Friday, November 14, 2014

This Blog has Moved!

Hi all,
If you have arrived at this site, please know that I am now writing at a new address.

Please feel free to peruse the archives of my thoughts on writing and life here @ Ironmatron.

My new blog is @

It's been nearly a year since I've written. There are reasons.

First, I became sick of writing about training and racing. I could not think of a new thing to say about it. I became boring--even to myself. Part of this is because I was quite burned out of training and racing. So, I stopped training, and subsequently stopped writing about training. I did race a bit anyway. My conclusion is that racing isn't fun if you are not in shape to race. Racing without having trained is just very, very painful. There's little reward.

Second, I stopped blogging because I decided to teach again. I took four and a half years off from teaching. I didn't miss it at first. I didn't miss it, actually, for several years. But then… I did miss it. I missed the act of teaching, but it was more than that.  I also missed having a profession and being a professional. I missed immersing myself in a craft. I missed having a reason to read the cheesy YA books I love. I missed the rhythm of the work week. I missed drinking coffee as I drove to work. I missed saying, "I'm a teacher."

Because that is what I am.
I also love to run and read and do triathlon and train and garden and write and take care of dogs and my kids. But I think I was *meant* to teach. I'm good at it in a way I will never be "good" at those other things. I missed being very good at something and I missed being respected for being good at something. I missed that a lot.

So I went back to teaching.
And when teaching you don't want a blog out there that reveals you--a blog in which you have used foul language and admitted to resorting to unsavory urinary practices while racing and in which you indulgently and obsessively self-analyze.

You can still access that blog if you have permission from me. If you want permission just leave me a comment asking for it. But that blog is just archived writing now.  The IronMatron has retired.


This blog will not just address my adventures in training and triathlon-ing--but that's basically what it will be about.  I'm sure it will be self-indulgent and overly self-revealing in some ways--just as the IronMatron's blog was, but I'm hoping it will not be quite so raw and…exposed.  I suppose if I don't want to be raw and exposed I simply shouldn't have a blog. But I miss the tri-blogging community. I miss getting and giving support from people who love to do this crazy endurance stuff like I do.  Most of all, I miss thinking and writing about ME. I love writing and thinking about me. You know? I'm 44. One of the gifts of being middle-aged is that I'm so over pretending I'm not completely self-absorbed. It's a waste of energy trying to deny it, so I'm choosing to embrace it instead.

Plus, now that I'm teaching again I need a way to procrastinate grading papers.  I love teaching, but MAN do I dislike grading papers.


I'm thinking about all the awesome racing I'm going to do this summer!
I'm really, really excited to do some racing, and to do it when I'm IN SHAPE. I am extremely sick of being out-of-shape. It's hard to feel superior in any way when you are as slovenly and lazy as I have been over the last year or so.  See, I'm self-absorbed AND I enjoy feeling superior. It's a winning combo.

Right now I'm in that awesome planning stage. Everything is possible! I'm not tired or sick, and the calendar months stretch out before me, so innocent and naked, just waiting to be filled up with hours and hours of training.

Of course, the job part does make filling that calendar up with training a bit challenging. I simply don't have the hours to train that I used to have. Also, working makes me tired. Also, I have a long commute. Also, I still have those three awesome kids and four awesome dogs and that one awesome husband.  Also, we are moving from one town to another over the next few months.

But in those very few hours that I have left, I plan to TRAIN!

Actually, I've already started training. But my efforts are a bit on  the pathetic side. Apparently when you take two years off from serious training it is not easy to just--you know--get right back at it. I remember in the days of yore completing 8 hours in a week of training was very light--a recovery week even. Now eight hours kills me. KILLS ME. I need hours more sleep and I start weaving, by Sunday, with fatigue. I'm hoping this gets better soon.

The two races I am most excited about are:

Yes, that is right! I am racing Boston in 2015. I qualified over the summer very surreptitiously.

AND THEN, I'm racing with Ange and Andy and a bunch of friends. I'm really excited for this event. It begins with a 1.5 mile swim, then it moves to an (approximately) 95 mile bike from South Berwick, Maine to the base of Mt. Washington, and concludes with a run/hike up Tuckerman's Ravine.

Doesn't that sound fantastic?!

I can't wait.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Boston Prep 16 Miler Race Report

On Sunday morning I headed up to Derry, New Hampshire to race the Boston Prep 16 Miler.
I had planned to drive to the race with my friend Melissa. But then, just as I was leaving my house, Jordan called.

Jordan (oldest daughter), Andy (husband), Noah and Lara (middle and youngest) were in Salem (one hour away) at Jordan's swim meet at Salem State.
They had just arrived.
And Jordan realized she had forgotten both her warm-up suit and her racing suit at home.


So, instead of driving with Melissa (sorry, Mel!) I drove solo to Woburn, half way between where we live and Salem, and met Andy to give him the suits. Jordan had a good meet, so I suppose I did the right thing. ;) But I was sad not to drive with Melissa, since one of the major reasons I signed up for the hell that is the Derry 16 Miler was so that I could socialize with my friends before and after the race!  I tried not too pout too much since Andy had the really raw deal: an all day swim meet (not that bad) with Noah and Lara in tow (ouch--bad). Andy has raced Derry before, so luckily he didn't look at as he had a totally raw deal. If asked to switch places he would have laughed.

Derry is a really, really hard race.

Here's what makes it hard:

It's always bitterly cold. (This year, for example, it was -5 with the wind chill.)
It's always really windy--as in arctic blasts in your face-- when you reach the tops of the hills.
The hill climbing is RIDICULOUSLY steep and some of the hills (like, umm, miles 11-12.5) go on for ever.
The competition is also ridiculously steep since only the tried and true, hard-core, totally bad ass runners do this race. It's not for the faint of heart, that is for sure.

I have not run longer than 15 miles (and I have only done that once) since IMLP in 2012. I knew I could pummel through the race anyway; the question really was at what point would I really start to fall apart. My guess was around 90  minutes, since that has been the distance of my longer runs in the last 1.5 years. I was right. Things got pretty ugly around the 11 mile mark.

But I am jumping ahead!

I arrived at the race, found my friends, and we proceeded to chat nervously about how many layers to wear and how much fuel to take in during the race.  I  especially fretted about whether to wear one layer of tights or two, and whether to wear a full hat or just a headband that kept my ears warm.
I finally decided on two layers of tights and a headband.
In retrospect the two layers of tights were smart, even though I HATE running in layers as it makes me feel like I can't move. The headband was the wrong call, though. I shoulda worn the full hat. It was that cold. By mile 5 my pony tail was frozen (from my sweat) and whipping back and forth in a solid mass of ice.

Here we are before the race. From left to right that's me, Maria, Kat, Jen, Robie, Jeff, and Melissa. Most of the people in this pictures kicked my ass.

Okay, so we jogged to the start and snaked our way toward the front of the pack. This race is actually pretty large. I think there were a little over 500 runners this year. That is not a huge race, of course, but that's a lot of people if you consider the difficulty of the course and the weather! That's 500 rather insane people.

More insane--and awesome--were the volunteers. If I felt frozen running the damn race, I can only imagine how cold those on the course marshaling and handing out water were. Thank you to the Derry Running Club and to the officers on the course! That's like angel material --standing and helping for hours in that kind of weather!

I felt pretty good starting the race. For the first 1/2 mile the crowd of runners in front of me prevented me from taking it out too fast. This is a good thing; I have trouble holding back at the start. I ran near to my friends for the first 2-3 miles, but I gradually lost them since they were all moving at a quicker pace than me. I decided to shoot for 8 minute pace. Again, given the hills, even an 8 minute pace was a bit aggressive for me! But I felt pretty good, if bulky from clothing, for the first 6-7 miles. I went easy up the hills and tried not to brake on the downhills too much in an effort to save my quads. I've noticed I am a far better, and more aggressive, descender than most people. I've also noticed my climbing is really weak compared to people who run my pace. So for most of this race I would lose my "crowd" of 8 minute milers and then on the downhills I would pass them all again. Over and over.

Mile 7 snuck up on me and when I saw it I thought! Awesome! Already mile 7! And then it hit me that I was not even half way there! I had a little panic/weepy moment right then. I felt okay, but I was already starting to fatigue a bit, and I still had 9 miles -- and with the worst of the hills to come.

I love this picture because it's silly, but also shows the actual elevation profile of the race. You can see that though you do some good climbing by mile 7, the really tough hill running comes at about miles 11-13.

I was on target to run about a 7:45 pace average by mile 11--and then, as I wrote earlier, things got kinda ugly. I really really slowed down going up that big ass, long hill (the one with the vulture at the top!). Also, the wind was against our faces at this point. I did have a few moments were I pondered whether I would actually make it to the end, and if I did, how ridiculously slow my time would be. Then I had that awful thought that you get when you are suffering in a race, and it occurs to you that the current race you are running is only a tiny fraction of what you expect yourself to do at IM in a few months.

That's never ever a good thought to have.

After the hills I pulled it together a bit, although I admit that I was getting passed more in the last three miles than I was passing. I made my goal to get back that 8 minute pace I had planned on. I managed to finish in 2:07:40 or so... which means I just barely made my goal! 7:59 pace...
Right when I finished my left quad started uncontrollably twitching. I hate that! I think it's a cramp ... but what it looks like is the muscle being stimulated by an electrical current or something. It didn't stop for like 5 minutes!

But, the important thing here--I finished.

And now it was time for a beer! After changing, we headed out for a meal and a beer. That was, of course, the best part of the day!

Next up: The Cape 10 Miler--and it's next weekend!
Hopefully I will be able to walk by then...

Friday, January 17, 2014


This post is actually about data again, but I figured if I labeled it Body Fat you'd be more likely to open the post and read it. Am I right?

I got a new scale.  It's one of those Tanita scales that supposedly measures your weight, your hydration status and your body fat.

Okay, I know. I know that body fat scales do not work. But wait! Before you decide I'm totally dumb for wasting my money on one, let me explain my thinking. I figured the scale could provide me a ball park idea as to my body fat, and then I could try to whittle that number down over the next months until IM CDA. So, if the scale said 20% body fat, I would just try to get 19%. Who cares whether the scale is accurate; what matters is that the number decrease over time, not increase. That makes sense, right? Let me also explain that I am interested in my body fat percentage because all of these data measures I'd like to employ rely on having a good estimate of my lean body mass. To determine lean body mass I need to know my body fat percentage. Capisce?

I got the scale about three weeks ago. In that time my body fat has ranged, according to the scale, from 14.5% to 24.5%. That is no small range. What I've realized is that the percent of body fat the scale believes I have is related to the hydration status it thinks I have. So, if I'm dehydrated according to the scale, my weight might be less, but my body fat is high. If I am fully hydrated my weight is higher, but the body fat reading is lower. 

The problem here is that I don't think the scale's determination of hydration status is even right. There have been times I have gotten on the scale after hydrating like crazy for 24 hours, and it reads I am dehydrated. Likewise, there have been times that I know I am dehydrated, and it reads that my hydration status is awesome. The way the scale reads hydration seems to be more correlated with whether I am retaining water because, say, I've had something super salty the night before or because I'm a few days out from getting my period. This makes me wonder: what is the relationship between hydration status and retaining water? Are they the same? If I am holding onto water before my period, does that mean I'm hydrated? That must not be right... 

Okay, so why do I bring this all up?

First, because I want you to save your money and abstain from buying a bod fat scale, because they read... something, but I don't know exactly what. It's not body fat, I do know that. The margin of error between 14.5% an 24.5% over a three week span is a little too great to put any stock at all in the scale's reading. I think my body fat is somewhere in between those two numbers, but who knows exactly where.  But also, I want to bring up this frustration I have, again, with data.

In my post a few days ago I brought up the fact that the accuracy of the Training Peaks' (or WKO's) performance management chart relies upon accurate threshold numbers on the bike and run. If the FTP  (functional threshold power) is overestimated (more generally the problem than under-estimation) than the chart will be skewed, and will not accurately determine fatigue levels (not that this can be perfectly charted even with a "correct" FTP estimation), and hence things like planning peak weeks and taper are harder to manage correctly. 

This problem is also true for the determination of lean body mass, which is the key piece of data in determining both fueling needs when training and what one's appropriate weight might be for executing, say, an Ironman. For example, it's thought that a BMI of about  20-21 is the "right" number for a female  who is trying to execute (well) an Ironman. That number is different for a female runner, whose ideal BMI would be slightly less than that, or a swimmer, who BMI might be greater. The problem is, of course, that BMI is determined by height and weight--but it doesn't distinguish the type of weight the athlete is carrying.  A muscular woman might have a higher BMI than a more waif-like athlete, but that might be because the "leaner" athlete has less muscle and a more body fat than the heavier athlete. This is corrected by determining weight of lean body mass rather than simply weight, and lean body mass is determined with a knowledge of one's body fat
Which, it seems to me, is fairly impossible to reliably determine. 
There are other methods of determining body fat, but all of them have rather large margins of error--especially the use of calipers--which is how most athletes determine their body fat. 

So we use these tools--like the performance management chart--and measures--like lean body mass--which rely on one key piece of data (FTP, BMI), which is often -- well, wrong--which renders the whole tool basically useless.  

This winter I decided I would try to be more consistent in my use of measures to determine my progress and my atheltes' progress. But the door that continually slams in my face is that these measures are based on unreliable data. You name it--determining fueling for training and racing, assigning correct pacing strategies, executing training based on power or heart rate, managing body composition--all of these things rely upon having correct data--and as far as I can tell, the data we use is nearly always flawed data.

So, I am agnostic.

When I said I want to believe in data like I want to believe in God, I truly meant it. The more I know, the more I understand there are no perfect measures--there is nothing that can be relied upon as more than a generality that may or may not help one to manage training--or anything else in life. 

When I was younger I think I believed that those who liked mathematics liked it because there is little ambiguity. In math, I reasoned, answers are right or wrong.  But the more I understand, the more I realize that those who are truly involved in math know that there are really never any precise, exact, correct answers. The mathematicians must be the most agnostic of us all! Is this true math people? If you are a math person... please speak to this. 
Conversely, we language arts type people, while believing we deal in agnosticism, read because, I think, we want to make sense of the world--we want to draw conclusions that give us peace and answers. 

I still use the data. 
I have been absolutely zealous about my assignment of TSS to my workouts and to those of my athletes (as in, I assign scores to things that are not scored, I monitor scoring, try to keep "accurate" FTP and HR data plugged in etc). And I do things like buy totally useless body fat scales to help me to track my hydration and body fat, and I try to eat the exact amount of carbs for my weight, and the right amount of salt, and the write amount of liquid per hour while training... and so on---and I try to get my athletes to do the same.

And then I think, why? 
The measures could be so off... Is this even useful? 
What is that expression....?
I looked it up: George Box-- "All models are wrong--but some are useful."

But we rely on this models to be right--or at the very least to provide us insight. And with a body fat reading between 14.5% and 24.5%--can we even have insight? With an FTP number that is too high (Can you REALLY do that wattage for an hour? I will put money on the fact that you can't...) can we even specify with any kind of certainty what is the correct TSS allotment to try to hit on the bike in an Ironman?

and so on.
I actually wrote a post on this in like 2009. Here it is. It's better written than this one, I think. Just goes to show that even though I have always claimed agnosticism I keep trying to have faith.
I really want to believe in God.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ranty Rant Rant.

I've been thinking I kind of just want to sit on my butt.
and  I feel guilty about that.
and I feel scared about, Dear GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Just last month I submitted applications to do doctoral work in English,  applied for a few teaching jobs, decided I needed to work harder to build our coaching business, and started kicking my own arse in training so I can be super human at IM CDA.
One minute I am Ms. Overly Ambitious, and the next I am contemplating whether it's worth it to toast the bread or just eat it as is because toasting requires too much effort.
What does this MEAN? I mean, other than that I am mentally ill and I clearly need lithium. or Prozac. or something like that.

Which of course I already knew and so did you, but still. Why can't I at least be consistently mentally ill in like one way? Why do I have to be all I WILL CONQUER THE WORLD and prove I am worthy--and I will do it tomorrow because I need to prove it before I die, which could be GOD KNOWS, like tomorrow. It could! and the next minute I am so over that achievement stuff and really I just want to read trashy novels, hang with my dogs, and make banana bread--except that even making banana bread seems like too much of an effort.

Yesterday I sat in my bed in the middle of the day and read Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened, which is such a funny little book, but the point is I sat in bed and read and I could've been doing like 500 hundred different things to help move me toward the things I supposedly want--like a PhD, or a teaching job, or to make our coaching label as prominent as like ... CTS.

I have no point in my rant. I think I'm just really trying to figure out what to do next. I realize this is getting old. Or, actually, I haven't written for like three months, so maybe it's just old TO ME, and not you. Or maybe it's getting old for you, too. It probably is. How many times can I write about how conflicted I am before you all start pleading with me to PLEASE SHUT UP and just live and work like everyone ELSE?

Yep. I mean, I even annoy myself if it makes you feel better. And I have to be with me ALL THE TIME. Can you imagine? Can you imagine what it's like to live in this brain that WILL NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THINGS IN ALL CAPS?

Dear Lord it is hard to be me.
I jest.

Anyway, this bleckity bleck is not what I intended to write about.

I intended to write about the performance management chart in Training Peaks.
Maybe I'll do that now, because I know you are on the edge of your seat like PLEASE, Mary. PLEASE TALK ABOUT the PMC in TP so I can begin to understand my CTL/ATL/TSB and my TSS! Right? Wasn't that what you were thinking?

Okay, well, the problem with talking about all this acronymic stuff is that I don't want to explain the whole thing. (I know some of you know to what I'm referring. Unfortunately, not enough of you know to what I'm referring, and since I'm feeling LAZY, I don't want to explain it.)

So I will speak in generalities.
Let's talk DATA.
I like data. I like data, even though I'm not a person who generally likes mathematical minutiae, but I like DATA when it comes to measuring, or better, predicting, performance. I like it because it's a bit like fortune telling.

I am the all knowing coach. If you just upload all information from that handy Garmin of yours, I will interpret the metaphoric lines, design a plan that is perfect and realigns those lines, and I will get you to KONA!
The problem is, that doesn't really work.
It doesn't work for many reasons. Here are two:

1. No one always uploads data. In fact, most people get lazy and upload like 75% of it max. 75% doesn't make for good data interpretation. In fact, it makes it meaningless. So scratch the performance management chart as a tool right there --even if with all the data it might possibly sort of work.
2. FTP estimation is freaking bogus--and the whole PMC stuff relies on the correct measurement of FTP.  There are so many variables involved in the estimation of FTP that can't be controlled for by the coach, and really, things like TSS don't mean JACK if the FTP isn't sort of well, spot on.

SO, many of you are thinking. Yes... yes you can estimate FTP.
But really... let's talk about that.
Inside or outside?
How tired or not tired (how negative or positive was your TSB going... bahaha) going into the test?
CADENCE? Because if it was below like 80 rpm at any point that's kinda cheating.
Did you really do that first five minutes all out -- ALL OUT? really? you really did?

Oh, I could go on and on.
So, I know. It's an estimate.
You know what we never ever do to measure the thing we are trying to measure with FTP? We never actually go at the door and do a 40K TT.
And why? It's too stressful.

So we overestimate the FTP and then train using that magic number... and yet, that's NOT too stressful?

This is also a rant. And why am I ranting? It's just a rant kind of day for me, I think.

But truly, I think I rant out of frustration. Because I want to be able to palm read, and I want to be able to palm read ESPECIALLY for me. What combination of training, resting, and fueling is going to get me to the finish line with my arms triumphantly raised in the air?

I want to believe in data like I want to believe in God.

For that matter, I just want to believe, People.
Can you tell me what wrong road I took to end up such a cynic?


One of my dogs, Chica, is eating a raw hide bone right now. It's the happiest moment of her day, I think.
When she came to live with me she had no fur. She wouldn't let me touch her. She itched and scratched all day. She was a bloody, scarred mess.
It's taken her a long time to adjust to life here, with us. She is Floridian: she detests the snow. She wears a coat from October to May.
So since last March, when she came to live with us, I have brought her to the vet again and again. My vet, (Dr. Durso--he's the best) has helped Chica. He figured out what she was allergic to (everything) and now she takes daily anti-itch medication and also has allergy shots every few weeks. Dr. Durso also discovered she had Heartworm. We treated that--which was a bit rough for her. She's better now.
Now she's furry. And warm. And although she is still pretty shy, and doesn't like strangers much, she plays with the other dogs and when she is snuggling and I scratch behind her ears she licks my cheeks.

I write this because just watching Chica enjoy her rawhide gives me peace.
And I wonder if I could just stop chasing the dream that if I can just write the right paper, or hit the right FTP, or find that magic unicorn that will allow me to think I am doing just fine, then I could spend the rest of my life just helping and loving Chica.
or the metaphoric Chica.
and that would be enough.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Here I am

It's been so long since I have posted that I don't know where to start.

In my last post, in September, I wrote about how things were about to get really crazy. I started graduate school in English.
And so things did get crazy-so crazy I wasn't even able to write a sentence in this blog. I did write quite a bit, though--in terms of writing papers and writing comments on student papers.

Even though I was busy and pretty stressed out, I liked the work. I wrote an interesting paper (to me--and maybe to those who like Henry James) interpreting Isabel's destiny in The Portrait of a Lady.  Maybe I should post all 20 pages of it here?
Just kidding....  

I need to admit that I have no idea what I'm dong right now... I mean, in terms of my next step. Or, I know some things. Like today I will take my youngest daughter to ballet and my son to a karate belt ceremony. In terms of the next few months, I'm signed up to take a class on Dickens and Eliot. I'm also training for Ironman Coeur D'Alene in late June. I also may take a sub position teaching 5th grade history and English.

Or I may do none of those things. Or just one of them. I have quite a few competing voices in my head telling me what to do. It's getting pretty loud in there, and the louder it gets the more I want to just shut down and do nothing but stare at my dogs as they play.

I find that soothing. Watching dogs play is a good pastime, I think.

In the last few years I've started and stopped so many projects. I have an appetite for taking on big goals and seeing how far I can get with them. The problem I think I'm having right now is twofold. First, I have three children and five dogs. I thought as my children got older that I would have more time, but that's not the case. The time is allocated differently, but it is the same amount of time as when they were younger, despite that they are in school during the day. I keep thinking that NOW is the time to get back to my a professional life--isn't that what other mothers do at this point? But when I try, I become so harried and stressed that I no longer enjoy the pursuit of the professional--and I shut down and throw the professional goal to the wind.

The other aspect of the problem is that at middle-age, I'm starting to battle myself in terms of my over-achievement. There is a voice inside now that whispers, Mary, you do not need to be the best at what you love, you just need to pursue the things you love.
My modus operandi has always been that if you love it you should master it.
So, it's not enough to read James. I must write a dissertation on James; it must be published; I must teach James. Or, it's  not enough to compete in triathlons. I must do Ironman; I must get to Kona; I must be a coach to those doing Ironman. and so on. Apply that thinking to virtually anything I decide I love to do.

I figure... I'm writing to the long course triathlon crowd. Right? So most of you must know what I mean? Because I know you are like me. Any advice or commiseration is welcome.

But let's talk about training!
Because too much of that schlock above is tiresome. We both know that.

The truth is, I actually HAVE BEEN TRAINING! After taking a long time off, and then executing an extremely short season, and then taking MORE time off, I have started training. I am working with the ever-patient Kurt. I'm trying very hard to be a not-quite-as-high-maintenance- athlete as I have been in the past.

On January 5th I ran a 5k in Maine with Jordan. She almost beat me. Things are getting close at this point. I ran a 21:09. She ran a 21:40. I have been running 25-30 miles a week in training; she has been running 0-5 miles a week in training. Anyway, I placed 3rd overall, and Jordan was 4th overall. I'm sure it annoyed all the hard-working age group women that a 12-year-old sprinted ahead of them--and then stayed ahead of them. But I'm proud, because she is MY little peanut. Or she was a peanut. Now she's nearly as tall as me.

Here we are post-race.
Jordan finishing.

And me finishing.

It was a slushy, icy day. The footing on much of the course was not good, and neither Jordan nor I had the appropriate shoes for those conditions. But we still had fun. After the race we took Noah and Lara out for a big pizza lunch. Andy missed the fun... because he was in Massachusetts taking care of all our pooches.

Next up is the Boston Prep 16 Miler in Derry, NH. Locals know this race! It's a super hilly course. A bunch of us from my running club are racing it.

I've been loving the training lately. It feels so good to be back at it.