These guys are the real Alpine runners

Alpine running in Chamonix

Alpine running is a name given to moving fast in a mountain environment. It’s a blend of climbing, running and skiing: whichever is applicable to the terrain. It’s normally done “fast and light”, taking minimal equipment, to aid the speediness.

Given that I like climbing, skiing and running but will never be able to invest the time to become a really skilled Alpinist on technical accents, I think I’ve found a niche! I’m going to tell my friends that I’ve become an alpine runner. They will tell me that I’m doing “not-trail, not-running”, and that I’m going “not particularly fast and not particularly light “. I’ll say I’m still learning.

Running Skiing
Just me and the Chamois tracks. After getting down I was so exhausted, I wanted nothing more than a magic carpet to take me home. I had no option but to run another 15km. It wasn't actually that bad.

Does training help the body burn fuel more efficiently?

An important part of getting fitter, and improving both speed and endurance is training the body to burn fat at higher levels of intensity. This is really important for athletes who do the things I like doing – running (because they can go faster and further) and mountaineering (because mountaineers don’t have very good access to food to top up their limited carbohydrate stores).

One of the advantages of having diabetes is that I can observe how much carbohydrate I need to eat to keep my blood sugar stable. Does this mean that I have an insight into how well my body is adapting to burning fat? Can this help anyone else?

Data Training
Travis working working hard to get the right shot

Diabetes as Art

I’ve been going to the monthly quantified self meetup whenever I can. They are really interesting evenings. At each evening, three people present on any aspect of self quantifying they have been doing. Given that I have diabetes and track a lot of data these days, I feel like there’s stuff I can learn from the presentations. Even if they’re not relevant to me they are normally fascinating, and this techy geeky world is something I wouldn’t have discovered without my diagnosis (the gift of diabetes keeps on giving…!).

At the last meetup a photographer called Travis Hodges gave a presentation on his work. He is doing something called “follow me” which is where he took a photo of someone, got them to tweet one of their friends and then took a photo of them. The chain goes on. The collection was so successful that he was asked to do an exhibition in Brixton, and decided to do portraits of self trackers, their devices, their motivations and their data.

Data
The grey region shows when I had a cold. You can see that whilst my blood sugar was generally high when I went to bed, it always seemed to be back to normal in the morning. This must be the honeymoon phase...

Diabetes and being ill don’t mix

Gratuitous shot of Mont Blanc. What an amazing view to have whilst marching 850m up a hill.

Gratuitous shot of Mont Blanc. What an amazing view to have whilst marching 850m up a hill.

I’ve just come out of a two week long cold. Despite evidence to the contrary (I got diabetes six months ago), I think of myself as someone who never gets ill. So getting a cold and feeling low on energy and not wanting to run was a real blow. Not least because my fund raising page reminds me that I only have 54 days left to the Marathon. Given that I want to run it in a very challenging time, two weeks of almost no quality training is a real blow. I’m still waiting for comments on whether I should run the marathon in a Onesie by the way. So far two people have commented, and that’s not quite enough to encourage me to do it!

Data Skiing
Not much snow, but a great sky and amazing views.

Skiing with type 1 diabetes

I’m currently in Chamonix for my first skiing Christmas. I was ridiculously keen to go skiing again. But also aware that it was my first time skiing with type one. One of the main reasons I started all my running was so that I could understand my blood sugar control better to prepare me for skiing. I’d like to do things like this again safely with type 1, so I’m really motivated to control the condition.

Data Skiing

Hypos

Upon diagnosis, a type 1 diabetic learns about “hypos” straight away. The word is short for “hypoglycemia” which literally means “low sugar blood”. Wikipedia has loads of information on it here. Having a bad hypo is BAD, so we need to be able to recognise and treat them.

In a normal human being, glucose levels in the blood are regulated by the pancreas. Beta cells secrete insulin to bring glucose levels down, and glucagon to bring blood glucose levels up. For a diabetic, if for whatever reason blood glucose starts falling to unsafe levels, there is a problem. Because we have to inject insulin (we have no beta cells), once injected that insulin stays there – still pushing down the level of blood glucose. A normal person would just stop producing it. Secondly a diabetic’s pancreas will not produce glucagon (according to Wikipedia anyway: I don’t understand why, so plan to check with my doctor). [Edit: I asked Dr Powrie and he told me that type 1’s do still have cells which produce glucagon. He said that the absence of beta cells may impair the function of cells producing glucagon, but that its complicated and that the process isn’t fully understood.] So the first (and maybe second) lines of defence against low blood sugar do not exist in a diabetic.

Symptoms of a hypo, according to diabetes.co.uk are feeling dizzy, feeling hungry, a change in mood, feeling sweaty, finding it hard to concentrate or trembling. In severe cases it can lead to unconsciousness, seizure or even death! In terms of blood sugar levels, the rule of thumb seems to be that less than 4 mmol/l is a “hypo”. Given that healthy adults have between 4-7 mmol/l of glucose in their blood, if a diabetic is managing their blood glucose to be near that level, the odd hypo is inevitable.

Dr Powrie is currently getting me to manage down my very high levels of glucose upon diagnosis (30-ish) to aim at 6-12 currently. So I haven’t had a hypo yet. On my second or third night as a diabetic, after taking my long acting insulin before sleep, I did lie awake for a bit wondering if I was having a hypo. I wasn’t. I then came close after walking back from the hospital last week – I was 4.3 when I got back to the office.

So it’s still the unknown for me!

A complicating factor for someone who is active, is that some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia  are the same things that we experience whilst exercising. I’m beginning to see how running a marathon could be a challenge…

In the past day and a half I have now run twelve miles in three lots of four mile runs. After the first two runs, my blood sugar rose from 8-ish pre-run to 11-ish post run. Then just now, my blood sugar fell from 7.6 pre-run to 5.2 post-run. Below the level I’m aiming at. Panic!!! 🙂

To treat a mild hypo (blood sugar level under 4), one must consume 15g of high GI carbohydrate like jelly babies, coke, juice or glucose tablets. To treat a severe hypo, when a person is unconscious, glycogen needs to be injected into the muscle. This stimulates the liver to produce glucose.

In my case just now, I decided I had enough leeway to eat something nice rather than something sweet like a jelly baby, so I had two mini nectarines (yum!) and a bottle of alcohol free Becks beer (drinking alcohol increases the risk of a hypo several hours after consumption). I reckon that’s about 19g of carbs and my sugar level has now gone up to 8.9. Disaster averted!

In the future I will need to be able to judge whether my identical run will increase or decrease my blood sugar. I will ask Dr Powrie for advice of course. My theory is that it has to do with how much short acting insulin, I’ve taken beforehand. But I won’t bore you with the details.

In any case, I’m now more motivated to run than ever. The more runs I do the more data I will collect and the more likely I’ll be able to go ski touring and run a marathon.

What is type 1?