Diabetes – It’s an Endurance Sport

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I’ve always had a great appreciation for endurance sports. I prefer soccer (where the players play for a minimum of 90 minutes with only three substitutions) to basketball or football. I’m amazed by ultra marathoners and Ironmen. And my chosen sport and hobby is long distance running. I also think of diabetes as an endurance sport.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in late may 2002. I’d had symptoms for a while. I think I can even pinpoint the day it all started (but who knows?). I was at my cousin’s wedding in Atlanta in August of that year. We arrived at the wedding and, as I always do at family gatherings, I went to get a drink. (I think it was a vodka tonic). A few minutes later I felt terrible and thought I was going to pass out. I stayed at the wedding and my wife Jessica assumed I was drunk, although I had not had anything but a sip of my first vodka tonic. I don’t recall anything else from the wedding. I was sick for the next few days, kind of like the flu, but without a fever. The next few months were strange. I developed a sweet tooth I’d never had. I started to lose weight and drank huge amounts of liquid- water, juice, milk – anything I could get my hands on.  I should have known something was up when I came home from work one day and announced I was going to have a couple of vanilla milkshakes for dinner.

When I finally went to the doctor I had gone from a 175 pound slightly overweight guy to very unhealthy looking 148 pounds. I had lost the feeling in the three middle toes of my right foot (wrongly diagnosed by an army doctor as Trench Foot – a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary and cold conditions, common in soldiers in WWI), and my vision was slightly blurry. I also had a very hard time getting out of bed.

I was relieved when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I didn’t know very much about it, but I knew it meant I was going to live. I decided I wasn’t going to let diabetes change my life (people always say that about their disease).   But of course, diabetes did change my life.  It changed my life completely.

For most of my adult life I’ve been a runner, but I only took up long distances running three years ago. I ran my first marathon last year (April 24th, 2009).  I trained for four and half months in which I also completed three half marathons. I found out that training with diabetes was just like training without diabetes, except for that not so minor issue – blood sugar. I had a few catastrophes including a few scary lows.

I’ve learned that the trick to a successful run is to make sure I don’t start too high and –of course – don’t go too low.  Only very recently, however, I’ve begun to understand that my technique for achieving stable blood sugar during a run, is all wrong.  What I was doing throughout the marathon training, was eating very few carbs the night before a long run, and no breakfast in the morning. This way I avoided taking insulin the morning of a long run and the chances of a low during the run were smaller. When I did go low I found that eating a date was a good solution. The marathon took place on a hot and humid day and I finished it in 4:13:45. Not the best result, but I was happy and proud and I decided that I would run another marathon next year.  And I did, only it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

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