But in October 2017, at 56, I became the first type 1 diabetic – 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.
My story is proof that it’s never too late, that there is always a way forward.
In 2003 I was 42, and 50 pounds overweight. I had just undergone laser retinopathy treatment. I was afraid that every twinge of heartburn was a heart attack.
For the first time, “diabetic complications” wasn’t a vague threat on the distant horizon. It was right in front of me.
I was desperate to change something while I still could.
I told myself that if I could find a way to give myself a do-over, I would grab it with everything that was in me.
But I was stuck in a loop: inactive, overweight and insulin-resistant, with unpredictable blood sugars, correcting for lows with yet more food, followed by the need for yet more insulin.
I knew I needed to find a way to eat less and exercise more, but both of those things caused more lows.
Yet I didn’t know any active type 1’s I could ask for advice. Not one. (Facebook didn’t exist until 2004.)
And my doctors couldn’t answer my questions about juggling exercise, insulin, and food to avoid dangerous low blood sugars—as many of you know, the deepest, darkest fear of every Type 1 diabetic.
Still, I was determined to figure it out.
I started out with just 5 minutes on an elliptical trainer, because I thought that probably wouldn’t kill me. Nearly a year later, I signed up to run a 5K Turkey Trot — and finished it.
I finally connected with a few active t1D’s in the Dallas area through the web. I found an RD who introduced me to exercise equivalents, and I found the Pumping Insulin book by John Walsh.
My wife and I experimented with all kinds of adjustments to food and insulin to try to balance my sugars. Some worked great – planning my meals shortly before workouts so I could skip mealtime insulin eliminated lots of lows. Cutting my basal to zero two hours before a race began – pretty much the worst idea ever.
I kept running, farther and farther. I learned to swim, bought my first bike since college, and completed everything from half-marathons to quadruple marathons to Ironman Texas on the way to the Capital to Coast finish line.
Balancing exercise, food and insulin is like another sport, on top of running, swimming or cycling. It’s hard and normal people don’t have to do it—but it gets easier with practice. Confidence and know-how gradually replace much of the fear.
I know I’m not bullet-proof. The glucagon injection my wife remembers – and I don’t – the time she found me on the bathroom floor unresponsive, in seizures — keep me honest. After 45 years with type 1, I know that bad things can happen even with good control. This disease is about more than just blood sugar.
It is what it is. Those risks are there whether we’re frozen by fear of lows or DKA, or chase grand adventures.
I do not choose fear.
This June, I plan a solo run of the 339-mile RelayIowa, the world’s longest relay race course, crossing the state from Sioux City to Dubuque, crewed by my wife.
RelayIowa’s race director knows all too well that type 1 can steal dreams: he lost his brother to complications from type 1 diabetes.
A bunch of fellow T1D’s are already planning to meet up with us along the route. And I’ll be running right past the cornfield that starred in Field of Dreams! Of course, by the time I get there I’ll be so tired and so focused on the race I may not even notice it.
In Spring 2019, I plan to run 880 miles across Texas, from El Paso through the Chihuahuan Desert, past the Guadalupe Mountains National Monument, through Midland-Odessa, San Angelo, Fort Worth, and Dallas, ending in Texarkana. I’ve already heard from other type 1’s who want to run part of it with me.
In 2020, with luck and training, I hope to become the oldest type 1 diabetic runner – and only the second type 1 ever — to run across the US. My 3000-mile Type 1 Diabetes Run Across America starts in San Diego and ends in Washington, DC. I’m sure I’ll meet even more of our tribe.
Whatever the journey may bring, I will, as always, remain #t1determined.