front of you fast enough to keep from falling over forwards. I hit the parking lot side of the bridge over the Pemigewasset River in 6:14:34, a personal best of twenty four minutes and breaking an FKT that I wasn't sure I had in me by thirteen minutes.

Now I'm left wondering how long it will last. I'm confident sub-six hours is very possible and even when the times do get pushed out my reach, as they eventually will, I feel fulfillment in making my own little mark. In some ways, I'm reminded of my friend Jeff List, who's father ran a fast time on the Mahoosuc Traverse in the 1940s. That's a time that Jeff can can look on with pride and try to match it himself. Maybe if my kids get into mountain running in twenty or thirty years they can be inspired to follow in their old man's footsteps. I hope it brings them the same joy it brings me.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Moab - January 2015

 Want to read something horrible? Go here. It's nothing dirty, I promise.

I wrote that page in 1997 or 1998 when I was 14 or 15 years old and I'm astonished that it still exists. I'm not sure what the intent really was, probably me expressing how happy I was to have my first decent mountain bike, but it reads very much like the bike catalogs I used to obsess over when I was a teenager. Not to say that I've come very far, writing-wise, in the intervening years. In any case, I first read the word "Moab" on the side a bike frame and ever since, it's been a place that I wanted to visit if I ever got the chance.

That chance came a few weeks ago, where I had a few days alone to explore a small part of the desert around Moab. I don't really bike any more, but running served me just as well.

The day dawns ripe over the LaSal Mountains

The Colorado River from Deadhorse Point at sunrise.

LaSal Range from Dead Horse Point

Descending Upheaval Canyon

Just right; 50s during the day, below freezing at night.

Moses and Zues

Taylor Canyon


Alone but not

No wind and silent but for the ringing in my ears.

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands N.P.

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands N.P.

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands N.P.

It's a rental. I swear I don't have bad credit.

Devil's Garden - Arches N.P.

Devil's Garden - Arches N.P.

Devil's Garden - Arches N.P.

Delicate Arch - Arches N.P.

Delicate Arch - Arches N.P.

Wall Street - Acrches N.P,

Petrified sand dunes - Slickrock Trail

Newspaper Rock

Elephant Canyon, Needles District - Canyonlands N.P,

Chesler Park - Needles

Blue sky in the Needles

Joint Trail - Needles

Slot Canyon

I'll miss you too
I still have the bike.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Miata Update #5

One thing I've come to accept is that this car, like many projects, is as much about the process as the end result. I have a habit of finding things that aren't broken and fixing them until they are. Still, there's value in that, as it's helped me become even more familiar with every part of a car I plan to keep indefinitely and I've been able to use it as platform to build new skills. There's kind of a vague end goal of a car that's faster, more fun, and more unique. I view this as being in the original vein of hot-rodding as it was mid-century, with a strong DIY ethic. Over the last year I've made progress in a few areas.

First up was the building of a Megasquirt stand-alone computer to entirely replace the Reagan-era unit that the car left its Hiroshima factory with in June of 1989. This will control the fuel injection and ignition systems with much greater precision as well as allow me to swap in more modern parts (like higher flowing fuel injectors out of a Mazda RX8, a throttle position sensor out of a BMW, and ignition coils from a Toyota Corolla) and customize nearly every engine operating parameter to my own needs by connecting a laptop. More power, greater fuel economy, and the capability to support even more power in the future is the goal here, provided you know what you're doing.

To save money and educate myself, I decided to order the Megasquirt as an unassembled kit of circuit boards, chips, and tiny electronic components that have to be soldered in place very methodically. If you screw it up, the computer doesn't work. I generally prefer mechanical things because I can see how they work; electricity, being invisible, is indistinguishable from magic to me. When I started this project I didn't know how to solder electronic components. I do now. It worked, and the moment I got my car to start and run controlled by a computer I built myself was pretty rewarding.

Now, rather than using a mechanical flapper door to quantify how much air is coming into the motor (and how much corresponding fuel to inject), the new computer uses a more accurate method of measuring temperature and pressure to determine the mass flow rate of air coming in. This allowed me get rid of some bulky components on the driver side of the engine bay, space I'll need later.

This is a terrible picture, but I mounted a boost/vacuum gauge and an air/fuel ratio gauge in the dash to keep an eye on things. There's room for more gauges below the radio, but I had to put filler panel there for now.

Then I tore down and re-built the rear suspension and drive train.

Things were pretty messy under there:

I hate rust.

A few hours with a wire wheel and some paint made it look much better:

While I had everything apart I installed new wheel bearings, which I had to disassemble, clean, and repack with grease that doesn't suck.

Then I reassembled the bearings with new hubs and extended wheel studs.

I also did the fronts, as well.

This was also a good time to strip and repaint the suspension control arms as well as add grease fittings for my polyurethane bushings to keep things operating smoothly and without squeaks.

While I was putting everything back together I upgraded the rear differential to a limited-slip Torsen-unit out of a newer Miata for better traction and strength, as well as new axle shafts. I also have new springs and shocks on order that should ride and handle much better than the red KYBs seen here, but there's been some shipping delays on those and they didn't arrive before I had to put the car back together for the winter.

I also got new stronger, lighter wheels, 15x8 inches, rather than the old 14x6 inchers I've had on there for years, plus some wider, stickier tires.

They fill out the fender wells a lot nicer, without rubbing anywhere.

I'm pleased with how they look, too.

Then I put the car away for the long winter's nap. Much more to do next year.