Chronic Illness, Running, Type 1 Diabetes

The Journey From a Donut 5K to My First Half Marathon

I’ve been running road races for almost three years now. To date: I’ve ran multiple 5Ks and 10Ks, a few half marathons, and in October I’ll be running my second marathon. It seems crazy to think that this all started with finding out about a local 5K called Sandy’s Donut Run.

“It’s just a 5K, we can run 3.1 miles for donuts and coffee.”

And that my friends, is how I got into running.

In September of 2017, my good friend and I started training for our first 5K together that would take place in November. At first, I was a little hesitant because of how my blood sugar levels can drop during aerobic workouts, but I wanted free donuts. 🍩 We were in decent shape, but we needed something to keep us motivated to go to the gym. So we thought ‘what the hell?’ We found a training plan online and began plugging away. We ran three to four times a week, and made our way up to three miles! When the time came for the Donut Run, we ran our 3.1 miles in 28 minutes, two minutes under our goal time of a half hour!

Photo: Samantha Bahr

How did I go from a 5K Donut Run to my first Half Marathon in five months? Well the answer is simple. Without something to train for, my friend and I had zero motivation to get our butts to the gym so we hatched the plan: “Jess and Sam Run a Half Marathon.”

A million things went through my head when I agreed to run 13.1 miles. Some of which included: “Why do I hate myself?” “I could barely run 3.1 miles, how am I gonna run ten more?” And “I can’t believe Jess talked me into this.” The beginning of training wasn’t terrible. We could already run a 5K so we had a solid foundation built up. The middle of training had the days where it seemed like this was going to be an impossible task. Running five and six miles straight were the hardest, both mentally and physically. Once I got past that hump, it was just another mile, and then another, and then another. I got my mileage all the way up to 12 miles before backing down to eight the weekend before the race.

The physical training itself was not difficult to keep up with, but figuring out how to continuously up my mileage, and keep my blood sugar levels from tanking mid-run took a lot of trial and error. In the middle of training, there were a lot runs cut short due to low blood sugar. I found myself eating a bowl cereal, two slices of toast, and a cup of coffee, all while only bolusing for half my meal pre-run. I also used a temporary basal rate of 85% less insulin to help keep me from dropping during runs longer than 6 miles. (This took a lot of experimenting and will vary from person to person; use caution and consult with your doctor while you figure out what works best for you.)

Finally, the day arrived! I woke up at 4:45am with a low blood sugar of 55 mg/dL. Not exactly how I wanted to start my morning off. I treated my low with a granola bar, and had my typical pre-run breakfast while watching the Royal Wedding. 👰🏼 While getting ready for the race, I noticed my blood sugar was holding steady at 116 mg/dL. A great blood sugar number for me literally any other day except the one where I had to run 13.1 miles. In a panic, I shoved my face with all the carbs I could find, and headed to the race. Finally after about an hour, my blood sugar started to rise.

The atmosphere in the FargoDome was awesome! Even for a cold, cloudy morning. Everyone was so excited and so supportive. I even ran into a fellow diabetic in the bathroom who recognized me by my Dexcom, and wished me good luck. At 7:15am, the gun fired to signal the start of the race, and by 7:21am, Jess and I were starting our very first half. With a live band at every mile marker, and plenty of people cheering us on along the way, 13.1 miles seemed like nothing! Every mile passed with ease and each one felt better. Our goal time was 2 hours and 30 minutes. We finished in 2 hours and 11 minutes; more than 15 minutes faster than expected! My blood sugar was high during my race. Partially because I overcorrected my pre-race time “low,” and partially due to adrenaline. I spiked as high as 385 mg/dL before crashing to 40 mg/dL two hours post-race.

Photo: Samantha Bahr

If you would have told me when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes I was going to run a half marathon within the next year, I would have laughed in your face. I am so proud of myself for running a half marathon, but I am even more proud of the fact that I did as a diabetic. Training for a half marathon is not easy, and it sure as hell isn’t easy when you throw diabetes into the mix. I had doubts that I would even finish. I was worried that I would need to drop out of the race due to a low blood sugar episode. To my surprise, not only did I finish the race under my goal time, but I beat diabetes that day. I beat diabetes every time I finish a run or a workout.

The journey from a 5K for donuts to my first half marathon was more fun than I anticipated. It made me a runner. It made me believe that I could do anything I set my mind to despite some of the obstacles that have been thrown at me. Becoming a runner has given me a lifelong hobby and a safe space I can escape to. A space where I can clear my head whenever needed. It wasn’t always the easiest journey, but it’s one I am so thankful for.

Photo: Samantha Bahr

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