Running in the wild: If a diabetic falls in the forest, does she make a sound?


As a diabetic, I have always found indoor sports easier– less risky and more simple to manage, since I can have lots food, testing gear, and people nearby. Exercise for me, therefore, means I’m a bit of a gym rat.

Here in Finland, there is a university gym that I have access to for weight-lifting machines, and a nearby commercial operation with treadmills and the like, but at about 50 euros a month, I figured this was a good opportunity to practice exercise outdoors. Like, in the wild. Scary, right?

So I’ve been running every morning for an hour. For the past few weeks, I’ve been gradually increasing the run speed and got to about 8 km (5 miles) in the hour.

And I haven’t died, slipped, or had a major diabetic meltdown yet! Progress! A few rules I’ve set up for myself:

1. I run where I know I will see people. Just in case something awful happens, and I need to be saved. Here, that’s easy; I’m running forest paths, but everyone bikes to work and to the city center, so I see dozens of people go by, even at 6 in the morning.

2. I run first thing in the morning. Get dressed, eat a protein bar (currently, a product of the Swedish company Gainomax with 23 carbs and 230 calories), head out the door. That way, I’m done early, I don’t have to deal with the headache of trying to manage a varying running schedule, and my dawn phenomenon helps ensure that I don’t go low while I run. I bolus minimally for the food (about .3 units assuming a blood glucose of 100mg/dL) and suspend my basal about 10 minutes in, and then watch my Continuous Glucose Meter (CGM) throughout to make sure I’m staying stable for the most part.

3. I run the same route as much as possible. As soon as I run a new route, I start to slow down and check the clock every two minutes (or every one minute…) thinking, “It must be time to turn around! I’ve been doing this forever!” which is torturous. It’s much easier to establish a route and just run it, letting my mind wander. I find I run faster and more consistently if I don’t let myself get distracted about where I’m actually going.

4. I have a healthy supply of fast-paced music. Trance and club music, mostly, provided by the free and nearly infinite resource of DJ Tiesto’s Club Life podcasts. Fabulous.

5. I bring something to think about. I kind of wish I were one of those people who could use running to clear my mind. Forget that. Boredom is a run-killer for me– I convince myself I’m tired and start walking. It’s much more effective to think about God, work, relationships, fictional scenarios, anything.

6. I wear gloves. It’s kind of early in the morning here when I’m running, but light as day and not that cold generally (above 15C/60F), and I run in capris and a tank. But with gloves on. Because if I don’t, my hands freeze and then my whole body freezes and it’s awful. I don’t circulate very well to the extremities, apparently. I’m pretty sure that comes from my dad’s genes.

7. Pump and iPod on the waistband, ziploc of sugar packets and keys in my bra top. Not glamorous, but it works.

8. When in doubt, I promise myself to at least walk for the hour. For me, the biggest hurdle is actually getting outside and going; once I’m there, I can usually convince myself to run. So, for the few minutes when I’m getting out of bed while my body is telling me all the reasons today is an exception, and I don’t have to run, I say, “Well, I have to at least walk for that hour.” And then I can get out the door and do the best that I can.

And that’s all been working reasonably well. I don’t run very fast, and I’m no where near a real runner, but, hey, I’m in a Finnish forest, and I’m running. I give myself some credit for that!

But the real runners go farther. In fact, real endurance athletes seem to pooh-pooh an hour run; your body’s just using up available carbs for that first hour. (And the Red Queen says, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”)

So today I went for a 90 minute run. Forty-five minutes out, forty-five back in. I think that’s the farthest I’ve ever gone in a single shot! Post-calculations on Google (I don’t have a fancy GPS watch thing. Yet. Hey, loved ones, my birthday is in November!) put my run at around 12.4 km (about 8.2 miles).

Take that, diabetes! And, hey, Insulindependence! Who I’ve been sorta kinda maybe saying I want to run with for a year or so now– I could totally do a half-marathon, right? I’m … less than two-thirds of the way there, but that’s a start!

Does anyone know the brand of this test strip?

As an extra sometimes-the-world-smiles-at-you bonus, right after the halfway point when I turned around today, I saw a test-strip on the ground. My first thought as I ran past it was habitual– I assumed it was mine, and I thought to myself, “Shoot, I should pick that up.” But then a step or two later (four miles in, my mind is allowed to be a bit slow on the uptake), I realized, “Hey, that can’t possibly be mine.” So I circled around to pick it up (and my mind says, “No! Leave it! Every jog backwards is a jog you’re going to have to re-take!”) and indeed it is a nice Finnish test strip specimen.

Green, and not a brand I recognize. I will liberally interpret it, because I can: that’s the world’s push forward, making sure I don’t give up at the halfway point.

And so now I can say, eight bloody miles! Through a Finnish forest! With ducks and mud and trees and shit! And I lived to tell the tale! Take that, diabetes.


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Nathan Shackelford

I thought this was really interesting. I understand Finland has the highest incidence of T1 diabetes in the world, so there are probably a lot of stray test strips there. I would love to see a Finnish forest some day. Love all that biking to work, etc. For me exercise has always been a bit of a conundrum because it is so clearly good for us T1s, but also takes a lot of energy and thought to make it safe and healthy. I recently gave up one hour long heart thumping bike rides in favor of 20 minute brisk walks.… Read more »

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