Going the Distance: 50 Marathons with Type 1 Diabetes

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When Ross Baker completed his first marathon in New York City at the age of 28, it was because a friend had challenged him to do so. Little did he know that crossing that finish line in November 2000 was actually the beginning of something much bigger, something he would dedicate almost two decades of his life to fulfilling.

 “When I ran NYC, I saw a man wearing a 50 states and D.C. Marathon Club shirt. It intrigued me,” says Baker.

Elated by the challenge and accomplishment of completing one of the largest marathons in the world, Baker wanted more. He remembered the man’s shirt and set out to complete 49 more marathons, one in each U.S. state, all while managing type 1 diabetes.  Baker saw the challenge as a way to travel throughout the country and as a way to show his faith in a visible way.

Ross Baker
Ross Baker

Although creating awareness for type 1 diabetes wasn’t Baker’s primary intention, he has done just that. On October 15th 2017, after finishing the Maui Marathon, the 45-year-old law enforcement officer and single dad became the first person with type 1 diabetes to complete a marathon in every state. Seventeen years after the NYC Marathon, he’d completed his goal. “I wanted to show others what you could do with T1D, but I also wanted to show myself what I was capable of,” Baker says. He also said the challenge has made him resilient and purposeful, and extremely confident in handling adversity, something diabetes demands and teaches you as well.

He originally planned to run 3-5 races per year and finish in 15 years. At first, he sought out races he could drive to, checking off 7 states near his North Carolina home that first year. He then realized he needed to plan and budget for longer distance trips.

  “I tried to plan trips that were no longer than 3 days, so I could return to my family quickly,” says Baker, who has two daughters, ages 8 and 15. “I also took others along whenever possible.”

Diagnosed with T1D at 19, Baker has dealt with diabetes the entire time he has been running marathons. But other personal and health issues created additional challenges along the way. A serious car accident in 2008, a bout with thyroid cancer in 2009, and a divorce in 2015 were all things that tested his strength and resiliency. Running has helped him persevere and overcome these challenges.

“I can go the distance,” he says.

To manage his blood sugar during training and races, Baker says he always had a plan. He was always prepared for low blood sugars, carrying food and drinks with him on every run. He would also plan his routes to pass by grocery or convenience stores, and would choose things to eat that were easy to chew and wouldn’t melt. Baker has used Omnipod, a wearable, tubeless insulin pump, since 2013. He says the device has made it easier for him to control his blood sugar without the aggravation of carrying syringes and vials of insulin.

Baker also always made sure that those around him knew he had diabetes, so they could help if needed. “When running, it’s not always easy to distinguish between fatigue and hypoglycemia,” he says.

While living with diabetes is tough, Baker hopes others will see his accomplishment as an example of how people like him can set and reach big goals. He says being diagnosed with T1D isn’t a death sentence, it’s a life sentence, so live your life and don’t dwell on it. “You may have to work harder, but the results will be sweeter!”

Now that Baker’s marathons are behind him, he is onto new challenges, like completing a half-Ironman triathlon and hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. He also hopes to write a memoir of his marathon journey, and hopes others, with or without T1D, will be inspired to follow their dreams.

“This is the only life you have,” he says. “Pursue your dreams and find happiness in the steps.”

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