Category Archives: Running

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.

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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

Runner, Interrupted

There was a great story, Runner, Interrupted, in last month’s Runner’s World about Kenyan/Alaskan runner Marko Cheseto, who was a stand-out collegiate runner before losing both of his feet to frostbite. RW‘s Joe Pugliese writes a compelling article about Cheseto’s path from rural Kenya to Alaska, the events that led to him collapsing on a snowy trail where he lay for 55 hours, and his return to running. It is likely that we will see and hear more about him in the coming years.

“When people face challenges in life,” he says, “they spend so much time going back to, ‘How did it happen?’ and ‘Why did it happen?’ They spend so much time trying to judge themselves on what happened instead of forging ahead, instead of thinking of ways of going through it an making life better. I still have to do things in my life and one of those is being a professional runner. Having had over 10 years of competing, I have that in me now. I need to compete again.”

Definitely check it out.

(One thing I learned from a postscript to the article: There are no distance running events in the Paralympics.)

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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

Fun Fun Fun

Fun links apropos nothing at all:

Nothing to see here, Lisa. Nothing to worry about. Carry on.

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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

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

They called my hair “The Aerofoil”

I’ve been cleaning up and cleaning out recently. While doing that, I came across a paper with my high school running times. It’s kinda fun to look at those results from 1990-91.

I started my career as a middle- and long-distance track runner: 800m, 1600m, and 3200m. My results that first year weren’t so great—usually bottom third in my division, often next to last or worse—even though I’d gladly take many of those times again. I mean, 5:38 for a mile? Are you kidding? It’s been forever since I set out to race a mile, but I’m not sure I could do it in under six minutes. (Although it would be fun to try, for a certain definition of “fun.”)

In May 1990, the month before we moved to Wyoming, I did a 5K—the Windsor Heights Annual Mini-Marathon—on a lark. I don’t remember much about the race, except that I thought it was really long, and I was happy to be in the top third with my 23:11 time.

Then I went to Wyoming and my running really improved. I ran over the summer and took to the altitude, dropping a minute off my 5K time. The following spring I had a very busy track season, running at least twenty-three races in just over two months. (It’s little wonder that it was my last season of running track.) It’s fun to see my times drop during the spring, setting PRs of 0:58 for 400m, 2:16 for 800m, 5:19 for the mile, and 11:28 for two miles (3200m). I ran a lot of 4x800m relays, and even now whenever I run around my local high school track and see the curved “break line” on the far end of the track (where the lead-off runner of the long-distance relays would break to the inside) I always smile to myself. It’s where I had to start using my elbows a little bit to stake out my place, and it’s also the place where in one race a young runner once made a sharp 90-degree to run from the outside of the track to the inner lane. Ha!

Since July 1991, all of my races have been 5K or longer, and until 1998 most of them were off-road. It’s hard to compare cross-country races, but my times went from 20 minutes at the beginning of the season to a PR of 18:57. I even led the junior varsity race at the 1991 northern Wyoming regional state qualifier for the majority of the race until fading and finishing sixth, one place away from qualifying for the state meet. Ah well.

For whatever reason, I stopped recording my results in my final year of high school. I probably wrote them in my journal, which I no longer have. (Which is good. No one needs to be reminded of my teenage angst, especially me.) I ran a lot during the summer of 1992. I ran up and down the steep mountain trails, reveling in the switchbacks and creek crossings. I ran through the wilder parks in town, crashing through the sagebrush that crowded the path and hurdling gates at the park boundaries. A friend went running with me once—just once!—and I think I almost killed him. Another friend returned the favor when he invited me to go for a run around town. We easily ran 10 hilly miles that warm August evening. (“Easily” might not be the correct word.) All that running paid off, and I had a good season in 1992. My times may be lost to the fog of history, but I remember them being fast . . . like 17-something for a 5K. Of course, the fastest guys on my team and almost all of the runners from Wyoming Indian High School and from Gillette were running in the 15s and 16s, but I was having a good time finishing higher up in the standings.

And then I made one of the two biggest mistakes of my life: I more-or-less stopped running. (The other being not having gone abroad when I was at Grinnell.) I didn’t race again for six years and then decided on a whim to hop into a local 10K without doing any training. It was not pretty. Less than a year later I was diagnosed with diabetes, and the next spring I decided that diabetes sucked and I wanted to start running again just to know that I could. Time passed, which brings us to today.

I also found some fantastic pictures from the early 90s, too!

Posted in Hoarding, I am Rembrandt, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Running | 3 Comments

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

Hey, Stranger

“Hey, stranger! How was Germany?”

Pat was already standing inside the pool lobby, waiting for Pool Guy to show up and turn on the lights at 5:45AM so that we could get our swim on. I hadn’t been at the pool since the 2nd of October, about three weeks earlier. (That’s my longest no-swimming streak in about four years, by the way.) Between traveling and recovering from the Bay State Marathon, last Friday (the 25th) was my first chance to get back in the water.

“I dunno. We never made it past London.”

A lot has happened in the last five weeks.

Following the JDRF ride, I moved on to preparing for a 10-day European vacation with Lisa. There were lots of (mostly pleasant) details to attend to: figuring out what we might do and see in London, Brussels, and Berlin; attempting to cram in as many German lessons as possible; buying travel insurance; packing; getting as much done at work and around the house as possible; etc.

Meanwhile, I was building up to a peak in my marathon training. Fourteen miles one Sunday, sixteen the next, an easy week, and then eighteen miles three weeks out from the race. The morning of my birthday (the 4th) I ran 20 miles, finishing my long run about ten hours before our flight to London (via Iceland) took off. I was looking forward to some easy running somewhere in London and doing a tempo run in Berlin’s Tiergarten. My foot was giving me fits the first couple days in London, no doubt due to the accelerated marathon training plan. Ironically, it felt much better after I almost twisted my ankle in Cambridge. By Tuesday morning, four days into the trip, I really needed a run but still wasn’t 100% confident that running was a good idea.

Monday night had been a flurry of activity. We arrived home from Greenwich to find an urgent message from my mom on Facebook that we should call her. She and Miles, her husband of twelve years, were midway through a cycling trip in Austria, Italy, and Slovenia when Lisa and I landed in London. Through the modern miracle of Skype, we called Austria from my mobile phone. It’s an understatement to say I was shocked to learn that Miles had a heart attack and died earlier that day (the 7th). A month shy of his 63rd birthday, he was still fitter than most people half his age. When we rode together in the summer of 2012, he matched the fast tempo I threw down as we raced the dozen miles back to town so we could pick up the car after Mom had a ride-ending flat.

A few hours of Skyping later, we had canceled our Berlin hotel and changed our flights home. The earliest flight we could get was late Wednesday afternoon, so the next morning—instead of taking the Eurostar train to Brussels—we slept in, saw a couple of exhibits at the V&A, and toured Westminster Abbey. It’s a strange feeling to do things one enjoys yet also to want to be somewhere else at the same time. We enjoyed our day, but my heart was hurting for my mom, who was also trying to get home.

It had been a long time since we bought tickets and then immediately checked in for a flight, but that’s what we did on Thursday. We were home for about 36 hours . . . just long enough to do some laundry, repack, get a week’s worth of mail from the post office, and drop off more food at the kittysitter’s. The next day we were in Casper. We did a bunch of odds-and-ends for Mom over the next week, but really the most important thing we did (I think) was just to be there.

The memorial service was Thursday, the 17th, and it was a rather tough day. Miles had made a lot of friends after almost 40 years in Wyoming, and everyone had heart-warming anecdotes to tell. Mom made a really wonderful slideshow with pictures from throughout Miles’ life. Thinking about where he had traveled, what he had seen and done, and the people he was fortunate enough to have been with, it really made me realize that Miles lived the kind of life that inspires others to get out and do stuff, too. I hope that someday I’m lucky enough for others to say the same about me; Miles set the bar high in this regard.

Three days later, I ran my marathon. (I’ll write more about that soon.) The two weeks since have been an attempt by me to transition back into work, home, and athletic endeavors. Despite not getting the full vacation experience, we were away from home and work longer than expected. I’m using my down time to catch up on things I’ve been wanting or needing to do for a while: practicing my Spanish, reading the newspaper, watching “Breaking Bad,” declutterring my life, scanning slides, and (yes) even writing dispatches here.

It’s good to be back.

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Running, Travel, Über Alles | Leave a comment

14 Years, 14 Miles, and No More Diet Coke

Today is a big day. Fourteen years ago today I was diagnosed with diabetes. And this is my 1,000th post here.

I. A D-Day Run — Last year, I went trail running on the 13th anniversary of my diabetes diagnosis. It was fun . . . and difficult. This year, I’m marathon training, and I did another long run. (Next year, it’s my diabetes’s quinceañera, so who knows what will happen.) I started training a couple weeks ago, and my race is six weeks away. It’s a bit of an accelerated schedule, but I think I can manage.

Today I went for a 14-mile run, my longest run since Around the Bay a year and a half ago. It felt pretty easy. Actually, it was the best long run I’ve ever had! My pace was a very consistent 8:35-8:40/mile for the whole outing (including hills), my legs felt pretty good, and I was trying to practice a few things that I’ve read about recently.

It seems that one of our key limiters for athletic performance is the brain. It performs a vital function in keeping us athletes from doing serious damage to our bodies by throttling down our effort when we’re working too hard. That also means that we often give in when things seem tough, even if we have plenty of energy left over. Basically, we give up even when we don’t want to. (That doesn’t mean we’re weak or that we can all be Olympians, but it does mean that maybe we have extra greatness in us.) Today I worked on some of the mental things I read about: believing in my abilities, feeling relaxed, and (yes) even smiling. It seemed to work. It’s nice to be past my runner’s block.

On this D-Day, my diabetes plan worked very well. I started running at 135 mg/dL (7.5 mmol/L) and finished at 123 (6.8). That’s about as close to perfect as I can imagine! I was a little high overnight, and I had boluses some insulin about five hours before running, so I had some insulin on board. I ate a banana along with a couple of glucose tablets about five minutes before starting, and then I ate a gel (20g of carbs) every 25 minutes. That worked very well today . . . and last week, too. Next week is a recovery week, and my long run is only seven miles long. I wonder if I can reproduce this again. We shall see.

II. Marathon Training — I’m intrigued and perplexed by marathon training. I’ve never done it before, but it doesn’t seem that different from preparing for a half marathon. There’s a weekly long run (currently 14 miles and building to 20 a month from now), a 6-ish mile tempo run, and another “regular” run. The long run makes sense. While I’m 90% sure that I could run 26.2 miles next week if I had to, I see value in building up distance to make it easier. And the tempo/speed work is all about becoming faster.

But I just don’t get the regular run. From triathlon training, I’m used to every workout having some purpose. It builds endurance or strength or speed. So what does a low intensity, 40-60 minute run do? What’s it for? Why do it? Is it just because you have to run at least three times a week? But what if I’m already cycling and running a couple of other times?

We shall see.

III. Real People Sick — On my previous long run (12 miles on Tuesday) I thought a bit about having been sick recently. Last Thursday I had what I thought was food poisoning. Maybe it was. But I’m starting to suspect that it actually is a different, more long-standing issue. Here’s my thinking on the matter.

Exhibit 1: I’ve been anemic for several years. I used to have a very high hematocrit (red blood cell volume) after years of living at altitude and being athletic, but about 7-8 years ago it dropped into the anemic range.

Exhibit 2: There are three broad categories of anemia. Some forms are essentially due to blood loss. Another kind is because of slow production of RBCs. And the last kind is because of ineffective RBCs. (Think sickle cell anemia or low iron-binding.) My doctor thought that I had the second kind due to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Exhibit 3: Taking extra vitamin B12 didn’t do much for my hematocrit, and I’m still more out of breath than I think I should be.

Exhibit 4: For a while I’ve had feelings of nausea in the afternoons, especially around the time that I go home for the day. I haven’t eaten in three or four hours, although I’ve been drinking Diet Coke. At first I thought that it could be the beginning of a gluten allergy, and I thought that changing my bread helped a bit. But I didn’t have any other celiac-like symptoms, and I could eat the same thing on two days and feel symptoms some days but not others. A couple weeks ago, I had a lot of nausea after getting home. I took a nap, and it went away.

Exhibit 5: Last week I was actually sick, and (let’s just say) I’m pretty sure it involved some blood loss. On the day I was sick, I had persistent low BGs, and my first thought was gastroparesis, a diabetic complication. But after bit more reflection I doubt that. I just don’t have enough other symptoms.

Exhibit 6: I had heartburn for days after being sick. It’s never been bad before, but a mild version does seem to accompany my nausea.

When I add it all up—the persistent low-grade anemia, indigestion, and blood—I think I might have an ulcer. Obviously, I’m going to get this checked by my doctor, but I’m making some changes in the meantime. I started taking a course of Omeprazole, and I gave up Diet Coke. I miss it, but it was the one thing I noticed that really made a difference in how I feel. If I finished the bottle on the way home, I felt bad. If I didn’t, I didn’t. So I’m giving it up and drinking more water and feeling better. But I do miss it.

Time will tell if any of this is true and (if it is) whether it will actually improve my anemia. But if it does, I really wonder where I can be athletically at this time next year. We shall see.

Posted in Diabetes, Running | 2 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

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

Couch to 5K

I love Couch to 5K. I think the idea behind it is fantastic. “You want to be healthier? You want to get moving? You want to do it in a sustainable way? Great! Here’s a gentle plan that will get you started running. Within a few short months, you’ll be able to run a 5K. Even if you don’t want to race a 5K, that’s cool. You’ll at least know that you could do it.”

So it was with a little trepidation that I did my taper-week speedwork Saturday morning. The plan was simple, warm up for one mile, do 2x800m at 6:30/mile (4:00/km) with an easy 400m jog between, and then cool down for another mile. It’s just under 3/4 of a mile from my house to the track, so I ran there and prepared to do an easy lap before starting my intervals. As I ran down the little hill to track I saw two dozen people standing in a circle on the back 100 of the track. “Hmm. Saturday boot camp?” I wondered.

Then I heard this as I tried to run as nonchalantly as possible in the outside lane, which was just barely open. “Who here has done a Couch to 5K program before?” A few hands went up. “Let’s get started with some introductions and stretching.”

Oh, shit! Not only was it a C25K program, but it was the first minutes of the first session. Hopefully they stress that everyone should run his or her own pace. That the running activity itself is the important thing. That it wasn’t necessary to do intervals like the nutter in the orange shirt, gray cap, and shaggy hair in order to be a runner.

I thought about bailing and doing a hill workout instead, but I thought it might be weirder to show up, run 500 meters on the track, and then leave. Plus there were other people using the track, so they clearly didn’t mind others being there.

There was only one thing to do. I had to make it look “easy” and fun.

I think I did the two most beautiful and relaxed 800m intervals of my life.

Until we meet again, C25K peeps!

Posted in Running, This is who we are | 2 Comments