WORDS by Heidi –
Does Type 1 Diabetes stop you from achieving your goals? The simple answer here is no.
Where it all began
I started running in 2014 when I ran my first 10km race in London. I then decided to challenge myself to train for a Half Marathon at Silverstone in March 2015. Followed by Windsor Half Marathon in September. After getting comfortable with running 10mile / 16km distances on my own quite regularly, I jumped at the opportunity to run the London Marathon in April 2016, to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis to support my niece who suffers from the condition.
Now this is when I started to really learn about my diabetes and exercise. Half marathons, I managed to control my insulin and blood sugars by just having 1 gel around mile 9 / 14.5km to support me to the end. Marathon training however was a very different ball game…
I personally wish I could provide every Type 1 Diabetic genuine advice to help them manage their blood sugars well throughout a long run. I have learnt that unfortunately insulin is a hormone that decreases your blood sugars, reacting differently to every individual under the circumstances they are going through. For example, this could be being poorly, drinking alcohol, being stressed or upset, for us ladies that “time of the month”, along with different types of sport you complete. Running severely lowers my blood sugars, more than any other sport. I have a very high intolerance to insulin, meaning my body reacts very quickly to it. Unfortunately, this has meant managing my blood sugars well throughout long runs. A challenge I have had to learn over the last four years.
Into the world of Marathon Running
I was not on my insulin pump (known as ‘Penny’) back then so I was injecting slow and fast acting insulin. Slow acting insulin (Levemir) manages my blood sugars throughout the day with no food, to help keep me alive. I would inject this twice a day as it lasts in your body for 12hours. Fast acting insulin (Novo Rapid) is what I would inject myself with when I had any food that included carbs which increase my blood sugar. This would last in my body for around 3-4hours. For my long runs I would decrease my morning Levemir by a unit, and also decrease my Novi Rapid with my breakfast by a unit or two. I would then have a gel from miles 8-9 / 14km, followed by another one after 16miles. This worked for me. I learnt the hard way however that I would need a gel after 20miles also, by running my last long run three weeks before the race which was 22miles / 35.5km. My blood sugars were very low after this run and I knew for Marathon day, I was not going to risk this and I would take one at mile 20 / 32km.
Trial and error. Like everyone, even without diabetes. Just unfortunately Type 1 Diabetes may get you a little more poorly when you don’t get things right.
After my long runs I always experience my blood sugars decrease incredibly during the night when I sleep. Not waking up properly in the morning due to bad low blood sugar hypos. So, I also started to decrease my Levemir by a unit before I went to sleep. Which helped. The same the next morning and day. My body was playing catch up for recovery (your muscles need the food) so I would have to be careful with my blood sugars and insulin intake here. Always learning unfortunately by being ill first. But that is how I have learnt to manage and now prepare myself better.
London Marathon was very successful. Great blood sugars before, throughout and after the race using the strategy above. Breakfast early, an engery bar an hour before my race after testing my bloods, followed by a gel at mile 9 / 14.5km, 16 / 25km and 20 / 32km. Bloods were 4.3 when I finished and I had a snack straight away. Bloods are meant to be between 4 and 7. I finished the race in 3 hours and 51mins and I felt amazing!
I won’t lie, that didn’t mean some races got any better for me unfortunately. The learnings continued.
I ran Manchester Marathon in April 2017. I had trained hard for this race. Strict intervals, tempo runs and cross training every week. I was in good shape for race day, even after suffering with Achilles injuries near the beginning of my training. The downfall came down to the fact that I had trained in cold weather conditions up towards April and when race day came along, the weather was incredibly hot. My blood sugars had not trained how to run long runs (with effort) in the heat. I was doing absolutely fine in the race until around mile 18 / 28km when I started to really feel it. I always carry more gels with me than I need “just in case” but by this stage I had taken 5gels, hitting 22miles / 35km and feeling awful. My pace really slowed down and I was struggling. I am an incredibly stubborn human being however, so I continued to race as I was not letting anything stop me. At mile 25 / 40km my muscles collapsed on me and I fell to the ground. I had to have a friend pick me up, helping me to walk as my body was really struggling. I ran and collapsed on the finish line (literally, the worst finishing race photos ever).
Penny my Insulin Pump
Since then, I went on my Insulin Pump (‘Penny’) in June 2017. It has been a life changer. I still have low blood sugars, they don’t disappear. But I can manage my sugars a lot easier. An insulin pump is only fast acting insulin (Novo Rapid) no slow acting (Levemir) at all. It is a piece of equipment I have placed on my stomach constantly, slowly providing me with little bits of insulin throughout the day. I can decrease this amount of insulin when I do anything active for a certain timescale. It also allows me to carb count a lot more accurately with the food I am eating, linking to my blood sugar machine helping me work out the calculations. It’s a triangle. Food, insulin and activity. All three have to be in balance.
Since Penny the Pump came into my life, I have raced 100miles on my bike, completed my first sprint triathlon and ran Athens Marathon last year 2017 after Manchester. I can happily say I have managed to control my blood sugars with my pump extremely well throughout Athens, even with the heat. I had learnt from my previous race mistakes and I had my pump Penny to support me.
“Life is a rollercoaster” for me personally is a great saying. Along with my mantra “You survive your diabetes, so you can survive what you have to achieve”. Everyone goes through ups and downs in different ways. We all have good and bad days whoever you are. Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe, Jo Pavey….. they have all been there even though they are talented athletes.
Does Type 1 Diabetes stop you from achieving your goals? The simple answer is no.