Odds and Ends, “21 Manhole Covers” Edition

A few things today.

I. Monday I met a few people for drinks and dinner (a.k.a., Diet Pepsi and fish tacos) in Boston. It seemed to be a long time in the making, but it was so worth the wait. Kate was good enough to organize this little gathering with Anna, Briley, Laura, Melanie, and me. It was the most fun I’ve had on a school night in a while. (Thanks, Kate!)

On the drive home I was thinking about these meet-ups with unknown people (usually with diabetes). I’ve done this a half-dozen-or-so times before, and everyone always seems to end up enjoying themselves and coming out of the event/evening/weekend/whatever as friends. It occurred to me that most people basically want to be friends—or, at least, friendly enough to want to have a good time and possibly become friends. It helps that diabetes greases the skids a bit; after all, we already know that we have something in common and have decided to try to be be friendly by meeting each other. But I just wonder if there aren’t larger life lessons, such as “Don’t be afraid to be nice and try to like people when you meet them for the first time, because they’re probably cool.” It seems like we forget this as we get caught up in all of the adult business of professionalism and competition and suspicion and cynicism.

II. Monday was also the same day that I started my 18-week Ironman-70.3 training plan through TeamWILD. I’ve been using some very specific, computer-tailored training plans for running over the last couple years, but this is the first time since high school I have a coach to go along with my (somewhat) personalized plan. I’m excited!

At the same time, I’m trying to get over my innate skepticism about letting other people tell me what to do when it comes to training. I know that I’m going to diverge from the plan a bit, since I have already signed up to some shorter-distance triathlons and longer-distance cycling events that don’t appear on my plan. Fortunately, no one is going to kick me off the team if I don’t follow it to the letter, but I’m going to do my best to do all of the workouts as it recommends. That means slowing down, going shorter distances, and having adequate time to recover. After all, if I don’t pay attention to the plan’s structure and goals, I’m just throwing away the $400+ that I already spent for the plan and coaching, and that would be dumb.

In addition to having a plan and a coach, one of the things that excites me about the program is that TeamWILD was created by Mari Ruddy, who has diabetes. Her goal is to help athletes with diabetes achieve our potential. All of the plans address the extra challenges of our disease by incorporating diabetes management and nutrition into the coaching. This is a powerful feature, and I hope it teaches me lessons I can continue to use after it ends in late August.

I’m not going to tell you about every workout, but I’ll let you know how it’s going.

III. Monday’s workout was easy enough: “Rest Day.” Check.

Actually, I had planned to go to the pool Monday morning, since I was rested after not working out at all on Sunday, and I wanted to move one of my swim workouts up from the weekend, when we’ll be out of town. (Yes. Again. I know. I know. But that’s how things roll in the life of an international playboy.) But it was not to be, since the pool was still closed after some scheduled maintenance during the April school holiday. Based on the coolness of the water this morning—which was actually perfect for swimming—I suspect that they hadn’t given the pool adequate time to come up to a reasonable temperature after refilling it.

Since Monday was an off day, yesterday was my first workout:

  1. Warm up for 15 minutes with some easy cycling.
  2. Do 5 intervals of hard riding for 30 seconds over 15 minutes, with adequate easy recovery between each.
  3. Cool down for 15 minutes.

“That’s short.” I thought. “We’ll see how well I can adapt to structure.”

I decided to head out on my normal route and go super-easy on the beginning part (which was really hard to do because every ride starts by going uphill) before throwing down at the appropriate times.


I got through the first fifteen minutes according to plan, taking the first long-but-not-steep climb very leisurely and (sadly) not bombing down the big hill. I hit the first big-and-steep climb right after the warm-up and I decided I would use the first 30-second interval to climb the thing. (It’s the first categorized climb on the map above.)

This hill on Tyler Road, just off Fiske Mill Road in Upton, is a beast of a climb. The first time I encountered it, I hopped out of the saddle to try to sprint up it until it flattened out, but it just kept going . . . and going and going. It starts out very steep (exceeding 15% grade in some places) for the first quarter mile before becoming merely steep for the next quarter mile before ending at a stop sign in the middle of nowhere.

Not one to give in when presented with a challenge, I discovered over the course of last summer that counting the manhole covers in the street is a good way to keep my mind off the pain in my legs and lungs during the climb. Not knowing how many irregularly-spaced manhole covers there were along the road made for an extra challenge: Could I find out how many manholes there were by only counting the ones I passed while climbing out of the saddle? That is, could I climb the whole, half-mile-long hill out of the saddle.

It took me the better part of the summer to discover that there are, in point of fact, 21 manhole covers. Manholes 1-13 come fast and furious, just like the hill. But after that, they spread out until you think you’re not going to get to the next one. Then it appears: a little power-up to get you going . . . until #18, at which point their frequency picks back up, and you realize that (though tired) it would be wimpy to give in when you’re so close to the end.

Yesterday, I learned that I can pass those 21 manhole covers in three minutes . . . which is longer than 30 seconds. It’s actually longer than all of the combined intervals I was supposed to do during the 15 minutes of the main part of my workout. Oops!

I was smarter on the rest of my ride.

This entry was posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Odds and Ends, “21 Manhole Covers” Edition

  1. Sara says:

    You are lying about the pool water. What else are you lying about?!

    Do you even have diabetes?!?!?!?

  2. Jeff Mather says:

    I never lie about pool water. It was cool but refreshing Wednesday morning. It was also very crowded… probably with all of those people starting their triathlon plans.

    But you caught me on the diabetes thing. It’s just a line I use to meet chicks.

  3. Nancy says:

    Amusing…..thanks for a good chuckle! I’ll need something to count as I bicycle Garden Creek for some hill training before I tackle something as challenging as you described. I’ll count antelope as they sometimes run alongside cyclists. Don’t have many manhole covers here.

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