Running the London Marathon with Diabetes
Can you imagine running 26.2 miles in under 4 hours all while managing diabetes?
My friend Emily did just that and has allowed me to tell the tale of her taking on one of the biggest challenges in her life – running the 2016 London Marathon! Physically, mentally and blood sugar management-wise, it’s a story that gives me goosebumps.
This is her story.
I have never allowed my diagnosis of Type I diabetes at the age of 14 limit me. Within two weeks of diagnosis, I was back with the hockey team. Within two years, I was competing at County level. All along the way, physical activity has been my way of showing myself that diabetes has not stopped me. Every new goal I set tends to bring with it new challenges which allow me to learn more about treating my diabetes. In 2015, I set myself on a staggering new goal: a marathon – 26.2 miles! But, unlike in the past when I had been the only person with type I diabetes navigating a new athletic or personal challenge, I did not want to be alone in this challenge.
Type One Run
In October 2015, I found out about a local diabetes running group called Type One Run located in my home city of Norwich. Type One Run is a non-profit, international organisation under the Beyond Type 1 umbrella. Started by Craig Stubing and James Mansfield, with the goal of bringing together people with diabetes through physical activity. These runs with other people with Type I diabetes, in my community, started some new thoughts in my mind. What else could I do for people with diabetes? How do I connect with other people with diabetes? What ways was I stagnating in my own diabetes treatment? I heard about the Beyond Type 1 run group the year before. A group in my local area had completed the London Marathon together. This was a step I wanted to take. The new challenge I was looking for, accompanied by other people with diabetes, and running to inspire other people with diabetes.
Parkrun is also another organisation which holds Saturday morning events (5ks walks/runs) that take place in local parks and open spaces. On Sunday mornings, there are 2k junior parkruns for children aged four to 14. Registration is free. Visit the Parkrun website to see if there is one in your local area.
So, I applied through Beyond Type 1 and waited to hear back. As soon as I was accepted, I nervously began planning my training. I suddenly had a lot of questions and very few answers; How do I stop going low? How much should I eat? What should I carry with me? Why do I keep going high after I run?
I phoned my Diabetes Nurse, who sent me some guidelines with where to start, such as how much to decrease the rate on my pump, and how much to eat every 30 minutes. I quickly realised that these guidelines would require a lot of tweaking in order for them to work for me. This is where the team came in.
I realised how helpful it was to have someone else with Type 1 that I could ask questions. We compared the backpacks we were wearing, the food we ate while running and our basal temperatures. While we were all very different, we were about to learn a bit from each other. I could not have anticipated the experience of being a part of the team, training together, and ultimately racing together in London. Through a Facebook group, we kept in contact as each of us put in miles towards the marathon. Meeting my teammates in London was like seeing family whom you haven’t seen in a long time. The Saturday before the race, we had a team brunch in Norwich, and I instantly felt like I already knew my teammates.
Diabetes UK has some excellent training plans for beginners right through to advanced runners. You can also set up your own plan and detail your weekly progress.
Incorporating strengthening exercises into your training plan has also shown to improve stamina and flexibility, with some research finding an 8% increase in running efficiency. Initially, planks can be very difficult to do. Don’t worry, start off with lunges and squats and incorporate planks when you feel comfortable to do so.
The following information was sourced from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-1-diabetes/exercise-and-sport/
Race day was very nerve-wracking, but we all discussed our blood sugars and strategies among a group of people who understood completely. Although most of us ultimately faced the miles of running through Greenwich, Tower of London, London Bridge and the Mall alone, we were together in our mission:
Standing up to diabetes, accomplishing a new challenge and raising awareness for others living with diabetes.
The race was exhilarating and exhausting all at once! I carefully monitored my blood sugar thanks to my continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump. I ate many fruit snacks to keep my blood sugar up, and I may have had waves of nausea in the last hour – but I accomplished my goal of finishing under four hours! I felt like a diabetes champion! Raising my hands at the finish line, a victory for myself and my teammates. It was awesome!!
I now live in Perth, Australia and have found new teammates part of the Beyond Type I group. I hope one day I can run a race where I don’t have to obsessively worry about my blood sugar or have to eat so much to keep my blood sugar up. But for now, I’ll look for more and more opportunities to challenge myself and find community, because that is when I feel at least alone with this condition that can feel so unrelenting.
A big thank you to Emily Simmons for helping me to write this article.
By Gemma Andrews
HCPC Registered Podiatrist