Chronic Illness, Running, Type 1 Diabetes

Lows & Half Marathons

Last year, I woke up one Saturday morning at 5am and I got ready for my second half marathon of the year. I ate my typical pre-run breakfast, and I mentally prepared for the 13.1 miles that I’d be running in just a few short hours. While I wasn’t 100% confident on how this race would go, I laced up my shoes to join a few friends on the starting line.

When my friends and I were getting ready to leave my apartment to head to the race, my blood sugar was about 160 mg/dL. I typically like to start my runs around 180 mg/dL, and my Dexcom was showing that I was slightly rising. I wasn’t worried about not finishing my race. It wasn’t until I got to the venue where noticed that I had started dropped to about 155 mg/dL and I started to worry. In a slight panic, I ate a granola bar, which usually makes me steadily rise, and hoped for the best. After one last bathroom break I checked my Dexcom and saw that my blood sugar levels were rising even more. I started the race feeling both relieved and confident.

By the time the first mile marker came around, I heard my pace through my headphones: “9:20.” We were running faster than we expected. We hit up every water station, and when the chance for Poweraid became available, I opted for that in hopes that it would help keep my blood sugar in a range I felt comfortable running at. Eight miles passed, and each mile was under a 9:30min/mile pace! We were keeping up with the pacer whose balloon read 02:05. If we kept up with that pacer, it would be a personal record (PR) by SIX minutes. But then I heard it. The loud, blaring low blood sugar alarm of my Dexcom. I dropped a few choice words, and pulled one of my gels out of my running belt, and began continuously checking my Dexcom. 15 minutes passed, and my Dexcom read 66 mg/dL with the down arrow.

I knew that I was running fast and I was on my way to a PR. I wanted nothing more but to keep myself going. I thought to myself: “If my gel kicks in, and I can get to the next aid station, drink a bunch of power aid, and then wait a little bit, I’ll be good to keep going.” To my frustration, the next aid station was a bit farther away that I thought and my gel wasn’t kicking in fast enough. By the time I got to the aid station, there was only water. The only hope for me at this aid station was energy gels so I hopeful that if I ate another gel, I could get my blood sugar out of the 60s. By this time, I knew had already added another half hour to time and any chance of a PR was gone.

I kept checking my Dexcom, but the arrows kept pointing down. My blood sugar levels were still dropping. There was no way I could have ran five more miles with my blood sugar under 90 mg/dL. That’s when I decided that I had to throw in the towel. I made the heartbreaking, but safe, decision to pull myself out of the race. It was my first ever DNF. It was frustrating. I was running so well, but my body wasn’t cooperating. No amount of carbohydrates could keep my blood sugar at a level where I could safely finish the race.

I’ve had plenty of runs cut short because of low blood sugar. It happens, and when I decided to start running longer distances, I knew that there might be a race or two that I couldn’t complete because of this. That doesn’t makes it easier when it happens, though. I was feeling great. I was running fast. I was on track to PR. I did not want to turn to my friend and tell her that I couldn’t finish the race, but the reality of the situation was that it was in my best interest to pull out of the race.

The moral of this story is that diabetes can be infuriating and unpredictable, especially while working out. I didn’t do anything different from my typical pre-run routine. I ate the same breakfast, and suspended my insulin much like I would before any other run. My blood sugar levels SHOULD have been elevated before my race and then stabilized. But for whatever reason, that day, my blood sugar levels did not want to cooperate. I don’t think I could have prevented my low blood sugar that day; it’s just how the cards played out.

Was this upsetting? Yes. Will I stop running races? Absolutely not. If I stop running because I had one race that I couldn’t complete because of low blood sugar episode, that would mean I let diabetes win. Part of me wanted to wake up the next morning and run 13.1 miles just to prove to myself that I had it in me, but I knew there would be another chance for me run a half marathon. Diabetes may have stopped me from completing that half, but I haven’t let it stop me from running. From the date of this post being published, I have ran multiple 5Ks and 10Ks, three 15Ks, three half marathons, and one marathon. Running with Type One Diabetes isn’t always easy, but I’ll never let diabetes keep me from running.

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