Where are we? How did we get here?

Tomorrow’s the Ironman. How did we get here?

There was that time in late 2009 when Lisa suggested that we go to the pool before our 2010 trip to Australia so that we would look good and not drown when we snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. That’s pretty much when I learned to swim. On the way home I watched an hour-long recap of Ironman Australia. I thought, “I swim. I bike. I run. That could be interesting.” I also thought, “Wow, that seems like a really long race. It’s kinda crazy.”

Barrier Reef

Barrier Reef

Later in 2010 Caroline suggested that we do the NYC Triathlon, and we both entered the lottery and lost for 2011 but then got guaranteed entry in 2012 because we volunteered at the event in July. That got me started doing triathlon in 2011, and it’s been part of who I am ever since.

Caroline is ready to cheer in the rain (if necessary)

Two-fisting cowbells

One evening before the JDRF Nashville ride in 2013 Lisa Ruth suggested that I talk to Michelle, who was trying to get a bunch of people with diabetes to do an Ironman. And I did. Lisa and I had a long negotiation about it, and eventually we decided it was not the worst idea ever.

JDRF ride


In July 2014 after RAGBRAI, I sat in Scully and Ryan’s living room after a week without internet access and signed up for the race.

Gooseberry pie

Dippin' in the 'ssippi

Ryan and Scully

Then I started training officially for it in March of this year. I did some training rides with a friend-of-a-friend who was getting ready for Ironman Lake Placid. I did a lot of other training rides and running and swimming. I ran 16+ miles to work. I rode my bike around Mount Washington.

There was that time in July of this year when I added two extra loops to the JDRF Burlington ride so that I could get to 118 miles and remind myself what it was like to ride the Ironman’s 112 miles. Miles 110 and 111 were the longest miles ever, and—for the first time ever—I rode the vast majority of a JDRF event by myself. It was good training for an Ironman, but I’m not going to do something like that next year.

JDRF Ride - Covered bridge

JDRF and Lobsters

Then there was that time a week later when I rode my bike in the mountains near Boulder. That was the hardest thing I’ve done on a bike in a long time. The ride started at over 5,000, which was 5,000 feet higher than I was at 24 hours prior. After an easy 10 mile roll out of town, I was climbing Left Hand Canyon, topping out (I thought) at Ward (9,450 feet) after an hour and a half of continuous climbing. (Seriously, it was all uphill without any descent.) A rider I met there while having a snack suggested that I should ride a little bit farther to Brainard Lake (10,500 feet), which seemed like a good idea at the time. And yes, the view was definitely worth it, but boy was all of the climbing over 8,000 feet really difficult. From there I rode along the Peak to Peak Highway before an hour long, very enjoyable descent along the St. Vrain River to Lyons. Turning south for the last 15 miles to Boulder was perhaps the most miserable riding I’ve done in a really long time. It was hot, windy, and rolling. I was tired and slightly dehydrated. I wanted to cry, but I remember what Victoria had told me and said this to myself: “Victoria said not to worry about the elevation and to smile. So smile, motherfucker!” And that did the trick.

Brainard Lake

Peak to Peak Highway

Saint Vrain Valley

Ice Cream

A couple weeks later my training was peaking and I did a brick that started with an hour and a half ride followed by a 20 mile run in three hours. That was tough, but I felt good about my run strength when I got done. I did not feel so great about my long ride the next day, which I cut short. I had to remind myself a bunch that one or two bad workouts didn’t mean I was in a bad place.

I simulated some triathlons and worked on my diabetes mojo, and I’m still not 100% comfortable with my blood sugar management during racing. I had a good race in Quassy in June, but a bad one at Mass State in July.

On the 30th of August, I put my bike on a truck to get shipped to Wisconsin.

Tuesday, I arrived in Milwaukee with all of my tri stuff in my carry on bag, because I wasn’t going to risk losing any of it. I stayed with my cousin for a couple of days. I enjoyed my time there with her family, even though I mostly just worked remotely. (There’s a really good bakery in town.)


Thursday I checked in and met my teammates. There are 70 of us doing the event, and 40 of us have type-1 diabetes. Seeing and talking with them helped take the edge off my nerves a bit. I’ve been really nervous about the race. I shouldn’t be, but this thing is ridiculously huge. I’m feeling better now, especially after I picked Lisa up yesterday and dropped my bike off today.

Tomorrow, I race. I’ll probably be awake a lot tonight, but I’m trying hard to remember that I’ve been working toward this for a really long time, that I’m ready to race, that I’ve done everything I can reasonably do, and that staying awake all night isn’t going to change any of that. I have 17 hours—although I’m hoping for less—and I’ll be an Ironman if it takes 11 or 17. I’ve been repeating to myself Victoria’s advice recently: Smile. When I’ve been thinking about the Ironman, I make myself smile, and that’s taken the edge off.

My plan tomorrow is to have fun. There will be dark moments, like on the JDRF ride and my outing in the mountains. There will be great moments, too. What I’m really looking forward to is the finish. How am I going to react as I run down the finishing chute? I don’t know, but I have 140.6 miles to figure it out.

This entry was posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming, This is who we are. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Where are we? How did we get here?

  1. Victoria says:

    You’re gonna smile! That’s what you’re gonna do. My advice holds true, my friend. You are an example and an inspiration. The world is watching, so you smile! (And maybe cry, but mostly smile.)

  2. Sarah says:

    I’m so proud of what you have already done and so excited for tomorrow for you! You are amazing and an inspiration! Good luck and for the bike part remember – just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling…

  3. Nancy Patrick says:

    Sarah has summed it up quite up. You are amazing and truly an inspiration!

  4. Alex says:

    Sir Jeff – you are an amazing athlete and an inspiration. I am thrilled that our paths crossed in the Milford pool 2 years ago ( yay – no lane lines and my inability to swim straight). You’re still racing right now – and you’re doing an amazing job! One foot I front of the other. Great story. Can’t wait to find out what the next adventure will be!

  5. mary! says:

    Somehow, I missed this post before the big event! Spoiler alert: you became an Ironman in way less than 17 hours.

    I’m sure that everyone who’s participated in a significant event (a relative term: could be a 5K, could be an Ironman) can understand the feeling of trying to calm your nerves by remembering, “I’ve done everything I can reasonably do.” Especially the first time you’re doing that event – you’ve worked so hard and you KNOW that you can do it, but there’s still the actual doing of it to be done! And because you’ve been so open in sharing your training and process with us, I’m sure you felt a little extra pressure to perform, because it’s not like we’d let you slide without a full post-race report. Obviously, no one would’ve been disappointed in you or thought any less of you had you not finished, but the brain is an asshole and I doubt you would’ve allowed yourself to brush the experience off your shoulders (I know I couldn’t).

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