In Praise of Getting It Off Your Chest

A couple of days ago, Christopher Snider wrote a very important post defending My Diabetes Secret (as well as the other “My Chronic Disease Secret” sites he has created). This is my “+1″ to his response.

I don’t read My Diabetes Secret very often, but I am so happy it exists. It’s a safety valve for the diabetes online community and its advocates. We all have secrets or things that we want to get off our chest without changing how others view us. (This is such a part of the human condition that people have made films where secret-keeping and -sharing are central themes.) Within the community, people gain notoriety for their advocacy or their accomplishments, and it can be hard for some of us to feel okay with showing our imperfections, especially when others are looking up to us. I’m not arguing that this is a reasonable burden to put on oneself; sometimes it’s better in the long run to let others see us stumble. However, some people are contractually prohibited for saying some of the things that other people with diabetes would feel free expressing. I’m not one of those people, but I’m also a bit proud from time to time.

For many of us, family members and friends get uncomfortable seeing us struggle occasionally, although it is a regular part of living with any chronic illness. Even though many of us have long periods where we’re more-or-less pleased with our diabetes self-management, there are times when it sucks, and it helps to have a place where we can vent and let go just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t partake in the kind of self-loathing that leads me to deny who I am, but sometimes it’s just easier to say things in a safe space.

As for whether it’s advocacy or not, I have to respectfully disagree with both the anonymous detractor and Christopher. To me, My Diabetes Secret is a form of advocacy. Posting there affirms to the patient community that it’s okay to have things to share that make oneself or others feel uncomfortable. It’s okay not to be okay from time to time. I wish it were more accepted by society that being good doesn’t mean being perfect and that sharing our pain and frustration and disappointment doesn’t make what the rest of what we say subject to extra scrutiny. Maybe we’ll get there someday. Until then, having this secret-sharing site makes us better advocates, because it allows us to focus on the message we want others to know about diabetes through our regular social media outlets without the distractions.

Keep up the good work, Christopher!

Posted in Diabetes | 1 Comment

Twenty Minutes


Yesterday was Thanksgiving. In recent years Lisa and I have headed north to Montréal for the holiday, but we stayed home this year since we’re going on vacation soon.

As a result, we could do our town’s Turkey Trot 5K!

Since Ironman Wisconsin, I set a 5K trail PR, ran a tough 8.5-mile trail race, took almost three minutes of my half-marathon PR, and ran a wicked hard 10.5K trail race. I’ve been thankful for how good my body has felt and that I’ve had the chance to do so many fun local races. I’m actually starting to recognize people at events. Weird!

With all of the racing, I was interested to see if I would be able to achieve my long-time goal of going under 20 minutes at a 5K. I’ve learned a lot about how to push myself way beyond what feels comfortable when running, but my body has its limits. Plus, I would need to drop a lot of time off my previous (post-high school) best of 20:52.

As Lisa and I were walking the half-mile to the start of the race from our house, we talked a little bit about my plan. First, we noted that this hilly course might not necessarily be the best for breaking 20; a flatter 3.1 miles would definitely be less challenging. Also, I knew that two things would have to happen: (1) I would need to push myself so hard that I might not finish anywhere near 20 minutes, and (2) I was going to have to be very uncomfortable for the whole race. No easy trot for me. I needed to average 6:27/mile to make my goal.

Lisa, who is looking pretty fit, hasn’t run much recently—usually opting for a bike ride or walk instead—didn’t express any similarly lofty goals, but I suspected that she would do well.

We got to the start at the high school, shed some of our warmer outer layers, and got ourselves ready. I hoped for a nice 10-15 minute warmup, but time was tight, so I didn’t stray too far. I got back to Lisa, removed my jacket, and had a little smooch before we both headed to the start. We were among the last ones.

The start line was quite crowded with lots and lots of high school students, so I found the fastest looking adult woman and lined up next to her. (The fastest women usually finish just ahead or just behind me.) We started almost before we knew it. No national anthem was sung. No race directions were delivered. No “Thanks everybody for showing up” speeches were given. At 7:30 promptly, the race director said something to the effect of “Let’s get going. On your marks, get set, go!”

I love the start of local 5K races. There are middle school and high school kids who line up a the front and could conceivably be wicked fast or just have delusions of grandeur. And the fast ones might go out too fast and then flame out anywhere from 100 meters from the start to a couple of miles in. (You can get a sense of what distances the kids race.) Then again, the cross country runners tend to stay strong throughout the whole distance, so you never know. With adults, it’s easier; usually when someone runs away from me at the start, I don’t see them again until the finish.

This race was no different in this respect. I started at a fast pace—thankfully I was warmed up—and proceeded to pass a number of teenagers over the first mile. By this time we had left the flat early part and were on the 3/4-mile hill that I go up almost every time I run in my town. It was starting to feel pretty tough when I looked at my time for the first mile: 6:27. “Gah!” I thought. “The next mile contains even more uphill. How am I going to break 20 minutes?” Then I told my brain to shut up and just keep going as hard as I could, since I would have to go downhill again eventually.

I covered the second mile in 7:02, about 35 seconds slower than I needed to go, but the last 1.1 miles were all downhill (almost). I ran like a man possessed. The high school kid I was running about 2-3 seconds behind kept trying to put some distance between us, and I pushed hard trying to pass him. With about a quarter of a mile left, I thought I might pass him, and I was getting ready to tell him not to give up and to work with me for the next minute. Seeing me just behind him as we rounded a corner was all the motivation he needed, though, and he found a new gear, finishing three seconds ahead of me. Staying with him really worked well, as it was extra motivation to push myself as hard as I could go.

In the end, I just wasn’t fast enough. For the first time ever, I saw 19-something on the clock at the finish, but I wasn’t able to make it to the finish before it ticked over to “20.” But I’m still really, really pleased with the 20:14 I ran. It’s almost 40 seconds better than my previous fastest, which also came on a very hilly course. Maybe next year, I’ll find myself a flat 5K somewhere and see what happens. Still, I’m very happy for finishing 15th out of 418th, and third in the very expansive “men 40-59″ age group.

My mind immediately turned to Lisa and her race. I grabbed my jacket and little camera from my bag and headed back out onto the run course, staying out of the way of the people finishing. About a half mile into this cool-down run, I saw Lisa. She was looking great! She was running well and seemed to be enjoying herself. We ran along for a little bit together before I peeled off to avoiding going through the finish twice.

Lisa took almost two minutes off her previous 5K best! What an excellent job! I’m so happy for her.

About a half-mile from the finish

Lisa is looking great!


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The Halo Effect of Ironman

It’s fair to say that finishing Ironman Wisconsin changed me.

I know it sounds a bit cliché, but I think it’s actually true. In the first week after the event, I thought it was just the glow of the day illuminating everything else in my life, but now two months later the feeling is still there.

In particular my concept of what’s possible has expanded. An Ironman triathlon is the largest single thing I’ve ever achieved. I awoke at 4:30 AM, and I didn’t go to bed until after midnight the next day. In the meantime I swam, cycled, and ran for more than twelve hours. Just doing it wasn’t enough. I felt the need to race it as fast as I could. For a long time, I didn’t really understand just how enormous an undertaking it was going to be. It was just an abstract “really big thing.” Sure, I knew I would be working out for 50% longer than my typical workday at the office, all while covering a distance longer than the length of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but it took a long time for the enormity to sink in. I had raced five 70.3s before—and I still take a lot of pride in those accomplishments—but I couldn’t really extrapolate from those triathlons to the magnitude of a full Ironman.

Having done it, I know that it’s not impossible at all, though it certainly seemed that way the first time I thought about it. It helped not to think about the whole thing at once . . . ever . . . except in the most abstract, neutral terms. Thinking about 12 hours of anything while in the middle of it, is a bad idea. Instead, I divided the Ironman into its parts, and I divided each leg into smaller chunks, too. I had a cadence for my nutrition and hydration, but other than staying on schedule, I didn’t really look at my watch very often. And, crazy as this sounds, just simply doing something without thinking about it more than I needed to, well that really made the time pass quickly.

Ironman Wisconsin is also the largest single project I’ve ever executed. (I’ve been part of large, on-going projects at work for a long time, but the Ironman was definitely more focused and self-directed than any of those.) I had a six-month plan for this project, which borrowed liberally from Gale Barnhardt’s Training Plans for Multisport Athletes. I modified it to accommodate the other races I wanted to do and to match up with days that I could swim. Overall, the amount of time I spent swimming, biking, running, and recovering was unchanged. The plan was essential. I didn’t have to think about all six months at a time; I knew that I could focus on a single week and that the plan would get me where I needed to be in terms of fitness.

I did my best to follow the plan. Occasionally, my body or schedule just wouldn’t cooperate, and I was okay with that, knowing that extra recovery wouldn’t really derail me. Doing the work was (usually) enjoyable, too. By the fourth month, all of the training did start to wear me out quite a lot, but I knew it was in service of my big goal. Keeping that in mind made it easier to get up early in the morning to swim or to head outside to ride or run in bad weather.

Despite figuring out how to compartmentalize, having a plan, and just doing all the hard work, success still wasn’t guaranteed. There were dozens of things that could have gone wrong: a freak-out in the swim, dehydration, dangerously high or low blood glucose, bike crashes, twisted ankles, cramps, illness, injury, food poisoning, lost timing chips, drafting penalties, missing the time cut-offs, insufficient nutrition, over-hydration, GI issues, bad weather, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, lost bags in transition, mechanical issues on the bike, lost goggles, being too conservative or aggressive on the bike, poor pacing on the run, not sleeping the night before, oversleeping and missing the start, etc., etc., etc. Failure to finish was a real possibility; I just had to trust in all of the training and past race experience.

And everything did go well, probably as well as it possibly could have. That fact is very empowering.

The funny thing is that (objectively) I wasn’t any less capable of achieving that result on the Saturday before the event than I was on that day or as I am now. Nevertheless, I do feel differently about what I think I can do now that I’ve done it. If I had to do it again—and I certainly plan to someday—I still won’t underestimate the effort, but I’ll certainly have more confidence going in.

This feeling has carried over to other things in the last month, especially the big and scary stuff that might have overwhelmed me earlier. Finishing the Duolingo Spanish course before our Patagonia trip next month? Just take the lessons one day at a time. Lots of big unknown things about the re-org at work? Keep focusing on the big picture and trust in the plan. Getting my diabetes where I want it? Treat it like training for an Ironman.

It’s not that I feel invincible, but I definitely feel capable of trying more things and believing in the probability of success.

To be continued . . .

Posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment


I haven’t ridden my bike very much since the Ironman. Just 8 times between the 14th of September and the 16th of November. I’ve enjoyed all of the cycling I have done, but for one reason or another I just haven’t really given the bike much love. I mean, I hadn’t even put the pedals back on Chrissie, my tri bike, until last night.

I was feeling a little manic yesterday evening, and Lisa suggested that maybe I needed a workout. I had skipped my run earlier in the day because my right calf is pretty tight after last weekend’s trail race. [1] So I took Chrissie downstairs to the love dungeon, set up the bike in the trainer, put on the pedals, and fired up TrainerRoad with a SufferFest video (“The Rookie“).

The title of the video always reminds me of this scene from “Training Day.”

With so long away from the bike and no structured training in over two months, I did seem a bit like a rookie. The workout felt harder than it probably should have, and I didn’t do the whole thing, since it was already starting to get a bit late in the evening. I did do enough to take the edge off my mania and keep Lisa from getting annoyed with me, though.

Tonight I’m heading back down to the basement to do another workout. It will probably be an FTP test to find out where I should set my training effort. *whimper*

The Rookie in the Love Dungeon

1 — Sunday I raced the 10.5K Durtyfeets trail race in the Upton State Forest. It’s my backyard race, and I knew most of the trails well. “Oh look! That’s where I fell on the ice.” And “Hey! This is that little bit extra I tacked on to get a full 13.1 miles when I ran from the forest to the lake and back.” I didn’t pace the beginning well, and by the time that I got to the uphill single-track sections that were too narrow for passing, I was already gassed but felt like I needed to go that speed for the benefit of the people behind me. Of course, when I got to the downhill sections I had to dial it way back because the two guys directly ahead of me were being super cautious. Grr! Then again, I almost bought it when I hopped over a rock to take a shortcut through the woods to pass them. Tee hee!

I finished in 55:26, good enough for 22nd of 111 (male and female) and third in my age group. It was a tough race! [back...]

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I CAN Turn Left!

When I learned to swim six years I turned my head to the right to breathe. I have always turned to the right. Like Zoolander, I can’t turn left.

Breathing right has worked well for me so far. Occasionally I think it would be nice not to have to stare into the sun if only I could turn my head to the left, but it hasn’t been awful enough for me to worry about it.

Things have changed. I entered the lottery to compete in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, and I got picked! Everyone I’ve talked to has said that it’s an amazing race experience and that the swim is really difficult. So I turned to the interwebz for advice. There’s plenty out there, and the one that made the biggest impression on me noted that the wind pushes the water in San Francisco Bay to break over swimmers from the right.

I breathe to the right. The waves come from the right. I don’t like to inhale water. I now have a really good reason to get comfortable breathing bilaterally.

When I’ve tried this in the past, I’ve never liked it. Everything felt wrong. But I’m motivated now.

So two weeks ago, I just started. On November 2nd, I hopped in the pool without much of a plan except to swim. Okay, actually I knew that I would start with drills, just like six years ago when I learned to swim.

It was humbling. It didn’t feel quite as bad as when I first started swimming, but it was incredibly difficult. I felt breathless and stopped at the wall a lot. Going beyond 100 yards at a time was difficult. When I was swimming, I noticed all sorts of inefficiencies in my stroke. I had a poor catch, leading to a weak pull and little power. I weaved down the lane “like kids bowling with bumpers,” Sir Alex said. My legs dropped on every breath. I raised my head higher than normal, yet I still seemed to be inhaling a lot of water.

But I kept at it, progressively swimming longer and faster unstructured sets . . . which still felt difficult and included a lot of stopping. (Fortunately, I’m not building fitness for any specific event just yet.) At the end of the first week, Sir Alex said she admired how I was just going at it, only breathing to my left.

At first it was a conscious effort not to turn my head to the right, but by the start of the next week I knew it was time to restart the “Swim Cards Against Humanity.” I was a little intimidated, since the workouts are intense enough on their own, and my first two workouts were uninspired. I cut one short, but I kept going.

This morning after the first few strokes of my warmup, I had a revelation. My stroke felt really good on both the right and the left when I didn’t breathe, but when I started turning my head I wasn’t ready to inhale. Instead of “biting” for the air, I was exhaling and then trying to get a quick gulp. So I would end up either taking in water if I kept my regular rhythm, or I would raise my head too much and break my rhythm to get some air.

Basically, I was holding my breath.

So I gave myself permission to breathe on my right/happy side going down pool to see when I was exhaling. Turns out, it’s much earlier than when I breathe to the left. On the return trip back down the pool I started to exhale much earlier. I got a better mouthful of air, and I didn’t have to raise my head as much, which elevated my hips and gave me better extension. That in turn improved my hold on the water during the catch and pull. Once again, I felt like I was swimming downhill.

The main set of 3×400—each one descending in time and negative split, of course—would be the real test, since it would be the longest I’d swam continuously breathing to the left. How would it go?

Success! I’m still not as fast when breathing to my left as to the right, but I think it’s just a matter of time. Maybe I will even learn to breathe bilaterally, alternating sides as I swim. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | 5 Comments

On Alchemy, Suffering, and Half Marathon PRs

On Halloween, I ran a half marathon PR at the hilly Ashland Half Marathon.

Before I talk about the race, please indulge me for a brief digression about alchemy, the attempt to turn common elements into gold. Medieval alchemists mixed lead with other materials, pulverized it, heated it, and chilled it. The hope was that there was a secret recipe discernible to the select few, who would then become wealthy and powerful. It never worked out for the natural philosophers of yore. Atoms don’t like to change from one kind to another. It’s just not the way nature works. (Except for radioactivity, but let’s ignore that for now.) It did heavily influence a bunch of modern chemistry, though. Yay for that.

Racing seems a bit like alchemy to me. The idea that you can take a bunch of raw materials—weeks and months of training—and then, with the application of the right amount of suffering, turn it into a shiny result on race day.

So lately, like any good alchemist, I’ve been tinkering with my recipe, looking for the right amount of suffering to add to the mixture. With too little effort, I meet feel good during and after the race, but it won’t have that golden glow in my memory when I think about how I probably could have pushed harder and obtained a faster time. On the other hand, if I push too hard, the first half of the race might seem perfect, but I’ll end up spoiling it by the end. I confess that it’s difficult for me to find that magic point between too hard and too easy, but I’ve been working on it for a while now, and I’m closing in.

Now we return to the race. Most of the half marathons I’ve run have started after more than three hours of swimming and cycling. In fact, I haven’t run a standalone 13.1-miler since New Bedford in 2013, when I finished in 1:42:42. I’ve raced those triathlon-based half marathons by heart rate, doling out my effort evenly so that I could make it to the finish. This has worked well. It feels difficult but doable. It also feels like I could have worked harder. It’s possible that’s true, of course, but probably not as much as I might think. After all, those 13.1 miles at the end of a half-ironman hurt.

Going into the race, I knew I didn’t want to rely on heart rate alone. I’ve been running my recent trail races by feel. My results at each have been very good, even though my heart rate has been much higher than my triathlon efforts: just below my threshold heart rate, which I can sustain for about an hour. I wasn’t going to ignore how hard my heart was working altogether, but I decided that I wanted to try for a PR, meaning my pace would be paramount.

Sir Alex as Wonder Woman, and Kristin as Sir Alex

I heard Sir Alex call out to me during registration. Dressed as Wonder Woman, she was helping people who had decided that today seemed like a good day to run a half or 5K. It was, in fact, a perfect day to race: 40°F (4°C) and sunny with almost no wind. We chitchatted a little bit as she handed out race numbers before I headed out to warm up.

Despite having raced a few times already in October, I was feeling fresh. I had discussed my strategy the day before with Robyn, my running/triathlon/skiing friend. While warming up I talked myself through that strategy. “Relax at the start, expect some hills, hold steady through the first 10K, expect a big hill in the second half, and try for a 7:30-8:00/mile (4:40-5:00/km) pace throughout. This is going to be difficult. Expect it to hurt.”

The race started fast, and I was okay watching about 40 people run away from me. I knew this would happen, and there was no way I would be able to hang with people running almost 2:00/mile faster than me. We headed through downtown Ashland and turned onto the Boston Marathon route, which is mostly flat, until we headed right and entered some hills. There were a core group of runners around me, and after a while I started to figure out their strengths and weaknesses as we passed and re-passed each other. As for me, I’m good on the flats and downhills but not as good on the ups.

The Start

(That’s me wearing bib #1131 in the gray near the middle/right.)

My first few miles were 7:22, 7:51, and 7:29, and I was feeling pretty good. Don’t get me wrong; it was tough. Nevertheless, it felt like an effort I could sustain. I went through 10K in 47 minutes, which might be the fastest I’ve ever done in a race. With almost half of the race done, I would soon find out whether I had put too much effort in already, since I had close to an hour left.

I realized at that point that—unlike previous long races—I didn’t feel mentally burned out. Gone were the thoughts like “How much longer is this going to go on?” and “Running a half-marathon takes forever!” In fact, I wasn’t thinking much of anything. I was concentrating on my form and staying with the people in my group and just turning my legs over. I half-attempted to read the words written on the back of someone’s shirt but only because they were there. I had feelings more than thoughts, and I was feeling capable.

Seven miles in, we looped around onto the Boston Marathon route again, which started a 3-mile downhill/flat section, which was perfect for me. I could hear Maureen laboring to keep up with me. (I learned Maureen’s name from all of the people she knew along the course.) I passed a guy whose headband held his earbuds tight.

The Green Street Monster

We rounded a corner, and the guy next to me quietly blurted out, “Oh . . . fuck.” I’d heard rumors about “The Green Street Monster” before, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so steep. I dug deep and found my “granny gear.” Earbud/headband guy pulled away from me. I concentrated on trying to stay with him, until I switched to trying just to see him. Thankfully, it was a short hill. Steep to be sure, but mercifully short. We went gradually uphill for another mile, until we were less than two miles out.

The payoff for Green Street was sweet but not easy. I pushed myself hard, deciding to give everything I had left. I couldn’t quite catch earbud/headband guy, and Maureen passed me with about a mile left to go, but I didn’t really care; I was racing the clock. My Garmin wasn’t matching the distance markers on the road well, so I couldn’t tell how far was left. Upon arriving at an intersection I recognized, I knew there was only about 800 meters left, and I put the hammer down. I rounded a corner and saw the finish. The clock read “1:39″ and some seconds. Would I be able to go under 1:40?

Yes! I crossed the line in 1:39:50, finishing 46th out of 296 and 10th in my age group. I was elated, having turned my suffering into gold. I walked for a couple of minutes to lower my heart rate gradually, when I ran into Sir Alex. We celebrated my almost-three-minute PR with a hug and some conversation.

Hurrah for suffering!

p.s. — The race time predictor from Runner’s World, estimates that I could run a 3:28:09 marathon. (It’s very precise.) That sounds crazy! It would be a PR by almost 32 minutes. Crazy. It seems worth a try though, no?

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


A few weeks ago, Victoria asked me about “spreadsheeting.” I mentioned that I keep track of my triathlon details in Excel, and she wanted me to tell her about that workbook. Here goes.

Triathlon results spreadsheet

First the basics. Every triathlon I’ve done is in one spreadsheet. As of Ironman Wisconsin it has 16 events. Each event gets its own row. It currently has about 35 columns:

  • Race, year, age group, and distances
  • Times: overall, swim, bike, run, T1, and T2
  • My rank in each leg overall and in my age group
  • The fastest swim, bike, run, and transition times for the day (both overall and in my age group)
  • My swim, bike, and run paces
  • My percentiles for the each discipline and finish time (overall and age group)
  • My time as a percentage of the best time for each leg
  • The number of people in the race
  • Some random notes

I didn’t always keep track of all of these. For example, the percentiles and the ratio of my times to the best splits are recent additions.

Raw triathlon data

Gathering the data isn’t always easy, and it usually involves scraping data from webpages for each event. From there, it’s a bunch of sorting and resorting and copying and pasting . . . and analysis.

What you analyze is up to you. I like to see how my swim, bike, and run are progressing at the same race or distance from one year to the next. I also use it to see where my strengths and weaknesses are compared to my peers.

p.s. — Don’t hate on me because I haven’t yet updated my Mac to El Capitan. I had some driver + Java compatibility concerns early on. I’ll get there soon.

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

Powisset Farm Trail Race

Autumn is here

I’ve been on a bit of a tear this month when it comes to racing. I did a 5K trail race on my birthday (the 4th) and a 4-mile trail race the next weekend (on my Mom’s birthday) where I talked to the director of the previous week’s 5K afterward. We had paced each other for the whole race, me leading out the first couple of miles until we crossed over a long dam where she pulled away, pulling me along for the second half. It’s been fun and very laid back. It reminds me why I love running and trail-running in particular.

On the 18th, I ran the Powisset Farm Trail Race. The 8.3 mile race had been on my calendar since I learned about it at TriMania in March, but somehow it snuck up on me.

This was really three different races, but before I get into details, let me start by noting that the night before the race was our first killing frost of the season. It was 27° (-3°C) when I got to Dover. All of the volunteers looked really cold, and most of us athletes stayed in our cars until about 7:30 when it was time to get ready to race.

I was all bundled up when I left the house, but by the time I did my first 1/4 mile of warmup I was (indeed) warm. I stopped back at the car, took off my jacket and long-sleeve shirt, put on a short-sleeve shirt, donned the jacket, and headed out for another lap. Still too warm, I went back to the car again, took off my jacket and shirt, put on the long-sleeve shirt, and left the jacket in the car. This presented logistical challenges, as I now had to find a place to put my insulin pump, but I got that sorted out and ran another 1/4 mile or so.

The first part of the race was your typical XC-style course: mostly flat, mowed grass, and fast. The 5.6-mile and 8.3-mile races started together, and even though it felt easy (at first) everyone was flying. The super-hot, German woman who started just ahead of me was off like a shot, and I wouldn’t see her again until after the finish. I tried to take it easy and watched as about 20-30 people gradually pulled away from me.

Following that first 1.5 mile loop, we crossed the road into the woods, which is when Gillian Welch’s song “Caleb Mayer” came into my head, where it would stay as my constant companion for the next 6.8 miles. I’m not sure why an almost 20-year old folk ballad about an Appalachian moonshiner attacking a woman who ends up killing him popped into my head, but at least I knew all of the lyrics.

Once we entered the forest, the pace was still pretty aggressive, and I could hear feet behind me and see people ahead of me most of the race until we got to the very steep climb up Mount Noanet at mile 4. Coming down was an act of controlled falling. Then there were more gradual downhills where I was flying. I love trail running!

The 5.3-mile folks split off to finish while the rest of us made a second loop, fortunately this time without the wicked climb. The second loop was in some ways easier—because I knew what to expect—and harder—because there was no one on my heels or near me to try to catch. With 1.5 miles to go, I started working my way through the back of the 5.3-mile field, which gave me a bit of a boost. About a mile from the finish, my continuous glucose monitor told me my blood sugar was heading toward hypoglycemia, but I was almost done and I didn’t 100% trust it. Around that time I got a stitch in my left side, which I did my best to relax myself through.

And then I was done. 1:10:24 for 8.3 8.4 miles, an 8:24/mile average pace good enough for 19th of 88. Trail races are never consistent though. My fastest mile was 7:23. The slowest, 9:12.

I found the woman who took off with the fast guys at the start of the race. She was easy to find; I just needed to look for the Norse goddess hanging out with the handsomest looking guy on the planet and the most adorable child. I asked her if she won. “Ja,” she said. “How about you?” Well, I didn’t win, but I’m happy with my time. She was surprised by the bigass hill in the middle. We both agreed the 1.5-mile starting loop didn’t fit with the rest of the race, but that the forested course is fantastic. It turns out she won the 5.6-mile race outright, beating the fastest man by over 2:00.

Next Saturday, I’m running a local half-marathon. Fun fun fun!

Here are some pictures from the race.

First killing frost

Autumn in New England

Après race hair

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Swim Cards Against Humanity

A few days back, Caroline asked about the Swim Speed Workouts card deck by Sheila Taormina that I’ve been using for the last 2-3 winters. So I thought I’d give a little review.

Swim Speed Workout #2-2

Swim Speed Workouts is a combination of 50 waterproof workout cards, a very small book, and some more laminated cards which describe the in-water and resistance tube drills the workout cards use. The 50 cards are organized into 16 weeks of three workouts: two workouts of 2,000-2,300 yards and one “She-Ra” workout of about 4,000 yards. I’ve never been badass enough to do any of the She-Ra workouts, which are transcriptions of Taormina’s training sessions during her Olympic training. There are also recovery and taper week workouts. (I’ve never actually used those either.)

Taormina is a major proponent in the high-elbow catch and pull, and she makes a really compelling case for it in her book Swim Speed Secrets. (The mini-book part of Swim Speed Workouts is a heavily abridged version of this longer book.) The fastest swimmers in the world use shoulder extension to grab water, a high-elbow catch leading to a vertical forearm early in the pull, a strong core in coordination with some body torsion to execute the pull, and a propulsive finish. The purpose of each session—which is clearly stated on the card—is to improve an aspect of these phases and coordinate them into a powerful, efficient stroke. Most workouts are broken down into a warm-up of about 300-500 yards, a drill set, a main set that usually includes shorter distances at higher intensities, and (frequently) a kick set, plus a brief warm-down. The earlier weeks involve more drills than the later ones, which see more strength building.

Winter has been a perfect time for me to use this workout card deck. By doing the two regular workout cards focused on form and strength-building—plus a third, continuous “long swim” of 2500-3500 yards—each week, I get four months of focused off-season training without too much volume. Due to pool closures and travel, I usually finish these 16 weeks in March, right around the time my 26-week plan for a 70.3 or Ironman is set to start. And each spring I’ve ended the off-season stronger and swimming faster than the end of the previous year. All of those drills pay off! Repeating the card deck has unexpected benefits, too: I don’t have to relearn the drill or its purpose. So I do them better each winter, which lets me focus on where I’m still inefficient. (This winter I’m hoping to better coordinate my core, kick, and arms.)

Come spring, I’ll return to my workout binder, which is more about building strength and speed through hard workouts than becoming a more efficient swimmer. Those workouts are longer (3000+ yards) and involve bigger blocks of continuous swimming. Basically, they’re more like what I do when racing. Until then, I’ll be working on the little things.

See you at the pool!

Posted in Swimming | Leave a comment

I’m Feeling Lucky

Things I Googled this evening:

Dexcom G5 Animas Vibe — As in, “Does the Dexcom G5 work with the Animas Vibe?” — It doesn’t look like it . . . yet. Of course, to communicate with the G5 the Animas has to talk Bluetooth, and I don’t know if it’s likely to do that anytime soon.

Men swimming with Animas Vibe — Where would I put an insulin pump when swimming? I’m not saying the lady folk have it easy, but there’s not very much room to stash stuff in my swimmers. Sadly, this did not turn up anything more helpful than “clip it to your swimwear.” When I’m wearing a wetsuit and/or tri kit, this should be straightforward: just stuff it in a pocket. But I’m not sure about the pool. Hmm, maybe it will stay put if clipped onto the back waistband of my swimmers. Hmm.

It should be pretty obvious that I’m ready to try something new, starting with the Dexcom CGM, since I’m pretty unhappy with the Medtronic Enlite. Time to make some phone calls.

BTW, I learned that Dexcom can integrate with TrainingPeaks via the Share app. Sweet!

Posted in Data-betes, Diabetes, Swimming | 1 Comment


Riding the trail

Many thanks to Lisa for the excellent picture from our post-work ride yesterday.

Posted in Cycling | 1 Comment

Go, Jeff! It’s Your Birthday!

Sunday I ran a 5K on the trails. I was missing competition and feeling like a slacker in the three weeks since my IM, so I decided to lace up my new trail-running shoes and have at it. Plus, they were forecasting rainy, hurricane-like conditions for my birthday, and this seemed like just the right amount of suffering as a prezzie for myself.

It was so short that I’m going to give you an almost real-time recap of the event, starting the morning of.

7:30 — Wakey wakey! It’s time to go race!! Woo! What’s up with all of this sun? If this were a triathlon, I would probably be swimming by now. And seriously, sun? I thought there was supposed to be rain.

8:50 — Guess I’d better leave the house. I need a chance to warmup before the race, otherwise I’ll spend half my race getting in the groove. Man, it’s warmer than I expected! Better grab a short-sleeve shirt.

9:10 — This guy directing me toward registration seems very friendly. Hmm . . . There are more fast-looking dudes here than the last time I ran this race.

9:15 — The gray-haired woman at the registration table only has dollar bills for change, and I get 15 of them. I wonder if I joked that I can now go to the gentleman’s club and make it rain on my birthday whether that would go over well. Better not risk it.

9:30 — I’m warm. Time to change the shirt. And grab a banana from my bag. And test my blood sugar. 210 mg/dL (11.7 mmol/L). Meh. Let’s take a wee bit of insulin, too.

9:45 — A couple of miles for a warm up seems good. These new shoes . . . I dunno if they’re going to have enough arch and ankle support. They definitely have copious, grippy tread, though. I remember the beginning, on-road part of this race feeling long. It’s true. Try to hold back at the start, Jeff. Pffft, whatevs, Jeff’s brain. Let’s go for another 10 minutes or so.

9:50 — Shit! Everybody’s lined up. I’m going to miss the start.

9:55 — Oh hai, everybody. We’re going to sing the national anthem? I don’t like singing the national anthem. Mostly because I don’t like to sing. And it engages the liberal arts, social constructivism part of my brain, which really I don’t have time for right now. “. . . can you see, by the dawns early light? . . .”

9:57 — I forgot that the race director is a crier. She’s keeping it together really well. Oh god, she’s thanking the volunteers; this could push her over the edge. Whew! She held on.

9:58 — I’m just going to move to the right a bit so that I’m not behind these two 10 year-old girls. They could be badass awesome, for sure. Or I could need to move over in about 100 yards. These guys’ shoes look fast. I’m not going to be in front, but they seem like good people to follow.

10:00 — And we’re off! TOO FAST! T-O-O F-A-A-A-A-S-T!! Oh, fuck it. YOLO.

10:04 — STILL TOO FAST! At least we’re off the road now.

10:06 — Hello, person to my left. Let me introduce you to my elbow. I’m not going to run through that tree you’re edging me into. It’s my line, yo.

10:08 — Hey, first mile. This is where my face almost became one with the forest floor last time. These shoes are awesome! This is starting to feel pretty tough.

10:10 — There’s that uphill I remember. Gah, this sucks. Why do I run 5K races? Because—like heroin—they’re plentiful and cheap. Now shut-up brain and run.

10:15 — “Heartbreak Hill” . . .Hahaha! That’s funny.

10:16 — Must. Not. Vomit.

10:18 — Oh goodie! Downhills!! I love Love LOVE downhills! Sweeeeet!

10:18:15 — Ugh. Uphill. Again.

10:19 — Sweeeeeeet!

10:22 — Oh crap! I’m not sure I’m going to make this turn coming off this fast downhill after going over a rock wall and crossing a street. Whew. Made it. I see the finish!

10:23 — Nobody’s going to pass me now.

10:24:26 — Wooo! Done!!

10:24:29 — Oh, don’t throw up. Let’s just keep walking.

10:25:29 — “Hey good job, kid!” How old is this little speedster? 8? 9? [He was 8.]

10:27 — BG is 200 (11.1). Just what I expected. Hey, there are still donuts left! Go, Jeff; it’s your birthday. Eat a donut like it’s your birthday.

10:27 — That guy who directed me to registration thinks my name is “Dan” and that I had a good race. I hope Dan isn’t too confused the next time they meet.

10:28 — Well, I guess it’s time to go home and get ready to celebrate the rest of my birthday with Lisa.

Posted in Running | 3 Comments


Hey, y’all. Sorry to be absent recently. I’ve been pretty busy with work. Part of that led me to La ville de Québec, where I attended IEEE’s International Conference on Image Processing. That was fun!

I had a few goals:

  • Learn what people are currently doing with image processing and which algorithms are coming.
  • Talk to lots of customers about how they use MATLAB in this space.
  • Do reconnaissance for when Lisa and I visit Québec someday.
  • Buy some francophone CDs.
  • Try to find the best pastries in town.

It’s a beautiful city and quite a bit different than Montréal, more touristy and francophone. 95% of the inhabitants speak French as their primary language. It’s also kind of sleepy. It took me several days to make it to a record shop that was open, since many stores close by 6PM. And Oh mon dieu! is it hilly. Everywhere from my hotel was either straight uphill or brutally downhill. It’s so hilly that they’ve built stairs every half-kilometer or so along the cliffs; there’s an elevator, too.

I found some fabulous pastries and ate some other delicious food. I enjoyed the pain au chocolat and frangipane croissants at Panetier Baluchon on Saint-Jean. The almond and raspberry croissant was a masterpiece. The brioche aux framboises at Boulangerie Pâtissière le Croquembouche on Saint-Joseph was really, really good. I had a delicious crêpe at L’Accent on Rue Honoré-Mercier, and I enjoyed my burger at Les 3 Garçons on Saint-Jean.

It rained buckets one evening, so I spent an extra 15-20 minutes in Le Knock-Out! record shop waiting out the downpour and talking about Québecois musicians with the record shop proprietor in a funky mix of French and English. We’d start out in one language until we hit our limits and then switch to keep the conversation going. It was clear that she was impressed with my knowledge of Canadian francophone music and gave me some excellent recommendations, even though she occasionally thought my taste was a bit provincial. «Pfft. Louis-Jean Cormier est devenu trop populaire.» I gave my best gallic shrug of indifference. (I kept my love of catchy francophone pop music and Acadian country-folk chanteuses to myself.)

In short, I had a good time. And yes I did plenty of work while I was there. Here are some pictures from the trip. (Click on any picture for a larger view.)

Posted in Photography, Travel | 3 Comments

The Data Says, Don’t Overthink It

Monday night I sat down to plan out my off-season recovery season. Part of this is thinking about what I want to do between now and spring—a trail race or two, trekking in Patagonia, and another Knighthood quest, perhaps?—and what my key triathlons and events for next year might be. It’s too early to say for sure what I’m going to sign up for beyond the NE Season Opener tri that I’ve done every May for the last five seasons, but I can tell you that I entered the lottery for next year’s Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. Challenge Maine in late August is always fun, and if the timing is right, Ironman 70.3 Muskoka could show up on the calendar, too. We shall see.

There will also be plenty of cross-country skiing. Oh yes, there will be!

Another part of planning is figuring out what to focus on during base training, that lightly structured time of the calendar aimed at building aerobic capacity without adding lots of fatigue. There’s no real plan except not to overdo it. Still it needs to have a little bit of direction, and for this I need to know what my strengths and “limiters” are. Where do I need to invest time?

So I did what any self-respecting triathlete would do, I went to the data. I keep a spreadsheet of my results, which includes my times and placing by discipline. It also includes the best swim, bike, and run results overall and for my age-group.

I noticed some interesting things in that spreadsheet.

First, the basics: I’m getting faster, both in absolute terms and in comparison to my fellow competitors. Yay! Also, my age group is tough. I consistently do better overall than against my fellow 40-44 year-olds.

Now here’s the interesting bit. Looking at where I place relative to other people in the race, my bike is the weakest of the three disciplines, and yet I am closer to the fastest time on the bike than I am during the swim and the run. I find this fascinating, especially since the bike is always the longest of the three legs; you might think I would lose the most time here.

Also, I excel on the run, which is both strange to me, since I’m not particularly fast compared to the fastest runners—I’m consistently 25-30% slower—and also not really a surprise. I passed 263 people during the marathon a couple weekends ago. Seriously! I went from 898th at the end of the bike to 635th at the finish line. I was a bit shocked to see that. It put me in the top 80% of marathon times.

What then do the next six months have in store for me athletically (beyond not taking anything too seriously and having fun)?

More strength work for sure. I’ve found that this helps my results and resilience. My races are faster and (*touch wood*) my body is more capable of enduring all of the workouts and racing with less injury. The muscles from my hips to the middle of my legs get the most tired and are the most likely to hurt during and after the bike, so I’m going to give them some extra attention.

At the pool, I plan to go through the Swim Speed Workouts program again, since it has really helped over the last couple of winters. And there are a few body position tweaks I want to make to get a little bit more efficient. I’ll wait until spring to focus on any actual long swimming.

Running will be what it will be. I’ll keep doing a couple of small outings along with a long run each week, but I won’t really stress it. I’ll hit the trails and have fun and work on honing my mental sharpness. I would like to get faster, but I really wonder how much more my body can give me here.

The bike though . . . Oh the bike! I’m going to keep getting outside whenever the weather is good, but the bike and I are going to have so much fun with Sufferfest videos in the “love dungeon” this winter. If I’m going to get faster on the bike, I’m going to have to work hard at it. This is the winter to see if I can push myself on the bike.

How about you? What do you have coming up? How are you spending the recovery season?

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

When It All Started

It was fun to go back and reread the original post from almost 5 years ago in which I said I was going to do a triathlon. Oh, silly Jeff, if only you knew where that issue of Triathlete magazine would take you . . .

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment