Category Archives: Cycling

Breaking the Logjam

I’d better write something here before y’all forget about me. (If that hasn’t happened already.)

Ironman training is going well. Sometimes it’s hard to get all of the hours done. (How do I pad an hour-long strength workout at the gym with another half-hour? I honestly don’t know.) Other times it’s hard not to exercise. Previous training plans had me doing three swim, bike, and run workouts each week, but I’m only riding twice per week at this point in my training. I was seriously jonesing for a ride on Wednesday, and I’ve had to hold back on the bike to keep from going beyond what the plan calls for. The good news: I’m doing a two-hour ride on Sunday, which I might stretch a tiny, tiny bit.

And I’m going trail running again tomorrow. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to getting into the woods, and it looks like most of the snow will be gone . . . finally! I’m hoping for just the right amount of mud.

Posted in Cycling, Reluctant Triathlete, Running | 1 Comment

And So It Begins

Today is the first Monday of the new year. What better time to restart triathlon training?

Actually I was going to restart last week, our first week home after vacation, but I had a strange tightness in my hip, probably because of my trail “run” up the side of the Columbia River Gorge the week before. After cutting short an early-in-the-week treadmill session, I decided to give it a few days of extra rest before going for an easy four-mile reentry yesterday. But after a couple months of just messing around and not exercising more than anything else, today is really when the structured training restarts.

Last year was a good year as far as results go. I did four triathlons: two 70.3/half-Ironmans, an Olympic, and a sprint. I set PRs at the 70.3 and Olympic distances, as well as in the half-marathon. I ran my first marathon. I did a bunch of great, long bike rides, including a gran fondo, another JDRF ride, a ride around Mount Washington, and a fun spin around the Quabbin with Scully. After Timberman, I had the opportunity to ride bikes with Mom and Lisa a bit, too. I swam 2.4 miles just before Thanksgiving.

I enjoyed doing all of that stuff, but by the middle of the summer I was a bit burned out on the training. For a while I really wasn’t enjoying running at all, and I didn’t feel like I was getting the opportunity to have fun riding my bike either. I got over it. One afternoon in early August, Lisa caught me on the trail and rode along next to me, reciting “The Jabberwocky” and pacing me through the end of my tempo run. She pretty much single-handedly helped me get my run mojo back. And thanks to some late season bike rides, which extended into late November, I got my money’s worth on the bike, too.

Now I feel like I’m really ready to come back to training. Lisa and I have talked a lot about the coming season and my long-term goals and what it’s going to take for me to get where I want to be. Triathlon training is such a solitary, time-consuming, months-long, energy-draining activity that it can become rather selfish if not handled with openness and everyone’s full buy-in. So my main goal this year is to see if Ironman training is realistic. Even though I’m not doing my first Ironman until 2015, there are questions I want answered: Can I handle the volume of training without getting injured? Can I do it and still have fun racing and training? What do I need to do to balance training and all of my other, very important life commitments? What do I need to do to get my diabetes in the right place for Ironman?

My plan for the year is pretty simple. I’m targeting Rev3 Maine, the same triathlon I did a couple of summers ago. And of course I’ll do the N.E. Season Opener again, since it’s tradition and a lot of chilly, hilly fun. Other than that, my race calendar is pretty open.

For the next seven or eight weeks I’ll be doing some pretty boring base training to build back some endurance and improve my running and cycling economy. And then in March I’ll start a 26-week Ironman plan, which should more than prepare me for the half-triathlon in late August. Some weeks in my training plan have “brick” (bike+run) workouts that seem like perfect opportunities to do a triathlon or two and have a good time. And I’ll get a lot of chances to bike and run long.

The journey to 2015 begins this week!

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

In the Great Outdoors

I went for a bike ride yesterday, my first time outdoors since the JDRF Ride to Cure in Nashville. (Well, that’s not exactly true, but the less than two miles I rode with a bent derailleur hanger don’t really count.) A number of factors conspired to keep me off the bike—travel, marathon training, daylight savings time—but most of my reasons are self-imposed. I was recovering, cleaning house, taking it easy . . . slowly forgetting how much joy cycling brings me. But every time I get back on the bike after a break I feel an instant rush of joy. I remember how much I love doing this and why.

And so it was Sunday when I went out for a relatively short 27-mile ride. The air was fairly cool, and I was bundled up in my new jacket and inherited Bike Switzerland jersey. I decided to go up to Grafton and then loop back around toward home. I had missed the hills, and most of the roads where I live go uphill at some point, so we got reacquainted. After some rollers, I started the 4-mile climb up to Grafton. I could tell that I had lost a bit of my late season bike fitness, but without anything to prove I didn’t really care.

The weather was great, cool enough that I had to zip up my jacket on the downhills or when the sun went behind a cloud, and I had it zipped way down when going up the big climb that brought me back to the center of Upton. I could go straight and be home in six, mostly downhill miles. Or . . . I could turn right and add a few miles. “It’s all uphill, you know?” That little voice inside me said. “Yeah, but we’ve got nowhere to go, so why not?” I replied. “Damn straight!”

Here’s hoping that the nice weather holds up for a while longer.

Posted in Cycling, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013 | 2 Comments

JDRF Nashville

You are all very generous people. Close to one hundred people supported JDRF on my behalf, donating $12,275. That’s a lot of money to help develop new treatment options and find a cure for diabetes. I just can’t say exactly how appreciative I am for all of your generosity, but I am just so deeply moved by what you’ve done.

A JDRF ride is never just a ride. It’s also a chance to meet other people touched by diabetes and to reconnect with old friends. This weekend Lisa and I met up with Victoria, Ross, Sarah, and Greg, who were all at last year’s JDRF Death Valley ride. I spent some time with Steve Berube, the New England coach and all-around great guy, who lives a couple towns over from me. I even saw Rebecca out on the Trace just before the turnaround point.

This year I met a bunch of new people, including some that I had already “met” online or known through reputation: Becky Furuta, Chrysa Malosh, and Joe Eldridge (plus a couple of other Team Novo Nordisk riders). The Novo people are great, and Chrysa told me to join them on the tune-up ride Friday morning, when we decided that daylight was burning and it was time to get on our bikes and ride. It was great being out on the road with them, even if it was just to do a few 2.5-mile loops near Vanderbilt University.

Before and after the big event, the JDRF riders spend a lot of time together celebrating what we’ve accomplished and what the money we’ve raised—over $1.5 million just for this one ride—is working to accomplish: the artificial pancreas project, smart insulin, a true biological cure, a vaccine, etc. We share great stories about the ride and the people we ride for. This year (even more than last year it seems) we also celebrated the people with diabetes who were on the ride. At Nashville we totaled more than 100 of the 515 riders, and we had our own snazzy blue jerseys. It was nice to be get a little extra love when people saw us out there on the road.

The ride itself was good. JDRF seems to always put on a terrific event, and the course was challenging and fun. We rode a bit more than fifteen miles from Vanderbilt University in Nashville to the Natchez Trace. Once on this limited access parkway, we rode 35 undulating miles before turning around to retrace the Trace. The route, with its 5200 feet of climbing, reminded me a lot of the terrain near my house, and I should have had no problems with it. However, a couple of things conspired against me having my 100% best day.

First off, it’s possible that I switched over from cycling to marathon training a little too effectively. I had plenty of endurance, but I felt like my cycling legs were just a bit tired. I kept getting dropped by Greg whenever we got to a sizable hill, and I just couldn’t seem to will myself to catch him again. The upside of this is that I fell in with a bunch of different riders in small groups until I would catch up with Greg at the next rest stop. One of the riders in one of these groups put his hand on my back and gave me a little push up the hill to help keep me in touch with the riders ahead of us. It was a very kind gesture, and I appreciated it.

I also had a whole bunch of diabetes-related nonsense going on during the ride. Despite starting out at a very comfortable 220 mg/dL (12.2 mmol/L) before the ride, I dropped to 140 (7.8) within the first hour. I spent the next 70 miles eating as much as I could just to stay inches away from hypoglycemia. It sapped my energy and beat up my confidence and left me riding more conservatively than I wanted to, lest I actually push myself to a place where I needed to stop. Eventually I made it back to Nashville a bit tired but feeling very strong. Like last year, I rolled into the finish without the people I had ridden with on-and-off for six hours. Greg and I lost each other a few times, but somehow I passed him when he stopped at the final break point.

Some people I’ve met go for blood during a century ride. (Overheard on the course: “It’s not a race; it’s a ride.” “No way! It is too a race.”) Other people’s main objective is to beat the time cut-off before being forced to turn around short of the half-way point. Having done five century rides in the last few years, I can say that I’m somewhere in between. I’m not worried about finishing, but I don’t feel the need to find out how fast I can ride 100 miles. (It was six hours and eight minutes of riding time yesterday, BTW.) Going for speed can wait until I start Ironman racing. When it’s not a race, I want to have a good time and see stuff along the route, to stop and take in the historical markers and scenic overlooks and roadside parks. (I’d love to come back and ride more of the Natchez Trace, perhaps even the whole thing.)

When it comes right down to it, sometimes I’m still just a guy with diabetes on a bike. When I’m out for a ride, I don’t need to be the fastest guy out there, and sometimes (like yesterday) diabetes is going to make sure that’s what happens. But all in all, it was a really good ride, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it.

Thank you all again for supporting this fantastic cause! If you feel like you missed out on your chance to support JDRF, don’t worry! You can still contribute.

Posted in 101 in 1001, Cycling, Diabetes | 4 Comments

There’s still time!

Hey, readers!

It’s almost time for the inaugural Nashville JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes. In fact, a week from today, Lisa and I are flying down to Tennessee for the event. I’m very excited!

Last year, we raised over $12,000 for diabetes research. I’m hoping we can do even better this year. No amount is too small, because every bit helps. I am just as appreciative for the $5, $10, and $25 gifts I’ve seen as I am for the $100 and $500 ones.

If you’ve already contributed, you have my deepest thanks. If you would like to donate, it’s fast and easy: Just click here.

Thanks again! I know that with your help we can really improve the lives of millions of people with diabetes.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, General | 1 Comment

This Is Triathlon. It’s What You Do.

I was walking my bike to the shuttle after the the Timberman Ironman 70.3 race yesterday when I had a “moment.”

I had just talked briefly with Patricia Brownell‘s husband at her team’s tent. Once again—as seems usual for us—we missed seeing each other in real-life, despite having been internet acquaintances for a couple of years. She was the first triathlete with diabetes I had heard of, and her success was very encouraging as I was just getting into the sport. The first race I did I saw someone in a Team Type 1 tri-top, but I never got the chance to see if my diabetes radar was working correctly.

The knowledge that there are other people out there with diabetes who do athletic things was extra meaningful to me yesterday afternoon as I walked along with my medal around my neck. I’d just finished the hardest single thing I had ever done. The distances—a 1.2 mile swim in beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run—weren’t new to me. Nor were the occasional chop and currents in the crystalline lake enough to keep me from having my best pace over that distance during a race. And even though it was quite hilly, the steep rollers and the long climbs didn’t do me in on the bike or run. I kept my pace and effort in check, and all things considered, I even nailed my hydration and nutrition strategy. I was even feeling good on the run, which was quite relieving after a couple months of runner’s block.

You see, despite all of those things, yesterday’s race was all diabetes.

As each starting wave got into the water, the announcer read off interesting things about some of the participants. This guy lost 150 pounds and is doing his first Ironman. That woman was diagnosed a few months ago with breast cancer. He almost died during a training accident. She trained for Timberman in Kandahar while on active duty with the Army. They were all very inspiring stories that in many ways described the best parts of the “Ironman lifestyle.” I vaguely remember filling out this part of the online questionnaire when I registered months ago. My head was underwater as I swam out to the starting line, but Lisa said lots of people clapped when the announcer said this:

“Jeff Mather was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes in 1998, and in 2009 he taught himself how to swim. Now he’s doing his first Ironman 70.3.”

I’m kind of glad that I didn’t hear that. When I race, I like to think that I’m doing what everyone else is doing, and I often feel the most diabetes-free during an event. Obviously, I have to think about it, but none of my fellow competitors have to know that I’m in some way “challenged” as an athlete. I was deeply moved after the race to hear how people responded to knowing that people with diabetes can be real athletes, but before the race I think it might have gotten into my head a little if I’d heard it. Plus, as I was bargaining with myself on the bike about whether to finish or not, it might have enticed me to make a different decision so that I wouldn’t (in some unknowable way) let those people down, even if it might have been a very dangerous thing to do.

I swam well, but my BGs had risen steadily throughout the swim. Although they started in a really good place (135 mg/dL, or 7.5 mmol/L), I suspect I bolused too little insulin for my ClifBar breakfast. About 5 minutes into the ride, I tested and saw a “286″ (15.9) staring back at me. I bolused a tiny amount of insulin, ate a gel (20g of carbs), and decided to wait an hour until my next one. I almost always try to eat 20g every half-hour—and I can’t skip too many without the risk of hitting the wall, like any other athlete—but if I was that high, I could hold off. A little less than an hour later I was at 367 (20.5).

Exercising while having high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is painful. Imagine having your whole body full of lactic acid and not being able to clear it out by slowing down. I can almost feel my muscle fibers rubbing against each other as they try to contract. Muscles I don’t think about while on the bike got in on the painful action yesterday: My back, shoulders, hips, arms . . . they all hurt, and I found it difficult to stay in my aerodynamic tuck. Not only was I having a painful time getting from here to there over the long, shallow grades and the short, steep rollers, I was doing it more slowly than I knew I could, thus prolonging the agony.

“Do you have a pump?” asked the guy who rolled up next to me and then proceeded to stay in the drafting zone. It was technically against the rules, but he wasn’t getting any advantage from me, and if he had a mechanical problem, I wasn’t going to begrudge helping him. Alas, I did not have a hand-activated air-pump. No. Sorry. “Really? I saw the tubing and I just thought, well, maybe. . . .” Oh, you mean an insulin pump! Yeah, I do. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting that. We chatted for a minute, the Omnipod user and I, before he took off to rock the bike while I plodded along at my more leisurely 19 mph.

The other thing about high blood sugar that you should know is that it’s a sneaky, lying bastard. When the human endocrine system is out of whack, it messes with other parts of your body, including your mind. For me, it amplifies feelings of frustration, helplessness, and despair. Fortunately, I’ve come to see these lies for what they are, and I was able to hold off the voices that told me it was okay to roll into an aid station and call it a day. While that was true—it would be okay—it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do what I knew I could do. I wanted that finisher’s medal.

Around the 30th mile I made myself a bargain. I was going to try to make it back to transition, eating and dosing small amounts of insulin (like 0.2-0.3 units) the whole way. If I was over 400 mg/dL (22 mmol/L) when I got there, I was going to say that discretion is the better part of valor and not risk going into DKA on the run or hypoglycemia by trying to treat a super high BG with too much insulin during exercise. It kept me focused on something I could do. That’s about the time, as I was talking to myself out loud, that I invented a new mantra:

This is triathlon. It’s what you do. Sure it’s painful sometimes. You’re almost three hours in to something that’s going to take six or seven hours today, but you knew that. You knew it would be hard. You’ve been here before, and you’ve done this. This is what you do. Everybody knows that. People think you’re touched, and they might be right, but you like knowing that you can do this crazy thing. It’s why you do it. This is triathlon. It’s what you do.

Despite backing off the pace early into the ride, I was still passing people. Don’t get me wrong, I did get passed by a lot of men and women, but I made up a lot of time on the uphills, especially the steep ones. The steeper they were, the better for me, it seemed. And I made up time on the downhills, exceeding 50 mph (80 km/h) in aero at one point. And on the corners, where I knew what my bike could do and where the line was and where others around me were not willing to go. And I made it back to transition in just under three hours.

327. The 327 (18.2) reading was enough to get me back out of transition. I was standing in front of my freshly racked bike after walking from the dismount line to my spot. I wasn’t going for a time goal any more. If it took me three hours to walk the half-marathon, what was another couple of minutes of leisurely bike-to-run? I took a drink, I put on my shoes, visor, and race belt, and I tested. 327.

As I ran onto the course, I saw Lisa and stopped. “This is going to be s-l-o-w,” I shouted to her across the road. “That’s okay. I love you!” she shouted back.

A little less than an hour later I was running past her again, smiling and blowing kisses. I hadn’t expected it, but the first couple miles felt good. I planned to run/walk again, thinking I would run a mile and then walk two minutes. But the first mile was so easy that I decided to go for two. The course was hilly, but I was running strong up and down them. I swear I could feel the insulin moving blood sugar into my sore muscles, giving them a fresh bit of juice. Yes, the first loop of the run was very good, all things considered. The second lap was a carbon copy of the first, albeit slightly more painful.

I even talked to a few people as I passed them. One guy told a teammate he was passing that he thought he could break six hours. A few moments later I told him, “I did that on my first tri, too. It was the best feeling ever.” We shook hands, and he told me to go rip shit up. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed running. I was doing better than I thought I would, and it felt like the good ole days. My legs knew what to do, and my mind was free to consider other things . . . like whether I wanted to high-five that life-size plastic bear that I saw near the end of the first loop. I did. Oh yes, I did!

I decided to give everything I had once I figured out the run was going to be a good one, and I didn’t have much left by the finish line. My best 70.3 time was 5:38:42 for the mostly flat Patriot Half back in June. When Andy Potts (the men’s overall winner) put the finisher’s medal around my neck I was trying hard not to puke all over him, and I wasn’t even thinking about my time. Only after we got home did I realize that I ran a 1:56 half-marathon to finish the whole triathlon in 5:39:49, good enough for 112th of 231 in my age group and a very lucky 777th overall. Five minutes after I finished, my BG was a perfect 104 (5.8).

I don’t know how to end this except to say that I’m very, very grateful for all of the camaraderie and encouragement that I’ve gotten from everyone along this journey. Some people I train and race with know I have diabetes, and many don’t. Even amongst those who do, they don’t make a big deal over it. They nod and say, “It sucks that diabetes robbed you of some minutes during your race, but I’m impressed with what you did regardless.” To riff off what one person said to a family member before the start, “Don’t look for me at the end of the swim. You’ll never pick me out. We’re all wearing black wetsuits.” Most of the time, the combination of diabetes and triathlon is like that; you’d never know. It’s just what I do.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming, This is who we are | 7 Comments

The Quabbin: Now with 50% more hills!

Scully came to visit last weekend for what will hopefully be a regular fixture in the year: the big summer bike ride. It was great! Last year, we rode around Cayuga Lake with Andy. This year, we decided to ride around the Quabbin Reservoir, a route that I did solo in 2009. Here are a few notes about the ride:

  • It’s so much nicer riding with someone than by myself. It’s even better riding with a great friend!
  • MapMyRide isn’t so accurate. It said there would be about 3,500 feet of climbing. Actually, it was more like 5,300 feet. It was only off by 50%. That difference in climbing makes for an entirely different kind of ride.
  • I think I forgot about most of the hills from last time . . . including the first big climb on the ride: a long, 8% climb. A mile into it, I rounded a corner just to see the road kick up to it’s steepest slope. I might have sworn a little before putting my head down to finish it out. After 2009, I’m pretty sure I put that climb into a box labeled “pain” and shelved it away in the attic.
  • This wasn’t quite the same ride as last time. We followed much of the same route as the King’s Tour of the Quabbin century ride (minus the beginning and ending part to/from Rutland). Unlike my solo effort, we rode along Greenwich Road from Hardwick to Ware. It is a beautiful, mostly car-free road!
  • The ride along Hell Huddle Road from Gate 43 off Greenwich Road to the water is fine for road bikes and is worth the side trip.
  • People at general stores will fill your water bottles from the tap, even if they sell bottled water.
  • If your pockets are stuffed with lots of food, the banana you packed will get squished, but it will still be edible . . . and delicious.
  • I am a master at finding croissants while cycling.Avignon, Ithaca, Hardwick . . . I seem to be in the right place at the right time. In Hardwick, we rolled up onto a farmers’ market, and I bought a very delicious almond croissant.
  • If you say that “That’s the end of the hills!” you’d better be sure that (1) you’re at the top of the hill and (2) you don’t make a wrong turn and need to climb an additional 200 feet or so going the long way. Oops!
  • Scully can say more on the topic, but I’ll just say this: Don’t leave your insulin in a tree.

The day before the ride, Lisa, Scully, and I went into Boston to see some of the sights. Here are some of the photographs from when we played tourist and from the ride. Click on any for a larger version, or just start at the beginning and click through to see them all.

Posted in Cycling, Photography | 2 Comments

Mount Washington Loop

Yesterday I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I rode my bike around Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was a really great ride (except for one small mishap), and I’m really happy about how it went.

Lisa and I were in the Granite State for the weekend, and we had already done a little hiking the day before. That mile-long hike to a waterfall on Friday was just an aperitif for a longer hike on Saturday. Lisa knew that I wanted to do a big ride, and I knew that we both wanted to go hiking, so I got up early and headed out shortly after 6AM for the 80-mile (130 km) ride.


We’ve been in this area many times in the past, so I knew the ride was going to be tough but not awful. I stocked up on food, filled my biggest bottles with water and electrolytes, ate a little breakfast while carrying my bike down the grand staircase of the Mount Washington Hotel, and rolled into the early morning light. The ride started with a four-mile uphill and then dropped from a height of 2,100 feet (640m) to 700 feet (210m) over the next 20 miles (32 km). The roads were very smooth and almost completely empty at this hour, and I was able to use a lot of the road during my descent, which at 50 mph (80 km/h) was really fast without needing to put any effort into it. That first hour of cycling was so wonderful! With very little effort, I had done a quarter of my ride.

I knew that I was going to have to regain those 1,400 feet at some point. The profile of the route is fairly smooth for the first half and then it gets a little lumpy. The key feature is the 12-mile (20 km) climb from Jackson to Pinkham Notch, where the road to the top of Mount Washington starts. Bikes aren’t allowed on that road except for two races each year, so I had to content myself with topping out the day at 2,200 feet (670m).


I passed a few people on the way up to the notch, but most of the people I saw were going the other direction with a surprisingly strong wind at their backs. Small groups and solo riders with numbers pinned to their jerseys were spread out over almost thirty miles. One mile from the end of my own ride, I stopped and talked to a few riders hanging out near an aid station tent. They were partaking in the Mount Washington Century. They asked about the weather on the back side of the mountain, and I wished them well on the rest of their ride.

Less than a quarter of a mile later, I was picking myself up off the ground. I had been crossing railroad tracks that also circumnavigate the Presidential Range several times all morning without a problem. This final set of tracks, however, was at such an acute angle and was deep enough that it grabbed my front wheel and threw me to the ground. Now, one of the first things I learned when I started cycling decades ago was to approach railroad tracks almost perpendicularly. The fact that I fell on this one left me feeling like a complete newbie.


Tomorrow, I’m taking my bike to the shop just to make sure it’s okay. The shifters are scuffed a bit, and I had to readjust one of the brake hoods, so I just want to double-check it. I also need to buy a new helmet. It’s probably okay, but I remember my helmet-protected head bouncing off the ground. I didn’t see any blood on my body until I got back to the hotel and took off my kit. My hip is a little scraped, as is my shoulder which hit the ground quite hard. Surprisingly, I also got a nice abrasion right next to my CGM transmitter just above my waistline. When I landed on my hip and side, I also landed on the two tubes of glucose tablets I carried to ward off any lows. The best I can tell is that the cap of one of them dug into my side when I landed and scraped me up. I’m not too upset, though, since those glucose tablets probably spared my insulin pump, which I was initially sure must have been destroyed in the fall. I was also very lucky not to have broken my collarbone. Unfortunately, most of the muscles in my shoulder are still quite sore, and I think I strained my left pectoral muscle. (No swimming for me for a few days.)

After I took a shower and dressed my wounds, Lisa and I had some lunch and headed back in the direction that I rode a few hours earlier to do some hiking. The rocky, rooted hike up to Arethusa Falls was pretty invigorating, and we both found the stream at the base of the falls quite refreshing. We thought about taking a longer hike, but we were quite lucky with the one we picked, as it started pouring rain in thick, wind-blown sheets less than five minutes after we got back to the car.


All-in-all, it was a really enjoyable day.

Next year, I think I’ll take on the Kancamagus Highway.

Update — 22 July 2013: The mechanic who looked over Tommy V at Landry’s pronounced him fit and no worse for the little bit of wear that I caused.

Posted in Cycling | 6 Comments

Mass State Tri

How do I write about yesterday’s Mass State Triathlon?

On the one hand, I had my best open-water swim and 40km bike splits ever. It was hot, but I still managed to do better than most of my expectations for the Olympic-distance tri. Diabetes didn’t play as nicely as I’d hoped—I started in a good place but ended up near 300 mg/dL (17 mmol/L) and was feeling the results near the end of the run—but I executed my nutrition and hydration plan very well, and I had my best swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions ever, significantly improving my Olympic time. I missed the top 1/3 of my age group by about 10 minutes, so I didn’t qualify for USAT nationals, but I’m happy with my time of 2:32:15. Here’s the breakdown of those times:

  • Swim: 1500m in 29:05 (1:46/100 yards, or 1:56/100 meters)
  • T1: 2:16
  • Bike: 22 miles in 1:05:10 (20.1 mph, 32.6 km/h)
  • T2: 1:53
  • Run: 10K in 53:51 (8:40/mile, 5:23/km)

I must be getting better at the swim, because I’m getting knocked into and grabbed a whole lot more throughout the entire event. I made sure to be one of the first people in my swim wave to get into the water this race, so I set myself up at the front and sprinted when the horn sounded. I concentrated on the catch and pull phases of my stroke and found myself keeping up. Definitely not leading my wave, but not near the back either. I was even drafting off someone for a while, although I found it hard to concentrate on having good form when I was busy trying not to get too close to the person ahead of me. (Clearly other people didn’t have such qualms—or concentration—as my feet and legs were grabbed a few times.) I also confirmed that I sight really well in the water during races and am not a pack-follower. For some reason lots of people were staying well to one side of the course and then turning in toward the shore rather than swimming straight to the swim-out after the last turn buoy. That’s two events in a row. Hmm.

I was pretty shocked to see a “2″ as the leading number on my watch when I got out of the water, and I was feeling pretty good when I left transition onto the bike. I’ve never really liked my transition times, so on Friday and Saturday before the race I set about to figure out how to do them faster. Basically, I borrowed the lean production idea of value stream mapping, writing down all of the things that I do from when I stop swimming to when I get onto my bike and start pedaling away. I found a few places with wasted time that I was able to improve immediately, a few more I can change but which need practice before trying in a race, and one or two places where diabetes just takes time that I can’t get rid of. (I didn’t have time to do the same thing for my bike-to-run transitions, but it seems very promising.)

The Mass State bike course is a single loop over really nice roads. There’s some up and down but nothing extreme, with only about 750-800 feet of climbing over the 22 miles. (I have my own personal scale for figuring out the hilliness of a ride: divide the number of feet of climbing by the length in miles. If it’s less than 30, it’s flat. If it’s between 30 and 50, it’s slightly hilly. 50 to 70 is probably very rolling. If it’s over 70 feet/mile, it’s quite hilly, and over 90 is really hard. Because of where I live, most of my training rides lately have been in the 50-80 range. This course was merely 35.) I subscribe to the “you always pedal when you’re on the bike unless you have no more gears to use” school of cycling, and I wanted to see how hard I could realistically push on the bike and be okay on the run. I think I found that point today.

Which brings us to the other hand. (You knew it was coming, right?)

The run was just really hard, like most of the running I’ve been doing recently. It’s possible that I might have ridden too hard, but I did try to hold back a bit. When I started out on the run, I was feeling pretty fresh—all things considered—but at 85°F (30°C) it was quite warm. By the time I got to the first aid station a mile and a half in, I was ready for a little walk, but I kept going for a bit longer before I started a run/walk. As with the Patriot Half last month, I didn’t enjoy the run . . . at all. The feelings of just wanting to be done already started within the first ten minutes, which was definitely better than Patriot Half where I felt that way within the first mile, but it was still disappointing. Once I got to the turnaround at 5K, I was feeling a lot more motivated, and I was able to kick in the last 800 meters.

A couple days before the race, I made high and low estimates for each part. I was on the low side or better for all of these estimates except for the run. Being able to do that left me feeling very satisfied. Now all I need to do is to get my run mojo back, and I’ll be really happy.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 5 Comments

Catching Up, Part 2: Active Insulin

This is the second half of the “What has Jeff been up to?” post. In the first part I had a couple of difficult bike rides.

III. “You really should stop doing all of that cycling and running.” Jen, one of the fastest swimmers at the pool, had a mischievous look. “All that muscle development is making your legs too heavy.”

I had passed her the previous morning at the end of my miserable three-state tour. She was running up the hill near my house as I was coasting home. The pool was crowded, and all of the lane dividers were still up from a swim meet over the weekend. So we doubled-up, keeping to our respective sides of the black line on the bottom of the pool. A few lanes were packed enough to require circle-swimming.

“I don’t think those muscles are the problem,” I said, patting my core. “But seriously. Am I dropping my legs?”

“Every single stroke.”

I had been doing one-arm drills to work on my catch, a high-elbow pull, and a strong, propulsive finish. The “Month of Drills” had been going pretty well—even if I felt a bit awkward doing drills instead of “real swimming”—and I noticed that when I went to the lake for a swim, my power was moving me through the water more effectively than in the past. It’s not often that I get free advice at the pool, so I decided to make the most of it. “Keep your hips and legs up!” I told myself on my next set of 50s.

“That’s looking better!” Jen said, the next time we were both stopped at the wall resting before the clock sent us off again for another set.

Slow, steady progress.

IV. After a couple weeks of getting passed by a couple guys going up a particularly nasty hill like I was standing still (before jumping on and letting them pace me the rest of the way, I should add), barely making it up that same hill the next week, having some really awful-feeling runs around the neighborhood, and being really tired and sore all the time, I was starting to doubt: Maybe I just suck. Part of the reason that I did the really hard ride and then the long outing was that I was looking to have a little fun after some very structured workouts that felt difficult. I needed to prove that I could go fast, and I wanted to take my mind off training. Instead, my recent difficulties focused my mind on how soon my next triathlon is (Sunday!) and how unsure I was about my abilities to do well there.

I was trying hard last week to snap myself out of the funk and self-doubt, but my diabetes wasn’t cooperating at all. It got very warm here a couple weeks ago and never really cooled down. (Tuesday night, the house finally dropped below 80F for the first time in a week.) For whatever reason, my blood sugars shot up and never really came down for more than an hour or so. Perhaps I was under-hydrated. Maybe my insulin got a little baked and lost its potency. It’s quite possible that the heat itself, which is a form of stress, made my body a bit insulin resistant. I’ll probably never know.

What I did know is that I was starting to feel something like despair. At first I blamed myself, assuming I made mistakes in my self-management. Then, when some rage-bolusing didn’t have much of an effect, I knew that it wasn’t my fault. If I can’t even make myself go low with extra insulin, I can’t really be held responsible for the highs. I did everything I was supposed to do: I changed infusion sets and opened a new bottle of insulin. Of course, knowing it was out of my control didn’t make the highs go away or help me feel better. Even worse, high blood glucose can mess with mood. Prolonged, high BGs makes feel a bit manic and depressed, particularly because it amplifies all of the feelings of self-doubt and grumpiness that I have from time to time. I’m sure I must have been a pain in the ass to Lisa.

I noticed a few things that helped me “solve” the problem. (1) My pump was getting hot, probably cooking my insulin. And (2) when I changed my insulin every few days I felt some pretty impressive “pump bumps.” For whatever reason, my body didn’t really like having the infusion set in there for 3-4 days. Both things pointed toward changing my insulin more often. It feels like a lot of waste to change sites every 50-60 hours, but you do what you’ve got to do, right?

My BGs have come down, and my mood has improved greatly.

V. The only thing that would bring my BGs down was cycling or running in the afternoons. I was starting high and dropping 100-150 mg/dL (6-8 mmol/L) over the course of an hour. Sometimes I bolused a small amount of insulin before the ride. Other times I decided to forgo my usual practice of reducing my basal insulin rate. And I rarely needed to do any snacking before or during these afternoon outings. I was happy for the effect of the exercise, but I knew that drops like that are unsustainable if I start to exercise with “normal” BGs.

On Wednesday, the third—the day before the start of a four-day weekend for me—I decided to go for an extra long bike ride. My blood sugar was in a really good place when I left the office, and was still pretty good (for pre-exercise anyway, 187 mg/dL, or 10.4 mmol/L) before I headed out for an enjoyable 25 miles. I ate a banana and loaded my pockets with glucose tablets and a few energy gels. I also mixed a bottle of SkratchLabs drink mix that I planned to drink on the second half of the ride. About 40 minutes in—just after eating a gel—I pulled my meter out my back pocket and placed it between my teeth; fished out a test strip with one hand and put it in the meter; and pricked my index finger, milked some blood out, and transferred the drop onto the waiting test test strip.

“Shit shit shit!” I muttered upon seeing an 85 (4.7) staring back at me. I had dropped over 100 mg/dL in the last 40 minutes. Based on how I was already feeling, I could tell that I was going to go low, so I looked for a shady part of the highway shoulder to wait it out.

You should know that I can be impatient when I’m on a bike. If I have an expectation that I’m going to go a particular intensity or speed, I’m going to do it. Of course, if my expectations are that I’m going to go have a nice leisurely ride with friends, then I can totally chill and have a great time just being on a bike. And if someone I’m with has a hypo, I have no problem waiting until everyone’s BGs are back to a happy place, mostly because I’m a big, worried mother-hen when it comes right down to it. But if I’m by myself, sitting around on the side of the road is torture. Time passes slowly in the BG penalty box.

Six minutes after eating some glucose tablets and another gel I tested again: 71 (3.9). “Looks like it’s a major penalty,” I thought while eating a few more glucose tablets and washing them down with Skratch mix. Nine minutes later: 81 (4.5). I was moving in the right direction but still a little too low to start again. Seventeen minutes after the first test, my BG had recovered to 97 (5.4) and I was ready to head out. Unfortunately, I had eaten all of my food, so I had to make a quick stop at a convenience store a few minutes later to restock on carbs.

My second wind was fantastic, and I went on to put the hammer down on my “nemesis hill” (Milford Road in Grafton). Later that evening, Lisa and I had a great time watching fireworks, and the next day we did a two-ish-hour ride on the Minuteman Bikeway, which was very enjoyable and took my mind off thoughts like “Do I suck?” A couple mornings later—that would be last Sunday, the 7th—I went for a short, leisurely 35-mile ride and felt really great. That ride included a new-to-me hill, which was completely ridiculous. 17% grade?! Are you kidding me?

It’s nice to have my mojo back.

VI. Continuing on with the theme of trying not to take training too seriously during this taper/recovery week, I did something completely new this week: I combined exercise and errands.

On Wednesday I needed to refill a few prescriptions at CVS. I also wanted to run about four easy miles with just a bit of intensity in the middle. I knew I was going to be a little late leaving the office, and I didn’t want to be even later starting out my run by driving to the pharmacy first. That’s about when the idea to hit me to run to CVS, pick up my stuff, and then run a slightly longer route home.

I can hear you out there, because I had these same thoughts myself: “But, Jeff, it’s been hot and humid in Massachusetts. Won’t you be all gross and nasty standing in line?” Somehow I rationalized it this away. “Well, it’s 1.6 miles there, and they’re all downhill, so it will be easy, right? And it’s the first part of the run, so I might not even be warmed up yet. And it’s only 80F (27C) out there, so it’s almost cool.” And that’s what led me to put on my running gear, strap on my hydration pack, pick a perspiration-wicking cap, and run to CVS, where I stood sweating all over the place while I waited for them to fill the test strips part of my prescription.

“I was reading the other day about a woman with Type-1 who runs all summer long. She has some fancy way of keeping her insulin pump cool in the hot summer heat.” The pharmacy clerk has Type-2 diabetes, and somehow knew that I had been running. It was probably the running clothes . . . and the sweat. “Are you going straight home? Because sometimes people don’t know, and they think they can go do more shopping elsewhere, and their insulin goes bad.” I assured her that I was going straight home—I didn’t mention that it would be in a rather roundabout way—and then stuffed two vials of insulin and a bunch of test strips into my pack.

As I ran home, the test strips clicked like little maracas with every stride. Hearing the insulin bopping around inside their boxes brought a bunch of diabetes terms to mind: insulin on board, active insulin, running on insulin, etc. I did the math: “2 vials times 10 mL per vial times 100 units per mL. Let’s see, that’s 2,000 units of insulin. Plus about 0.3 units of active insulin from lunch. 2,000.3 units of insulin. I’ve never run with that much insulin on board before. I hope I don’t go low.”

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Life Lessons, Running, Swimming | 2 Comments

Catching Up, Part 1: WWSJD?

On more than a dozen occasions recently, I have thought, “I should write about that!” and then never gotten the words out. I’ve been spending a lot of prime blog-writing time doing other things—binge-watching the first season of American “Masterchef,” programming my diabetes app, watching le Tour de France, cleaning house, etc.—and I’m pretty happy with my choices. Yet, I do miss writing stuff here and seeing all y’all’s comments. Unfortunately, the freshness date has passed for some things, but I can probably still squeeze a few topics in. Here’s the first part.

I. Do you know about Strava? If you ride or run with a GPS bike computer (or iPhone or Android device), you can upload your bike rides to their web site, see what your cycling/running/swimming friends have done, and “compete” to become “king or queen of the mountain” on climbs, flat roads, and downhills. It’s not great for swimming or running without a GPS, but it’s the best site for cycling that I’ve seen. You can find me there. There are even groups for TeamWILD and JDRF folks.

At the end of last month I was feeling very energetic and also a bit unsure about how my cycling was going. Usually I’m not bothered by seeing people on Strava doing parts of my regular routes just a little (and sometimes a lot) faster than me, but for some reason on the 28th I felt like I needed to prove something to myself. As I headed out on that hot, humid, and windy afternoon for an uphill ride to Grafton, I was feeling pretty good. After sprinting to make a couple of yellow lights, I decided to keep pushing, and the next thing I knew I was pretty much time-trialing to see how fast I could make it to the turnaround point. I remember thinking at one point, when I realized I was somewhere in the neighborhood of wanting to cry from exertion, that this probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. Did I slow down? No. Should I have? Probably. Do I now have the 2nd fastest time on a 6.7-mile, uphill segment? Oh yes. Was it worth it? Maybe. (See below.)

II. I suspect I paid the price for my exuberance a couple days later during a solo, 80-mile, three-state tour. I had tried to do this ride before in 2010, but Lisa had to pick me up after only 40 miles when I broke a valve stem while repairing a flat in Connecticut. The first part of the ride through Massachusetts and Rhode Island was good . . . a bit hilly but manageable. Unlike the prior ride, I was going for distance, not time. I realized mid-way through that I still have my personal pride and was probably pushing a little harder than I intended. There was something incongruous between the intensity I felt I was giving, how fast the world around me appeared to be moving, and my actual speed. Basically, the world didn’t seem to be moving fast enough even though I was making good time, so I was probably riding a bit too hard.

About the time that I crossed the border back into the Commonwealth, my ride pretty much began to suck.

I had been going up and down hills for a few hours already, and now the really big hills were coming thick and fast. It shouldn’t have been a big deal; I’ve done this before, and 80 miles ain’t no thang. I mean, I’ve ridden 40 miles to end up at the top of a mountain, turned around to ride 40 miles back home, and felt fine. On this day, however, my power and speed dropped.

At one point I rolled up to a stoplight, arriving just behind a fellow cyclist wearing tennis shoes and riding without pedal cages. Now, I try not to be a bike snob, but there’s often a pretty high correlation between the cost of gear and the capabilities of the people who are using it. Plus, bike shoes and clipless pedals—or even regular shoes with pedal cages—just make you more efficient. So I was a bit surprised when I really had to work to keep up with the guy when the light turned green. It reminded me of the time a few years back when I was going up a big hill into Grafton and I got passed by a guy on a BMX bike with his basketball shorts hanging down to mid-thigh. That was a bad day. This day seemed to be going that same direction.

Somewhere along the line I missed a turn. I was still headed in the homeward direction, but I ended up staying on Central Turnpike, a straight-as-an-arrow, two-lane road laid out in the early 1800s to get goods from one town to another as directly as possible. Instead of following the contours of the land for six miles, I was on a road that went directly up one hill and straight down the other side in order to meet the next one immediately. Dozens of these small, medium, and large rollers wore me out and ground me down. My spirit was hurting, and my energy was flagging.

It had been a while since I hit the wall, but I ran into it hard after 60 miles of the ride. My mojo was totally gone. I was really tired, and I just wanted to be done. I thought about calling Lisa to bring the team car out to spare me the last 20 miles of riding, but I felt like a little suffering would make me a little stronger in spirit, so I kept going. The last ten miles home were the hardest. There are three big hills, one of which has been my nemesis since I discovered it a month ago. Each one exceeds 10% grade somewhere on the climb and averages over 6%. On one of the hills, I tried to remember the last time that I had gotten off my bike to walk up a hill.

“What would Scott Johnson do?” I asked myself, thinking back on his 2012 Twin Cities Tour de Cure century ride. “He would find a landmark up the road and make little circles with his feet until he got there. That’s what he said he did. That’s what we’re going to do today.” And that’s what I did: little circles with my feet. I dropped into my lowest gear and watched the numbers on the GPS drop down into the inconceivably small range. For the first time on a solo ride, I didn’t care about the speed or about how well I thought I should be performing. I was making progress and making it home, and at the end of this ride that was good enough.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Life Lessons | 3 Comments

Visualizing Exercise with Diabetes

Well, well, well. That’s done.

The visualization of exercise data proved to involve much more work than I had originally anticipated, mainly because it involved so many different data events: .fit file data, sensor readings, BG fingerstick values, basal rates (both regular and temporary), carb intake (whether covered by boluses or not), bolused insulin, and insulin concentration. That’s almost everything that I had already built for the app plus several new parts. It also led me to create some routines to find “interesting” events and then retrieve a subset of values around those events.

Here’s last Sunday’s 2.5-hour, 40-mile bike ride along with five hours of context before and two after:

The curve in the top chart is my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) sensor data. The red X’s are the “ground truth” fingerstick readings. (Some of the values are duplicates, and I need to remove those.) The blue box is the actual duration of the bike ride. The numbers along the bottom of the upper plot show carbs that I ate before, during, and after the ride.

The lower chart shows insulin events. The horizontal step plot is basal (background) insulin delivery. The red portion of that plot is when I had a temporary basal rate in place. The green spikes are larger bolused insulin doses. You can see a small one before the ride and a larger one afterward to cover my recovery snack. (Evidently, that bolus didn’t do its job very well, since my BG shot way up immediately after I finished cycling.) The dashed curves are estimates of the insulin concentration in my blood.

Now that I’ve done this for one day, I can start looking at more days. But that has to wait until tomorrow (or later) because it’s way past my bedtime.

Posted in Cycling, Data-betes, Diabetes, Fodder for Techno-weenies | Leave a comment

A Tough Day

I have never wanted to quit a race so much in my life, and I wasn’t even a mile into the half-marathon segment of today’s Patriot Half 70.3 triathlon. My swim was really good—my best at this distance that wasn’t aided by a current—and I was really strong on the bike. So what was going on? Why was “DNF” crossing my mind after having what would have been a kick-ass aquabike?

After a few races where I wondered after finishing if I had given enough (including Hopkinton last month), I decided that I needed to work on strength—in particular, my mental strength. I had been finishing a bit too fresh, even though I felt like I just couldn’t go faster, and the gran fondo a month ago showed that I could bike faster. Either I needed more physical strength to get the job done, or (just as likely) I had untapped potential that I could draw upon. Either way, I sensed that I could go faster and needed to work at it; I just needed to be a little more willing to suffer, to be willing to go into the pain cave on the run and know that I would come out of it a couple hours later very satisfied with the result.

When I visualized the race last night and this morning, I could see myself focusing on my technique in the swim, working hard, and finding myself in a group of people with a good pace. After riding the bike and run courses last weekend, I figured I could put in some good effort on the bike and possibly set myself up for a PR. I also visualized myself being more deliberate during the transitions, attempting to speed them up. And that’s pretty much how the first three hours and 41 minutes of the event went today.

I was having more trouble getting excited about the run. I’ve run half-marathons (and longer) before, and I find them difficult but doable. Almost all of my long races have been urban—with lots of landmarks to show progress—but this course was extremely rural, yet it had very little shade. I tried to put that in a little box and just think about digging deep to go hard, but when I started out on the run course, it felt incredibly difficult—mostly mentally. Usually, I don’t have trouble running off the bike, but today felt slow, and I had some trouble believing that I could perform at the level I wanted/hoped. I wasn’t having fun, and two hours of running seemed like a very, very long time. The thoughts of a DNF started early, well before I started walking at the first aid station . . . right at the first mile.

But I knew I wasn’t going to quit. On Thursday, I decided that I would be racing hard in my TeamWILD kit for Mari Ruddy, the founder of TeamWILD and the Tour de Cure “Red Rider” program for people with diabetes. She had been missing since Tuesday, and I didn’t know whether I would be racing in her memory. Fortunately, that was not the case, and she’s recovering now. No matter how bad I felt—and I didn’t feel very bad, just soft—I couldn’t give in. Plus, I would know that I could have finished, that I should have done better. It was never really an option.

So, as I was walking out of the first aid station, I came up with “Plan B.” I would run to each aid station and then walk for two minutes before starting to run again. Coming out of the second aid station, I briefly talked to a guy in my age group who was also walking: “A run/walk is the only way I’m going to get through this half marathon,” I said. “You and me both,” he replied. Shortly afterward a funny thing started happening. I started passing people and making better time than during my previous 70.3. Of course some people passed me on the run—they were running, after all—but I caught most of them when I started running again. I was actually kind of amazed at how effect the technique was. By the time that I got to mile 6, I had a good thing going, and I was pretty confident that I was in a good place for a PR. I decided that I could run through the last three miles, cultivating some of that toughness that I wanted.

When I crossed the finish line in 5:38:42 with a new PR by almost 20 minutes, I felt like I actually had given almost everything I could access today. I wish that I’d had the strength to run the whole thing at a respectable pace, but I’m not sure that I would have been able to do better than today’s 8:56/mile (5:33/km) if I had tried to run the whole thing anyway. Thinking about the run/walk, I see a clear area for improvement, but I definitely see the value in it and will keep it in my arsenal for tough days like today.

I’m doing my next 70.3 (the Timberman 70.3) in August. This race promises to be much tougher because of all the hills. Hopefully I’ll be tougher, too.

Oh, and of course Lisa took some great photos, despite Patriot being a difficult course for spectators with cameras.

Posted in Cycling, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 6 Comments

Gran Fondo

I was hanging out in the middle of the pack about 85 miles into the North Shore Tour de Cure “gran fondo” feeling a bit out of it. I was hanging on to the rider’s wheel ahead of me, but it felt harder than before, and I could hear the world buzzing around me.

Losing my background noise filter frequently is a sign that my blood sugar is going low. I had been hanging out around 200 most of the ride, but I gave myself a minuscule amount of insulin at the previous rest stop since I hit that magic number where, even on a ride, I feel like I need a little something extra to help my body use the food that I’m giving it. Actually being low seemed unlikely, but I’ve seen my blood sugar move a lot in a short amount of time before. If we weren’t going so fast and riding so close together, I would have checked my BGs, but I worried about popping off the back of the pack and being caught in no-man’s-land. Plus, I didn’t really think I was low.

It was also entirely possible that I was at my limit, with or without diabetes. We had already gone 25+ miles farther than my previous longest ride of the year. I’m a firm believer that if you can ride sixty miles, you can ride 100 miles; it’s just a matter of how fast you can go and how you feel at the end of the day. I could go 100 miles for sure, but how was it going to feel? Early on, I realized today was going to be different than my Tour de Cure century last June, which was a leisurely gabfest and sightseeing jaunt with Scully. Unlike that ride, at the eighth mile of this ride there was a two-mile time trial that showed that the people I was riding with weren’t afraid to throw down. In fact, it felt just like triathlon, except faster and without my tri bike. (I kept thinking, “Well, there’s a drafting violation,” before remembering that it was okay today.) About a half-hour later, when heading out of the first rest stop, I managed to get on to the front of the pack and drag everyone five miles to the start of the timed hill climb. Needless to say, it wasn’t my best effort.

That categorized climb was 55 miles earlier. Since then, we had ridden almost another three hours, averaging just under 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). I spent those three-ish hours watching the rider ahead of me—taking care to stay close (but not too close) to his wheel—and checking the road for hazards and turns, which I pointed out like a good pack rider. During those 55 miles I worked on using just the right amount of energy to stay close to the person ahead of me without overdoing it and needing to move out of their slipstream to slow down or (horror!) touch the brakes and then pushing hard to stay on their wheel when I relaxed too much. Power up; power down; power up; power down. And then throw in a hill to cause a ripple through the pack as we all stood up and seared our quads to keep up with the person driving the pace. [1]

I was struggling a bit, but I didn’t want to be that guy. This was a Tour de Cure—which nominally meant that it was a ride to help people with diabetes—but most of the people in the gran fondo were treating it as just another organized ride. Unlike last year’s ride, there were many fewer Red Riders on the long ride, and most of the people we passed didn’t give the typical “Go, Red Rider!” cheer. No one asked anything about diabetes, and when I asked what people’s connections were to diabetes, the answers were vague and almost apologetic. [2] I was torn between wanting people to understand how difficult diabetes can be sometimes and how much people without diabetes take for granted and not wanting to use diabetes as any kind of excuse for anything unless I’m actually in a hypo-induced stupor. I was determined to be the strongest guy with diabetes on the ride and to challenge any lingering misconceptions about our abilities.

So when we rolled into the last rest stop fifteen miles from the finish, I tested my blood sugar, saw that it had dropped more than 80 mg/dL (4.5 mmol/L), ate four glucose tablets and a PB&J sandwich, and mixed some Skratch mix into my water bottle. I wasn’t hypoglycemic, but I had dropped enough (as I had suspected) to feel it and to need to prevent falling at the same rate for much longer. I put another banana into my back pocket to replace the one that I had bobbled and almost caught before losing it at 30 mph earlier in the ride. I took a quick picture with my camera for posterity and then headed out with my adopted group.

A few miles later I was feeling back to my perky self. All of the work I had put in so far was still dragging on me, but I noticed that the miles seemed to tick down a lot faster than just a bit earlier. We also started passing a whole bunch of Red Riders now that all of the routes were sharing the same road near the finish. One of the guys from the small Blue Cross Blue Shield team rolled along side me.

“Hey, Jeff. How would you like to lead us all in when we cross the finish? I mean you’re a Red Rider, and it just seems right.” I was genuinely touched, and the message rippled through our now much smaller group of about a dozen riders.

I knew that if I was going to lead people in I was going to make sure that I did a pull on the front so that it wasn’t just a ceremonial gesture. The last three miles were great! I put my head down and churned out a consistent 20 mph pace, just slightly faster than our 19 mph (31 km/h) pace for the entire ride. My body felt the best that it had all day. When we were stopped at the intersection just before the finish line waiting on the police officer to stop traffic for us, there were compliments and handshakes all around. I like to think it was because I survived their out-for-blood, keep-up-or-ride-by-yourself club ride, instead of just having a really good pull for a guy with diabetes.

1 — I need to more of these hardcore training rides. I think it would make me a much stronger rider. [back . . .]

2 — There was a whole lot of “My mother-in-law/father/aunt had diabetes.” Always in the past tense. Some of the people I talked to were (admittedly) a bit older, but many were my age or younger. Clearly, there’s a need for much better information about diabetes and how to live with it successfully so that there’s less past-tense and more present-tense. And there’s also a tremendous need for research funding and advocacy so that there are more people living without diabetes. And that, dear readers, is why I was at today’s ride. [back . . .]

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes | 3 Comments


I should be writing today’s Diabetes Blog Week post about my ultimate diabetes device, but I really need to go to bed in a few minutes. Tomorrow I’m leaving Milford around 5AM to drive an hour to the start of the North Shore Tour de Cure Gran Fondo. “What’s a gran fondo?” you ask. It’s like a race but not. It’s a mass start event with some timed segments, but it’s not a race, okay?. Okay. I certainly won’t be racing the 100 miles . . . except for the hill climb and the time trial.

But don’t worry. I’ll post about diabetes doodads soon. And the ride of course.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes Blog Week | 1 Comment