Interview with T1D Triathlete Lauren Dahlin
Guest Post by Garrett Jensen
Tell me about yourself.
I’m an amateur T1D triathlete and self-professed data nerd. I’m currently getting my PhD in Information Systems at University of Maryland. I started endurance sports as a way of coping with my T1D diagnosis and keeping myself sane in grad school. In the last year, I’ve done my first marathon, two half-marathons, and my first full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run), as well as a Spartan obstacle race.
Other than exercising, data is my favorite thing about life with T1D. I was an education data analyst for four years at a research center at Harvard before starting my PhD. I love to analyze the data from my Tandem pump, Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), and Garmin watch. I’m even working on my own interactive data dashboards to view my exercise, food logs, pump, and CGM data all in one place.
Tell me about your diagnosis.
I was diagnosed in April 2017 in severe Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). I had flu-like symptoms that hadn’t gone away for over a month. Three doctors failed to diagnose me. One even did bloodwork! They all looked at my active lifestyle and long work hours and told me I just needed to rest. Finally, I decided to go to the emergency room when I was having trouble breathing. I spent eight days in the hospital. Because of the severity of my DKA, I haven’t had the “honeymoon period” that most T1Ds get—I’ve been on almost the same dose of insulin since I was diagnosed.
At the time of my diagnosis, one of my closest colleagues and friends at work had T1D. I had always seen him taking glucose tabs and using his pump like it was no big deal. When they told me I had diabetes, I was so happy and relieved because watching him had made me believe that T1D was easy to manage. Though I am happy that I had his support and example, I am embarrassed about how little I understood about his experience until T1D happened to me.
How long have you had T1D?
I celebrated my one-year diaversary weekend last April by running a 5k and a half marathon with my teammates at Riding on Insulin. The Riding on Insulin team races in cycling, running, and triathlon events to raise money for camps where kids with T1D learn to manage exercise and diabetes while mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding. During the 5k race, I served as a chaperone for an amazing young man with T1D (photos below). We spent much of the race laughing, chatting about our insulin pumps, and sharing life with T1D.
That night, the ROI team shared a cake to celebrate the team and my diaversary. Then the next day, the exact date of my diaversary, I ran the half marathon. It was an emotional event for me and I found myself tearing up along the way. I am not a competitive person at all (I race against myself, for fun!), but I was really proud of coming in 14/352 in my age group of women 25-29. It felt like such an accomplishment considering I could barely walk into the emergency room that day a year ago.
What are your blood sugar “hacks”?
I’d like to talk a little bit specifically about how to manage T1D during long endurance events (1.5 hours or longer) and how my management has evolved in the last few months. Being on a pump is wonderful for shorter cardio workouts – I turn my pump down an hour before, have 5-10g of carb, and I’m be good to go. Unfortunately, I was using this same strategy to manage during long training and events, which wasn’t serving me well as an athlete.
My nutritionist told me that I needed to fuel like an athlete, not just to manage my T1D. I needed to take in at least 40g of carb per hour during my long workouts and events, which really scared me in the beginning. I thought I would have lows if I took more insulin to cover all those carbs. Surprisingly, I’ve had no lows and I have much more energy during my long workouts. I run my pump at around 110% basal during long bike rides (yes, that’s MORE basal than normal) and 80% during runs. I bolus for about 30% of the carbs in bigger food items; for example, if I want a PB&J sandwich on a five-hour bike ride. I take in most of my hourly carbs as energy gels and blocks.
While I’m not exercising, I try to prep as many meals as I can and eat foods with a low glycemic index. On the weekend, I cook two big batches of lentils and farro in my rice cooker and pre-portion them into plastic bags. Here’s my recipe for two variations of Lauren’s spike-free lentil bowl breakfast: (1) lentils, scrambled eggs with herbs, and sour cream, (2) lentils, Greek yogurt, and a low-gi fruit such as cherries or blueberries.
Anything else you want to add?
Being a part of groups who run and bike is a great way to meet friends and stay motivated to exercise. I bike with a group of female cyclists who are incredibly diverse, kind, and awesome human beings. Because I have T1D, a teammate suggested we do a diabetes ride. I’ve also run with Type One Run – Washington DC and am a part of Riding on Insulin. These are great groups for people who want support from other T1Ds, especially with regards to exercise.
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About JDRF YLC
The Young Leadership Committee (YLC) of Washington, D.C. is a group of young professionals dedicated to raising awareness and funds for JDRF Capital Chapter. We host various networking and social events that attract young people in the area. All are welcome!