My Sydney marathon training kicked off when I landed back home in May, after running up and down mountains in Latin America for 8 months. I was hoping the “altitude training” would pay off, with only 4 months until Sydney – the one marathon where I had the chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon in April 2017. To qualify for Boston, I had to run at least 3:35 in Sydney. Even with that time, there was no guarantee it would be fast enough to get me into Boston. The faster you run above the qualifying time, the higher your chance of getting accepted. And getting into the Boston Marathon is like getting the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate – a runner’s dream.
My training tactics for Sydney weren’t nearly as disciplined as they were for the NY Marathon. I didn’t follow a specific marathon training plan. Instead, I decided to do a self-made routine of long runs, sporadic sprint training, strength training, high-intensity interval training and some much-needed yoga. I determined to run a lot, get a little bit stronger and a little bit faster. I had a few races in before Sydney: the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, the Sydney Harbour 10K, the Sydney City2Surf 14K, and a final 35K trail race 2 weeks out from the marathon. I PR’d in all of these, but the races push you to your limits and can tire you out. That was plenty of training for me.
Getting Those BGs In Check
My BGs were relatively well behaved until I started my new job just a month after returning home. My new hours flip-flopped my routine from morning runs to post-work evening runs. That switch in my routine began spiking my morning BGs so that I was running high after breakfast, and continuing on the same path throughout the day. While trying to get my BGs in check, I was also trying to refuel from my intense training. Let’s just say, my fuelling strategy was not up to scratch. I was restricting my usual carbohydrate intake. Only after returning to my morning run routine did my BGs improve dramatically and increase my insulin sensitivity.
Leading up to race day I was feeling good. I wasn’t quite as strong as I wanted to be, and I was a bit mentally tired. But I had my eye on the goal and felt my training had me positioned for a good result. Race day started at 3am when I woke up after a very restless sleep. With a BG of 160, I ate a bowl of buckwheat groats, almond milk and some strawberries. I went back to bed for 2 hours, then woke up at 5am with a BG of 95. Dressed with a banana in hand, I headed out the door.
I was lucky enough to be in the front group of runners just behind the elites, so crossed the start line just after 7am with a BG of 250. I always want to start a race with a BG of approx. 200. I didn’t need a pre-race snack, but I had plenty of backup in my waste belt, just in case. I started out fast and feeling good. Weaving in and out of fellow runners and setting a good pace of approx. 7:25 per mile.
I managed to keep this pace until mile 20, even after stepping on a stone and bruising the bottom of my foot at the half way mark. At mile 5, I gave 0.3 units of insulin to get my BGs down a bit so I could refuel with a Clif bar and some apricot bites 30 minutes later. I kept my BG between 160-180 most of the race, not wanting to risk letting it go too low.
Coming up a small hill just before hitting mile 20, I saw my Dad cheering me on. “GO AMES, you can run a 3:20!” This gave me just the energy boost I needed as my legs started to tire and my mind struggled to filter out the pain. It was great having the support of my Dad, who got up early just to get to the sideline in enough time to cheer me on.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
The last 7 miles were tough. My BGs were okay, so I didn’t plan on eating any more food unless they started to drop. I only consumed 70g of carbs the whole marathon, while the recommended fuelling is 20g of carbs every 20 minutes. I was getting thirstier at each water station, and drinking more to try and stay hydrated enough to take me to the finish line. I hadn’t hit the wall, but my legs definitely didn’t want to move any faster and the ball of my foot was hurting from that damn stone. I knew if I could keep my pace I would be closer to a 3:20 finish.
For the last 5 miles, all my focus was on getting to the next mile. Repeating the “Boston” lyrics over and over in my head proved to be the best form of inspiration. I tried to stay in a positive mindset and push through the pain. The last mile I used all the adrenaline in my body to speed up and cross the finish line in 3:25:56 – 14 minutes faster than NY and 9 minutes faster than the official Boston qualifying time. Most importantly, my BG was nicely sitting at 190.
Two weeks later, I was accepted to participate in the Boston Marathon! An achievement I believe I only reached because of my type 1 diabetes. It was my diabetes that gave me the resilience, determination and belief that I could finish the race.
Here’s What I Learned
To finish, here are my top 3 tips for a marathon:
- Trial (and error) everything in training – this is essential so you are prepared for any situation on race day. Not only do you need to trial your pace and refueling strategy like any other marathoner. As diabetics, we also must trial food or gels that will sustain us but won’t spike our BGs; we need to trial running and testing our BGs multiple times – having good BGs is key for good performance. We also need to trial our approach if we have a low – do we stop and walk for 5 minutes, or can we continue running and treating at the same time? How much insulin do we need to give if our BGs are running high? For me, 0.2 units through my insulin pump is more than enough to bring me back in range from a 200 mg/dL reading.
- Have a plan for race day. Know what you are going to carry on you and how you are going to carry it. I always wear a waistband and take a backup insulin pen (in case my pump fails), my BG meter (even though I wear my CGM), hypo supplies and refueling supplies (a mix of Clif energy bars and apricot slices).
- Make sure you have something to identify you as a type 1 diabetic – whether it be a MedicAlert bracelet, card or tattoo (if you like permanent identification like me). This is really important in case you have a hypo or another marathon related incident, like heat exhaustion or dehydration. You want the medical team to know you have type 1 diabetes. That way, they can be aware and treat you correctly.
My final tip: Don’t let diabetes stop you from doing anything you want. Now, let the Boston training begin. See you in April, 2017.