I’ve never been one to sign up for sports teams, races, or even vigorous exercise classes. But after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March of 2009 when I was 18, something changed in my motivation. I felt driven to try new things, to achieve more. Over the past seven years, I have entered fun runs and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and this year I knew I was again ready for more. I decided to take on a new challenge: running in the most magical race of all, the Tinker Bell 10K at Disneyland.
Living with diabetes means facing constant hurdles throughout the day, and adding endurance exercise into the mix isn’t always easy. Parents in particular may worry about their children with type 1 participating in endurance sports, because dealing with diabetes while training can be overwhelming. But while it requires extra precaution, it’s not an impossible feat.
I’m living proof. I was never a runner, and I felt pretty sure that it was going to be tough. But I downloaded a free beginner race training app, and before I knew it, I was falling in love with the sport. I was excited every morning to head outside and see how far and how fast I could go. With each run, I would see slight improvements in my distance or speed, and that motivated me to keep going. In less than two months, I was running 5 kilometers in less than 30 minutes, just like the program had promised. I was also learning how to manage my diabetes all over again.
I decided to document my running experience on my blog, Kayla’s Life Notes, to give an honest view of how the training was going, including the breakdown of my blood sugars pre- and post-run — something that was nerve-racking to share. There were days when my blood sugar was ridiculously high, and the process of bringing it down before I ran was tiresome and irritating. For each run I also documented whether I wore my insulin pump or not, along with where I would keep the pump and any adjustments I made to my insulin regimen. In other words, I recorded all of the tedious things required during a day in the life of a person with type 1 diabetes, just so he or she can go for a 30-minute run.
It was definitely a challenge. But as I gained experience, I began to understand my body better. I figured out what exertion level was suitable for me and what precautions I needed when going for a run. The biggest mistake a runner with diabetes can make is not being prepared for a low blood sugar out in nature. I have to have glucose on my person at all times and a cell phone to make sure I can call for help if needed. Finding room for all my “diabetes stuff’ wasn’t always easy, so I started strategically shopping for fitness clothes that could carry all of my things comfortably and efficiently.
Over time, I learned how my blood sugar behaved during runs and ultimately what my role was in controlling those outcomes. Of course, it isn’t always easy to predict, as other factors come into play, such as stress level, heat, and what I ate for breakfast before a workout. But learning the general pattern is key. So are frequent blood sugar checks, both during exercise and afterward. During a run, I typically stay steady or trend higher. But over the 24 hours to follow, I often go low, which means I have to adjust my insulin dosages for meals and really pay attention to how I feel and what my blood sugar is doing.
All the extra effort is worth it. When I complete a run, no matter the distance, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only because I finished, but because, despite the obstacle of diabetes, I figured it out. I know there are a lot of athletes with type 1 diabetes doing amazing things, but there are also plenty of “average” people lacing up every day with a little extra precaution and a little extra glucose! To parents of kids with diabetes, I say this: Instead of giving up on an activity because of diabetes, encourage it. Reach out for resources and problem-solve through the hurdles. I look forward to crossing the 10K finish line this month, and proving to myself once again that type 1 diabetes won’t hold me back.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.