The half-marathon training continues… limps on, more like. My body repeatedly tells my brain this was not wise. Sheer stubbornness forces me on.
It heartened me to read of another type 1 saying her training veered between 20-mile runs that went well and three-mile runs that floored her. We juggle not only the effort of running with balancing blood glucose levels.
Too high and running turns into an activity that resembles wading through waist high treacle. Too low, and your calves seize up as your body goes on a glycogen hunt. Either way, both states bring you to a grinding halt.
The magic formula that is running with diabetes is akin to Google’s most complicated search algorithm. Factor in sleep, the previous few days’ average blood glucose levels, where you are in your cycle (if you’re a woman), what you’ve eaten, how much insulin you have on board, how much food you need before running, what foods provide the best fuel sources, how far your blood glucose levels drop and by what time spent running…
If you can work it out, you’re better at this lark than I am.
Exercise affects us not just at the time but for up to 24 hours afterwards. And if you’re exercising for more than an hour at a time, it becomes trickier to work out what you need to do with insulin and food.
Pilates and yoga
Bouts of activity that last half an hour to 45 minutes are relatively easy to manage. If you want to do more exercise than this, you can break your activities up—a walk in the morning and an easy jog in the evening, say. And plenty of Pilates and yoga thrown in for those nice stretch and flexibility benefits.
My vow is post September 30, I’m never doing a run longer than a 10k and my weekly runs won’t add up to more than nine miles, if that. Dear reader, I make myself accountable here.
Meanwhile, September 30 (the half-marathon date) hurtles ever nearer. Yikes!
Mutters to self—so why did you enter a half-marathon you eejit? Because it was January, and the said run was in nine months’ time. Distance from something is the equivalent of wearing beer goggles. Everything looks do-able when it’s months away.
Anyway, the experts recommend you try a few other races to keep motivation levels up so I entered the Vale of Leven 10k, which took place this morning (Saturday 2 June).
Many runners think of 10k as nothing. Easy-peasy to train for and do. Not me. Mama Nature didn’t make me a natural runner. I plod. Sometimes a 4k feels like a Herculean struggle. I can walk long distances without finding it onerous or unpleasant. I should stick to that, right?
Mornings or Evenings?
Races mostly take place in the mornings too. I’m not a fan of morning runs. My blood sugars do weird zig-zaggy things at that time of day (see pic). I’d rather run at lunchtime or early evening when they’ve had time to settle down. Plus, there’s the whole ‘what to do I do about breakfast and insulin’ question.
Still, the day came round and I got up early. Are you familiar with west coast of Scotland summers? For the most part, they promise much and deliver little. This year, however, May has been unbelievably warm and sunny. Weather forecasters promised cooler weather and even rain, but it dawned bright and sunny once more.
Eeks. My ideal run takes place at about 8 degrees with drizzle and a strong wind behind me.
The run started at Moss O’Balloch next to Loch Lomond Shores and spectacular as far as scenery goes. Parts of the route were recycled so runners like me faced the depressing sight of the fast yins heading home as we puffed and panted our way past kilometres seven and eight.
Hanging out with the Back Pack
Ah well! Lisa Jackson who writes for Women’s Running and who has a fair few marathons and ultra-marathons under her belt talks about the joys of hanging out at the back of the pack. Crowds tend to cheer you on a lot more. The marshals, volunteers and people at the race were most encouraging.
Pain when it’s passed leaves an imprecise memory—thank god—so I remember struggling for the first two kilometres as they were uphill and then at the last bit where I speeded up to keep up with the one hour pacer. But the detail’s no longer there, just the relief and pride of finishing.
I’m a sucker for a goodie bag and this one included a tee shirt (too big, but they always are as they’re sized for men), a medal, a bottle of water and a Mars bar. Chivas sponsored the event, but sadly a wee nip wasn’t included.
It’s years since I’ve run in a race. You rely on the atmosphere to chivvy you on; the crowds shouting encouragement, so you keep running when you want to walk. Or crawl, in my case. This wasn’t a busy run—I’d guess 550 people—and the ability mixed. I channelled Lisa. Yes! It’s BRILLIANT to hang out at the back, or the second half of the group at least. According to the ticket I collected at the end, I finished 257th and the 22nd woman for my age group (senior vet, whit whit whit??).
For other diabetic geeks, my blood sugar when I got up this morning was 13.6 (oops). I took half a unit of fast-acting insulin to correct this and I took my basal insulin at 7.30am and knocked two units off the usual dose. To avoid working out food and insulin requirements, I didn’t bother with breakfast* and ate a Hike bar—Aldi’s own-brand protein bars, 25g carbs and 9g fibre—twenty minutes before starting. My blood sugar at that point was 10.6, so I took another half unit of fast-acting insulin. I didn’t test my levels immediately after finishing, but an hour later they were 9.6.
So, another three months and I run more than twice that amount. Ooh, ‘eck! I ran the 10k in 60 minutes and 53 seconds (I told you I was slow), which puts me on course for running the half in two hours-ish. Wish me luck!
*Don’t do this at home, kids. I have no nutritional or sports expertise related to type 1 diabetes or in general.
Runners don’t smile at you when you pass them—a sign, I always thought, of why you shouldn’t add running to your life.
Aye, that painful grimace tells you all you need to know… Running is a fool’s game; its rewards are not worth the pain. If you’re not built for distance slogging—i.e. Kenyan skinny—give anything other than a dash for the bus a miss.
Some foolish notion, however, made me take running up once more at the end of last year. And it was okay. I didn’t grin madly at people, but I got the runner’s high. Albeit, the buzz doesn’t last long enough to justify the effort you put in.
And I got to listen to a lot of podcasts. “This is learning by osmosis, EB!” I said to myself. I picked worthy ones, such as those designed to help me improve my writing career. If I just listened to what the gurus told me why bother putting any of it in place? The lessons would all filter through subconsciously. Sales would result! [Spoiler alert—not so far.]
Then I thought entering the Glasgow half-marathon would be fun. Which it was, in January—y’know, when it was months away. And now the end of April hurtles ever nearer and I’m no further forward than eight and a half kilometres (five miles), less than half the distance. Woe!
I’ve upped my game. The five miles feels like an achievement, seeing as I haven’t pushed beyond three in years. My training plan, thus, is add one kilometre every week to the big run and run another two 5ks a week. Do Pilates once a week to stop self seizing up.
As for tempo training, HIIT stuff and dragging myself up and down hills and all that other serious runner stuff, forget it.
Goal? Half-marathon completion, even if it means walking some of the distance.
Running with type 1 diabetes is challenging. Any endurance exercise is. As well as dealing with breathing, effort, aching legs and all that, we battle see-sawing blood sugars not only during the run but afterwards too.
Blood sugar levels that are too high make you tired and exercise will often send them soaring higher. When your sugar levels dip too low, tiredness happens too, you’re at risk of collapsing and you need to eat.
Here’s what I’ve learned…
The best runs are when I’ve had level blood sugars all day.
Hike bars—the Aldi cheap version of a protein bar—are brilliant running fuel. I have half of one before, half afterwards. The raspberry one is nicer than the cocoa one.
I’ve a talent for finding routes that are treadmill flat. And sticking to them.
A runner’s backpack is worth buying. I ran my last half-marathon, clutching a bag of jelly babies and my blood sugar equipment in my sweaty hand. If you’ve ever run holding something in your hand, you’ll know how irritating it is. By the end of the race, the jelly babies had morphed into a gelatinous mass.
Your Fitbit shows you getting fitter as the time I’m spending in peak heart rate zone has come down since I’ve started tracking the runs. It’s gratifying.
The Type 1 Run Podcast (mentioned here) is incredibly useful. It amuses me that I’ve had diabetes and exercised with it longer than most of the guests have been alive, but you’re on a lifelong learning curve when you have diabetes. I learn something from every guest.
I seem to run well the day after drinking. My body welcomes the chance of sweating it all out. As it leaves my body, the alcohol acts like petrol… Don’t do this at home though kids!
This time round, I’m planning a support crew. When I did the half-marathon ten years ago, I did the race with another runner, but had no-one waiting for me at the end or around the course. (Cue violins.) In September, I’ll have my husband and friends dotted at four-mile intervals, armed with food and water. And umbrellas for themselves. It’ll be late September, and this is Glasgow. Rain’s 95 percent guaranteed.
And is it too early to plan my post-race meal? Readers, I’m low-carb most of the time, but the minute I cross that finish line, I plan to fall face down on a ginormous plate of fish and chips, doused in salt and malt vinegar.
Only places that do light, crispy batter, crisp chips that are fluffy on the inside, home-made onion rings and mushy peas need apply.
Massive disclaimer here—my experiences are personal. They are not recommendations, especially the last one. On a serious note, endurance events can be dangerous, not just for people with diabetes, as this year’s London Marathon proved again.