Training for your next marathon can be tough enough but for some the challenge can be much greater. Team KMC ambassador Kirsten tells us of her five year long journey with type 1 diabetes, what it is and how she manages it.
5 years ago today, 28th April 2017, my life truly changed forever. I knew my diagnosis before my GP spoke the words, I'd been living with typical symptoms1 for months, yet it took so long for me to get my diagnosis. My GP phoned me at work and asked me to come in urgently, he told me I had Type 1 Diabetes.
At this point, I knew very little about diabetes beyond what I'd learnt in GCSE biology and what I'd heard on the news (mostly click bait headlines with the intention to scare people into the latest fad diets). I couldn't have told you then the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes or that there are more than two types of diabetes (MODY, Neonatal diabetes, Type 3C, LADA, Gestational to name a few).
What is type 1 Diabetes and how did you develop it?
I have Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas causing it to no longer be able to produce insulin. The exact cause is unknown, but it is most likely caused by a virus that I had in the months prior to me developing symptoms and ultimately my diagnosis. It is not caused by diet, weight or sugar intake.
Insulin & monitoring blood sugar levels
Insulin is necessary to survive, if you have a fully working pancreas (i.e., you don't have a form of diabetes) then your pancreas will secrete insulin to maintain blood sugar levels. Pretty much anything under the sun can have an impact on blood sugar levels, not just the food we eat (stress, temperature, exercise, menstrual cycle, sleep, hydration, time of day, caffeine to name a few).
When we do eat, we digest food and this causes our blood sugar to rise, insulin is secreted to essentially "mop up" the spare glucose in our blood stream, keeping blood sugar levels in range and avoiding long term complications associated with levels being too high or low. As my body no longer produces insulin, I must administer it myself through either multiple daily injections or an insulin pump which continuously drip feeds me insulin 24/7 and then also allows me to dose insulin requirements when I eat / as required.
So, there's the sciencey (ish) bit. Where does that leave me today...?
Running and exercising with Type 1 Diabetes
I created my IG page: @running.like.a.type1 back in 2020 after I got my place to run the London Marathon for Diabetes UK. I wanted to document my running journey and life with T1D and show that if I can, you can too. It was from there that I stumbled across "Coopah Running", an online running coach and amazing community that I am proud to be a part of and from there I found Kendal Mint Co and their products.
The thing about running/exercising with T1D, is that it's nothing like running without it. Okay yes, you put one foot in front of the other, but you have to manage your blood sugars yourself, essentially going manual back up on an organ that has evolved over millions of years. Quite frankly, it's a full-time job in itself but with no paid holiday!
If I take on too much fuel my blood sugars will rise causing hypoglycemia which can very quickly lead to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) which can be fatal if not treated urgently. On the flip side, if you don't take on enough fuel, your blood sugars can drop too low resulting in hypoglycemia which can lead to unconsciousness or death if left untreated. What this means for me as a T1D runner, is that preparation and my fuelling strategy are crucial, and it has taken me a long time to figure out what works.
What worked for me
The turning point in my fuelling and performance came when I trialed KMC products. Previously, I was using a mixture of jelly babies and cereal bars to fuel my long runs – a recipe for GI issues, nausea, and post long run fatigue. To maintain in-range blood sugar levels I have to take on small amounts of glucose at regular intervals (much more frequently than those without T1D).
Since trialing the "KMC NRG BAR Chocolate Coated Mint Cake Recharged" my diabetes management whilst running has significantly improved, my performance has increased, and I no longer suffer from the symptoms above.
KMC is easy to digest meaning I am now free from GI issues, the mint flavour is also so refreshing, and the bars contain electrolytes, something I didn't realise at first but that has been a game changer meaning I no longer finish long runs feeling nauseous, headachey and wiped for the rest of day (clearly from poor fuelling and hydration/electrolyte intake). I combine the KMC Recharge bars with KMC gels and the Natural NRG bars to give me a structured fuelling strategy that leaves me feeling as good at mile 18 as I did at mile 3 (just about at least).
My Run Fuelling Strategy for Type 1 Diabetics
One KMC NRG BAR: Chocolate Coated Kendal Mint Cake – from mile 3 I have 1/10th bar per mile
One Natural NRG Superfood Bar – ¼ bar every 6 miles
Or one KMC Energy Gel – every 6 miles
I also carry additional KMC energy gels and recharge bars in my hydration vest in case my blood sugars start to drop too low. This strategy has been working for me for over a year now and I don't plan to alter it as I begin training for London 2022 in October (if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?).
So, 5 years on, I am a very different person. I am much stronger, much more resilient, and far more driven than I was. There is nothing like someone telling you "you can't run a marathon because you have T1D" that spurs you on to do just that! I don't resent my diagnosis, I celebrate it. Without it I wouldn't be the person I am today and wouldn't have achieved some of the things that I have. I wouldn't have signed up to run my first London Marathon for Diabetes UK let alone my third, I wouldn't have joined the online running community and become a part of Team Coopah and Team KMC, I wouldn't have found myself a running coach and as a result made the progress that I have in the past year and I wouldn't be able to say that "I'm proud to be showing the world what I can do with Type 1 Diabetes"!
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please go and see your GP:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Peeing more frequently
- Feeling very tired
- Weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
- Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
- Blurred vision
This blog was written and edited by Kirsten Gooderham entirely from her own personal experience.