Running With Diabetes: The 2016 Kiawah Island Half Marathon

By Amy Mercer | December 13, 2016 8:10 pm

The first time I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon, I was 25 years old. I ran it because I was training for a full marathon, the Walt Disney World Marathon, and the Kiawah half seemed like a great way to prep myself for the big day. I started running soon after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes[1] as a way to help manage my blood sugar and have stuck with it because it keeps me sane.

Kiawah’s race is always in December, and I remember how that first year the weather was perfect; not too hot and not too cold. The run was much smaller then, and my mom was able to drive around the course and stop at different mile markers to cheer for me. It seemed like mom was one of the few supporters. I was running with a friend, and I remember her laughing and saying “Look, there’s your mom again!” I was glad to have Mom there to watch me accomplish this goal, and I was also comforted because she had my diabetes supplies, several juice boxes, and packs of Starburst in her car.


I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon for the fourth time last weekend (along with nearly 4,000 other runners), and our supporters lined every mile. I carried glucose tabs, my meter, test strips, and a finger pricker in a small belt around my waist and tested my blood sugar before, during, and after the run. I’ve got a system for long runs that I’ve tweaked over the years, but I’m always prepared for the unexpected. I’ve learned that my blood sugar tends to run high the day before the race because of my nerves, which is frustrating, but manageable.

This year my blood sugar stayed at 215 for the entire 13.1 miles. I would have liked it to be a little lower, maybe 150, because my legs felt like they were dragging for the first few miles, but the stability of my blood sugars allowed me to maintain a good, consistent pace. The worst part was that it was so cold (at the start it was 33 degrees!) my fingers refused to bleed. I stopped once around mile 7 and again at mile 11 to test my blood sugar and tried not to be frustrated as other runners passed me while I tried to squeeze a drop of blood from the tip of my frozen fingers (I was wearing gloves, but they were still frozen), and then I wanted to scream when I got the ERROR message and had to try again. I was able to get a bigger drop of blood and saw that I was 215, so I packed up my supplies and continued to run.

Knowing that I was 215 gave me the confidence to keep pushing. I didn’t need to worry about low blood sugar, I just needed to keep running. One of the best parts about running a race is people watching. I run almost every day by myself along a wooded trail. I don’t wear headphones because I prefer to listen to the quiet and let my mind wander, so I’m always humbled by the variety of people when I run in a race. Runners are people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. There are people who run in large groups, wearing all the same t-shirts, and there are those like me who run alone. But we are all running the 13.1 miles together. We are all pushing our bodies to go beyond our limitations.

Even though I hadn’t trained very much, I finished the half marathon in good time. I felt good as I crossed the finish line, strong and tired. I was reminded that diabetes is a physical hindrance, but it’s also the reason I started running. When I’m training for a race I see myself as a tightly controlled science experiment, but when I’m crossing the finish line I see myself as a winner.

The holidays can be stressful and make diabetes management harder. Bookmark[2] and tune in tomorrow to see tips for handling this time of year from nurse David Spero.

  1. I started running soon after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes:

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Amy Mercer: Amy S. Mercer is a freelance writer living in Charleston, SC, with her husband and three sons. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 14 years old and has written two books about living well with diabetes — The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes: Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood, and The Smart Woman's Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes: What Will Work. (Amy Mercer is not a medical professional.)

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