My name is Laura.
I am a runner.
Yes, I run long distances for fun, not because a murderer, a bear, rabid dogs, or zombies are chasing me. I’m one of “those people”. You know the type. We train for months. We get up earlier than humans were made to get up. (Thank goodness for coffee!) We run races and wonder in the middle why we signed up for this torture. We cross the finish line get our bling, bananas, and beer at the finish line. And we immediately pay more money to do it all over again. In fact, I just took a break from typing this because I remembered about a Groupon a friend told me of for 55% off a race entry – looks like I’ll be running my first Spartan Super in November! Anyway, I digress.
One of the most common questions I get as a runner (well, even in general, but we will get to the running part of this question in a minute) starts off something like this:
“What’s that thing on your arm?”
98% of the time when I run, I run in a sleeveless shirt. Yes, even in the middle of January. I live in Louisiana, so we will dip down to the 30’s, but when you are shuffling along for 15+ miles, it heats up pretty quickly. I know they aren’t talking about my muscles, and I don’t have any tattoos on my arms. I love getting this question.
“It’s a continuous glucose monitor.”
(Queue the puzzled looks) “A what?”
“I’m a Type 1 Diabetic, and it checks my blood sugar levels and will send a reading to a receiver (which I show them) every 5 minutes so I always know what’s going on.”
Yes, I’m Laura, and I’m a Type 1 Diabetic runner.
The conversation will typically flow after that about finger sticks, shots, pumps, medical technology, or a relative of theirs with diabetes. I’m always thankful for this, because I’m shy, introverted, and an awkward conversationalist. And when you’re logging mile after mile after mile, social interaction is a great way to keep from going crazy.
Usually at some point during this conversation, I am asked…
“Does diabetes make it hard to run?”
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you know the answer to this question, because you or someone close to you as diabetes. And we know that diabetes makes everything about life a little… well sometimes a lot… harder.
My husband can just throw on running shorts, his watch, his socks and shoes and head out for a run.
When I go out to run, and this is just talking running gear related to diabetes, I need my FlipBelt, my medical ID, my CGM, my meter (if I’m going more than 5 miles), glucose, insulin pump, my phone, and a couple bucks. I look like Batman once I’m done loading my belt.
And then there’s the questioning and prep-work before I can even get started: What’s my blood sugar now? (Finger stick.) How’s my blood sugar trending? (CGM check.) How much insulin do I have on board? (Pump check.) Do I have enough glucose for every mile? How do I feel? And I have to let family know my route in case something were to ever happen to me along the way.
If everything is good, then I head out.
Meanwhile, Mr. Non-D-Husband-Runner is probably at mile 5 already.
But what if everything is not good? I’m not one to let my diabetes dictate my life. So if I’m high, I dose and head out. But I wonder if I’ve dose too much? Am I going to crash? Should I run intervals to keep from crashing? If I’m low, the treat-wait-test again game begins.
And then there’s mid-run. I’m constantly thinking about my diabetes. I check my CGM at least every mile. Even with my CGM, I will still do finger sticks too if something feels off. If I’m running intervals, it’s insulin time. If I have a hypo, its glucose and deciding if I need to sit down or keep going. And occasionally, there’s, “Oh no, my pump fell out of my belt!” All this on top of the normal runner stuff like needing to hydrate, having to pee, watching for cars, wondering if my RRF (resting runner face) is scaring people, etc.
And even though I said that I’m not one to let diabetes dictate my life, there are times when you just can’t get around it. I’ve been sidelined a handful of times due to blood sugars. It sucks, and there’s no other way to put it. Oh, and did I mention the emotional burden and stress that comes with being diabetic? Add that to the list on top of all of this.
And don’t forget post run! On normal occasions, it’s finger sticks and maybe some glucose or insulin. And unloading my Bat-belt. And if I’m at a race, it’s not just simply celebrating and my usual visit to the physical therapy tent for stretching/massages. There’s also insulin doses, and the almost impossible task of keeping track of my carb intake at the finish festivals. And then there can be hours after where my blood sugar levels are thrown off.
So that’s the long answer to the question.
Do I go into all of this when people ask?
Most of the time my answer is, “Yes, it does, but I love running. And ultimately, running makes me healthier.” Which is 100% true. And as well-meaning as people may be when asking if diabetes makes running harder, they don’t really want to hear me whine about it.
And sometimes after I respond that way, I will question myself. Is it really worth it? Do I really love running enough to put up with all this T1D baggage?
A meme popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a couple months ago after wrestling with that question. Memes make everything better. It was made by a group I train for obstacle course races with (shout out to Battle 6:11!), and I was in the picture. And just like life does sometimes, it was just what I needed at the time. This photo was taken after training the night before, where I had dealt with a massive high blood sugar that would NOT come down (hooray for anaerobic training), and then a bad crash after eventually over-treating the high. I felt sick. And I was feeling pretty crummy about life, exercise, diabetes. You know how it goes sometimes.
Obstacles are designed to make you STRONGER.
That is what type 1 diabetes is. Just an obstacle. Not the end. Something to learn and get better at. Something to be conquered and overcome. Something to leap over, crawl under, carry far, slosh through. Something that will get in the way of things I want to do sometimes, but not something to keep me from doing them. At times, you have to rely on a little boost from your teammates. And at times it’s something that even seems impossible.
Really though, diabetes, like any obstacle in life, is something to make me stronger IF I chose to see it that way.
And just like obstacles make the race course more interesting, diabetes certainly makes running and life more interesting.
I mean, heck, I just paid good money to run a 10+ mile obstacle course race. J
Laura is a 31 year old runner from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She picked up running 4 years ago after cheering on her husband as he ran his first race – a ten-miler in the hills of Tennessee. Captivated by the comradery, race atmosphere, awesome race swag (because, come on, who doesn’t like “free” shirts and a bit of bling?) and knowing she needed to lose a bit of weight, she started her journey with a couch to 5K program in the middle of June one hot Louisiana summer. She’s run many 5Ks and 10Ks, 5 half marathons, a couple obstacle course races, and she ran her first full marathon this past January. To add to the challenge of running, she has had type 1 diabetes for 21 years, which brings on its own set of struggles, goals, and even PRs. When she isn’t running, she has 3 kids (7, 5, and 2 years old) to chase after, a full time job designing HVAC and plumbing systems, and a newfound love for lifting heavy.