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Lows & Half Marathons

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

When my friends and I were getting ready to leave my apartment, my blood sugar was in the 160s. I typically like to start my runs in the 180s, and my Dexcom was showing that I was slightly rising so I wasn’t too terribly worried. It wasn’t until I got to the venue and noticed I had started dropped to about 155 mg/dL that 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.I entered the race feeling relieved and confident.

By the time the first mile marker came around, I heard my pace through my headphones: “9:20.” We we’re 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 up and stable. Each mile 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 her, 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 I was running fast and that 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. My gel wasn’t kicking in fast enough, and by the time I got to the aid station, there was only water. There was, however, more gels so I hoped that if I ate another gel, I could get my blood sugar out of the 60s. By this time, I knew had added another half hour to my half marathon time. I was past any hope of PR-ing during that half.

I kept checking my Dexcom, but the arrows kept going down. My sugar kept 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 frustrating. I was running so well, but my blood sugar levels were being so stubborn. No amount of carbohydrates could keep my blood sugar at a level where I could safely finish running five miles.

I’ve had plenty of runs and workouts cut short due to low blood sugar. It happens, and when I decided to start running half marathons, I knew that there might be a race or two that I couldn’t complete because of low blood sugar. That doesn’t mean it 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, especially when 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 SHOULD have been elevated before my race and stayed stable, but for whatever reason that day, my blood sugar did not want to play along. 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, 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. To date, I have ran multiple 5 and 10K’s, three 15Ks, three half marathons, and one marathon. Running with Type One Diabetes isn’t always easy, but I’ll never let T1D keep me from running.

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From Chronically Injured to Chronically Ill

I had no plans to swim in college. That was never something I had initially planned on when I began applying to schools. My initial plan was to move as far away from my hometown as my parents would let me go. In fact, I think it was pretty much fate that lead me to my college and collegiate swimming career. If it wasn’t for that school, I may not have earned the degrees in my subject fields, the current career path I’m on, and possibly even the mental strength I posses to deal with my chronic illness.

I had received a pamphlet in the mail about my university, and my parents encouraged me to look it up. When they realized it was twelve hours away, they were hesitant, but the affordability of university eased their minds. For whatever reason, they agreed to drive me TWELVE HOURS out to South Dakota, and we looked at a few schools on the way. The funniest part about all of this was that after touring a few other schools, I had no interest in attending the college I ended up graduating from. It wasn’t until I ran into a professor who then introduced me to the head swim coach that I had any interest in my university. Like I said, complete fate is how this all came together. Two months later, my future coach called to inform me that there was a spot on the team if I wanted it. While I had not originally planned to swim in college, much less at the Division II level, I found myself committing.

My college swim career did not go as I planned. I never thought that I’d break records or earn a national cut, but I sure as hell did not think I’d miss almost a year and a half collectively. My first injury came my sophomore year of college. I began experiencing pain my right groin, but ignored it. I was running and swimming four hours a day, and was honestly still getting used to the demands of college athletics. It wasn’t until I found myself in extreme pain during a kick set that I made my way to the trainers. And it wasn’t until I was crying while walking across my small campus to get to class that I asked for things to be escalated. An x-ray and three MRI’s later, it was determined that I had torn the labrum in my right hip, and I needed surgery. I ended up missing the entirety of my sophomore season, but gained that year back with a medical red-shirt.

It was frustrating to have to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates compete. It was frustrating to sit through four months of physical therapy post-surgery until I was cleared to swim. All I wanted to do was be back in the pool with my teammates, and I was SO relieved when that day finally came. I had been out of the water almost six months, and I was not in the same shape as when I left the pool. I worked my butt off to get back to where I was after before I had surgery. Then during the middle of a practice where I was finally feeling like I was back at pre-injury speed, my coach pulled me out of the pool again. Except this time, it was very obvious something was wrong. My right arm was swollen, and my hand was a blueish-purple color. Within the next two days it would be determined that I had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and had then developed Paget-Schroetter Syndrome. I had a blood clot in my shoulder, and underwent surgery within the next week. I missed ANOTHER immediate six weeks of swimming, required more physical therapy, and was not cleared to compete until about two months later. It was another frustrating recovery period, but I was yet again optimistic that I could come back just as strong.

My third full year of swimming was one of my best. I had be voted captain of my team, I was back to times that I had been seeing before either surgery, and I made finals in every event I swam at my conference meet. Then my last year, I slipped on the ice before morning practice and fractured my radius. I was out for about a month, but it made made me question taking my fifth year. I was frustrated, I wanted to quit, and I was devastated with the luck I seemed to have. Somehow though, I came back. My arm healed, and I finished out my year with the same optimism and positivity that I had shown during my other two injuries. It was tough, but I loved swimming and I wanted to finish out my career.

After I graduated college, I thought I was done with being injured. I was ready to live a normal life, workout when I wanted, and start my career. That following August, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I was furious, terrified, and any of the strength I had shown during my previous health battles was gone. The moment that I realized that there was no cure or quick fix, it destroyed me. I had been so lucky before with my previous problems. They could all be fixed, but no doctor in the world at this time can make my pancreas produce insulin again. It was a hard pill to swallow, and it was even harder to accept that there was no way to prevent this.

After going through what felt like the five stages of grief, I accepted my diagnosis. It certainly wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a fast process, but I found the same strength I had had during my doomed collegiate swim career. I think that strength I experienced so many times before helped me carry the weight of my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. If I had not gone to my university and swam, and experienced that kind of set back, I think my acceptance of my diagnosis would have been very different. The way I carry myself as a Type 1 Diabetic could be very different. I am certainly not happy that I live with this awful disease, but I thankful for the experiences that I have had so far, no matter how difficult they were at the time, that proved to me that I can get through some of the hardest days with Diabetes.

How I Get Through Outdoor Runs During the North Dakota Winter

I’m sure many of you know by now that I live in the warm and sunny state of North Dakota. Just kidding. It’s the beginning of October and there was a blizzard a few days ago. It’s the opposite of warm and sunny here. Despite the fact that I complain about the weather a lot, I love it here. I love the size of Fargo, the friends I’ve met here, the running community I’ve found, and most importantly, I love my job which is the main reason I moved here. One of the biggest events in Fargo is the Fargo Marathon which takes place in early May. For those of you who have trained for a marathon, or any race, you know that it takes a few months of preparation before hand. This means that each year I choose to run the Fargo Marathon I get to train in the DEAD of winter. While some days the arctic wind chills keep me inside on the treadmill, other days I run outside in the wind, snow, and cold. Am I crazy? Probably, but these conditions won’t ever change so I might as well adapt.

Winter running also means running over snow piles

Last winter was rough for a lot of us in the Midwest. Here in Fargo, we are not strangers to sub-zero temperatures, wind chill values almost 40 below zero, and blizzards. That means running in the winter can be unpredictable. When I started training for my first full marathon in December of 2018, I knew that some of my long runs would be able to be ran outside, and some would have to be done on the treadmill. I spend A LOT of time on the treadmill last winter and while I do need to be careful about running in cold temperatures because of my insulin pump and my continuous glucose monitor, I really tried my best to get outside when I could. Of course, that meant that I needed to make sure that I was prepared for running in extreme conditions. Here’s how I run during the winter in the Midwest.

Clothing

The first and most obvious thing to cover is what you would even wear when you go for a run in arctic temperatures. This may go without saying, but it’s important to keep as much skin covered, even if you think you’ll be too warm. I like to dress in layers because if I do end up getting too hot, I can take something off.

Base Layers

My legs stay the warmest during winter runs so I don’t usually double layer my pants. Instead, I opt for cold wear gear from Under Armour or Nike, or pants that are lined with fleece. (A lot of my workout gear is from Target and the brand Champion really works for me!) If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running in the cold it’s that there is nothing worse than having any part of my ankle exposed to the bitter cold. I wear crew length socks during the winter to make sure that my whole leg is covered and that I can avoid any unwelcomed breezes. My arms are a little bit of a different story though. Unless the temperatures are hoovering near freezing, I need to wear a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt as my first layer. On top of my shirt, I wear a fleece lined zip up as my arms aren’t doing nearly as much work as my legs, and they get colder easier.

Outer Layers

While I keep myself warm and cozy with my base layers, I still need to prepare for the bitterly cold wind and keep my hands and head warm. If it’s a particularly windy day on the plains, which is more often the case than not, I wear a wind breaker jacket over my zip up. It also happens to be neon yellow which helps keep me visible and safe during the darker morning hours and blowing snow. The sidewalks are usually snow covered during the winter months here which prompts me to run in the road. If I’m wearing dark colors or white, I try to wear some kind of bright color to keep drivers alerted to my presence. If it’s not terribly windy outside, I usually opt for a vest as an outer layer. It gives me an extra layer of warmth while running, but doesn’t make me feel overheated. I also never run without gloves! This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve definitely walked out the door for a run without them. Having something for your head, and the rest of your face some days, is also a must. I have a larger headband that doubles as an earmuff, but I also have a hat that I wear if it’s windy or below zero. If the wind is really bitter, I’ll wear a scarf around my face to help keep me a little extra warm.

Fuel

I think the hardest part about running in the winter is fueling yourself. I normally use gels to help fuel myself during long runs, but I found out the hard way that they don’t stay in gel form in the cold weather, even under all of your layers. I had to adapt and break my runs into parts. Whether I stop halfway at my apartment or at Fargo Running Company, I usually refuel inside to ensure that my gels or wafers aren’t frozen. This is also how I go about re-hydrating. Water freezes at 32 degrees F. Add in 60 minute plus runs and you have a giant ice cube in your water bottle. Much like my gels, I try to make pit stops inside so I can drink some water.

Things to Try in 2019-2020

This past winter was the first time I tried my best to get my long runs in outside because the good majority of them were over 10 miles. Since winter has ended, I’ve brain stormed some things I’d like to try this coming winter.

  1. Hand warmers. Out of everything, my hands just never wanted to stay warm. For the first mile they would be frozen, by the second or third mile they’d start sweating, but then they’d just freeze all over again. I tried wearing multiple pairs of gloves and even mitten over them, but nothing kept them warm enough. This year I’m going to try putting hand warmers inside my gloves and see if that helps. There is probably nothing worse than running with frozen hands!
  2. Traction cleats. With snow comes ice, and there’s nothing worse than seeing your life flash before your eyes when you slip on it. Last year I got through running outside without falling on any ice, but I had some close calls. My worst nightmare is putting in all the training and then have everything fall apart because I slipped on the ice and broke something. Been there, done that. For my birthday this year my sister bought me a pair of traction cleats and I’m excited to be able to run outside with them in the snow and ice. (Did I really just say that?)

Cold Weather & Medical Devices

For those of you who are unaware, I am a Type 1 Diabetic. I wear an insulin pump which is a device that continuously delivers insulin to my body, and I wear a continuous glucose monitor which relays my blood sugar levels to my phone every five minutes. Some of you may be wondering how I run in such cold temperatures with these devices on me. First of all, I use my best judgement. There are certain temperatures that are just TOO cold for anyone to be running in, let alone someone who has expensive medical devices on them. If I feel it’s too cold, I will go to the gym and run instead. Secondly, I don’t usually run with my Omnipod PDM, the part of my insulin pump that I physically use to tell it to give me insulin. This is the part of my pump that costs the most amount of money. I can call and replace my pod, the part of my pump that is attached to my body, but my PDM is a little trickier so I chose to leave it behind on winter runs. (Don’t worry, I still get insulin!) I’ve also been asked a lot about how my insulin itself fairs in such cool temperatures because frozen insulin is not good insulin. My pod is usually covered under a few layers of clothing and I’ve never had insulin freeze in my pump during a run, nor have I had any issues after my run that would make me think that my insulin was frozen at some point. I’ve never had any issues with my phone, Dexcom, or watch while running in arctic conditions. I have, however, have had my headphones stop working because it was too cold.

8 miles in a winter storm

Running in extreme cold weather certainly isn’t for everyone. I run in the cold weather because I can only mentally last on a treadmill for so many miles. Winters in North Dakota aren’t going to get any warmer so if I want to avoid running on the treadmill, I had to learn how to love running in sub-zero temperatures. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll feel a little more prepared on how to run in bone chilling temperatures.