Diabetes and Reasons for Running

I ran 18 miles last weekend and it was hard, really hard. I drank all my water by mile 12 (I wear one of those belts with the two mini water bottles on each side), and I was still thirsty. It was a warm day for February, even by Lowcountry standards, and I had to stop several times because I was dizzy. At one stop I leaned over and was touching the ground with my hands to stretch, and a guy biking past asked if I was OK, so I knew I looked worse than I felt.

Twenty years ago, I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon. I was 26 years old. I trained for four months with the local Team In Training chapter and finished the 26.2 miles in about four and a half hours. Training for and running that marathon is about even with childbirth in my memory of physical pain. I tried to use those memories as motivation on my long run last weekend, but mostly I was just counting down the miles. Fourteen more to go. Ten more to go. And so on.

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I’ve written about my lifelong passion for running before. Running is a big part of my life because when I’m running, I feel strong (most of the time). I started running as a way to help manage my blood sugars, and I’ve kept running all these years because there are enough days when the weather is right (cool and clear), the route is quiet, my blood sugar is stable, and my body is free from injury, that I feel like everything is right and good with the world.

I’ve had some of those days during my marathon training, but I’ve also had days when I have to push myself through every single mile. I don’t listen to music when I run, so I have plenty of time to spend in my head thinking about things (big things and small things). On Saturday, as I was struggling with the warm weather and my thirst, I was thinking about my reasons for running a marathon. Why was I putting myself through this when I could be at home reading the paper and having another cup of coffee? Was it a mid-life crisis? Was it to prove something to myself? When people have asked why I want to run a marathon, I fumble for an answer.

The idea of running another marathon has been itching at me for years. I learned a lot about managing diabetes during my first marathon, and I’ve always wanted to apply what I learned to another run. For one thing, I learned that I don’t need to carbo-load. The night before my Disney marathon I ate a big bowl of pasta and woke up with a blood sugar of 250 mg/dl. I wanted to eat something before the run for energy, so I gave an extra big shot and ate a bowl of cereal. (Can you imagine? I would never do that today!) Those first nine miles were tough until my blood sugar dropped, but then it kept dropping. I remember walking at mile 22 and eating a PowerBar and drinking Gatorade, which then gurgled around in my belly for the rest of the run. There was so much I would do differently if I could do it again. But could I do it again? I was, and I am, scared that I can’t do it. That maybe my body isn’t as strong as I want to believe.

Living with diabetes can be a lonely and isolating experience. When you stop in the middle of a race to test your blood sugar and you don’t see anyone else ever stopping to test her blood sugar, for example. Or when you’re training for a marathon and you spend hours trying to find answers about the best pre- and post-run meals. These are isolating experiences that make it easier for me to doubt myself. That’s why I write. Because if I’m feeling alone, I know there are others out there like me, who are looking for stories. People who need to be reminded that they are not the only ones stopping to test their blood sugar, and that needing to stop and test your blood sugar is not going to stop you, or me, from completing a marathon.

Maybe that’s my reason for running. To drown out the self-doubt. To prove to myself and others that Type 1 diabetes is an added challenge, but it’s not a roadblock. Wish me luck.

Pregnant or thinking about pregnancy? You should know about diabetes of pregnancy, called gestational diabetes. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more from nurse David Spero.