Running a Half Marathon with Diabetes

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After months of training, running four times per week, race day arrived.  Saturday morning was my first half marathon. I was so happy for the day to arrive because I was beginning to feel mentally burnt out from running (I’m appreciating having a break from running this week).

A lot happened the 24 hours leading up to the race.  I was nervous about what to wear.  The forecast said it would be cloudy and 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the race but by the finish it would be sunny and 60.  I was using Runner’s World What to Wear website to try and figure out what I should wear, but there is quite a difference between the two conditions.  There is also a huge difference between what to wear for a long run and a race.  I also wanted to wear my sunglasses since it would be sunny by the end of the race but since all I have right now are prescription sunglasses, I would have to start the race wearing them, having it be a little dark at first (leaving my contacts and regular glasses behind). I decided that since it would be warm towards the end, I would just wear my singlet and shorts and be a little cold at the start.  I had my plan and I executed it perfectly when I woke up race day morning.  However, the conditions changed between what the forecast was predicting and what really happened.  I was running late and didn’t think to look outside or step outside before leaving for the race so I was quite surprised when I was driving to the race to find out that it was pouring rain and cold. It rained for the majority of the race, and I don’t know if you have ever tried to wear sunglasses in the rain, but they get rain all over them and foggy and make it impossible to see.  So I took off my sunglasses and ran blind the entire race.  Luckily, my sister had an extra trash bag that I could wear at the start of the race so I wasn’t as cold as I could have been at the start and I ended up warming up and feeling perfect in my singlet and shorts.

Besides my clothing/eyewear issue, I also had an issue with my continuous glucose monitor.  I love wearing my CGM during runs because it alerts me if I’m dropping fast or not.  Granted a majority of the time, it’s not the most accurate on runs but it does give me a sense of comfort that I know what’s going on.  I put in a new sensor on Friday night. When I put it in, it hurt pretty bad but figured it was just the sting from the big needle and it would go away.  Overnight, I didn’t sleep well because whenever I positioned myself on my stomach, where my CGM sensor was, I felt pain. I woke up race morning and it was still painful so I decided at 6AM to change it.  The race was at 7:44AM and because it takes 2 hours for the sensor to “warm up”, I wasn’t able to calibrate before beginning my race.  You also aren’t supposed to calibrate while working out, but when the two hour warm up period had passed, I did calibrate while running but I didn’t trust the numbers it was showing.

So I my first half marathon I was running blind…both literally (no eyeglasses to see) and figuratively (no CGM to comfort me).  For me, running is just as much mental as it is physical.  Mentally, I was having a very rough start to my race.  My starting blood sugar didn’t help. When I woke up race morning, my blood sugar was 139.  I ate 25 carbs of grapes and 2 hard boiled eggs, didn’t bolus for the high and only bolused for half of the carbs.  This is what I did for the Army Ten Miler and it worked out great.  Saturday, however, my blood sugar climbed to 167 by the start of the race.  This is higher than my blood sugar usually is for runs, so I wasn’t too happy, especially since recently my blood sugar has been going high during runs. I had so much going against me mentally it was a hard start to the race.  I also forgot to do a temp basal of 50% prior to the run like I did for other long runs.

But then things got better.  I made it until mile 3 to test my blood sugar and I was 137.  Then I tested again 20 minutes later and I was 106.  I decided to eat one pack of fruit snacks (19 carbs).  Around mile 4, I remembered to do the temp basal so I did a one hour temp basal of 50%. Thirty minutes later, I tested and I was 105.  I ate another pack of fruit snacks. Another thirty minutes passed and I once again tested and was 107.  I ate one more pack of fruit snacks and when I finished the race, my blood sugar was 124.  Despite starting a little high, I could not have asked for a better run diabetes wise.  Combined with my blood sugar numbers from my 12 mile run and the Army Ten Miler, I’m gaining confidence on knowing what to do to have good numbers during a long run.  I am even almost tempted to test less and just eat every 30 minutes or so and see how I do.  My formula is bolus half for breakfast, do a one hour temp basal of 50% somewhere near the start of the run, and eat around 15-20 carbs every 30 minutes and I seem to do ok.

The run itself went OK but was hard.  I was doing fine until mile 6 when a blister started to form on my left foot.  Around mile 12, I was struggling and asking myself why I decided to sign up for this, while at the same time my husband said to me “I think we can do a full marathon”.  The rain did finally let up towards the end and minus not being able to see, not having my CGM, and having a blister, the run wasn’t too bad.  There were a lot of people cheering along the way which really helped to motivate me as well as knowing there was beer at the end of the race. My family even surprised me and showed up near the finish line to cheer me on.  My goal was to finish in under 2 hours and 30 minutes but I wasn’t able to do that, finishing in 2:35:35 (according to my watch not race results which showed me at 2:42 thanks to the water stops to test my BG and eat).  I was pretty bummed when I realized I wasn’t going to meet my goal time but considering I ran the entire 13.1 miles, I will consider it a success and plan to get under 2:30 for my next half. All in all, I was happy with the way things turned out, although I still think my husband is crazy for suggesting we do a full marathon sometime.

Didn't have my phone/camera with me so this is one of the only photos I have from the day; I was so happy to be finishing

Didn’t have my phone/camera with me so this is one of the only photos I have from the day; I was so happy to be finishing

I finished my first half!

I finished my first half!


12 thoughts on “Running a Half Marathon with Diabetes

  1. Great job! I just did the Monumental Half Marathon in Indianapolis on Nov 2. The key for me is not to go high or low the 24 hours before the race. If I do, I feel awful. Counter to what everyone ELSE eats, I stick with low carb options with protein before a race. This is probably what I should be doing all the time if I want to have an A1C below 7… sigh…

  2. Wow! You have come so far with your running and frankly I think you’re going to try for the marathon at some point. Your confidence at handling all the diabetes decisions and gear has grown exponentially from when you first started writing about your running and races. Good work and you’re an inspiration, Kelley!

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  4. Thanks for your article! I’m running my first half marathon as a T1D tomorrow morning in Austin! (Diagnosed at 19, now 23) I’m so nervous! I am doing it without a CGM, but have an OmniPod insulin pump on my arm. I don’t like to carry anything while running, so I have my boyfriend meeting me at different parts of the run to help check my sugar and hand me the Clif Shot Bloks/Energy Chews – I take 3 (totaling 25 g carbs) at mile 4, 8 and 12. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my long distance training or in my shifting glucose levels, but I am so ready to run. I’m running for all Type 1 Diabetics out there!

  5. I am so glad i found this article! I am Nicole and I have been a type 1 diabetic since i was 8 months old- im 27 now.. I am training for a half marathon the first one I have ever done- I have never been as active as I am right now. I started running in January 2014 so this is all new to me.. My family and the friends i run with know what/how to help me should anything happen when im running. This story is amazing so thank you so much for sharing it!!! Does anyone else have any helpful hints or suggestions for me?

  6. Hi, I have type 1 diabetes and running my first half marathon on the 11th September.
    I’m very nervous and would appreciate any tips on what snacks I can carry with me on the way to prevent my sugar levels falling. Also, how often shall I check my blood levels on the way?

    • Congrats! How exciting! I took a small bag that I could carry in my hand (not the most convenient) but I put my test kit in there and a pack of fruit snacks. I would stop at check at water breaks or when I felt it was necessary. The water breaks are every so often so it was a good reminder for me. Hope it goes well!

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