Running a half marathon with type 1 diabetes: Jack’s story (Part One)

It was with great trepidation on January 8 2015 that I signed up for the half marathon in Coventry scheduled on March 1.

My type 1 diabetes aside, I’ve never been the fittest of chaps, or the leanest, and the prospect of chronologically running, walking and crawling 13.1 miles was daunting.

It was when I signed up to run for Zoe’s Place, a Coventry-based baby hospice that the motivation soon came. That, and the fear. Upon signing up, I had to get into shape.

It soon became apparent that gaining fitness was only going to be achieved by successfully managing my diabetes. In the process of doing this, there was a catalogue of techniques that worked and respectively did not fare well during my journey to race day.

All my training and medication adjustments were designed to suit myself specifically, and would not be recommended to anyone else, as everybody is different.

What didn’t work
Training example #1

My first training session was a four-mile walk on a bleak Sunday morning in January. Leaving the house at around 10am, I had previously injected my normal long-acting insulin (Levemir) after a blood test of 12.1 mmol/l – a tad high.

I injected my regular amount under the assumption that the exercise would perhaps bring me down slightly. Within 25 minutes of the walk, I started to feel a little woozy and tested a blood sugar reading of 7 mmol/l.

Noticing a somewhat rapid decline, I turned to a Lucozade bottle and consumed roughly 200ml. This did the trick, and I was fine for the rest of the walk, but wary that morning exercise may not be best suited with my regular levels of long-acting insulin.

Training example #2

A couple of weeks later, I underwent a complete shambles of a session. During lunch, previously in the day, my blood sugar soared for an unbeknownst reason, so I injected a higher dose (Novorapid) to account for the high.

Roughly five hours had passed before I embarked on a run. My blood sugar was 12 mmol/l (again) and I had eaten around 40g of carbohydrate, so I didn’t inject any further quick-acting insulin.

In spite of this, I still crashed to 4.8 mmol/l after roughly 20 minutes of jogging. This was my first hypo while running, so proceeded to drink a quite colossal amount of Coca Cola.

Inevitably, this led to extreme nausea as my run ground to a halt. Upon returning home wearily, my blood sugar soared to 14 mmol/l later in the evening.

While the quick-acting insulin should have finished working within three hours, it appeared that injecting a large amount on the day of running was still impactful. I tried to compensate my lunch time high with an increase of long-acting insulin the night after, and that has done the trick ever since.

What did work
Training example #1

I was able to address two issues that had previously plagued me during one late January session; low blood sugars and managing sugar consumption.

Leaving for a mid-afternoon jog at 6.4 mmol/l – with no quick insulin working in the background – I consumed roughly 100ml of Lucozade every 20-25 minutes and upon returning roughly 80 minutes later, my number was a solid 5.7 mmol/l.

I reduced my amount of quick-acting insulin by around three units with dinner and sat back as I sailed to an evening of hassle-free diabetes management.

Ensuring these elements were in place before and during a run has since led to a relatively comfortable training routine that has allowed me to focus on developing fitness.

My race plan

From doing two training sessions a week, I was able to pick up a number of useful tips which I believe could be beneficial on race day, including:

  • Reducing long-acting insulin by around 10 units in the morning
  • Don’t have any quick-acting insulin with breakfast
  • Drink around 100ml of Lucozade every 30 minutes
  • Monitor blood sugar vigilantly after the race to spot hypos or highs during the afternoon/evening

This plan is of course subject to change in the event of any rogue blood sugar readings, and is of course not something I would recommend on a general basis.

I aim to provide an update of how the race went on Monday March 2 – providing I haven’t had to book the month off to recover – and will let you all know how I fared on race day.

Have you run a long-distance race with type 1 or type 2 diabetes? How did you manage your blood sugar levels, diet and medication? Let us know your experiences!

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About the author

Jack Woodfield

Jack is Editorial Manager of Diabetes.co.uk. He works hard, plays fair and sleeps whenever possible. He has type 1 diabetes, doesn't mind being called a "diabetic", and once won a talent show for dancing to Dario G’s 1997 hit “Sunchyme”.

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