Category Archives: Life Lessons

Slipping into Spring

Icy trail in Upton SF

“Jeff Mather, you are an idiot, and you’re compounding your idiocy with lunacy! Why don’t you just turn around now?”

I had a point. There was nothing good to be gained by continuing to run down this flooded, icy trail—the same one where I took one of my worst tumbles about 10 weeks ago—just to get to a road and then turn around. My knee was lightly bleeding from a previous slip, and my shins were scraped from running through the vines and saplings on the snowy, but less slippery, edges of the trail. After running through the dewy branches, the front of my shorts and jacket were as wet as the back; I had slid down a short hill on my butt after I lost my footing.

I took some snow to clean off my knee, tossed the red lump into the trees, and turned around.

Thirty minutes and two-and-a-half miles later, I was back at the parking lot. A woman was walking in a short loop around the parking lot. “It’s too icy out there. I walked down to the trail and turned around,” she said, demonstrating better judgment—or, at the very least, less stubbornness—than I.

“Spring will be here one of these days,” I replied.

Posted in Life Lessons, Running | Leave a comment

Jet Lag and Swimming Anxiety… Saturday 5:30AM

It’s a bit after 5:30 on Saturday morning as I type this by tapping away on my phone’s little keyboard. Jet-lag has been working its power over me for the last hour and a half. Its mojo is strong this morning, and–as an accomplished sleeper–I feel it acutely. Part of me wishes I’d stayed out later last night… Going to bed at 10:30 felt right but was probably a mistake. It also didn’t help, I wager, that my CGM woke me at 1:30, throwing off my internal clock even more.

I’ve been in San Diego since Thursday for a business meeting (along with almost 3,000 other employees) and the time change has caught me with a vengeance. Yesterday, I was tired but mostly awake when I went for a run along the Embarcadero. Today, I’m just awake and waiting out the time before starting my “free day” with a group swim in La Jolla Cove.

I alternate between excitement and anxiety about the swim. I’ve never swam with these coworkers before or in this place. The locals say we’re “in for a real treat,” which fills me with hope. Nevertheless, I’ve been anxious all week. Where will I put my stuff while we’re swimming? What will I sight on? What if I can’t keep up? Will my BGs behave themselves? What if the water is rough? Etc. Etc. Unhelpful etc.

My biggest concern has been my upper body. Two weeks ago I fell a few times on a run and ended up with core muscles that until yesterday were still quite tender when I did a lot of the swimming motion. I swam about 300 yards after the meeting just to see how well my new goggles fit, and it was the first time that my stroke was pain-free since the tumble on the trails. (You can see now why I decided to spend my time working on flip turns rather than actual workouts.) I was actually a bit concerned that I would need to bow out of the swim that I helped organize. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like that will be necessary.

Well, now that I’ve gotten that bit of crazy off my chest, I’m feeling a little better. I still have a couple hours before I need to walk to a neighboring hotel to meet the group, but at least I’ll be more mellow in the meantime.

Posted in General, Life Lessons, Swimming | 1 Comment

Shenanigans… Or the one about falling down

A year ago I took a couple of cross-country ski lessons. It had been over twenty years since I skied in high school, and I was never really good at it. Nevertheless, I figured that I could just jump back in and signed up for the “intermediate skate” class. The first lesson was a bit icy, and I fell a lot. The next week it was unbelievably cold and windy, and—despite falling less—I cut my part of the group lesson short because I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. I was disappointed with how the experience turned out, and I was determined to try again this year (but without the almost separated shoulder).

Over the last few months, I’ve been accumulating the stuff to ski again, mostly at good sale prices. By Friday I had everything I needed, and Saturday evening I put on my new boots for the first time and clipped into my skis . . . in my living room. The day’s 60°F (15°C) warmth had melted almost all of the snow, but I figured that every bit of work I could do on my balance before getting on the snow would only help me when I get there. So I spent about fifteen minutes moving from one foot to another, picking up one (still unwaxed) ski and balancing, and shifting my weight from ski to ski as I might while doing V1. Balance, I hope is a trainable skill. It was tiring, and I realized that a lot of my difficulties might be coming from weak stabilizing muscles in my hips, which are also important for triathlon. We triathletes spend so much time moving only in a forward direction, that we need to work moving side-to-side. Yay cross-training!

Sunday morning I finished up the first full week of Ironman training with a long run; 1.5-2 hours, according to the plan. Since distance wasn’t a concern, I figured I would hit the trails. Last month I realized I could run from Upton State Forest to Whitehall State Park completely on trails, so I hatched a goal to do one of my long runs later this year completely on trails: four to six miles within Upton SF and then another seven or eight around the reservoir. This was a first attempt to run part (but not all) of the “Forest to Park” loop. It was perfect running weather—about 40°F (5°C)—and I hoped that the previous day’s unseasonable temperatures had cleared off the trails, which had been too icy for running a week before.

When I arrived at the forest, a couple of guys on mountain bikes warned me about the slick trail conditions. “It’s really slick in some places,” one of the riders said. “Once you get past the trail from the parking lot to the main trail, though, it’s pretty good.” His friend seemed a little dubious of the other’s assessment. “There are actually a lot of dicey places out there.”

I thanked them sincerely and headed to the trail. If two guys on mountain bikes can navigate the trails, I shouldn’t have much problem. And then, just out of their view, I slipped while walking down the trail. The recent warmth was no match for a fortnight of arctic chill, merely smoothing out the accumulated snow that had been soaked by a monsoon overnight and then flash frozen; it was like an ice rink. I’ve never experienced black ice on a trail before. Most of the loop in the state forest was pretty good, but there were places that whenever I saw anything that looked like ice I just started walking, since it was deceptively slick.

I had only fallen once getting to the state park turnoff, and it was (ironically) after descending a very steep, moist trail. You see, I love trail running, especially technical trails where I have to pay attention to footing. Somehow I can just put my feet right where they need to go—between two rocks and then on top of a gnarly root all while hitting the correct part of a banked switchback—to keep a smooth, fast gait going. For someone with limited depth perception and questionable balance, even I’m impressed by this. But evidently once it gets easy again, such as the wide, flat, open area where two trails meet, I lose focus, take a simple icy turn too quickly, and realize that I’m picking myself up off the ground after rolling. Nothing hurt too badly, I thought.

The trail across Tamarack Farm from the state forest to the park was a little icy, but I discovered that if I stuck to the snowy side of the trail, I could actually run it. Of course, it also meant that occasionally I was grabbed by a thorny bush or vine. One run-in snagged the bit of insulin pump tubing that was sticking out of my pocket. My shins and ankles got the worst of it, but it wasn’t that bad, and after all, I was running.

The trails at the state park were almost completely ice free, probably because they’re so steeply up and down that water can’t accumulate anywhere. I was feeling great and ran out about a mile until my watch said it was probably time to head back. Just before leaving the park, I had a lapse of concentration and forgot that the small wooden footbridge over a stream was wet. BOOM! I hit the bridge with my foot and then my chest. All things considered, I knew I was lucky not to have hit the edge of the bridge, but I could tell that I was going to feel it later.


And then a funny thing happened. I got lost. While paying extra attention to the icy trail, I missed the turnoff back to the state forest and looped back to a T-intersection where I turned right and found myself going past a very familiar looking pond with a beaver lodge after going down a very unfamiliar looking trail. Except the beaver dam was on the wrong side for me to be going back to the parking lot. Running back the way I had come, I couldn’t figure out where I had made the wrong turn. After about fifteen extra minutes of running (but not too much freaking out) I got myself back to a place where I had to make a decision, hestitantly made the opposite choice as before, and finished up my run without incident.

Here’s hoping that I’ve gotten all of the falling and getting lost out of my system for the winter. I’m really excited about skiing once we get some more snow. I could just do without any of the other shenanigans.

Posted in Life Lessons, Running | 1 Comment

Diet Coke

I started using the Medtronic Minimed Enlite sensor about 10 days ago, and I have plenty to write about it. And I’ll do that soon. For now, I’ll just tease y’all and say my reaction so far is better than Kim’s but not yet as awesome as with the older Sof-Sensor. In the meantime . . .

Lisa and I were in Portland, Oregon, last week for Christmas. I had a good time there and will post pictures as well as an observation or two about running amidst waterfalls soon.

While cleaning up my e-mail inbox this morning, I came across a link to an article from The Onion about Diet Coke: “Man Who Drinks 5 Diet Cokes Per Day Hoping Doctors Working On Cure For Whatever He’s Getting.” It’s pretty clear that the article is satire, but it does include a choice bit or two:

He’s “counting on” scientists to invent a pill, vaccine, patch, or other medical solution in the coming years to prevent people from contracting whatever horrific, life-threatening disease you eventually get from drinking 60 or more ounces of Diet Coke each day. . . . “And I hope they start working on it soon, too, because I’m not feeling so great.” Cowan added that, until that day comes, he could really go for another Diet Coke.

I pretty much quit Diet Coke cold turkey four months ago. The good news: My doctor doesn’t think that I ever had an ulcer; so there’s that. The other good news: I don’t need to be medicated to prevent the nausea that I had been having. At my doctor’s suggestion, I tapered myself of omeprazole without beginning to feel ill again. Which means that the only other change I made—giving up Diet Coke and most fizzy drinks—is likely the main cause of my feeling better.

Giving up Diet Coke was both easy and difficult. On the one hand, the choice between caffeine/Diet Coke/soda and actually feeling good is an easy one to make. I feel so much better now, and on the rare time that my tummy is a little questionable (because I’ve eaten like a crazy man) a couple of Tums makes it all better. I’m drinking more water and lemonade (sugar-free, of course) to keep hydrated, but that took some mindfulness to make happen.

On the other hand, I think I’m beginning to understand addiction. I know, I know. Caffeine isn’t nicotine or heroin or alcohol. It’s probably not even close, although it is definitely addictive. But I did want a Diet Coke a lot after I stopped drinking it. I still do. I like the flavor well enough. I like the way it tickles/burns my mouth. It’s refreshing.

Beyond all of its physically pleasing qualities, though, drinking Diet Coke was something I did. As soon as I quit, there was a hole in my daily routine. That was perhaps the hardest part of breaking the habit. There were triggers everywhere: buying something at the office café, going to a restaurant, having dinner at home, taking a road trip, etc. Whenever Lisa and I would go for ice cream, we would always buy a soda afterward. We still get delicious ice cream from time to time, but somehow it feels incomplete without the Diet Coke. (At least for now it does.) And I will probably always maintain that pizza tastes better with a Diet Coke (or any kind of soda) than without. It might be entirely psychological, but that doesn’t change how real the feeling is.

So there it is. I’m Jeff Mather, and I like Diet Coke even though I don’t drink it any more.

Posted in Diabetes, General, Life Lessons | 3 Comments

Flip Flip Flip Flip… Wednesday, 6:00AM

Before I left the house I decided that today was going to be a “screw around” day at the pool. My plan is to start some structured base training in January, and until then I’m going to enjoy myself (the same as I have been with running and cycling). Plus, I’d left my workout card upstairs in the house, and I was already outside cleaning last night’s snow off the car when I realized it. “Maybe I’ll swim 3,000 yards straight through,” I thought.

When I got to the pool, I was the only one there, and I hopped in the deep end just to let the water temperature surprise me. I did the same thing last Friday, since Pat told me the water was freezing. A quick dip of my big toe told the shivery truth, and I knew that I needed to just dive right in or I would take a lot of time dangling my feet into the shallow end before hopping in. Today, however, the water was very warm, definitely in the non-wetsuit-legal-if-it-were-a-triathlon upper-70s. “With this heat? Maybe I’ll just swim 2,500 yards.”

About 500 yards into my swim, a few more people had arrived at the pool, although it still wasn’t too crowded. Stephanie was one lane over, and every 25 yards I would see her doing a flip turn to switch directions. “I know I really should be doing tumble turns,” I told myself, remembering that most of the really good swimmers at the pool do them. I’m pretty good at “open” turns, getting a really strong push and efficient streamline, but I’ve always wanted to learn the flip. Yet, it’s always so hard to convince myself to try it when I’m following a structured workout or when the pool is really crowded and I’m fighting for space. Moreover, I needed to swallow my pride and not worry about looking like a total newbie. “Maybe I’ll just swim 2,000 yards this morning, man up and force myself to learn flip turns.”

A couple laps went by, and I was still doing open turns. And then a few more. I was never quite ready. Eventually I sternly told myself, “Okay, next lap, when I get to the deep end, I’m going to do it!”

And so I did. I swam toward the wall, and—instead of gliding in, grabbing the wall, and pushing off—I tucked my head and threw my body forward. I reached for the wall with my feet, but it was just barely out of reach. I continued my lap knowing that I needed to be closer to the wall. On my next trip to the deep end, I accelerated in my last stroke, threw my body forward, hit the wall with my feet, turned my body and shot down toward the bottom. I came back to the surface gasping for air. I caught my breath, swam out about five yards and swam at the wall again. That time and the next couple afterward, some variation of the same thing happened.

“You aren’t rotating far enough,” Pool Guy said. “That’s why you’re going down.” Evidently he had been watching me from his lifeguard’s chair and was ready to give me some pointers. Suddenly he was using his high school swim coach voice. “I want you to do four somersaults here in the middle of the lane . . . one right after the other without stopping. You’re going to have to use your hands to keep yourself spinning.”

Deep breath. One. Two. Three. Four times the cyan of the bottom of the pool and the white of the ceiling switched places. By the last one I was spinning pretty fast, and when I surfaced the world kept spinning on its own for a couple seconds.

“That’s good. Now do that same thing when you get to the wall for your turn.”

The next lap I got to the wall, spun, planted, and pushed off without going “downhill.” Same with the next lap. When I returned to the shallow end, Alex gave me a bit of applause. A few laps later, I looked over to see Stephanie crouched down between workout segments, her head under the water so I could see her smiling her approval. I did tumble turns in the deep end for the remainder of the 2,000 yards. They weren’t all pretty, and they weren’t all horizontal, but I did them. And by the 15th or so, it felt like a pretty natural thing to do.

Friday, I’ll try working on my streamline as I push off the wall. I need to get that piece back in the mix. One step flip at a time.

Posted in 101 in 1001, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | 2 Comments

Crêpes Rock!

Things I learned this evening:

  1. Cooking crêpes is not that hard. It’s true that the first one was a little small, and that none of the other three were completely round. But they were delicious. They weren’t perfect, but neither were they burned nor raw. For a first effort, I learned a lot, especially about how hot to make the pan. I’m looking forward to the next batch.
  2. 72% cacao chocolate was probably just a bit too bitter. Next time, we’ll just go with regular dark chocolate.
  3. I love the food processor we bought today! I’m not sure it was necessary just to mix the batter—as my cookbook suggested—but it sure made creating the raspberry filling very quick! I can’t wait to try it on something else.
  4. I need to find think of some other delicious fillings. Any suggestions?
Posted in 101 in 1001, Life Lessons, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013 | 4 Comments

Tu oso bebe cerveza

You might remember that I started to learn Spanish last fall. That went pretty well, but I knew at the end of those ten weeks that my knowledge was still very basic. Now, almost a year later, I’ve restarted my learning using Duolingo. The completely free, online learning system combines a lot of different techniques without feeling haphazard. (And I’m really surprised to see how much of a sucker I am for “gamification.”)

Because I’m still early in the program, the vocabulary it has presented is limited. As a result, the sentences it constructs mostly involve boys, girls, and a variety of animals partaking in a limited assortment of foods and beverages. Some of the sentences are a little silly, and I think this one might be my favorite so far:

Tu oso bebe cerveza.

That’s right; your bear drinks beer. Of course, if a spider can eat bread (“La araña come pan.”), then why not?

¡Hasta luego, muffins!

Update — 29 September 2013: Tonight I learned that the cats will drink anything. “Los gatos beben cualquier cosa, desde leche hasta cerveza.”

Posted in 101 in 1001, El Hombre Guapo, Life Lessons | 1 Comment

In Praise of the Wetsuit

My good friend and fellow type-1 triathlete Céline recently wrote about how she is too stubborn to wear a wetsuit during triathlon. I started to write a response on her site, but it quickly became a post all of its own, so here it is.

I think about wetsuits this way:

  • Am I faster with a wetsuit? Yes. I’m more buoyant, streamlined, slippery, and compressed. My core muscles are getting stronger, but I still tend to drop my legs at the pool; it’s a lot harder to do that with a wetsuit. Considering all of the different factors, I estimate that I’m about 0:15/100 faster with one.
  • Does it hurt my feel for the water? No. Not at all.
  • Does it make it hard to breathe? Nope.
  • Am I comfortable in a wetsuit? Yes… comfortable enough. A well-fitting, sleeveless wetsuit is pretty much something I forget that I’m wearing when I’m in the water.
  • Does it make it possible for me to race in the early and late months? Yes, and in the ocean, too. The water temps this season at my races varied between 55° and 82°F (12-28°C), and I wore a wetsuit for all of them.
  • Does it take longer to remove than the time I save swimming? No. Not by a long shot. With enough practice, I can remove it in less than 15 seconds. It’s definitely not the slowest part of my swim-to-bike transition. Plus, my last event had “strippers,” and that was the best thing ever!
  • Do I look super-attractive while I’m wearing it? Um… probably not. But as Lisa says, triathlon takes all shapes. I’ve learned to be okay with having not much to hide behind and with seeing interesting bulges (my own and others) while I’m standing around waiting to race. It’s a lot like bike riding; at some point you get beyond the fact that everyone you’re with is pretty revealed.
  • Does it give me a very convenient place to stash gels when I swim? Yes. I just put ‘em down by my ankle.
  • Does it help keep my diabetes paraphernalia attached? Yes. My CGM or infusion set has never come loose while wearing one. This is very different from the pool, where about once per month, my CGM or set comes unstuck.
  • Is it a question of safety? Initially, yes, but not now. Putting aside the fact that even a dead body floats, a wetsuit makes a swimmer extra buoyant. If you’re at all uncomfortable, a wetsuit can be a bit like a safety blankie. While I initially freaked the hell out the one time that I went swimming in open water without one, those days have passed, and I wear one all the time now for the other reasons listed above.
Posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | 7 Comments

Runner’s Block

When I was cooling off in the shade after the Mass State Triathlon on Sunday, sitting on a folding chair and finishing up my second bottle of water in a matter of minutes, I summed up how I was feeling. “I have something I want to talk to you about,” I told Lisa, “but not now. I want to get a shower and a meal in me beforehand.” I know from past experience that at one point or another during or immediately after a triathlon I have serious doubts. Doubts about finishing, about doing a longer one, even about doing another one. We did wait for a couple hours, after I had cooled off (literally and metaphorically) before starting in on the big conversation, but we did talk on the ride home about the event itself and about something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I’m having trouble running. I don’t just mean running at a pace I’m comfortable sustaining. No, for months—since February or March, actually—I’ve had trouble getting excited about running. It’s something I just don’t want to do. I used to love running, but now I’d rather not do it all. A couple short years ago, the swim at the beginning of a triathlon filled me with trepidation, and I looked forward to the bike and run. Lately, when I’ve been thinking about my events, a dark cloud hangs over the run. I know that I’ll do well enough, but I just don’t feel like I’m going to do as well as I’m capable of doing, and (more often than not recently) I don’t.

Between the low blood sugars that I’ve had when running, the need to walk when I don’t want to (because I’m low, high, or just dead tired), and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on, running is actually something I’m starting to dread. Sometime over the last year, lacing up my shoes for a nice run outside has just lost all associations with joy for me. Perhaps the winter was too snowy. Maybe the spring was too unpredictable blood sugar-wise. Maybe I’m bored with the three or four routes I usually use. (Ironically, the only outings I really get excited about are the ones where I mindlessly run around the high school track, push a hard tempo, count the laps en español until I get in the required distance, and then turn around for home.)

I suspect—which means it’s probably the case—that I built New Bedford up to be too big by giving it specific goal paces and was disheartened that I wasn’t able to sustain them over those last five, awful-feeling miles. If a half marathon felt so dispiriting, how was I going to race a marathon in the fall? That feeling compounded during last month’s half-Ironman, which I couldn’t do without walking. (And, yes, I agree that the run/walk turned out to be a very effective technique, as it was again Sunday; it just didn’t fit with my idea of my fitness or toughness.) Now, whenever things start to get really hard on the run (or really boring on the bike) I start to wonder how I’m going to make it through a full Ironman, which I had planned on doing next year. I’m caught in a spiral.

And then there’s the idea that maybe I’ve finally found my limit, and it’s a lot less than I had always thought. My recent results and my concept of myself aren’t matching up. No one (other me) said I had to do an Ironman, and I really enjoy the intensity of the Olympic distance and the accomplishment of the half-Ironman (a.k.a. 70.3). But I had always imagined myself doing an Ironman and getting better at it until I qualified for Kona, where I would represent for all my T1 peeps to show what we can do despite our pain-in-the-ass disease. (I know: No pressure there, right?) So obviously, the idea of having the 70.3 as my possible limit is grating on me, even if it’s not based in fact at all. (Or even a bad thing if it is the case.) The idea is there.

And that’s what I think about (consciously or subconsciously) before I lace up my shoes, when I’m running down the trail, and after I get done running or racing. It’s what I was thinking about Sunday as I was running through the humid 85°F (30°C) heat, when I was incapable of turning off the doubting part of my brain. As usual, I was able to push hard over the last 5km—and especially over the last mile—which left me simultaneously happy and frustrated. I was pleased to know that I have a well of talent that I can develop and count on, and yet I seem to have such difficulty tapping into it and believing that it’s there.

And that, friends, is where I am these days. I have a wicked case of runner’s block.

How am I going to get past it?

First off, I’m going to try not to worry. I’m going to do my rebuttal thoughts and say nice things to myself. I’ve run fast in the past, and I’ve run fast recently, too. It’s been crazy hot the last couple of months, so feeling good while running is not something I should expect. I just need to get through a workout, make an ugly face at the end, do that dismissive thing I do with my hands, and be done with it, knowing that I just put some conditioning in the bank for later when I need it during a race.

Part of not worrying is also realizing that I’m the only one putting this pressure on myself. I said I was going to do an Ironman next year, but y’all will certainly not think less of me if I decide that it could wait another year (or more) while I work on my run base a bit. I do triathlon because—believe it or not—I think it’s fun. There’s no sense in doing a particular triathlon—or even a marathon—if it isn’t making me happy (or happy enough to outweigh all the pain/boredom/dedication/etc. needed to get that happiness).

This next one is going to be hard, but I think it’s necessary for me as long as I keep doing my weekly long run on an afternoon in the middle of the work week: I need to become okay with “messing up” my diabetes management while running. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like I know what’s going on with my BGs in the afternoons when I’m cycling or running, so really I can probably only make things better. If I have a 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L) drop in an hour, there’s no harm in trying an even lower basal rate . . . or even more pre-exercise food earlier . . . or different food . . . or (very likely) a combination of all of these things. I’m probably going to go low several more times or end up way too high, and it’s going to suck, but eventually I will get better at it.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, I need to reconnect with the part of running that I enjoyed. As with cycling, when it’s going right, I love the feeling of being lost in the moment. I’m aware that I’m running, but I’m not thinking about it. My legs move themselves; my breathing is relaxed and second-nature; the running is effortless, and I just have to be there enough to feel the air move around my body and ensure that I make the correct turns to arrive home again, where I’ll get that feeling of completion and satisfaction. That state, I believe, will return once I’m able to lower the volume of the voice of self-doubt. It will take some work and time, but peace is an activity, not a state of being.

I’m going to try to practice some of that quietness this afternoon by getting off-road. I’m going to trade this week’s long run for a 6-miler around a lake near my house. I love being on the trails. Even here in New England, running on them reminds me of running in the mountains near my house when I was in high school. I love the concentration that I have to put into it and how it helps smother the thinking part of my brain. And it just feels so badass and primal!

I’m actually really looking forward to it. And that sounds like progress.

Posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running | 4 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

Siri, Tell Me about the Ultimate Diabetes Device

Diabetes Blog Week is technically over, but I still want to write about one of the topics: my dream diabetes device.

I — In the past I’ve written about wanting an application that integrates all my current diabetes paraphernalia, my Carelink account, and my mobile phone iPod. The goal was to have total diabetes awareness by tagging “interesting” events so that I can go back to the historical record the next time that thing occurs. “When I was sick how much extra insulin did I need to give?” “When I ate Indian food, what was an appropriate amount of insulin and how did I deliver it?” “What basal rates and carb amounts worked well for a triathlon?” Ask one of these questions, and see the BG values, bolus wizard details, and CGM traces for all of the events tagged with those keywords. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution to preventing all lows and highs, but it would surely be better than my own faulty memory.

I actually started writing the application and got all of the data into a MacOS application, but I got frustrated that I wasn’t going to be able to easily get the data from my computer onto my mobile device. So, as usual, I set it aside and got distracted by something else. That was a couple years ago. Since then iCloud came along and makes sharing this kind of data between devices much easier. Maybe someday—after I win the PowerBall lottery, perhaps—when I have limitless time and ambition, I will pick it back up. Or (better yet) I’ll become a venture capitalist whose first project is to fund the development of such an app. That way I can travel the world while other people do most of the coding for me. I’ll show up for design reviews to give insightful commentary and gather information for my TED talks.

II — Recently I’ve started working on another diabetes data project. Now that I have a newer Mac, I can run MATLAB again. Yay! It occurred to me, after reading a coworker’s at-work blog about telling stories with MATLAB, that it should be possible to integrate a lot of the disparate sources of data into one application (MATLAB) and try to reconstruct a day with diabetes and try to figure out a partial model for some of the stuff that currently requires a lot of trial and error. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

The thing that makes this all possible is the fact that so many of the devices I use every day record and export data. My cycling GPS and Garmin running watch tell when I exercise, for how long, and at what intensity. My CGM records my blood sugar patterns, while my BG meters record the ground truth. My insulin pump tracks my basal insulin usage and all of my bolus wizard details, along with a host of other details. There’s a lot of data there that I can potentially synthesize and display in one view. And, because it’s MATLAB, I can define every last little thing about how I want the information displayed, what details I want to filter out, and what I want to try to highlight or search for.

III — But even with all of this data there are missing parts of the picture. Diabetes is a difficult disease to manage, in large part, because it’s integrated with almost every other part of life. Unfortunately, daily life is messy. There’s a lot of it that just isn’t easily tracked by devices—well, not yet. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a FitBit device to keep track of some additional things, such as overall activity and sleep, but that still leaves a lot of things untracked, especially food: food that I don’t bolus for, such as glucose tablets, food during exercise, “just in case” snacks, the things that seem too small to worry about, etc. And then there’s swimming, stress, pain, illness, hydration, weight, and so on. I wish there were a way to keep track of all of that. (At least for a few days or a couple weeks while trying to figure out appropriate baselines or when changing my training load. Paying attention to all of that data every day could be a bit overwhelming.)

So I asked one of my bildr/maker-type friends if there were good hardware or software solutions for keeping track of any of this stuff, especially the food-related bits. There are hundred (if not thousands) of nutrition apps, but all of them I’ve seen are much more heavyweight than I want. Don’t make me select something that says which food I ate in order to give me all of the nutrition info or calorie count when all I really want to record is “At 11:25AM (give or take) I ate 15 grams of carbs that I didn’t bolus for.” The best that we could come up with at the time is a small notepad and pen to record stuff before transferring it manually into whatever computerized, MATLAB-based system that holds all of the other diabetes events.

Thinking about it on a bike ride a couple days later, it seems like it should be possible to have a little nanny app that pops up a few times a day asking questions. How is everything going? What time did you wake up this morning? How much sleep did you get? Feeling stressed? Eaten anything you didn’t bolus for in the last day that we haven’t already talked about? Do any swimming or yard work? How active have you been this afternoon? Any pain? Illness? Have you been drinking water?

Just a few judgment-free yes/no questions and easy-to-answer questions involving time and quantity, and voilà! instant context. I could probably make an iOS app to do that in a weekend (if I didn’t mind it looking crappy). But really that’s all of the data that my devices don’t give me now that I want to capture. Oh, and it should have a one-touch switch that turns it off so that I’m not bothered during the 95% of the year that I don’t want to keep track of all that stuff.

IV — As an aside, wouldn’t it be awesome if someday there were a Siri-like interface for diabetes?

“Hey, Siri. Remind what I did those times that I had barbecue at the office and everything went pretty well?”

“You estimated you ate 100 grams of carbs. You delivered ten units of insulin in a dual-wave pattern with two-thirds up-front and the remaining third over an hour. Here’s what your CGM trace looked like for the next six hours.”

“Thanks, Siri. I love you.”

“Hey, let’s keep things professional. I’m not that kind of robot.”

“Sorry, girl.”

“It’s cool.”

V — But all of this “Total Diabetes Awareness” and data fusion and mindfulness/memory apps got me thinking that the ideal diabetes device system is one that wraps all of this up. It automatically keeps track of activity and food and active insulin and BG/CGM values and all of the other emotional intangibles.

But then I thought, keeping track of all that data in order to make better insulin dosing decisions is 20th century thinking. What I really want is a system that automatically regulates BG levels using two hormones, one that lowers blood glucose (via insulin) and one that raises it (via glucagon). Then the system can reach homeostasis all on its own.

Of course, an artificial pancreas that integrates everything together in a closed loop system needs believable inputs. BG meters and (especially) CGM sensors need to be much more accurate so that the system is given the right data to make the right decisions. It’s a bad thing when my CGM says I’m 40 mg/dL (2.2 mmol/L) when I’m really 140 (7.8) or, worse, vice versa. So obviously, an artificial pancreas that’s actually implanted and uses a semi-permeable membrane that lets more insulin seep out when it’s needed is the way to go.

And that’s when I realized the basic truth of diabetes technology: The ultimate diabetes device is a new pancreas.

Posted in Data-betes, Diabetes, Diabetes Blog Week, Fodder for Techno-weenies, Life Lessons | 1 Comment

Biggest accomplishment? No big deal.

Today’s Diabetes Blog Week posts encourage us to “share the greatest accomplishment you’ve made in terms of dealing with your (or your loved one’s) diabetes.”

I won’t lie, my biggest accomplishment with diabetes is still a work in progress. It’s taken a long time to get where I am with being comfortable with insulin, and I could be even more comfortable with seeing a bolus wizard suggestion and just saying, “Okay. I can handle that amount of insulin without worrying.” Nevertheless, where I am now is much better than where I was a year ago . . . or even six months ago.

The results of “doing what I’m supposed to do” are encouraging. My A1c is the lowest I’ve had in quite a while, and I’m seeing fewer big spikes than in the past. I’m snacking less at times when I really don’t want to. Cycling with “normal” BGs is happening more often. Even eating Indian food is easier.

I am, however, having more lows than in the past and needing more (legit) snacks to prevent them, so I have some fine-tuning left to do. However, unlike in the past, I’m not treating those lows as a frustrating justification to do whatever. The changes I need to make are all do-able (By the way, I wasn’t simply flailing in the past; I was actually trying to make things better, but it was just a little hard to do that when I was adding so many other variables into the mix.)

Basically, this accomplishment is all about gaining the confidence I had needed to empower myself to do “scary” things (like taking insulin) and to enable doing more exciting things (like getting CGM no-hitters and doing half-Ironman triathlons).

Posted in Diabetes, Diabetes Blog Week, Life Lessons | 1 Comment

Crash and Burn

Like a Sunburn: Two Mondays ago I had this conversation with my general practitioner.

“A few weeks ago I was sick, and then, a week after feeling better, I started having some pain in my leg. It felt as if all of my hairs were going the wrong way. Or as if my thigh had been scrubbed with steel wool. Everything on the left side of my body from my tailbone around my hip to just above my knee feels raw.”

“Kind of like a sunburn?” my doctor asked.

“Exactly, except that when I touch it or apply pressure it feels better. In fact, I feel best when I’m wearing bike shorts or swimming or running . . . or when my clothes can’t even brush against my skin.” By mid-week I was walking around holding my hip, which made the discomfort bearable. I could also be heard exhaling deeply from time to time to take my mind off the pain.

“But just on one side?”

“Yes,” I said. “That lasted all week, so it wasn’t just a run of the mill irritation. Then on Friday I noticed that I had a very swollen lymph node on the same side. At first I could feel it, but now I can actually see it, too.”

My doctor was starting to look like he knew what was wrong with me. What I didn’t say was that, after I found the lymph node, it was too late to get into the doctor’s office on Friday, and I kinda had a little freak out over the weekend. What was wrong with me? I didn’t have most of the symptoms of the few things I could think of. If it was a hernia, would my season be over before it started? What if it was more serious than that?

“And then I noticed a cluster of bumps on my back. They don’t really hurt, but they started around the same time. Now I have a few on the front of my thigh, too.”

“You have shingles. You’re the fifth person in the last week that I’ve seen with it. That’s really unusual.” And then he pointed to the poster from the CDC behind him on the door. It was the poster I had started to look at before he came into the exam room. On it, sad-looking, line-drawn people had shaded swaths on one side of their bodies. Then he gave me a prescription for the drug you get if you have herpes.

I was starting to feel much better a few days after starting to take the valaciclovir. I still feel a little pain just below the skin in my hip, and I’ve read that the neuralgia—which is what this kind of nerve pain is called—can last months. Yet I still feel fortunate that my shingles wasn’t as bad as some of the pictures I’ve seen or stories I’d heard.

BG Crash: Meanwhile, I was still swimming, cycling, and running. Swimming was going well, and I felt like I was getting back to my pre-illness form and speed. Running was . . . amazing! I’m still not super speedy or anything, but I noticed that at some point over the interminable winter my form improved, and as a consequence I seem to be able to run faster with the same amount of effort. Cycling is another story, since I found myself a bit off my form the end of last season. What I needed was time in the saddle. So about a month ago, I switched from mostly running to mostly cycling. I want to say that it’s been slow, but really I’m progressing pretty quickly, getting in a couple of 60-mile rides over the last two weekends. Hopefully, I’ll be speedy on Sunday for the first tri of the season and ready for the 100-mile Tour de Cure gran fondo next weekend.

One thing that has been completely different—and very frustrating!—compared to last year is my diabetes abilities in the afternoon. Almost every workout for a couple of weeks ended with me either 100+ mg/dL (5.5+ mmol/L) lower than where I started. That’s quite a drop, especially given that I had been working hard to keep my BGs in a “better” range. As a result, I was having a bunch of lows (or near misses) while exercising. No amount of pre-emptive eating seemed to fix anything. The worst was a span of three days where I had to stop cycling and running in order to treat hypos. I hate stopping.

It occurred to me that a few things were different. As I already mentioned, my BGs are bit better throughout the day, which (unfortunately) gives me less room for a drop like this. My training volume is also higher now, which means I’m more likely to use blood sugar, since my muscle glycogen might be slightly lower. And—this probably is the key—I had ever-so-slightly more active insulin in my system than last year. I remember being hungry in the afternoon everyday last summer and not eating because it would mess up my afternoon running or riding. Surely, there’s got to be a better way to balance the need to eat and the need to exercise. I should go back to my TeamWILD notes from last year to remember how much to lower a bolus for food depending on how far in advance of riding it is. Stay tuned.

An Actual Crash: Last Sunday, I went out for a little ride. It was a beautiful day; Chrissie (my tri-bike) and I hadn’t been out for a long ride together for a while; and I was feeling pretty energetic. About 20 miles in, I decided to stop at the same park I did the weekend before to take a little “nature break.” The previous time, I accidentally punched myself in the face taking off my arm-warmers. This time I didn’t even make it into the park before starting the mayhem.

Turning the corner from the highway to the park at about 10 MPH, my wheels hit sand, and I slid to a stop on my right side. Two women walking down the street saw the crash and asked if I was okay. As I stood up, nothing felt broken, although I could already feel some pain on my right leg despite the adrenaline. I’m fine. The ladies seemed dubious. So I looked at my bike and saw everything was (thankfully) exactly as it was supposed to be. My insulin pump seemed unharmed. And then I looked at my knee and shin. Blood and scrapes, but nothing that wouldn’t heal or keep me from finishing the next 40 miles. Yes, I’m okay. Thanks. All things considered, I wasn’t badly hurt—just a little road rash—although I was bleeding pretty well.

I headed into the park to do what I’d gone there to do, and then I spent a few minutes cleaning out my wounds. The bleeding from my knee wouldn’t really stop in the 30 seconds that I was willing to give it, so I used my beanie (which I no longer needed on this ride) to blot the blood and headed back out. I think I scared a few people I saw on the remainder of my loop. When I got home, Lisa didn’t believe me that it was a wolverine attack, so I had to fess up that the blood was, in fact, my own and convince her that I was, in fact, okay. After a shower it looked much better. Now, about a week later, the scabs look a bit gruesome, but the injuries they cover feel fine.

It’s been the strangest two months since the New Bedford Half Marathon, and hopefully nothing else happens between now and Sunday.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | 4 Comments