On September 29th, I participated in the 8th annual Donegal Skim Mooathon, where I ran 13.1 miles dressed as a cow. I have long enjoyed running, and since graduating college have become a big fan of organized races. I wanted to maintain my love of group runs in Eire, and upon browsing the Internet, stumbled across this godly, hilarious, gem-of-a race that made my heart swell with laughter. (If one thing in this world can make your heart laugh, it’s a good ol’ cow race, to be sure). To top off my ever-mounting excitement, I already had exactly what I needed to be one of the race’s most prized participants… My cousin Shauna and I were cows for Halloween in high school, and ever since ’06, my attic has been waiting for me to reclaim my full-on, head-to-toe, udderly wonderful and (I must say) surprisingly breathable cow costume. So on the morning of my flight to Ireland, I snatched Bessie out of the attic wardrobe and stuffed her into the front pocket of my suitcase. (Then my mom saw the bulge and organized my suitcase a little better. Then we left).
My first three weeks in Ireland, I told everyone I met all about my upcoming Mooathon. One week before race day, I started planning my transportation and accommodation, and made the unfortunate discovery that Downings, County Donegal, is all but impossible to reach unless you have a car. I don’t have a car. Two hours of furious Googling later, I had approximately 22 tabs open on my browser… and I finally had a plan. The plan involved 2 trains, 1 tram, 1 bus, and 1 taxi. I would be passing through 3 major Irish cities and countless tiny towns. I was set. I was stoked.
Saturday the 28th was my day of travel. On Friday night, I hooked myself up to my Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). There are two major components to this fascinating device: a “transmitter” and a “receiver.” The transmitter is essentially a baby-carrot-sized piece of plastic that sits on your belly. It attaches to a sensor that the user places shallowly under the skin with a needle (it takes about 2 seconds to insert and then the needle comes back out… it ain’t so bad). Once you click the transmitter into place over the sensor and enter a few suga levels, that puppy has the ability to “sense” your blood glucose at all times. It sends that information to the receiver. The receiver is the “cool part” of the dynamic duo. It looks like a Nokia brick phone. Trendy. When you click the main button on the receiver, it shows you your blood sugar. Constantly. Not only that, it plots each new transmitted sugar in a neat-and-tidy little graph. And (this is the best part) it has arrows that indicate if your blood sugar is going up, down, slightly up, slightly down, rapidly up, rapidly down, or staying steady. It is an incredible tool to have during races. If I see that I am within good range but dropping rapidly, I can eat a lil’ snack and avoid a low blood sugar. Revolutionary. Yes, there are sometimes errors with the CGM- and there IS a lag time, meaning that the sugars you receive are from approximately 10 minutes prior. But it’s definitely revolutionary.
My CGM was on, my diabetes supplies, clothes, cranberry juice, snacks, running belt, extra diabetes supplies, and of course Bessie were tucked away into my suitcase, and I was ready for my big day of solo travel. And oh, what a day it was. I got off the train in Dublin to witness masses of jersey-wearing fans flocking to the all-Ireland hurling championship. It was a bright and sunshinin’ day, and I traveled across the city via a tram (full of aforementioned fanatics) to catch my connecting train to Belfast. On the train ride north, I sat next to an older couple. The gentleman must have thought I had a very thick accent, because he repeated everything I said to his wife. I.e, Me: “I’m from San Francisco.”… Him (loudly): “She’s from San Francisco!” Shortly, I knew their life story, and everyone on the train knew mine. The lady had Type 2 diabetes, and the couple was fascinated with my diabetes self-management and enthralled with my insulin pump. Every time I told them something new about my regimen, the gentleman said, “God bless; God bless!!” They were so invested in all I was saying that they almost missed their stop. As they waved me goodbye from the platform, I pondered one question they asked. It’s a question that has a million different responses.
How do you run with diabetes?
In an attempt to answer, I will fast-forward to the main event: The Mooathon. Here, in a nutshell, is a sans-diabetes account. Ahem… I must have been grinning from ear to ear for over 90% of the race. I was wearing my full cow suit, had eaten sausage and eggs as my pre-race breakfast, had my large camera over my shoulder (the entire time), stopped to take over 100 photos, cheered on the other runners at the top of my lungs, posed for other people’s photographs (damn paparazzi!), became absolutely entranced by the breath-taking scenery, made friends out of strangers, had grand chats with the people manning the hydration stations, photo-bombed a group of hikers, and got my tail across the finish line in 2 hours and 35 minutes. I’ll take it! There were too many highlights along the way for one person to take in. After the race, I treated myself to a three-course lunch and a glass of wine at the hotel restaurant. Highlight #835 of the weekend.
Now throw a little T1D into the mix. I should preface by saying that a normal blood glucose reading is between 80 and 120 mg/dL. I aim for 80-150. Anything below 80, and I’m “low,” anything above 180 I would consider, “high,” but I won’t be symptomatic (sluggish, etc.) until I reach 230 or so. Waking up on Mooathon day, my blood sugar was at a solid 95. I was keeping a close eye on my CGM. After I put on full cow and got all geared up, my sugar started drifting up, up, up. The race started at 10am. By 8:30 I was at 200. I wasn’t concerned; because exercise drops blood sugar levels, I like to give myself plenty of room to come down before a race. But I continued to drift upward…235…265. And I didn’t even have carbs for breakfast. Something was wrong. I looked at the tubing in my pump and I saw my problem. There was one massive kink at the very base of the tubing, courtesy of cramming my pump into the pouch on my running belt. Mayday. I was over 300 at this point. 300 and determined. If a daunting 12-hour travel day, full-body costume, and hearty pre-race meal couldn’t stop me from running 13 miles, than neither was this. No way, no how. I ran upstairs. I got some lovely fresh tubing out my suitcase and swapped it for the twisted old one. And I took a correction dose of insulin, rolling my eyes that even my diabetes was telling me to just slow down, have fun, take care of myself, and milk this outrageous opportunity for all that it’s worth. It was half an hour to race time, and by the time we were on our marks, I could already see that my blood sugar was on the way down. Alleluia. As we trotted off, I was so preoccupied with the surrounding beauty that I didn’t even think to check my CGM until I approached the first aid station, 4 miles in. 129 and 2 downward arrows: rapidly descending. Time for some “delicious” goo, water, a chat and a photo. This set the precedent for the remainder of the course. I carried my own gels and glucose tablets on me, but always seemed to be trending downward right when I reached an aid station, where I happily indulged in the snacks provided (is there a better feeling out there?).
Did I have to make multiple adjustments while running to keep my blood sugar on track? Undoubtedly. Did I have to make multiple adjustments while running to keep my camera from ramming me in the back? Absolutely. Did I have to make multiple mental adjustments to push myself from one mile to the next? Big time. Did any of these factors keep me from having one of the best experiences of my entire life? Heck. No.
How DO you run with diabetes? After writing this entire post, I think the best and most simple answer is in the title.
Ready to run.
Mile 10 and still grinning.
My two secret weapons! Pump site on the left, CGM transmitter on the right. Dia-belly.
My CGM receiver (although not on Mooathon day: there would sure be some terrific peaks and falls for that one!) Clearly it’s time to eat! This is an abnormally fantastic diabetes day, when I was within range all day long. One in a million.