RAGBRAI, Here I Come!

Last night I “attended” a webinar about RAGBRAI, which I will be doing at the end of the month. I’m starting to get excited about it and the roadtrip to follow.

“What’s RAGBRAI?” you ask.

Sometimes I forget that some people have not lived in Iowa, where—whether you ride a bike or not—everyone knows about the Register‘s Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI. (This is the 42nd edition, making it slightly older than me.) As the name implies, the ride starts on the western side of the state and continues over the span of a week to the Mississippi River on the eastern border. When I was but a wee teen at camp, we would often talk about the enormity of such an undertaking as we pedaled our bikes over the plains, past the farms, and through the little towns of Iowa. “One day I’ll do RAGBRAI,” I told myself back then. Twenty-five years later, I’m finally going back to ride it.

Iowa is blessed with lots and lots of paved county roads linking close to a thousand cities and towns, both “big” and small. These roads typically have very little traffic and seem to exist for three things: getting the corn from the fields to the grain elevator, going to Grandma’s house, and RAGBRAI. With so many roads and towns available, event organizers have a lot of options; unlike some other cross-state rides (such as the Pan-Mass Challenge, which is also on my “someday” list), the course changes every year. Some years are longer than others. Other years are hillier.

This year’s ride is the third-shortest route and second-flattest in RAGBRAI history. Yay?

RAGBRAI is a huge group ride with 10,000 cyclists partaking in a week-long rolling party. Food and adult beverages are available everywhere, I am told. I will be tent camping every night. It’s an experience . . . not a training camp. I’m going to try to perfect the art of balancing cycling, food, and insulin as I eat and ride my way across the state. BBQ, pork tenderloin sandwiches, pie, ice cream: bring it! Some of my college friends are riding, as are a huge contingent of my family on my father’s side. It will be great to ride with them.

Don’t get me wrong; even with these priorities, it’s still going to be a challenge. At 455 miles (732 kms) long, I will still need about 30 hours in the saddle to finish the ride at a moderate 15 mph clip. Fortunately, that’s spread out over seven days. As is the 11,780 feet (3,590 meters) of climbing. People who remember my hilliness scale, will remember that I wrote “if it’s less than 30, it’s flat. If it’s between 30 and 50, it’s slightly hilly.” This year’s RAGBRAI’s days range between 17 and 46. Of course, Iowa’s hills are a little different than New England’s, since they tend to be long and shallow. Here’s the breakdown:

Day Distance (mi.) Climbing (ft.) Hilliness
1 69.2 1771 26
2 40.8 1078 26
3 105.7 1800 17
4 38.5 695 18
5 65.8 1743 26
6 67.4 1623 24
7 67.5 3073 46

With all of this cycling distance in my legs, I should be ready for the Rev3 Maine half-ironman triathlon at the end of August and the JDRF Lake Tahoe ride a couple of weeks after that. (Please consider helping JDRF improve the lives of people with diabetes with a contribution to my ride. If you do, I’ll send you something special from RAGBRAI!)

Posted in Cycling, RAGBRAI | 1 Comment

Try Try Again

It’s not a secret that I’ve been frustrated with the Medtronic Enlite sensor. I started using it in January but never could quite get it to work as well as I had expected (i.e., well enough to deserve the label of “the world’s first breakthrough in Artificial Pancreas technology”). It took me about four months to realize that, like others, I wasn’t doing things wrong, and I stopped blaming myself for not being able to get the Enlite to work for me. (Others are still coming around.) I really wanted it to work, but each sensor I took out at the end of its sad little life was kinked in some way or another, which (I surmise) led to the inaccurate readings. When I ran out of Enlite sensors at the end of May, I took a little CGM hiatus.

The truth is, I need reliable CGM. June was a bunch of uncaught highs and defensive actions against the dark arts lows. My daily averages were higher; there were a lot more ups and downs throughout each day; and I had less insight into what happened during exercise. I definitely got back in the habit of checking my blood sugar more often, but I missed being able to see where my BGs were trending when I was just sitting around. So at the end of June, I called Medtronic to reorder supplies, hoping to switch back to the Sof-Sensor. While it’s possible to use the 530G together with the older Sof-Sensor, reordering would require a new prescription from my endocrinologist. Since time was of the essence to get them before a trip out of town, I decided to go with another batch of Enlite, hoping that somehow the past was just a bad dream and this time it would work out right.

And you know what? For the first few days it actually did. The Enlite still wasn’t catching my super high readings, but it was tracking my overall BGs pretty accurately. But then Saturday (the fourth day) came along, and I went for a run. Twenty minutes into the run I stopped to double check whether I had actually dropped 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) since starting. I hadn’t budged more than a smidgeon. From then on, the sensor was consistently reading low and failing to calibrate. Overnight between the fourth and fifth days, this happened:

Just your run-of-the-mill Enlite batshit craziness

My BGs hadn’t actually changed at all during those three hours, so I pulled the sensor, started a new one, and am hoping for the best.

Let’s recap.

Enlite is approved for six days of “artificial pancreas” use. I got three days of good readings and then a day and a half of bullshit results before pulling the plug. Now I’m on the second sensor in a week’s time, and so far it’s working out of okay. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday or Thursday when I reach day three or four.

Oh, and I am calling called my endocrinologist this morning to get a new prescription for the Sof-Sensor.

p.s. — While I still want to see how Dexcom works out for me, all y’all with that system can feel free to say “I told you so.” If you don’t have CGM yet and are trying to decide which to get, be sure to try them both and see which works better for you!

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My friend’s Ironman

Last weekend, my high school friend Ian did Ironman Coeur d’Alene. We used to run all over Casper, Wyoming, together and travel the state on debate and cross country trips. When I asked him how the race went, here was his staccato, stream-of-consciousness reply on Strava:

Hey saw your message on FB. 1st IM tough. Brutal Wyomingesque wind. Breakers did not bother Andy Potts [who won the men's race] but everyone else. Tough swim rolling around no organization in the group. 10 minutes slower than expected when I swim alone. Deep lung fulls of lake water. People screaming. Worst wind I have seen here. Casperesque. It was whipping. Timing chip ripped off my leg during wetsuit strip. I realized this on bike. I had to stop at every turnaround to have it radioed in. The athlete meeting said they would have extra chips at the turnarounds but alas everyone was like “huh, dunno, ask that guy.” Very defeating. Wind was changing direction and I had to ride the brakes down every hill. Unstable over 33mph. Deep dish rims total waste. Power meter waste. 5.5 pct grade and strong head wind means you can’t spin a 27 [easy gear]. Not fun to be outta the saddle for 5000 feet of climbing just to get over the hills. Power meter pointless given conditions. Man. Bike taken away at T2, quickly forgot 910xt [watch]. Got a new chip at T2. First three miles 6:51. Had no idea my pace. Finally just kinda said “Screw it, been through a lot, just run easy.” So I did that. Basked in the local athlete love and had an insanely easy and pleasant no worries 3:52 marathon. Could have run 5 more miles easily. Operated the next day and did full day of work next day at 7:15 am. [He's a surgeon.] Swim: hell and swells. Bike: windy misery. Run: zen. Atypical… In the end 11:16. Not exactly what I wanted but I will take it… Everyone was 30 mins off usual times. Double the DNFs. Dangerous conditions. Almost yard sale. Brake riding. 223/2500. Good enough…

Sounds like fun, eh?

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

Random bits of Kona

I talk to myself a fair bit when I’m training. Usually it’s happy, encouraging talk to get me through a tough spot. (Or it’s just ridiculous nonsense that pops into my brain to crack me up until I get sick of it, and why won’t the voices stop, and . . . Sorry. Where were we?)

Yesterday was hot, there’s just no denying it. When I left the office around 4PM, the mercury—does anyone use mercury in thermometers anymore?—said 91°F (33°C). It was also humid, and there was a pretty strong breeze that alternated between a head- and crosswind depending on the direction I was going. My inner dialogue was staying remarkably upbeat, though, after it settled on this observation:

“It’s hot, humid, and windy in Kona, too. So you’d better [expletive] get used to it.” (My little shoulder-Jeffs have potty mouths, it seems.)

It’s so true.

Posted in Cycling, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment


My exercise week during the summer (ideally) looks something like this:

Monday: Swim in the morning
Tuesday: Bike to work (about 18 miles), run off the bike (about 3-4 miles). Bike home from work.
Wednesday: Swim in the morning. Run about an hour in the afternoon.
Thursday: Bike to work. Bike home.
Friday: Swim in the morning. Run in the afternoon.
Saturday: Long run of about 1.5-2.5 hours.
Sunday: Long bike ride of about 3-6 hours.

Lately, travel has thrown off my typical training schedule. I haven’t swum or biked much recently, since I didn’t take my bike with me. Instead, I’ve managed to do a lot of running, and I’m feeling pretty good about where I am there. I put together a couple of nice 13-mile routes in Pacific City, Oregon, and Benton County, Iowa. In typical Oregonian fashion, I was drenched after running through rain showers, but I was (ironically) just as wet when I returned from the very humid gravel roads and dirt trails of Iowa. Plus, Lisa, her father, and I did a beautiful 8-mile hike in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Nevertheless, I’ve missed swimming and biking, and I’m eager to take advantage of some of this freshness to rebuild a bit of fitness.

Because we arrived home very late on Monday, I didn’t ride to work yesterday, so I decided to ride my bike to work today, even though it’s a Wednesday. What to do about swimming? Simple: Bike to the lake, swim, and then bike to work.

When I got there, Alex zipped me into my “speedsuit” and asked whether I wanted to swim a bit longer than usual. At the pool, I regularly swim longer than an hour. By contrast, at the lake we usually only swim the 35 minutes it takes to get to the dock and back. Alex and I had talked about adding distance at the lake, and we were joined by Craig as we ventured past the dock. At the turnaround point, we agreed that we’d do a two-mile swim by the end of the season.

After a rather beautiful frolic in the lake, I headed to the office a new way. Route 135 isn’t terrible in the morning, but it also isn’t as much fun as my usual track. There’s quite a bit more traffic (made worse by the later hour) as well as a couple of railroad crossings with very bad angles, which had me rolling to a stop to take them cautiously. When I do this again, I’ll try a different, slightly longer route.

A few observations about bike-swim-biking to work:

  • If you bring a bike to a lake full of triathletes, those triathletes will lust after it. (Of course, some of those triathletes will also think you’re playing hooky from work.)
  • Everything is wet at the end of the ride. I wore my tri kit to the lake and then to the office, and a half-hour commute just isn’t long enough for everything to dry off off. Hopefully the back of my backpack isn’t still wet when I leave this afternoon.
  • Heading out from the lake is faster when you don’t have to change clothes.
  • It felt different wearing a tri-top and tri-shorts to the office than my usual bike kit. Not that I felt (or looked) naked, but there’s definitely more skin showing. And I was dripping a bit, too. (See above.)
  • A speedsuit/swimskin is the way to go when a wetsuit isn’t an option. FINA and USAT rules prohibit wearing wetsuits in races when the water temperatures rise above a certain point, and one of my races last year almost reached that point. A speedsuit is the legal way to get the compression and smoothness of a wetsuit while staying within the rules. It uses a woven fabric and doesn’t have any neoprene for buoyancy—both of which are required—but it does have a water-repellent coating. Plus, it covers over the seams and edges of my tri-kit which further reduces drag.
  • I wore the speedsuit because I wasn’t going to bring a wetsuit with me on the bike. I’m definitely faster in a wetsuit—by about 5-10 seconds per 100—but it was good to get some practice.
  • Swimming became much more of a thinking activity without a wetsuit. I had to concentrate a lot on keeping my hips up and not freaking out. I swim longer than this at the pool all the time, but for some reason not using a wetsuit has caused me a bit of anxiety, including today. Midway through the first leg of the swim, I had to do some positive self-talk: “Hey, look! We’ve gone about 15 minutes without a problem. Worrying about drowning is like worrying about sharks. Wait, was that a shark?! See how silly that sounds? No worries. Now, let’s focus on stroke mechanics a bit. There we go.”
  • The swimskin is a bit like a snug-fitting onesie, which means energy gels stash nicely in the thigh.
  • I can’t draft off anybody in the water to save my life. Practice practice practice.

When’s the next bike-swim-bike to work opportunity?

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | Leave a comment

Diabetes, Please See a Gate Agent at the Podium

I wrote this on the plane and posted right after we got home from the airport . . . at 1:30AM.

Lisa and I have been experiencing our fair share of travel shenanigans recently. Two weeks ago on our way to Oregon our flight from Boston was cancelled because torrential rains wreaked havoc with JetBlue’s schedule. We eventually arrived on a different airline fifteen hours later. Our return trip after a week of fun in the Northwest was uneventful.

On Monday we ran into more weather-related delays when returning from a weekend trip to Iowa. We arrived on Friday to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and it was time to go home. (She is incredibly spry, by the way. I hope I’m doing that well when I’m her age.) Our flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago was delayed on account of thunderstorms in Chicago, and we eventually left too late to make our 1:15 connection to Boston. Seven-and-a-half hours after our original flight was scheduled to leave, we were still at O’Hare having boarded and disembarked our plane twice.

“I need to change my insulin.” My BGs were high, and I was hungry, and I was almost out of insulin in my pump. I wanted to eat, but I didn’t have enough to eat, correct, and make it home. “What I could really use is a quiet, out-of-the-way spot with a flat surface.”

“Good luck with that,” Lisa replied as we looked around the airport. I’ve changed my insulin and infusion set in airports before. But Oakland and Rochester were pretty quiet, and it was easy to find an empty gate without any passengers. Today was different. Stranded and delayed passengers occupied almost every seat and lounged in the terminal’s hallways. We walked toward the far end of the terminal as I scanned for a place to take care of business.

“Over there.” I pointed and headed toward a bunch of people.

A moment later I was taking supplies out of my backpack: insulin, insulin reservoir, Silhouette infusion set, harpoon launcher Sil-Serter inserter, and the vitamin bottle acting as my portable sharps container. I placed all of these on a vacant podium used by gate agents. It was perfect: It had a flat countertop where I could place my stuff, and it was tall enough that I could do the insertion without drawing a lot of attention.

Nonchalantly I drew 180 units of insulin into the reservoir, flicked at it to dislodge air bubbles, and attached the infusion set’s tubing. I pushed a bunch of buttons to rewind my pump and fill the new set’s tubing. When the drops of elixir appeared at the end of the needle, it was time to do the deed. I put the infusion set in the inserter, removed the needle guard, exposed the tape, cocked the spring, pressed it against my skin, and pushed the button. Like a pro, I pulled out the needle, affixed the tape, and attached the tubing to the infusion set, now securely attached to me.

Nobody seemed to notice or care. I’ve learned that if you look like you belong—if you just blend in with the scenery and go about your business as if it’s what you do every day (which in a very real sense it is) without looking around to see if anybody is paying attention—then you do belong and almost no one will say anything. Of course, if anyone had asked me what I was doing (or had done) I would totally have told them about diabetes and insulin pump therapy and how these unexpected things (like tending to medical devices in public) are just part of the joy of this little disease. But no one did, and I’m kind of glad, because I was rather tired and cranky.

“Ah, there’s the life-preserving smell of band-aids that we all know and love.” Lisa had wandered off for a minute, and she returned just as I was cleaning up my diabetes trash. “Is that some of your insulin there?”

I wiped the droplet away with the palm of my hand, and we headed back to our gate. On the way, I looked at Lisa—and in my best airline voice—and said, “Diabetes, please see a gate agent at the podium.”

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The D.O.C. Needs a Dark, Brooding, Imperfect, Badass-Wannabe Like Me

You may have noticed that I don’t write quite so much about diabetes here as I used to. (About my diabetes, that is.) If you and I are friends on the The Facebook, you might have also noticed that I don’t mention it quite so much there either. Or on The Twitter. I’ll still talk about it with anyone who brings it up, and I still rock the awesome diabeTees Lisa has lovingly made for me. But online I’m a little quieter. Why is that?

It takes time for me to write well—especially if I’m not 100% sure of what I want to say—and if I’m going to do something I want to do it well. Work, training, travel, learning a new language or two, staying caught up with my reading, writing diabetes self-management software, and spending as much time as I can with Lisa and the cat . . . these all compete with my desire to write here.

Lately when I have set out to write anything related to diabetes, I keep hearing a voice in the back of my mind (a bit like the chorus from an ancient Greek play) asking whether I really have any business writing on the subject. I’m not a model of good diabetes outcomes if you look at clinical indicators (A1c and average BG readings) or at the things that matter just as much to me: the ability manage diabetes during exercise, how often I go low overnight, the ridiculous amount of “defensive eating” I do to prevent lows, whether I can successfully dose insulin for foods that I eat all the time, etc. Despite all of the training, racing, traveling, and everything else that I do with diabetes, it’s never been particularly easy for me, and I find it hard to put myself out there either as some kind of diabetes role model (which I never intended to do) or to air my dirty laundry. (For example: “Yep, the only reason I didn’t go low while riding my bike home the other day was because I had enough of a blood sugar cushion to drop almost 200 mg/dL [11 mmol/L] in an hour and half. Yay?”) It’s not that I haven’t tried to figure things out; it’s just been really fucking hard for me to get it right.

All of this difficulty (for want of a better word) often causes concern for people who care about me. While I’m not worried enough about any of this to stop doing triathlon or other things that make diabetes harder to “control,” the more that I share, the more that I have to remind people that everything really is okay (or okay enough anyway). I understand where the anxiety on my behalf comes from; I really do, but it’s not an emotion I aim for when I write about diabetes or what’s happening in my life. More than anything, my writing is an attempt to connect with my people: folks with diabetes, triathletes and other athletes, family, and friends. Each of these groups is going to bring something different with them when they read these dispatches—which is why I still explain diabetes and triathlon basics in more detail than I would if I were writing for just one community—but it often means that I have to reassure one group when talking about things that wouldn’t concern another.

But I miss writing as much as I used to about my life with diabetes, the good and the bad. All the best role models have dark sides, which is what makes them interesting, right? (Sorry, Superman, but Batman and almost any other superhero are way cooler than you, even if you can easily kick their asses.) I’m not giving up on my seemingly never-ending journey toward better diabetes self-management; I’m just going to write about more of the trip.

Posted in Diabetes, MetaBlogging, This is who we are | 2 Comments

The Truth Comes Out

Lisa and I were discussing a college classmate who was seeking some inspiration/accountability on Facebook to get herself to the pool. This particular friend exercises a lot—I mean a lot—and when I mentioned her obsession extreme exercising habits, Lisa said, “Maybe she’s just a triathlete,” and then asked if she’s single.

“Yes to both questions. What are you implying?” I asked. (Except, now that I think about it, she’s totally married.)

“Sometimes I think the only thing that reins you in is my disapproving look.”


“If I weren’t here, you’d be some crazy running, biking, swimming, skiing, shooting, cross-training fool. You’d be a gun-toting bad-ass diabetic motherfucker.”

Well, I probably can’t argue with that.

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Executing My Plan: 2014 NE Season Opener

I originally wrote this on the 13th . . . of May. Oops! Somewhere between drafting it and adding the pictures, a month passed. Sorry to keep you waiting.

I love racing! That’s all there is to it.

I’m pretty good (but not great) at it, finishing in the top 1/3 of my age group in triathlons and in or near the top 10 at local 5K running races. My finishing position matters, but it isn’t what’s most important to me.

My body hurts to go all out for a short race or to race hard for hours and hours. My mind grows tired, wanders, and doubts midway through each leg of a triathlon. And yet there’s (usually) something quite satisfying about the rhythm of doing it, and the exertion feels almost cleansing. The days of pre-race doubts and worry about whether I’ve trained enough, whether I’m going to be able to perform well, whether I’m going to be good enough, they all get washed away when the starter’s horn sounds and I start doing what I’ve been training to do. Racing is about doing as well as I can and gathering the fruit of all those hours of training.

After a l-o-n-g winter of not racing, I had my first triathlon of the season on Sunday, and it reminded me of all the reasons why I love it.

Part of the joy of triathlon is the community aspect. Lisa and I hang out while waiting for transition to fill up and for the race to start, and I see people I know from past events, from my triathlon club, and even people from work. It’s so nice to just hangout and bullshit with my tribe. (Someone said, “I think when you sign up for an Ironman plan, you should get complimentary landscaping service. And housekeeping.”)

And, of course, there’s a fair bit of the ridiculous, too. The guy parked next to me in transition (whom I had never met before) had a plan, and he wasn’t afraid to share it. Lisa and I were walking around when we overheard him talking in a know-it-all voice to a fellow competitor. “I am going to go out and execute my plan. I think you should, too.” The other guy said something I couldn’t quite hear, which prompted Loud Guy to say, “No! I think you should execute my plan!” Lisa and I looked at each other and then burst into quiet, disbelieving laughter. It became the catch phrase for the rest of our time together before the race.

Anyway, Loud Guy and I started at the same time and swam more-or-less the same pace through the 58°F (14°C) water, finishing in the middle of start wave after completing 1/3 of a mile in 9:00, and leaving transition at the same time. I had already decided that, because it was an especially short event, my race plan would be to just hammer the whole thing, keeping my heart rate at or near lactate threshold for the bike and saving just enough energy for a strong 5K. These were familiar roads: quiet, hilly, rural, and rough. After much internal back-and-forth, I decided to bring my road bike instead of my tri-bike. It’s lighter, more nimble, and easier to handle on rough roads. (Plus my tri-bike still had its trainer tire on.) I think I made the right choice, even if it did cost me a little speed on a few of the open stretches of highway. With so many duathletes and triathletes, these quiet roads became a bit like a parking lot whenever we got to a hill. That worked out pretty well for me, catching lots of people on the uphills who had passed me on the flats.

One of those riders was Loud Guy, who became so frustrated with this every-five-minutes-leap-frogging that, the last time I passed him, he very loudly accused me (and another guy) of drafting. Consider the evidence. Exhibit A: I’ve never been accused of drafting before, and I hate it when others draft. Exhibit B: I was going over 5 miles per hour faster than him and executed a clean pass within 30 seconds. Exhibit C: Loud Guy was (rather rudely) riding in the middle of the lane, forcing the other guy (whom I was also passing) to pass him on the right while I (very correctly) went around him on the left. It wasn’t possible for us to have been drafting off of him or each other. Right-Hand Man and I exchanged puzzled looks, and the only response I could think of was to look back over my shoulder at Loud Guy and shrug. A minute later in transition Loud Guy had moved on to badmouthing race volunteers, who had failed to set up some of the bicycles to his satisfaction. The bikes had blown over during some strong gusts while we were out on the course. I guess somebody’s plan wasn’t executing quite as he had expected. Meanwhile, mine was going just perfectly: I finished the 8.3 miles in 26 minutes.

A moment later I was out on the run course, trying to hold off the other people in my age group. Over the winter I had “aged up.” Instead of being in the same age group with the other 35- to 39-year-olds, this year I am going to have a “40″ written on my calf at all of my triathlons. Ironically, thinking about becoming 40 this October bothered me more last year, when they wrote a “39,” than this year’s “40.” Anyway, the 40-45 group is fast! I passed a couple of people my age and got passed by a few others. The last few hundred yards were a mad dash, as intense as any track race I competed in decades ago. And then it was over. A third of a mile swimming, 8.3 miles of biking, and a 5K all done in 1:02:05. Good enough for 11th of 33 in my age group and 119th out of 431 overall.

Lisa and I hung out a bit more after the race, talking about what we had seen over the last hour and figuring out what we were going to do with the rest of our day. We also looked at some of the photos she took during the race. Here are a few:

Posted in Cycling, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 1 Comment

An Update

Remember last year when my friend Nina McConigley came to Boston to read from her book?

Well, it turns out that she is longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award! She is also on the longlist for the Pen Open Book Award. Her book, Cowboys and East Indians, is great, y’all. If you haven’t read it, you really should!

Posted in Book Notes | Leave a comment

Fun with Tiny Computers

Every once in a while, I get a little geeky. Given my CareLink data hacking, this probably isn’t much of a surprise. Until recently, all my geekiness has been software-oriented. I never took any electronics or circuits classes as a younger person, so hardware has always been a little mysterious. As a low-level person, though, it makes total sense that I would eventually get interested in putting systems together. (Let’s face it, the lower the level you work at, the more powerful stuff you can do.)

Fun with ArduinoLast fall, I took a personal enrichment “Fun with Arduino” class to work with inexpensive micro-controllers. Basically, about 20 of my coworkers and I took over a computer lab for five Wednesday evenings in September and October to eat pizza, build circuits, and write code to make those circuits do interesting things . . . like make LED lights blink and drive motors and servos and stuff.

It was, in fact, fun. Like any engineering endeavor, it involved knowing what problem needed to be solved, the set of available tools, and how to use them to complete the project. (Yes, for us problem solvers, this is a fun way to spend an evening.) The only thing was that I didn’t really have a good project for this little device. I didn’t need to build any sensors or home automation machinery, and the one or two diabetes-themed projects I could think of required more computing horsepower than the cute little Arduino Uno could muster.

Enter the Raspberry Pi.

Wednesday evening I went to the first of five—you guessed it—”Fun with Raspberry Pi” classes. Unlike the Arduino, the Pi is a microcomputer. While the Arduino excels at running small programs, sending signals, and receiving input on a very tight “real-time” schedule, the Raspberry Pi does the things you’d expect a modern computer to do: run complicated programs, work with complex devices, and provide all the bells and whistles of a modern GUI-based operating system. When you think about it, a $35 credit-card-sized computer that runs all of the same programs as my development PC (albeit much slower) is really quite impressive.

Raspberry Pi environment

We haven’t done much yet in the course yet beyond making our little computers send tweets to Twitter, but I’ve already started thinking about what personal projects I want to do with the Pi. A few people out there on the Interwebz have been trying to integrate their Pi devices with their continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). Personally, I think this is a really exciting idea. I already wrote code that can parse Medtronic CareLink files, but it would be great to remove CareLink from the picture entirely by making a Pi pretend to be the Medtronic CareLink uploader. Instead of sending the data to Medtronic’s web site, I could import it directly to a local computer and then play with it there. Another idea is to listen to the CGM transmitter and display the CGM’s ISIG data on something other than my 530G pump. It might not work, but I know others have been doing similar things with Dexcom G4 CGMs.

At the very least, it will give me something to think about as I spend the next few Wednesdays in the lab.

Fun with Raspberry Pi

Posted in 101 in 1001, Data-betes, Fodder for Techno-weenies | 2 Comments

Swimming to a Better Place

After years of doubting and denying it, it’s time to fess up: I’m pretty OK at swimming.

Sure, I can find lots of aspects about my technique and speed that I wouldn’t mind improving. Bilateral breathing and flip turns? Still haven’t gotten really comfortable with them yet, but I don’t really need to. Am I the fastest person at the pool? Nope, but I’m definitely one of the faster people, and my training plan usually has me in the water longer than most. Last Friday I did a 4,550 yard set, and Pool Guy noticed that I swam the full hour-and-a-half the pool is open. Is my technique perfect? Certainly not, but it gets the job done; plus, I’m working on the issues that I know about. Even my kick has gotten better.

Perhaps the most telling thing about how I feel about my swimming is the language in my head when I’m doing my workouts. Instead of worrying about whether my swimming is good enough to do as well as I want in my races, my thoughts have been about what I’m doing at the moment. “What is my hand doing before and during the catch? How is my extension? Am I lifting my head when I breathe instead of turning my head? Am I keeping my core tight? Can I roll my body a bit more?” Instead of thinking about how much more of the workout there is left to do, I (usually) focus on where I am in the current set and whether I’m giving the right level of effort—neither too hard nor too easy—to make sure that I can finish this interval and set without compromising what comes next. Being in the moment and engaging with my swimming instead of my worries has been very helpful in improving how I feel about swimming and in seeing the big picture.

As my swim sessions have gotten longer during Ironman training, I’ve felt thankful for all of those previous hours of swimming structured workouts. Some of my current workouts are really, really difficult . . . especially now that I’ve started doing the “advanced” ones. The first part of Monday’s main set called for swimming 50 yards 12 times on a 1:00 swim interval (i.e., “12×50 on 1:00″). Basically, swim each lap starting at the beginning of every minute. If it takes me 40 seconds to swim a lap, I get 20 luxurious seconds of rest for that hard effort. If it takes me 55 seconds, I get just 5. My goal was to swim each of them in 50 seconds, leaving just enough time to bring my breathing back to a more-or-less normal pattern before pushing off. Hitting those marks was hard, but I knew that I could do it based on earlier workouts. I had a bit of a happy glow when I finished that part of my swim and moved on to a set of longer distances—3×300 negative-splitting each 300—which is more to my strength as an endurance athlete. I was able to draw upon that experience yesterday, when the main set called for swimming 1,500 yards continuously, getting progressively faster each 500 yards.

So that’s where I am now with swimming: I swim decently fast, am actively working on some technique improvements, and have a reserve of mental and physical training that I can draw on during hard workouts and races. I had always wanted to end up someplace like this with my swimming, but it took four or five years to realize it could actually happen. Having made it here, my mind wonders where I can end up next. We’ll find out.

I’ll see you at the pool.

Posted in Life Lessons, Swimming | 1 Comment

Ooo… Fancy

I was playing around with Mesmeride yesterday. The free service visualizes your Strava data files as if they were European grand tour stages. As befits a grand tour, all of the distances are in kilometers and the heights are in meters. (Sorry, I couldn’t change it.)

Here are a few of the longer and/or hillier rides that I’ve done over the last few years:

Mount Wachusett Ride
The ride to Mount Wachusett and back (story)

Twin Cities Tour de Cure (story)

Colorado Springs Ride
A biggish ride in Colorado Springs (story)

JDRF Death Valley 2012
JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in Death Valley (story)

North Shore Tour de Cure Gran Fondo (story)

Mount Washington Ride
Ride around Mount Washington (story)

Quabbin 80-Miler with Scully
Ride around the Quabbin with Scully (story)

JDRF Nashville 2013
JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in Nashville (story)

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MWDs: Mice with Diabetes

On Monday, Lisa and I were at a Memorial Day picnic with a bunch of Grinnell alums. As it happens, the party’s host does a lot of research with transgenic, or “knockout” mice. These furry little guys have had part of their DNA modified so they express genes associated with specific diseases or physiological traits. Researchers then try novel therapies on the transgenic mice (as well as a control group) to see if they can cure—or cause—disease. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’s the kind of thing that is helping to cure diabetes.

Diabetes came up during our conversation about knockout mice, since they’re so common in diabetes research. “People aren’t mice,” I noted. “How relevant are mouse models to human disease research?” It turns out mice are (for the most part) very good models for cancer research, because the things that affect cancer cell growth and disease progression—cellular mutations, vasculature, immune signaling, etc.—are comparatively simple and thus more likely to be similar between mice and humans. Diabetes, as an endocrine system disorder of (currently) uncertain origin, is much more complicated than cancer. There’s some evidence that—in addition to genetics and a viral pathogen—diet and the kind of bacteria in gut flora might trigger (or inhibit) the autoimmune reaction which kills pancreatic beta cells. Basically, because it’s a lot more complex than having a mutation in a particular gene, triggering diabetes later in life.

Diabetes is one of those cases where the mouse model turns out to be different from human physiology in significant and subtle ways. I mentioned some recent research which showed that the same gene that’s linked to type-2 diabetes in mice is actually protective against it in humans.

“Curing diabetes in mice is like falling off a log. I can do it in my sleep,” our host said.

And I think this is at the heart of why it’s worth taking a (mouse-sized?) grain of salt when hearing about therapies that “cure” diabetes in mice. These mice are vital to the research, of course, but the results have to be verified in human trials. And therein lies the rub, since there’s a sizable jump in complexity between our furry friends and us. One thing is clear, though: Without that initial research using transgenic mice, we’d be a lot farther behind than where we are today. So let’s hear it for those little guys!

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Winter Is Coming

I think I broke summer.

It was below 40°F (4°C) when I left the house this morning to ride to work. And it wasn’t much warmer yesterday afternoon when I went for a run. A week ago, I had optimistically put away all of the winter riding and running clothes for the summer, but I had to don extra layers again in order not to freeze.

We’ve had a cold winter and a cool spring, which was great for skiing until March, but it’s been less enjoyable while triathlon training. I am doing that, of course—I started riding outside in earnest on the first of March, and I’ve swam at the lake a few times—but boy-oh-boy it could sure warm up soon!

It’s probably not my fault, but somehow I can’t help but think that perhaps running in shorts just after the new year and then swimming outdoors in San Diego (twice!) a couple of weeks later might have given me bad weather karma. And then, at the end of February, when I wished for winter to hold on a little longer to keep the cross-country ski trails open, this must have been seen as tempting the weather gods to forgo summer altogether.

Or it could be global warming messing up the climate. Nah! Don’t be ridiculous.

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment