Category Archives: Reluctant Triathlete

I pick things up and put them down

On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings I go to the office gym (shown above). Before starting this Ironman plan, I wasn’t much of a believer in strength training. Stretching and core work, sure, that made sense. Lifting, however, just seemed like another thing to do in addition to swimming, biking, and running. Plus, a few winters ago I started a strength plan only to stop a short while later when I started to get injured. But my plan calls for a couple of strength training sessions per week, so off to the gym I go.

Now that I’m in my ninth week of training, I can report that it’s turning out to be a good thing. I definitely feel a bit tired on the days when I lift in the morning and run in the afternoons, but unlike last time, I don’t feel any injuries coming on. In fact one of the two main reasons for strength training is to “pre-hab” by strengthening connective tissues, improving range of motion, and stabilizing tired muscles. Stronger muscles can also do more work and thus take longer to tire, which is really important for triathlon.

What I hadn’t expected was to kind of enjoy it. As someone who once was, as Lisa said, “a stick with a head,” it’s kinda fun to have guns. And, even though I’m not lifting a lot of weight, the clunk of placing the big plates on a barbell is very satisfying. Plus, it’s a semi-social experience, as I frequently see some of my triathlete coworkers there.

So what do I do at the gym? My plan should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s read The Triathlete’s Training Bible or Training Plans for Multisport Athletes. The actual workout depends upon the week but they all have more or less the same set of exercises, just different amounts of weight and numbers of sets and reps:

  1. 10-15 minutes of walking and very easy stretching to warm up
  2. Squats (using a Hoist squat rack)
  3. Standing lat pull downs
  4. Seated row
  5. Leg curl
  6. Some kind of crunch thing whose name I don’t know
  7. Bicep curls (using a short barbell)
  8. Planks
  9. More stretching

Believe it or not, the hardest thing about these workouts is making them take as long as the plan requires. I’m not a type-A person—at least, I don’t think I am—but I don’t like waiting around. There’s a lot of standing around recovering between sets, even when I do a couple of exercises in a circuit. Plus, I try to be courteous to other gym-goers by not hogging any particular machine or piece of equipment. What this means is that I often finish an hour-and-a-half workout with 15-20 minutes to spare. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except I’m half-convinced that I’m missing something.

Ginger Viera had better watch out!

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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

Medals

Céline’s post about medals the other day got me thinking about the subject.

(1) I have kept medals from all the events which gave them out. For a while they were being held on the wee, stubby arms of Melvin the Dinosaur. Alas, they were tipping him over. We had to move most of his Mardi Gras beads to his tail to keep him from falling over. (Yes, he’s a very popular dinosaur on Fat Tuesday.) So we decided to move them somewhere. But where . . . and how? Eventually we settled on coat hooks on a spot behind the door in the office.

As you can see, I’ve kept my medals and there’s room for more. Some of them—such as the NYC Triathlon, Rev3 Maine, and Around the Bay medals—are quite handsome.

(2) I’ve only “won” one of these medals. It was for a second-place age-group “podium” at a local 5K. It was given to me by one of the Special Olympics kids, who were benefiting from the race entry fees. It’s one of the least branded and simplest medals I have, but it meant a lot, as it’s my only top-three age-group placing ever. Another of the medals: for the B.A.A. 10K came at the end of a very difficult race (diabetically speaking) where I knew I could have easily run several minutes faster. I almost didn’t accept that medal, and I’ve never worn it. As soon as it was handed to me, I wadded it up and stuffed it in my shorts pocket. In fact, it took me a long to decide whether I was going to keep it at all.

(3) The only event I’ve ever done where I knew there would be a finisher’s medal was the Timberman Ironman 70.3. It was also my toughest race (diabetically speaking) and I wanted that finisher’s medal so badly. I would probably have finished the event without the prospect of a trinket, but it was a very tangible motivator. I could see myself getting it, feeling its weight around my neck. When I was running out of things to hold on to, it was something real to keep me going.

(4) I’ve received finisher medals at events where I didn’t expect to get one. I was 37 years old when I received my first medal of any kind, and the majority of the triathlons and smaller running races I do won’t give them out unless you’re “good enough.” Even when I was younger and better at running, the most I could hope for was a colorful ribbon. The aforementioned B.A.A. 10K gave out thousands of medals as if we had just finished running the Boston Marathon. I was surprised. I’ve also received medals for finishing century rides. Nowadays a 10K or century is just another thing I can do. When I think about what constitutes a “big deal” for me, I have to go for something a bit bigger.


When it comes right down to it, I think there are a lot of medals given, but that doesn’t mean there are too many handed out. My medal for completing a noncompetitive event is another person’s major accomplishment. The Timberman medal that I aspired to achieve is just another bit of race swag for somebody with loftier ambitions. So who am I to say whether getting or giving medals is done too often or for too many people?

Of course, if it has a number on it, that’s a different matter altogether. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few more of those in the coming years. But then again, as with any other medal, I’m not going to expect one or take it for granted.

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete, Running | 4 Comments

The Training Plan

In a comment on my most recent post, Stephen wanted to know what my training plan looked like. So here it is.

Actually, it’s two plans. The first part started yesterday and continues through the 23rd of February. During this time, I’ll be doing the Prep weeks from Your Best Triathlon by Joe Friel. These aren’t super hard, but it does involve between 10 and 14 hours each week (a bit less on recovery weeks). At the same time, I’ll be finishing the last six weeks of Swim Speed Workouts.

The “prep” phase is just that: preparation for the 26-week training plan, which I’m pulling from Gale Bernhardt’s Training Plans for Multisport Athletes and Swim Workouts for Triathletes. Preparation is low intensity, low volume work designed to get me ready for several blocks of more focused, more intense training that take more time. The six months are broken into six big blocks and a three week taper. The plan starts with a bunch of sport-specific strength work and gradually becomes more like the actual event as I near my big race.

Here’s the plan in slightly more detail:

Week Date Description Total Time Long bike Long run
1 24 February Spec. Prep 1 9:30 1:00 1:00
2 3 March Spec. Prep 1 10:30 1:15 1:15
3 10 March Spec. Prep 1 11:15 1:30 1:30
4 17 March Spec. Prep 1 7:30 1:00 0:45
5 24 March Spec. Prep 2 12:30 2:00 1:30
6 31 March Spec. Prep 2 12:45 2:00 1:30
7 7 April Spec. Prep 2 12:45 2:00 1:30
8 14 April Spec. Prep 2 7:30 1:00 1:00
9 21 April Spec. Prep 3 12:15 2:00 1:30
10 28 April Spec. Prep 3 12:15 2:00 1:30
11 5 May Spec. Prep 3 12:15 2:00 1:30
12 12 May Spec. Prep 3 8:00 1:00 1:00
13 19 May Pre-Comp 1 12:45 2:30 1:45
14 26 May Pre-Comp 1 14:45 3:00 Brick (1:00/1:00)
15 2 June Pre-Comp 1 16:00 3:30 2:00
16 9 June Pre-Comp 1 8:30 2:00 1:00
17 16 June Pre-Comp 2 13:30 4:00 2:15
18 23 June Pre-Comp 2 16:00 4:30 Brick (1:00/1:00)
19 30 June Pre-Comp 2 17:00 5:00 2:30
20 7 July Pre-Comp 2 8:30 2:00 1:00
21 14 July Pre-Comp 3 14:45 5:00 3:00
22 21 July Pre-Comp 3 16:30 5:30 Brick (1:00/1:30)
23 28 July Pre-Comp 3 18:15 6:00 3:00
24 4 August Competitive 14:30 1:00 Brick (3:00/1:30)
25 11 August Competitive 10:30 1:00 Brick (2:00/1:00)
26 18 August Competitive – Race Week 4:15 + Race    
Posted in Reluctant Triathlete | 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

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

2.4 Miles

“No school, no pool.” That’s been the rule for whether the high school pool will be open for morning lap swim. So we were all a little surprised—and quite pleased—when Pool Guy said he was going to open up the pool this morning, even though the kids around town had the day off. And he was going to bring coffee and pastries for afterward? Huzzah!

I knew today, the day before Thanksgiving, was going to be a light one at work, and I hoped that traffic would be good, too, so I decided Tuesday night that I would try to do something I’ve never done before: swim the full Ironman distance. I swam 4,000 yards last year without realizing how close I was. Today seemed like the day to give it another go, and this time I decided to figure out in advance how many yards I needed to swim. The Ironman swim is 2.4 miles long in open water; that’s 4,224 yards (3,862 meters).

Often when I do long distances in the pool, I start out strong (if not a touch fast) and then fade a bit near the end. I was determined to have a strong swim this time. My first couple laps were fast but relaxed. I looked at my watch after 500 yards and didn’t look at it again until after the first mile when Pat hopped out. About an hour in, I had covered 3,000 yards at an incredibly even (almost metronome-like) pace. And then it happened: The little bit of cramping in my feet that I had been able to swim through became a very painful cramp in my right calf. I had to stop halfway across the pool to put tension on the muscle and knead out the charley horse. Twenty minutes later I had to repeat this process for my other leg. And I still had 20 laps left to go.

What did I think about during those 85 laps? Swimming mostly. “Focus on a good reach and pushing all the way through the finish. Keep my hand flat, spread my fingers slightly, and maximize my feel on the water. Keep my legs up and my head down. Only turn my head a little while I’m breathing. Make a tight streamline off the wall.” Of course, I also took in the pool scene a bit, and there were a lot people to look at. After my first bout of cramping I started to think about how to prevent this the next time I swam long, especially during a race. I remembered a story about legendary coach Brett Sutton angrily tossing his athletes’ waterbottles off the pool deck, since there are no aid stations in the swim portion of a race. Clearly, being hydrated before the event is the way to go. As I was counting down the last 500 yards, I also thought about Céline, who had wished me luck the night before. And then I was done and feeling pretty proud of what I had just accomplished.

The post-swim donut tasted pretty good, too.

Posted in 101 in 1001, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | Leave a comment

Ironman

“When people first hear about this race. This event, they often have but one very simple thought, ‘Why? Why put your body through a test that doesn’t seem possible? Why put your mind through such an extreme exercise of will? Why try to become an Ironman?’”

“35 years in, only they know the answer, the men and women who seek the challenge of this race…. They discover it in a test of strength, resolve, endurance that altogether mirrors how they approach their lives. A challenge in which determination conquers fatigue, will overcomes pain, and struggle becomes the ultimate triumph. Why Ironman? Because it’s everything in the world they wanted to be.”

I’ve been watching a lot of Ironman triathlon lately, starting with the 1991 Ironman World Championships in Kona on YouTube and working my way towards the present day. I just passed into the new millennia online a couple weeks ago, and I watched the 2013 NBC broadcast on the 16th and then again Wednesday. If this year is anything like last year, I’ll watch it about a dozen more times before I delete it from the DVR.

A lot has changed in Ironman triathlon since 1991, not least of which is the athletes’ wardrobes and technology. Sometime around 1999, the men started wearing bike shorts—well tri shorts actually—for the entire event instead of speedo briefs. (Having done 70.3, I just can’t imagine that . .  at all.) Wetsuits and swimskins came on the scene. Coincidentally, the producers reduced the coverage of the swim. As for most triathletes, the producers seem to see the swim as something to get through on the way to the more exciting part of the race.

There’s also more focus on age groupers like you and me. (Unless you’re a pro triathlete, that is. And if you are, please leave me a comment, m’kay? Pretty please?) And the producers also pay more attention to the cut-off times. Apparently there’s drama in seeing if someone can finish the swim in two-and-a-half hours and the whole 140.6 race in 17. Thankfully, hair and fashion have definitely gotten much better since the 90s.

What hasn’t changed is how crazy the announcers make me, especially Al Trautwig. I love watching the event, but I just wish they would stop with the “These people are nuts!” schtick. We may, in fact, be a little touched, but there’s method to our madness. Things happen for a reason, and it would be nice if the announcers actually recognized that most of the people watching probably know something about triathlon and probably like it, too. Why be so condescending?

Now that I’ve done some shorter races, including a few 70.3s, the enormity of an Ironman is more obvious. Basically, it’s going to take a long time. There’s a kind of glow you get from watching something on TV, and that glow lies about how difficult it really is. On television an Ironman takes 90 minutes, including commercials. In 2012, Lisa was out of town, and I watched the coverage live on the Internet while cleaning house. Every 20-30 minutes I would check back on the race: “Yep, they’re still on the bike. Time to make dinner.” The winners took over eight hours.

I usually take 50% longer than the top finishers. If the best 70.3 time is just under four hours, mine takes closer to six. Winning Ironman times are routinely between eight and nine hours, so I’m looking at 12-14 hours to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run 26.2. My only free-standing marathon took 4 hours, and I rode a fast and flat century in six hours. And I almost swam 2.4 miles in 90 minutes. Stitch them all together… at least 12 hours. Most certainly more. That’s a really long day.

The idea to do triathlon first occurred to me when watching the Port Macquarie Ironman recap show on the plane back from Sydney in 2010. “I swim. I bike. I run. I could do one of those. Man that seems like a long way!” I watched that race again on YouTube last spring, and I honestly don’t know what about it made me think it looked like fun.

But I do want to do it . . . at least once. Okay, who am I kidding? I want to go to Kona. I want to do that crazy race I’ve seen on television, one of the hardest of them all, although I didn’t know that when I first learned about it. Of course, first I need to do an Ironman.

Which brings me to 2015. At this year’s JDRF ride, I met a woman who is trying to get at least 50 people with diabetes to do an Ironman. So join me at Ironman Wisconsin in 2015. You have lots of time to get ready. Even if you only do one in your whole life, think about what a gathering like that would mean. Join me!

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Reluctant Triathlete | 1 Comment

Punching the Pool

In a kind of multitasking, I’ve been watching YouTube videos about triathlon while riding my bike on the trainer. Sometimes it’s a bootleg recording of the Hawaii Ironman World Championships from a couple decades ago. Other times it’s advice from seasoned pros about dealing with difficult times in races or how to have faster transitions, etc. Not only do these videos break up the monotony of going nowhere in my basement, they’re helping to make me a better triathlete.

There are a ton of swimming videos out there, which is great. I have a hard time translating what I read about swimming technique into practice without pictures. And even though there are static pictures in books, I find that I get so much more from actually seeing a video of a swimmer doing the drill I’m supposed to do or demonstrating proper technique. Of course, watching something isn’t the same as doing it, and it’s a difficult endeavor to retrain your brain and imprint new ways of doing something. But that’s why we go to the pool and practice, right?

On my Thursday bike interval session, I watched a video from GoSwim showing some drills to help me use more of my arm than just the hand to pull myself through the water. A good swimmer grabs the water with the hand, but a great swimmer does that and then uses their whole arm as both a lever and a contact surface for the pull. I can really feel it when I’m mostly using my hand for the pull. The drills in this video show how to focus on using more of the arm:

Yesterday (Friday) I gave it a whirl at the pool, using this as my workout:

300 swim (warmup)
150 kick with board
3 sets of 4x50 with 0:10-0:15 rest
  - first 4 with paddles
  - middle 4 regular swim
  - last 4 with fists
2x50 kick with board
2x200 pull with buoy
100 swim (cool-down)

Although I bought paddles about a year ago, I had never used them before. It took a few lengths of the pool to get used to them, but I could definitely tell when I was doing things inefficiently. After using paddles, the first few strokes of regular swimming felt like I had such bad purchase on the water with my forearms, and I guess that’s the point of the drill. A few minor changes, and I was feeling the water again. Just as I felt I was inefficient when I switched from paddles to regular swimming, the same thing happened when I balled up my hands into fists and swam the last set. Wow! That was an eye-opening experience. It took a bit longer to get used to this new way of swimming, but I finally started to feel my forearms doing their thing. Of course, it felt really awkward, and I’m sure compensating changed other parts of my stroke. Nevertheless, the lesson was pretty obvious, and I used the 400 yards of swimming with the pull buoy to focus on doing everything the right way.

I think I’m starting to see in my mind what I should look like when I swim. I see myself on an axis that extends from my hand and arm through my head and spine to my legs and foot. I see a hand and foot anchoring my body in the water while I put power efficiently into my stroke. I’m starting to see how my arm should move as I pull and what I need to do to keep my legs from dropping. Seeing it in my mind should make it a little easier to do correctly. Now I just have to keep practicing to make this happen outside of my mind.

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | Leave a comment

BayState Marathon

The marathon is long. That’s pretty much the best way that I can describe it.

It’s not the longest athletic endeavor I’ve ever done—that would be a half-Ironman—but it was the duration of it that put me off the idea of it. Then I did a few Ironman 70.3 races, which took five-and-a-half to six hours, and it didn’t seem quite so long. Of course, two hours of running after more than three hours of swimming and cycling isn’t the same as running four hours straight. So the question I had going into the BayState Marathon a couple weekends ago was “How bad is this really going to be?”

I hadn’t been training long for the marathon. Or maybe I had. Either I started training for it right after Timberman. Or I started training for it last November when I started building up to the New Bedford half-marathon. At any rate, my official training where I ramped up from preparing to run 13.1 miles to being ready for 26.2 only lasted nine weeks. Some people train half a year to run a marathon, and I wasn’t sure how ready I was or how long it would take.

But Sunday the 20th came whether I was ready (really, super-duper ready) or not. The weather was perfect for a race. I find that if I’m not cold beforehand, I’m going to be hot after the first five miles. (And we were all cold as we waited around for the start.) I had my nutrition and insulin plan all worked out, and I was carrying all of my water with me. I didn’t really care if I looked like a dork with my hydration pack; other people don’t have to carry around a bunch of diabetes paraphernalia, and I can never seem to drink the right amount if I don’t bring my own H2O.

Here was the race in a nutshell:

  • The first few miles were too fast. They always are. Despite lining up closer to the 9:00/mile (5:30/km) sign, we were running the first few miles closer to 7:45 (4:50). I knew that there was a lot of race left, so I did my best to get close to my goal race pace, and after about five miles I was running along with the 3:35 marathon pace setter.
  • We ran along the river from the post-industrial center of Lowell out to rural Tyngsboro, crossed the bridge, looped back along the river to a different bridge, and turned right back around for another lap. The first 13 miles felt pretty good; I ran a 1:50 half-marathon and felt like I could keep going all day.
  • I saw Lisa on the bridge where we started the second lap. It was so good to see her on the course, and I think she helped me hold on to a better pace for a few more miles. Love that girl!
  • Around the 15th mile, my energy really started to flag, and I had trouble keeping the pace I was doing. I started walking through the aid stations a mile later.
  • The last six miles were just awful. I hurt, and I could tell I wasn’t really going very fast. I could also tell that I probably wan’t going to make the 3:30-4:00 finishing time I was hoping for.
  • I heard the announcer call out the four hour mark from a block away. That was a little disappointing, but I was already digging deep, trying to make the best of the last mile. It wasn’t pretty, but it helped me finish with a time of 4:00:24.
  • And I had a really good diabetes day. Not too high. Not too low. Not too worried. Not too shabby!

The BayState Marathon is known as a Boston Qualifier, since it’s so flat and fast. I only missed my BQ time by 50:24. Ha! I have a bit of pride, and I’m glad that I was just able to sneak into the range of times that I was expecting. But my time didn’t really matter to me in my first marathon. I now know what it’s like. It’s difficult, and it takes a long time, but I won’t go as far as my grandmother did when she said she “thought that a bit much.” I’ll definitely do another one some time. Perhaps I’ll do it the right way next time . . . and precede it with 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling. :-)


As always, Lisa took some awesome photos.

Posted in 101 in 1001, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Reluctant Triathlete, Running | 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

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

Chill

I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or not, but I feel really nonchalant about this Sunday’s Timberman 70.3 triathlon. I’ve already done three this season: a sprint, a 70.3, and an Olympic. Perhaps I’ve raced enough that there’s really not a lot to feel nervous about. Or—more likely—I don’t feel like there’s much I could have done differently this season to prepare. I feel good about my swim, and I feel really confident on the bike. The run could be good, or it could be really difficult like the last couple of races. I suspect I haven’t put in enough distance this summer to run an awesome half-marathon, but I’ll take whatever comes.

I’m not sure it’s possible to have a “fun” 70.3, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

A Beautiful Day – Wednesday 5:30AM

I was (atypically) mostly awake before the 5:00AM alarm this morning, but I still didn’t really want to get up. The force of sleep is strong in this one, but I got up anyway. It’s hard to say exactly why sometimes. Certainly the knowledge that I can only get better at swimming by swimming and the fact that I have a plan helps motivate me, but I think now it’s mostly just the sheer force of habit. I had also told Pat, who was trying out her new wetsuit, that I would be there for moral support.

On the days that I go to the lake, it’s a little easier. There’s community and conversation and the promise of a really easy workout. We’re going to swim 1/2 mile to the dock. We’re going to gab while waiting for the slower folks to arrive. And then we’re going to swim back. Easy peasy. No send-off intervals. No kick sets. No drills. Just continuous endurance swimming in a beautiful setting.

This week is an easy recorvery week on the schedule, and technically I was only supposed to swim about 800 yards, but I often ignore the plan when it comes to swimming. “If I take it easy at the lake,” I tell myself, “there’s no harm.” Plus, the pool has been so crowded lately with swimmers getting ready for their late-season triathlons. “Where were you in February when there was no one here and I had a lane to myself to work on my speed and technique?” I wondered on Monday without feeling at all superior or actually wishing that the pool had been crowded in the dead of winter. I was the second person in the pool that morning, yet I still end up sharing a lane with two other people who didn’t want to (or know how to) circle swim. One of them accidentally stiff-armed me in my busted rib just below my left collarbone. That took my breath away for a moment.

I was definitely happy to be going to the lake this morning. The beauty of the predawn sky sent me running back inside to get my point-and-shoot camera. The cat, confused, seemed nonplussed about the fact that (again!) I wasn’t feeding him.

The sunrise, the slight coolness in the air, the water temperature, the calmness of the air and the water, the camaraderie—it was pretty much perfect. I swam relaxed, enjoying the morning and just being in the moment. At the halfway point we talked about last weekend’s Ironman Lake Placid results before heading back. I started at the tail end of the pack and decided to see if I could catch Pat and her pink swimcap on the return. (After all, I did need to inject a little speed into the workout to try to stay within the spirit of my training plan.) I swam easy for a minute or two and then counted my strokes to do 30-or-so yards of sprinting, followed by more very easy swimming and more sprinting, and so on. My mind was as still as the lake I was gliding through. The early morning sun shone beautifully on the trees and the water and lit the V-shaped cove by the parking lot with a radiant glow. It was a wonderful swim.

Friday, I will be back at the pool, no doubt pushing my way through the masses as I do a short set. I’ll try to stay in the moment again, but I know somewhere in me, I’ll be wishing I were at the lake.

Posted in Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | 4 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