Endurance Activity and Type 1 Diabetes: Team Blood Glucose on the Diabetes Grand Tour


Over three days last September I rode my bike 500 km (310 miles) and climbed 8,000 meters (5 miles) from Castres in the south of France, over the Pyrenees, to Barcelona in Spain. That’s further than London to Paris or Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and the equivalent of riding up Everest. I was part of the mHealth Diabetes Grand Tour, a tour that was setting a new standard in diabetes endurance sport research.

In addition to the research, the mHealth Diabetes Grand Tour was used as a platform to highlight mobile technologies’ contribution to the management of diabetes, and raising the profiles of people affected by it. The Tour was the marquee event for Team Blood Glucose, a nonprofit organization set up by Paul Buchanan to encourage people with diabetes to exercise.

Team Blood Glucose

Paul was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago at the age of 44.  Since then he has worked tirelessly to enrich the diabetic community.  He set up the GBDOC tweet chats and community, and inspired similar diabetic communities in other countries, before moving on to setting up Team Blood Glucose.

Team Blood Glucose, or TeamBG “inspires people with, and those at risk of diabetes to achieve their sports and exercise goals, to educate people with diabetes of the benefits of sports and exercise and to equip them with the tools to achieve their goals.”  TeamBG aims to increase participation in sport by taking part in events as a group, and by organizing its own events. It provides support and education to people with diabetes and their families and friends who come to run or ride with them, and allows them to safely participate and even learn how to improve, whether it’s a 5K run in the park or a marathon. For the past year TeamBG has entered its members in many running events, cycle sportives and triathlons.  People have interacted through their Facebook groups, asking for help and advice on how best to approach their intended activity.  There are TeamBG running shirts and cycling kits available from the website so that the runners and cyclists can always recognize each other in a big event.

This September I’m riding with Team Blood Glucose again on the Diabetes Grand Tour from Barcelona (EASD 2013) to Vienna (EASD 2014).  We will ride for 15 days (with two rest days in the middle), covering 2,300km (1430 miles) of riding over the Pyrenees, Alps and the Dolomites – for cycling fans it will also include Mt. Ventoux – for a total for 33,000m (20.5 miles) of climbing.  This is basically the equivalent of riding two-thirds of the Tour de France, granted at a much slower pace.

How I Became Part of Team Blood Glucose 

My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 13 years old.  I was diagnosed 12 years later at 27.  Because of my brother’s experience with Type 1 diabetes, I recognized my symptoms quickly.  But knowing about diabetes didn’t mean it was easy to manage in my own body, and I struggled like anyone else would.  Two years ago, in order to become healthier, I joined a cycling team, started a diabetes blog, and got involved with the DOC (diabetes online community).

Rob Woolfson

The more I cycled, the more I loved it.  I rode longer and faster, my weight came down, so did my A1c.  I loved the freedom I felt on the bike, I loved the huge distances I could cover, I loved the challenges it provided, and I loved being able to manage it all with out many problems from my diabetes.  And just a few weeks from now I’ll be facing the biggest ride of my life.

This year’s Team Blood Glucose Diabetes Grand Tour aims to continue what we started last year: to demonstrate what can be achieved by athletes with diabetes, setting an example for all people with diabetes, and encouraging them to join us for the next event. The research element of the ride will consist of tracking the riders’ performances using bicycle computers, and monitoring blood sugars using Dexcom CGMs. The research will be conducted by Imperial College London.

The goal of the study is to better understand the effects of endurance exercise on diabetes.  Until last year, studies were not focused on long endurance events, but rather on a few hours of exercise.  This study will follow the way our bodies adapt to the daily extreme stress and how we handle insulin and food intake to stay balanced.  All the while, the study will compare our results a control group of non-diabetic riders.

I will be riding the whole Tour from start to finish.I will document my journey on my blog, and will be posting on Twitter, too.  For anyone wishing to view my progress in more detail follow me on Strava.

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