OMG, A Meme!

It’s been a while since I participated in an internet meme, but I kinda liked this when I saw it over at Scully’s place this morning. So here goes.

1. Four names that people call me other than my real name:

  1. Chief, slick, champ, ace, etc. (Okay, Alex is the only one who ever does this.)
  2. Iccabod (way back in high school)
  3. Sweetheart (Alright, Lisa is the only one allowed to say this.)
  4. Hey man! Dude! Homie! Amigo! Muchacho! etc.

2. Four jobs I’ve had: (that aren’t my career of choice at present)

  1. Technical support for MATLAB
  2. Customer service for a Facebook-like web company
  3. Technical support in the college computer labs
  4. Mathematics tutor

3. Four movies I’ve watched more than once:

  1. In the Mood for Love
  2. “The Philadelphia Story”
  3. “Some Like It Hot”
  4. “Christmas Story” and the 1984 “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott… usually in that order on Christmas Eve.

4. Four books I’d recommend:

  1. Cowboys and East Indians by Nina McConigley
  2. Middlesex by Geoffrey Eugenides
  3. The Well-Built Triathlete by Matt Dixon
  4. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

5. Four places I’ve lived:

  1. Greater Boston, Massachusetts
  2. Des Moines and Grinnell, Iowa
  3. Casper, Wyoming
  4. Troutdale, Oregon

6. Four places I’ve visited: (all of these were with Lisa)

  1. Australia (2010)
  2. India (2005)
  3. The Canadian Rockies (Lisa and I honeymooned there for about two weeks in 1997)
  4. Nebraska (So. Many. Miles. Between. Iowa. And. Wyoming.)

7. Four things I prefer not to eat:

  1. Shrimp
  2. Any kind of squash (except for pumpkin pie)
  3. Most kinds of melons
  4. Well-done meat

8. Four of my favorite foods:

  1. French pastries
  2. Hard cheeses
  3. Really good chocolates
  4. Rare steaks

9. Four TV shows I watch:

  1. “The Walking Dead”
  2. “The Americans”
  3. “The Amazing Race”
  4. “Dexter”

10. Four things I’m looking forward to this year:

  1. June: Lisa’s birthday
  2. July: JDRF Ride to Cure in Burlington, Vermont (Support me!)
  3. September: Ironman Wisconsin
  4. December: Patagonia!

11. Four things I’m always saying:

  1. “That’s interesting.”
  2. “Let me look into that and get back to you.”
  3. “One more.” (usually to get myself through interval training)
  4. “Thanks!”

How about you?

Posted in General | 5 Comments


I haven’t gone for a long run—longer than an hour, that is—in over a month. It was January 10th, to be exact. It was also my most recent outdoor run. I’ve been doing a lot of shorter distance/duration workouts on the treadmill. 30 minutes here. 45 minutes there. An hour a couple weekends ago. Usually in the morning. Often on the day that I would have done strength work in the morning before running in the afternoon, instead of running in the morning and skiing in the afternoon.

Someday soon I’m going to have to switch back from mostly skiing to mostly running. But until all of this beautiful snow goes away or my Ironman training plan requires it, I’m going to keep having lots of fun sliding around on two skis while working harder and going slower than when I run. :-)

Posted in Running, Skiing | 1 Comment


In the winter 2015 USA Triathlon magazine there’s a great article about Sarah (Groff) True, the triathlete who finished just off the podium in 4th at the London Olympic games. Much of the article concerns doubts and how she overcame them. Even if we’re not Olympians, there are some excellent things to think about.

[To weed out doubts True's Coach Siri] Lindley said, “You need to talk to me about everything that scares you and makes you feel insecure because those are the things that are limiting your ability.

“And don’t feel weak doing that! You’re actually doing the strong thing, because [it's] going to allow you to reach a new level.”

True left the Olympics with a lot of regret for not believing earlier that she could win as much as the other women on the podium.

“It’s so easy to believe that athletes have preternatural self-confidence,” [True] said. “I thought that you had to go to the start line thinking you were going to win and if you’re not that person, you’re never going to win. The truth is: every athlete has doubts. I realized you can be world class even if you don’t have this innate confidence.

“Things you perceived as shortcomings, you realize are just you. You accept [your] flaws and you stop fighting yourself.

“Some of my internal battles push me forward to be a better athlete, no question.

“It just took a while to keep them from holding me back and [instead] give me fuel.”

The closer I get to the Ironman, the more real it gets and the more opportunities I have to think about all of the things that can go wrong. I haven’t thought about many things, but lately they’ve been starting to show up. So I just have to remember, instead of getting anxious, I need to see each of these as a chance to learn something I can apply not just to the Ironman but to all of my other races, too.

Posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

Super-Fun (and Slow) Ski Time

Two hours!

I am a tired man! I skied for two hours tonight. I’m still not very efficient at it, so I didn’t coverage much distance: 8.7 miles. But, oh mon dieu it was vigorous. Despite my best efforts not to push too hard, my heart rate was ridiculously high the whole time. Waah!

Robyn's Purple Hat of Victory

I skied with my fellow newbie and friend, Robyn. We’ve both made big improvements in our abilities. After a very good ski lesson last Thursday, I was hoping to be able to keep up with her better, but she’s got the madskillz and is still out-pacing me. We did figure out how to keep the two of us mostly skiing together; she just needs to ski without poles. When I watch her, I can see the spark of talent and hope that I’ll get there, too. The good news is that every time I ski, I get a little bit better.

I had been skiing for about a half-hour before Robyn showed up, and I was feeling on-form. I did 1-skate (V2), 2-skate (V2a), and a little bit of offset (V1). I skied without poles for about 10 minutes, and I did some double-poling. The first hour was fun. The next hour was really hard, y’all! My triceps and abs and rhomboids and everything else above my navel were wicked tired. It was a bit less fun, but still enjoyable with the company I kept.

Robyn, My Beard, and Me

Tomorrow, I have my second lesson. I have some questions. Let’s see if I have any breakthroughs.

Posted in Skiing | Leave a comment


Here’s a multiple-choice question. On Saturday I…

  1. Did something very silly;
  2. Went on a quest;
  3. Kept a friend company during a fundraiser;
  4. Watched TV all day;
  5. Ate food every half hour;
  6. Rode my longest/farthest indoors;
  7. Rode my farthest on a bike (indoors or outdoors) in 25 years;
  8. Kickstarted my Ironman bike training; or
  9. All of the above.

The correct answer is, of course, “All of the above.”

Inside the studio

About six weeks ago—just a short time after we hopped in the lake together on Christmas Eve—my friend Alex wrote about her quest to become a “Knight of Sufferlandria.” Sufferlandria is a mythical place invented by the creators of the Sufferfest video series. While the place may be mythical, the suffering induced by these top-quality videos certainly is not. To do one as prescribed is to get a very intense workout. To become a knight requires doing ten . . . in one day! Surely an insane undertaking.

Naturally, this was my reaction:

Okay. Tell me more about this Sufferlandria thing and whether there’s room for one more person… if it isn’t too insane… even by my standards.

As if you didn’t already know how my mind works. :-)

Artsy set-up shot

When Alex and I talked about how to approach the event (which was a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Boston) we agreed the right way to approach it was to scale the power way back for most of the day. After all, we were looking at 10 hour-long videos done with a maximum of a 10-minute break between them. That’s a long time to be in the saddle at full throttle. Thanks to TrainerRoad, I had just recently started training with power. I figured if I did most of the videos at 75% of the recommended power targets and one or two at 100%, I wouldn’t have a problem. Plus, it would be an opportunity to work on my Ironman pacing and nutrition.

I knew the undertaking was legit when I started having stress dreams about it. On Tuesday night I dreamt that I forgot all of my food . . . and shoes . . . and changes of clothes at home and had to drive back on the morning of the event to get them. Of course it was a dream, so the event was in Wyoming and my stuff was just down the road at Grandma’s old house in Iowa. Oh, dreams!

Early. Feeling good.

On the day of the event, I woke with high blood sugar. The cupcake I ate while “carb-loading” the night before probably had a bit to do with that, but the main culprit was the adrenaline from the anticipation. It was just like before a triathlon. “This is perfect,” I thought. “Just like race day! Something to anticipate for Ironman Wisconsin.” I gave some insulin and then we settled in for a bit of riding.

Here’s the set list for the day:

The set list

  • A Very Dark Place (51 minutes – 5 x 4 minute high-intensity intervals)
  • Downward Spiral (60 minutes – 2 sets of 8 intervals from 2 mins to :15 seconds)
  • Revolver (45 minutes – 15 x 1:00 maximum intensity intervals)
  • Fight Club (58 minutes – 5 x 6:30 intervals with 22 (!) attacks)
  • Angels (56 minutes – 3 x 8:00 climbs with lots of attacks)
  • There Is No Try (60 minutes – Accelerating intervals)
  • The Rookie (55 minutes – 3 x 10:00 race simulation)
  • Rubber Glove (60 minutes – A 20 minute FTP test)
  • The Wretched (48 minutes – A pure, attacking, climbing, fighting TdF stage)
  • Nine Hammers (55 minutes – Nine VO2 and Threshold Intervals)

Sounds like fun, non?


We were at Steve The Bike Guy‘s bike shop and velo studio, which has almost daily Sufferfest sessions. It was a perfect setting. They put on a fantastic event, attending to so many details that Alex, Nancy, and I had it (relatively) easy. All we had to do was ride. Video and audio? Check! Food and water? Check! WiFi for social media? Check! Sharing our exploits with the Twitter and the Facebook? Check! Steve and Kristen (the eponymous bike guy’s wife) even rode a bit with us.

The first few videos were relatively “easy,” especially at 75% of the recommended intensity. We talked and joked. One of our minions even went out for an hour-long run on the snowy backroads of Sherborn, Mass. It was nice to be distracted. About 3-1/2 hours in, my iPod’s battery died, and I couldn’t use TrainerRoad to see my power targets. For the next couple hours while my iPod charged, I just went based on feel and speed. “Take whatever effort it says, multiply by 2, and that’s my target speed,” I reasoned. An effort of 8.5 out of 10 became 17 mph.

The last few videos were when it got real. Fortunately, by then I had my power data back.


Video #8 was similar to the test I did a couple weeks ago to find my training rates. There was no way I was going to do that level of effort given that I was already starting to feel the all-out sprint I did during the previous video. (You might recall that the previous FTP test had me crying in a fetal position by the end. At least, that’s how I felt on the inside.) Despite not going hard hard, I was definitely ready for the 20-minute long interval at just below threshold pace to be over. Then on video #9 (“The Wretched”) I upped my target goal even more. I was looking forward to being done with the day.

And then came “Nine Hammers,” the last video. What can I say about it? As jovial and carefree as we were at the beginning, we were equally quiet and resolute when the video got underway. One of the minions said we looked as if we were trying to melt into our bikes, we were so aero. Or tired. Take your pick. We all tried our best to make this one count. As you can see, it was intense:

Nine Hammers

About halfway through I said, “I think my butt is starting to hurt.” Alex shot me a look of death. Meanwhile, Nancy seemed like a woman about to murder someone, so (at her request and everyone’s approval) the minions set Pandora to play the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, and friends. That was just what we needed to finish the last video. But we weren’t done! Oh no. No no no no no. The suffering wouldn’t be complete until Nancy reached 150 miles. “Are we there yet?” became a common question for those last three miles until she told us all just to shut the fuck up.

And then we were done!

All done!

We chatted. We ate food. Alex and I cooled our taints in the snowbank outside the shop. We changed clothes for the third or fourth time of the day. It was jovial once again.

Cooling off

Clearly I didn’t work as hard as I expected because, even though I rode 130 miles over 11+ hours, I didn’t feel completely destroyed. (Sorry, Sufferlandrians!) Don’t get me wrong; I was really tired, and my legs were pretty sore. Nevertheless, I feel like I could have run a bit afterward. Maybe not a full marathon yet, but probably a half. It probably wouldn’t have been pretty, though. That’s what the next seven months of training are for, eh?

I’m happy to have done this silly thing. It was fun . . . fun in that “I’m a triathlete and can flip a switch in my brain to compartmentalize pain/boredom/effort/etc.” kinda way. Thanks for inviting me along, Nancy and Alex!

p.s. — Many thanks to Kristin at Steve the Bike Guy for all of the fantastic photos (and everything else!) yesterday.

Posted in 101 in 1001, Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete | 6 Comments

“I Was Never Told…”

This. Just this.

I learned a bit from the people who were there [at my diagnosis] to teach me. But I learned the most from just living the experience. I learned. I adopted that knowledge into my new reality and then forgot that I didn’t always know it. . . .

But I do know that there are many people out there who may not figure this stuff out for themselves. Who may do everything they are told to do and then not understand that it is not their fault when the wheels still fall off the cart on a regular basis. Who may feel personally responsible for every low. For every high. For every up and down.

Posted in Diabetes | 1 Comment

Verticality Rocks!

It’s snowing again.

Winter scene

If you’re in New England, you’re probably thinking, “Big shock, right?” Counting today, it’s snowed four or five times in the last nine days. Honestly, I’ve lost track of when the snow came. What I do know is that I drove to Boston a couple Saturdays ago when the first snow arrived. The storm flipped tractor-trailers on the Mass Pike and turned a half-hour drive into an hour-and-twenty-minute limp to a work commitment downtown that I couldn’t miss. Fortunately I was able to ski fresh snow on the way home after changing into my ski garb in a bathroom of the Sheraton at Copley Place.

That skiing was pretty good, although it turned a little sloppy near the end when the temperature rose and the snow turned to sleet. I almost made it all the way around the 1K loop without falling, but (alas!) I did buy it with just 50-ish yards to go. The skiing made me eager to do more, as did watching ski videos on YouTube. “I wish there was somewhere really close I could go to try out the technique tips I’m seeing online,” I thought.

So I asked some sporty online friends how to groom my backyard for skate skiing. I got some good advice from someone who “may have tried this before,” as well as some less good advice (“spend $50K for a consultant to groom it for you”). After a half-hour of tramping around in skis in my backyard, I had something mostly skiable. I just didn’t have enough light to take advantage of it.

Ski track before the storm

Then the winter storm hit.


My town got about 30-36 inches of fluffy snow, and—after digging myself out—I had a harder time turning all of that fluffiness into something I could ski . . . despite my best efforts. I’ve decided to call my ski track “Moby Dick,” because it’s a big, white, ridiculous whale of an undertaking.

The morning after

Digging out

Clearly I need one of these.

The right way to groom snow

So yesterday I went back to the ski track first thing before going into work for the afternoon. (It’s really very atypical for me to work on the weekends, much less two weekends in a row.)


Yesterday was, without a doubt, the best day I’ve ever had on skis. It was sunny and cool, and the snow was freshly prepared. There were a lot of people at Weston, but it didn’t feel crowded. I practiced double-poling. I practiced free skating (skiing without poles). I practiced my “two skate.” I did an acceptable herringbone up a hill.

About halfway through my ski, things started to really click. I was using the edge of my skis better as I pushed off, and my glide was going farther, too. I felt more sure in my balance. There’s still not a lot of power or speed in my legs—and I can feel how awkward it must look—but I managed to stay upright for the entire hour I was out. I’m considering that a major accomplishment! In fact, it’s my first time on skis where I didn’t land on my ass, shoulder, or face.


Even better, I was actually starting to have a good time. A few times I got into a good rhythm, and it felt a bit like meditation. I lost myself in the moment and felt confidence wash over me in a way that it had never done before while I’ve skied.

Monday snow

And, as I wrote earlier, it’s snowing again. Add these 12-18 inches to the 40 or so that we’ve already received and then throw in the very cold temperatures we’ve had recently, and the rest of February looks good for skiing. Tomorrow and Wednesday, Robyn (my fellow newbie) and I are going skiing after work. I’m really looking forward to it!

Posted in Skiing | 1 Comment

Whip It. Whip it good!

“Let’s race!”

I arrived at the pool on Friday eager to learn a new stroke: the breaststroke. For my birthday last autumn, I received Sheila Taormina‘s Swim Speed Strokes book. I’ve been swimming freestyle for six seasons now, occasionally throwing in a bit of kicking on my back. My main focus is still improving my freestyle, but I’ve also been eager to learn a new stroke. I believe doing so will improve my freestyle, because every bit of mindfulness and intentionality can only help me get a better feel for the parts of my regular swimming. Plus, in my heart of hearts, I’m excited just to try something new.

When Alexis discovered that I was learning a new stroke, she was excited. “You need to have Jen help you with your kick. It’s hard, but she helped me a lot with mine. Hey, Jen! Jeff is learning the breaststroke!”

Jennifer is one of the best swimmers at the pool, and it was great that she volunteered to help. We spent a lot of time at the wall going over the basics. “It’s not a frog-kick. It’s a whip-kick.” Some people are capable of hearing what they should do with their limbs, visualizing it, and then doing it. “Bring your feet up with your knees mostly together, then snap them around back to the start. That’s where the power comes from.” Some people can hear all of that and do it. I am not one of those people.

Eventually I did it well enough that she cut me loose with a kick-board. It wasn’t pretty—I kept veering to the left and running into the lane divider—and I was exhausted after each length of the pool. But I did my kicking, although I never felt like I really got the hang of it. After 100 yards of kicking, it was time to do a little freestyle.

Which brings us back to Alex’s challenge: “Let’s race! I haven’t done any breaststroke in months.”

I got a good push off the wall and started whip kicking. Alex arrived at the far end of the pool and looked back in my direction. I waved at her from 1/3 of the way down my lane. She laughed and waited for me to arrive. A few seconds later, we started the second part of our race.

Somewhere on the way back, it all clicked. I could feel the power in the whip. I pulled ahead and—I can’t believe it—won! It was a small victory, to be sure. More than anything, starting to get the hang of the technique was the true win.

Soon I’ll start working on the front half of the stroke. G-d help me when I try to incorporate the two together.

Posted in Swimming | 4 Comments

Ski Report 2015

Wintertime outdoor fun-makers

We have had very little snow here. And it’s been warm. Driving to the ski track on Wednesday everything was winter brown. How would the skiing be?

Fortunately, Weston’s snowmakers had plenty of cold temperatures to work with recently, and the snow was really good despite being man-made, rained upon, and groomed to within an inch of its life. It was fast but not icy. “If—I mean—when I fall,” I thought, “it won’t hurt so much.” And, based on all of my previous outings, I was going to fall. And fall I did, usually in the same place on the track, but I wasn’t getting hurt (unlike two years ago).

Let’s just face it: I am not (yet) good at skiing. It’s a technique-intensive sport, and I’m more-or-less a complete newbie with very little natural rhythm or balance. But I’m getting better at it—if you consider the number of times I fall—and I’m having fun. Honestly. Well, mostly. Although I have to say, I think I have more hope that I’ll have lots of fun later going around the track than actual fun now.

As Lisa says, “It didn’t kill me, and I know I could do better.”

And I really can do better. After all, it took me two years to learn how to swim.

So I’ve been watching YouTube videos about basic skate technique. Mostly I’m trying to stay out of the way of the better skiers and not fall down in front of them. I’m excited to get back to the track.

It helps that I have a friend who is equally green. She’s a competitive sort, though, and somehow she’s already better than me. Anyway, she really wants to race badly. (Or is it “badly wants to race?”) This is far lower on my list of priorities than hers, but I’m easily talked into things. We came to an agreement: When we could do the 1K loop in a particular time, we would become back of the pack ski racers together.

Here are my goals:

  • Have fun!
  • Ski the 1km loop at Weston without falling.
  • Ski the 1km loop at Weston in 4:00. Start racing afterward.
  • Learn to do “1 skate” well.
  • Learn to “offset skate” uphill well.

Oh, and I learned the basics of waxing skis.

Waxing setup


Wax shavings

Ready to go!

Posted in Skiing | Leave a comment

Heart Rate Training

Céline asked questions about heart rate training recently, and I started to answer them there. But my comment turned out to be longer than her post, so I decided to put it here instead.

Here’s the low-down on heart rate training as I’ve understood and practiced it for the last 3-4 years. (And, yes, I was similarly confused when I started down this road, too. Hopefully this will get you over the hump.)

Target heart rates are highly individual, but (in general) your maximum heart rate is limited by your age and roughly follows this formula: maxHR = 220 – age. This is basically as fast as your heart can beat.

You won’t be able to train (much less race) near your maximum heart rate for very long, but your highest intensity intervals will be in the neighborhood. These are your “VO2 max” intervals. Anaerobic energy sources don’t last very long, which is why you can’t sustain this effort for more than a minute or two. It’s where you might be when you’re sprinting at the end of a 5K or when you go “all out” at the pool. You can train your VO2 max heart rate upward a bit, but this plateaus.

I described threshold heart rate (a.k.a., lactate threshold heart rate, LTHR) on your previous post. It’s lower than VO2 max, and can be moved upward quite a lot as your muscles become more efficient at producing energy and clearing lactate. It’s a good goal effort for medium-ish races–like a 10K–because it’s pretty much the level of effort you could sustain for about an hour. The longer the race or event, the lower you need to be below LTHR to survive. The good news is, you don’t have to be much below it to go for hours and hours at a fast pace . . . typically 80-85%. As far as I can tell, “tempo heart rate” is the training zone just upward of your LTHR.

Recovery heart rate is pretty much any effort less than about 75-80% of LTHR. It’s a good place to be for a lot of your easier workouts (and/or the easier parts of your hard workouts). Training at this level helps improve your “economy” without taxing you too much. If I understand correctly, it helps train your body to use fat effectively as a fuel source so you’re not relying solely on carbohydrates. (This is good for everyone and extra good for those of us with diabetes. Of course, adaptation leads to its own BG challenges.)

A lot of these different heart rate targets get wrapped up into different “zones.” I hesitate to get too deep into this now, because there are many different zone systems out there. I prefer using this one:

  • Zone 1 is super-easy
  • Zone 2 is recovery
  • Zone 3 is just below threshold/LTHR
  • Zone 4 is LTHR-VO2 max
  • Zone 5 is maximal.

This much I know. About whether your training zones depend on activity . . . Here I’m starting to get a little bit out of my depth, but I’ll proceed with that caveat.

Your zones should be the same across your aerobic disciplines: swimming, biking, running. They may feel different, though. Personally, I’ve seen that my maximal and VO2 rates are the same when I bike or run, but I do “feel” like I’m working harder to get to them when I’m on the bike. It’s also much harder for me to reach those rates on the bike when I’m not outdoors. I’m not sure why that is, but lots of people have this same experience. I have, however, been doing a bit of indoor bike training recently which proves that I can push myself to spend a lot more time at or near LTHR, but it requires more mindfulness and feedback. I’ve also noticed over the years of training with a heart rate monitor that an hour running at LTHR and an hour biking outdoors at the same heart rate is equally taxing.

And here’s the key thing: Your heart rates—like blood glucose—are just numbers that you use to make other decisions. They’re targets you use to get faster. Raising them isn’t necessarily a goal in itself. Rather, you’re using the zones to go faster within each zone over the long haul. Your targets will definitely change, but don’t think they necessarily have to keep going up and up.

Posted in Cycling, Fodder for Techno-weenies, Reluctant Triathlete, Running | 2 Comments

Quality, Not Quantity

From Matt Dixon’s newish book, The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential Into Performance.

If you spend lots of time adding up weekly training hours and monthly totals, it’s time to put your pen down. If your lens on training success is built around a simple accumulation of hours, you cannot be maximizing your performance potential. While training volume is important, it is a derivative of a sensible training plan, not the objective. Training volume as the metric of projected success is nearly immaterial. There. I said it. I am officially, publicly, irretrievably a heretic.

In other words, I’m still working on creating my training plan for the Ironman.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More Power!

Hello, winter! You’ve finally arrived.

Most years, it’s not long after Labor Day in September that I head down to the “love dungeon” to ride. I still try to get outside on the weekends, but most rides happen indoors now. (This year has been better than most; I’ve been out on the roads five times in the last month!) While others might feel comfortable riding around before and after work year round, I don’t particularly like to ride in the dark. So it’s off to the basement for me.

My set-up

The only problem is that I have trouble getting a really good workout inside. Outside I push hard, and I have a sense when I’m not going “fast enough.” On the trainer, however, I really have to push to get the same burn. So I was looking for something to help me make the most of my trainer time this winter.

Enter, an online app that gives you power-based workouts. “Wait! You have power?” I can hear you asking. No, the app uses my Garmin’s speed+cadence sensor and details about my CycleOps trainer to estimate my power. It comes pre-loaded with workouts, and you can buy more online—including the SufferFest series. All I have to do is pick a workout, put my laptop near the bike, hop on, and work hard to keep my effort at the suggested power values. TrainerRoads shows the target, and I try to hold my effort as close to that number as possible and keep a light on the screen green.

Recovering between

“But, Jeff, how do you know your power targets?”

That, my friends, is where the 20-minute functional threshold power (FTP) test comes into the picture. I recently learned that FTP is an estimate of the maximum effort that you can sustain for an hour. For those of you familiar with heart rate training, it correlates very nicely with lactate threshold, the point where your body can’t clear all the lactate your muscles produce and things start to feel really difficult. It’s also the level of exertion where you start incorporating more anaerobic effort. TrainerRoads says, when you’re working at FTP, you really want to back off the effort, but you don’t actually have to. It’s hard, and it hurts, but it’s supposed to. It’s also possible to improve FTP, making it possible to work harder for longer, always staying just on the happy side of the edge.

The first workout TrainerRoads suggests is the FTP test, and it’s what I did Wednesday night. It starts with 30 minutes of relative easy cycling, including three short sections of high intensity to get the legs ready for what’s to come: 20 minutes in the pain cave. It might be the most difficult bike workout I’ve ever done. In order to test FTPin just 20 “short” minutes—remember, FTP concerns how much effort you can sustain for an hour—you have to go beyond the threshold for the whole 20 minutes.

The first five minutes weren’t bad. Then it started to hurt. By the midway part of the test, I was starting to wonder how much I could actually sustain. At fifteen minutes, Lisa could hear my deep, forceful breathing all the way upstairs. The last five minutes were sheer willpower. Sweat was streaming off me at a disgusting rate. The last minute was somehow easier than the previous 10, probably because I knew I was almost done.

And then I was done.

OMG! So difficult!

I had a number: 200 watts. Don’t worry, I’m not going to become one of those power-obsessed triathletes/cyclists who talks about “watts this” and “watts that,” much to everyone else’s boredom. For me, it’s just a number to help me get faster.

At first I didn’t really know whether it was a good number or not. There are a lot of watt-obsessed folks on the internet, who are willing to break it all down. Turns out, FTP is a fairly objective measure of performance, once you factor in bodyweight. This article from Athlete Lab was the most helpful. After computing watts/kg, it’s possible to see how you stack up against other typical and not-so-typical riders (who are insanely talented and/or aided by a little something off-the-books).

Here’s how they put it:

FTP Watts/KG  
2-3 Good weekend rider
3 Good weekend racer/Cat 3
4 Cat 2
5 Cat 1/Semi Pro
6+ Get on the Tour Baby!


When you factor in my current weight (70.5 kg), you get a value of 2.8 W/kg. Not bad. Could be better.

We’ll see where I am at the end of the winter.


Posted in Cycling, Fodder for Techno-weenies, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

Maintain, Don’t Gain

The FitWorks staff–”MathWorks” + “fitness” = “FitWorks.” Get it?–who run the gym double as our health and wellness people. For the last several years, they’ve been running a “maintain, don’t gain” program between American Thanksgiving and New Years. The challenge is to not gain weight over the holidays, and the reward is the possibility of gift cards to supermarkets that have (generally) healthy, fresh ingredients. I’ve done this a few times now and weighed out last week for this year. Today we got an e-mail with the results and winners. Here’s an excerpt:

Hi Maintain Don’t Gain 2014 Participants,

I appreciate your participation in the program and hope you took away some great new habits. We had some fabulous results that I would like to share with you.

  • 100% of participants that weighed-out (46 of 55) successfully Maintained or lost weight!
  • We had a 119.6 pound weight loss as a group and that’s an average weight loss of 2.6 pounds per person!

I would like to point out that all this was accomplished during a time where most Americans gain 5-10 pounds and all it took was keeping the goal at hand top of mind. Great work everyone and you should all be proud.

It is my pleasure to announce the winners of the Maintain Don’t Gain 2014 Raffle. . . .

100% success! That’s great, no? I was within a half-pound of my weigh-in measurement—which is basically a draw—and having the “MDG” reminder there was a bit of a help. It’s more evidence that “what gets measured gets managed.”

Not gaining over the holidays is good, but it doesn’t undo the 7-8 pounds that I gained since the end of triathlon season. I’m not upset with myself—I enjoyed all of the deliciousness—but I do need to get closer to my ideal training and racing weight by the time spring rolls around. (Mmm . . . spring rolls.)

Enter MyFitnesPal. Lots of people seem to love the free mobile app and website as a way to lose weight or avoid overeating. Céline recently wrote about using it, and my father-in-law lost 100 pounds (!) over a couple of years by exercising more and tracking what he ate with the app. (My mother-in-law lost a fair bit, too!) So I dove right in and decided to give it a try. I like it so far . . . except for feeling a bit hungrier now. :-/ We’ll see where I end up (and when).

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Polar Bear Swim

The Insanity

On Christmas Eve last week, Alex from the pool and I went for a little swim in the Ashland Reservoir. We had hoped to do the same thing on New Year’s Day this year, but we were frozen out. Twelve months later we finally made it!

I changed into my swimmers at the office gym and drove to the reservoir with them on beneath my clothes. I arrived a few minutes before Alex, stripped down, put on my sad-looking reindeer antlers, and hung out for a few minutes feeling a little creepy as a couple random people walked by. When Alex showed up—wearing an elf hat, of course—one of these people told us we were crazy after learning that we were going to get into the water.

And she might have been right. When I rode my bike for a couple hours the previous weekend, I noticed that all of the smaller bodies of water were ice-covered and that some of the larger ones had frozen near shore. A couple of days of warming into the mid-40s (about 5-7°C) cleared away the ice, but the water was only about 34°F (1°C).

Alex and I looked at each other for a few moments, subconsciously urging the other to go first. Finally, we counted to three and ran head long into the frigid water. The shock was instant! I was cold and then I was really cold. Within 10 seconds I couldn’t feel my flesh anymore. Fortunately, the water was up to my waist, so I could flop onto my side for a proper soaking without going any farther into the lake. Alex took a couple of freestyle strokes. Moments later I was trudging back to shore on feet that felt more like stumps, pausing to make sure that Alex wasn’t having any trouble getting out of the water.


Alex’s husband, who had come along to take a few pictures, handed me my towel. (He even made a short video. You can hear their daughter laughing at us as we frolic.) The funny thing was that the water was so cold that, once I hit the 45° air and toweled off, I didn’t feel that cold. It was so much warmer (comparatively) that I didn’t feel like I was going to die unless I bundled up immediately.

As quickly as we had arrived, gotten wet, and dried off, we were on our way to our respective Christmas Eve traditions. As we were wishing each other a merry Christmas, Alex gave me a hug and expressed what I was also thinking: “I’m glad I have a friend who will do crazy stuff like this with me!”

Have a happy New Year, friends! I hope it’s full of lots of wonderful craziness.

Posted in Swimming | 1 Comment

Artisinal Data Visualization

While looking around the web for interesting ways to visualize diabetes data, I came across Jana Beck’s iPancreas blog and her foray into D-data visualization. There I found a link to Sarah Groff-Palermo’s talk from August about “Artisanal Data on the Web.” This quotation resonated with me:

When we see the stories we want to tell and the stories the tools try to make us tell, in that clash eventually we ourselves are revealed.

Yes! Thinking about what we want to show and the (possibly more limited) way that we can express it leads us to think differently about what we’re actually trying to show.

Posted in Data-betes | 1 Comment