In case you still need some adventure-inspo, Don is here to share his story about overcoming all sorts of diabetes-related challenges throughout his journey with diabetes and exercise.
In October 2017, at 56, I became the first person with type 1 diabetes – and only the third person ever – to complete a solo run of the 223-mile Capital to Coast race from Austin, TX to Corpus Christi, TX (that’s about 360km!).
But I’m not superhuman. Far from it.
In 2003 I was 42, 50 pounds (about 23kg) overweight, and afraid that every bit of heartburn was a heart attack. I had just undergone laser retinopathy treatment. “Diabetes-related complications,” once a vague threat on the distant horizon, were right in front of me. I became determined that if I had a chance at a do-over, I’d seize it.
Exercise complicates things. It drops your blood sugar, and it made me even more afraid of lows. That’s why many of us don’t even try. My doctors couldn’t answer my questions about balancing exercise, insulin, and food. I was stuck.
I felt like my only choice was to figure it out. But I didn’t know any other people with type 1 to ask (Facebook didn’t exist yet).
I started with five minutes on an elliptical trainer, because I thought it wouldn’t kill me. A full year later, I signed up to run a 5K Turkey Trot – and finished it. I found a Registered Dietitian who introduced me to exercise equivalents. I devoured John Walsh’s Pumping Insulin and Sheri Colberg’s The Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook. My wife and I experimented with all kinds of adjustments to food and insulin to enable exercise. Some worked better than others.
Somehow, through all this, running “stuck.” It was inexpensive, easy, and I could always slow down and eat if I went low. I ran past gas stations so I could enjoy a small candy bar instead of runner’s gels. Along the way, to get off my feet, I learned to swim and bought my first bike since college. I completed everything from 10Ks to quadruple marathons to Ironman Texas on the way to the Capital to Coast finish line.
Every once in a while, I looked back. I don’t know when confidence replaced fear, but it did. And yet, I know I’m not bullet-proof. I’ve seen the inside of an ambulance. I know things happen even with good BG control. But type 1 is what it is. The risks are present no matter what you do.
I understand caution. I do not choose fear. Instead, I embrace the gift of a second chance. This June, I’m running the 339-mile (545km) RelayIowa SOLO, from Sioux City to Dubuque. It’s the longest such race in the world, and the race is special to me because the race director lost his brother to type 1.
In Spring 2019, I’m planning an 880-mile (1416km) solo run across Texas, from El Paso to Texarkana. In 2020, I hope to become the oldest – and only the second ever – person with type 1 to run across the US. My 3000-mile (4828km) Type 1 Diabetes Run Across America starts in San Diego and ends in Washington, DC. Maybe when I get to Washington, I’ll have something to say about diabetes, people with diabetes, and exercise.
In the meantime, I remain #t1determined.