Diabetics don’t run ultra marathons. At least that’s what a nurse told me when I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in April of this year.
I had just celebrated a birthday and was unable to function because of exhaustion. I could barely get through my shift at Global Edmonton without six cups of coffee. I would get home and go to bed and sleep until my shift the next day. Some days I got more than 12 hours of sleep and even then, I was weak. And I was so thirsty – so, so, so thirsty.
It was in my hometown hospital that I was tested. My blood glucose levels (the amount of glucose in your blood at a given time) were so high, they couldn’t even run the test to show if I was a diabetic or not.
It was a shock. I don’t eat a lot of sugar, I have no family history of diabetes, I am not overweight, I’m physically active and I’m both too young and too old.
To be honest, when I found out, there was a sense of relief. It was something manageable, but even more importantly, it was something real. Despite working out more than five days a week and trying to keep up with a stressful full-time job, I thought I was just being lazy.
The diagnosis has meant a lot of things. I’ve had to learn how to properly test my sugar levels on a regular basis, give myself insulin and the hardest one so far, eating properly. It’s not that I was eating sugar-filled treats consistently. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I wasn’t eating enough.
After going through some basic diabetes training with my doctor, I received a call from the Diabetes Program through Alberta Health Services. The nurse on the other end of the phone was kind and helpful, walking me through the steps I needed to know to live with my diagnosis, except for one tiny detail. When she asked how active I was, I told her I was training for an ultra marathon in the fall.
She scoffed and said, “Diabetics don’t run ultramarathons.”
I stopped listening.
I didn’t need someone to say I couldn’t, I needed someone to say, ‘Here’s how.’ I found that in my dietitian.
Here’s the kicker in all of this. When I don’t run, my numbers are uncontrollable. I sometimes have to take twice as much insulin to get them to come down. Sometimes, I barely have to take any insulin at all.
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When I run, I now have to take a backpack every time. It’s stocked with runners’ gels to help if my sugars drop, insulin and my blood glucose monitor. I test before, after and during a run. The latter is the most frustrating. Stopping to do a finger poke during a race can add a lot of time and effort to get going again.
Sometimes it’s hard, but my dreams have been anything but dashed.
I’ve received tremendous support from my family and friends over the past couple of months. I’ve also had great help from my trainers at the local gym I go to as well as from a local dietitian who specializes in helping athletes. I even ran my first full marathon in Edmonton in August.
I’m happy to say I’m also on track to race in an ultramarathon on Thanksgiving weekend. The Grizzly Ultramarathon is a 50-kilometre trail race through scenic Canmore. It’s one of the largest and most popular ultras, sold out again this year with 1,200 runners participating.
It’s uphill and will be a physical and mental test like nothing I’ve done before. But I will have friends and family surrounding me, including some running with me, like Global Edmonton’s Health Matters reporter Laurel Gregory. I should also say that my doctors know and have given me the go ahead.
But I will do everything in my power to finish – if nothing else – to prove that nurse wrong.