Should I run the London Marathon in a Onesie?

My aim for running the London Marathon for the JDRF is not only to raise cash for such a good cause, but also to show that people with type 1 diabetes can perform just as well as healthy people in athletic or sporting events. I signed up to the Marathon two weeks after my diagnosis when I had no idea how difficult it would be to run with type one. I’ve of course since found that with meticulous preparation, it’s possible to run long distances really fast – for instance with the ultra marathon I ran in December.

But whereas my aim for the ultra was to just finish it, my aim for the London Marathon is to finish it fast.


Training for the ultra – preparation

The chart shows how my blood sugar was affected by exercise and the carbs I ate during the run. The green line represents the time I was running for.

The chart shows how my blood sugar was affected by exercise and the carbs I ate during the run. The green line represents the time I was running for.

I’ve said before that by character, I’m pretty happy-go-lucky. But for anyone doing an ultra, I’m told that preparation is key. This is doubly true for someone with diabetes.

To that end I’m making headway with a few things on the preparation list. Firstly, I don’t want to get injured with all this running I’m doing, so I made an appointment to see a physio today to get myself checked out and get advice on injury prevention. The session started out well (“you’ve got strong quads”) but quickly turned to character assassination (“you don’t use your calves or bum muscles and you have no flexibility”) and ended in daylight robbery (“I can solve all your problems in just five expensive one-to-one sessions”). But seriously, he gave me really good advice, and after coming to terms with the heavy investment I’m going to have to make in both time (daily exercises – I’m starting off with kneeling practice – it’s harder than it sounds!) and money, I’m hoping that it will reduce my chances of injury.

The next thing is a plan for nutrition when running. This is the really complicated bit for me. And it’s why I’m so looking forward to all my long runs: I can collect more data!

On Saturday, I went down to the South Downs to do a 20 mile run. I decided getting the train out of london was a good idea, because at least the Downs have some hills which is good practice. I ran to my aunt and uncle’s house, and was greeted by another aunt, two cousins and a massive spaghetti bolognaise, which was a really nice surprise.

The run went really well (except having to stop ALL THE TIME to look at the map and figure out where I was going – oh, and to do those pesky blood tests). But my 20 miles took 3.5 hours, and apparently – according to Strava – I was actually moving for 2.5 hours. If that’s true that’s pretty quick. I didn’t take any short acting insulin (I want to avoid doing that whilst running because it’s too complicated and risky) and ate on average 30 grams of carbs per hour. This is good information about how much my body can process whilst exercising.

There are two problems though. Firstly, according to running websites, I need to eat more like 70g or carbs per hour whilst running an ultra. Secondly, my blood sugar went down to around 4 (or just under) a couple of times during the run. I was totally fine, and didn’t suffer symptoms of a hypo, but I probably need to give myself a bit more of a safety buffer if I don’t want to risk having problems at some point in the future. So next time I’m going to try to eat slightly more per hour – my theory is that if I eat more, my body might start producing it’s own insulin (I’m in the honey moon phase, so still produce some insulin) which will allow me to digest the extra carbs and eating more will give me a higher safety margin from hypos.

The other thing I’m finding with my training, is that I’m absolutely loving all this running! I enjoy the feeling of running along, and it’s great to be able to cover long distances in amazing scenery. I suppose this is part of the “gift of diabetes” – I’ve always enjoyed running, but I wouldn’t have attempted to do an ultra marathon this year if I hadn’t been diagnosed with type 1.

Data Running

I’m going to run an ultra-marathon!

Finishing the Shakespeare Half Marathon. I felt about as bad as I look!

Finishing the Shakespeare Half Marathon pre-diagnosis this April. I felt about as bad as I look! Hopefully I’l be better prepared for the ultra!

As I’ve already written on this blog, I entered the London Marathon (running for the JDRF) straight after I was diagnosed.

I spend a lot of time in the mountains, and have discovered that I love running on mountain trails and I was starting to get into longer distance trail running before my diagnosis.

On top of this my good friend, Phil Reynolds did the Marathon de Sables a few years ago, and has done several ultra marathons since. He planted a seed in my head a couple of years ago, and it has since been quietly growing into a fully formed ambition to actually do one myself.

There is a very famous trail run in Chamonix every year in August. The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). It involves running round the entire Mont Blanc Massive, which is 100 miles and 10,000m of ascent (more than Everest) non-stop. I was thinking I’d like to do that one day, and there is a “little sister” event called the CCC, which is a “mere” 100km and 7,500m of ascent. I’d like to be in a position to run it next August if possible.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the entry criteria for 2014 is to have already run an ultra marathon of a certain difficulty by the end of this year. There is no way I’ll be ready for that right? I decided to postpone for a year.

But the voice in my head didn’t go away. I found myself browsing the available events and found one in the Brecon Beacons on 7 December. 42 miles and 2300m ascent (more than twice up Ben Nevis), off-road in Wales on nearly the shortest day of the year. It sounds pretty difficult, but it’s about the easiest event I could find that qualifies.

So I entered last Monday, and started reading about training on Tuesday. Good job, as if I’d read about the training first, I might not have entered!

I basically have two months to train for it. I ramped up my running a bit last week. I ran 26km yesterday and to fit the miles in around my existing diary, I even found myself running 10k to a dinner party on Thursday and 10k home from the dinner party! After struggling home at 11pm, I can confirm that two helpings of pork belly and three glasses of wine will not be part of my ultramarathon nutrition plan!

Something I learned from Phil is that meticulous preparation in all things (from training, to nutrition to equipment – just read his blog) is vital in a successful ultra marathon attempt. I’m more of a happy go lucky character by nature, preferring the approach of the plucky English amateur rather than any kind of highly prepared professional. But the difficulty of running an ultra combined with the added challenge of managing my diabetes while I do it mean that I’m going to change that and do everything I can to arrive at the start line as well prepared as possible.

Am I crazy to do an ultra marathon before the London marathon? Maybe. But only because the ultra is going to be really long and tiring. From a diabetes management point of view it’s a different challenge. I want to run the London marathon fast whereas I just want to finish the ultra. That means stopping to test my blood won’t be an issue in the ultra whereas it’s going to be a real pain whilst running the marathon. Anyway, I’ll keep you updated with the training.