Heather Cole

Heather Cole's Journey to Ironman Wisconsin
  • My Goal:
  • $3,000
  • Raised So Far:
  • $2,400
  • # of Donations:
  • 25
$2400 of $3000 goal

Silence the Mind

Update #21  •   Posted 1361 day(s) ago

“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”     

          

I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will not be able to race in Wisconsin.  I’ve known it since that first swim in the pool since my injury.  But mentally, this was not a something I could accept all at one time.  I can’t train for a year and let go in a second. 

I have been holding on to some small hope that I would heal faster than anticipated.  I set out a list of things I needed to do to feel confident going into race day.  I wanted to be able to swim strong and be able to kick without pain.  I wanted to be able to unclip my foot from my bike, mostly for safety reasons.  I wanted to be able to ride for two hours without pain and able to walk when I got off.  I wanted to be able to walk at least 5 km.  I haven’t been able to do any of these things.  The physio said if I started the race I would likely be in a lot of pain racing, and would be extremely sore after.  This would also mean big steps back in recovery and significant time in rehab post-race. 

I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around this.  It feels like I’m accepting defeat.  I am very tough and normally just push through, to hell with the consequences!  This is the first time I am choosing to put my physical health above what my mind wants.  The damage to my ligaments means my ankle will not survive this long of a race without suffering.  I hate the thought of not racing because of an injury.  So instead I have compiled a list of things that have given me peace of mind with my decision not to race.

I have decided not to race for the:

Love of triathlon 

I will not be able to enjoy the race if I am in pain.  A lot of people ask me why and how I do this.  I do it because I love this sport.  I can’t honestly think of anything I would rather do after work than get on one of my bikes for a few hours.  I don’t want to lose that passion and motivation.

 Respect for my drive to perform at my best

I have a hard time thinking that I will be satisfied crossing the finish line limping just before the cut off time.  After training for so long and hard, will I really be happy knowing that I could have done so much better?  Do I want to put a check on the bucket list, or actually feel pretty damn good about it?

Stubbornness that sometimes dooms me

I played with the idea of starting the race and seeing how far I could get before I started to hurt.  But I know myself better than that.  I am too competitive and stubborn to drop out of a race.  I would have to be so far beyond my limits that someone would have had to drag me to an ambulance before I quit.  If I’ve learned one thing from my surfing incident in Hawaii, it’s that being in the hospital in the US is not a reasonably priced trip.  There is also some underlying lesson about not getting in over my head but I think I will have to learn that one the hard way a few more times before it really sinks in.

Understanding of the bigger picture

While this race is extremely important to me, it is not more important than the entire rest of my life.  I love all of the things I do, and I am not willing to give up everything for one race.  I have been going crazy backing down my exercise trying to give myself time to heal.  I can’t even imagine how nuts I will go if I do more damage and require extended rehab.  There are races every year.  This is not my only chance to do an Ironman.  As it turns out, this is not the end of the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of tears these past two weeks, but I know there is so much more in the future to look forward to.

I am proud of my training and how much I have accomplished this year.  I am so excited to cheer on my teammates as they come in to the finish line.  While I still have a lot of work to do to get better, I’m already looking forward to making some goals and planning races for next year.  This is not the end for me. 

Thank you everyone for your amazing support in this journey.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  To those of you that donated, I am deeply sorry that I am unable to race.  Your donations meant so much to me.  I got to experience first hand in March what the Riding on Insulin camps mean for kids with Type 1.  Meeting others that share their disease makes them feel less alone.  They bond over not only their diabetes, but the awesome activities these camps provide.  They encourage kids to be healthy and happy with diabetes.  Thank you for helping make these camps possible.

At the Riding on Insulin Nakiska Camp 2015

Hard Decisions

Update #20  •   Posted 1366 day(s) ago

I am waiting on my physio appointment this evening, when I’m supposed to get a recommendation on racing.  Ultimately, no matter what she says, it’s my choice.  I’m struggling with this the most.  I’ve gone through a range of emotions and constantly change my mind.  Sometimes I come to terms with the fact that I won’t be racing, and other times I want more than anything to push through and make it happen.  I’ve worked so hard to train for an entire year, and it’s so hard to let this dream go.  But at what cost?  I could do permanent damage to my ligaments by racing or trying to race and destroying my chances at competing in triathlon for years after.  Will I really be satisfied if I’m able to finish but knowing I could have done significantly better?  Do I really think the fact that my ankle feels ok for a 45 minute swim at the pool means it will be ok for a 17 hour race?  These thoughts keep me up at night.

I have been through a daily series of positive progress and small setbacks.  Some things feel ok, and I start getting encouraged.  Then something feels not so great, and I’m back to doubt.  Regardless of the outcome, I am very mentally tough.  Life has put me through a series of obstacles, each of which makes me stronger than the last.  I’ve put some pictures below of some of the things that I’ve struggled with, and some awesome related moments.  My life often operates in two modes: disaster and absolutely amazing. I think I’m incredibly lucky to have so many experiences, and I absolutely love this song.  Some days I swear it was written for me.

Hope when you take that jump, you don't fear the fall
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out, they're screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay

(Usual bike carnage, I still love riding)

Hope that you fall in love, and it hurts so bad
The only way you can know is give it all you have
And I hope that you don't suffer but take the pain
Hope when the moment comes, you'll say...

(Falling in a hole in Peru, and trekking in the Andes after)

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived

(Surfing, and the resulting hole in my face)

Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup
Oh, I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes, I'll say...

 

(Chip fracturing my finger where the tendon attaches, and snowboarding after in Jackson Hole all splinted up.  This finger often froze that trip)

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived

(3 hours after having an anaphylactic reaction while trail running, running Sinister 7 ten days later)

With every broken bone, I swear I lived.
With every broken bone, I swear I...

 

(Finishing my first tri two months after abdominal surgery, and only weeks after one of the incisions was re-opened due to complications)

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.


(Things I've done with diabetes?  Too many to post.)

The Danger of Feeling Confident

Update #19  •   Posted 1370 day(s) ago

After a challenging year of training things felt like they were finally coming together for me.  I had an amazing week of hard training.  I got all of my workouts in and really nailed my six hour brick.  I put in four hours on the bike immediately followed by a two hour trail run.  My legs felt strong, my blood sugars were on point, and the best part was I felt incredibly happy the entire workout.  Physically my body felt ready, but most importantly the heart and passion I have for triathlon is still there stronger than ever. 

I went for an open water swim on Wednesday last week.  I love swimming in the lake, especially when the water is calm.  It feels so peaceful, and I get lost in the deep depths of nothingness beneath me and the sound of my breath.  I put in 3 km and then headed to the trails to get an hour of running in. 

The first little bit of my run was slow and forced.  Once I got into a rhythm I started picking up speed and mindlessly dodging, jumping over, and tucking under obstacles.  For some reason, I think if humans could fly it would feel like I do when I trail run.  Not physically, but the mental state of freedom and fascination with the surroundings.  As I came in to the last kilometre of my run, I was feeling great and really got my legs going.  I was flying. 

My euphoria was rudely interrupted by a horrid pain in my right ankle.  In the tight singletrack I had failed to see or anticipate whatever I managed to roll my foot right off of.  I have been trail running for years, and am blessed with fairly flexible ankles.  I’ve rolled my ankle many times off roots and rocks and besides the initial warning pain, have been just fine to continue running.  This time, I could feel everything in the outside of my ankle pull and strain.  My initial instinctive reaction was to throw up.  I didn’t, but my stomach dropped.  As I hobbled the rest of the way down the trail to my car I thought of my race, it was only just over three weeks away.  I wanted to cry.  I choked back the tears forming in my eyes as I stumbled across the parking lot through the sideways glances from dog walkers.  When I got to my car the lady beside me loading up her dog gave me a look that combined confusion and pity.    I got inside and when she drove away I let out an awful mix of yelling and screaming from somewhere deep down inside me reserved only for extreme pain.  The physical pain throbbing through my leg, ankle and foot.  The emotional pain of knowing this could be the deciding factor of my ability to finish this race.  That this in fact could prevent me from even being at the start line. 

I’ve been going to physio and have been making some progress.  My swelling has come down quite a bit and I’m starting to regain mobility, but it is still very sore and unstable.  I’m allowed to start swimming and doing some light biking today, but first on the spin bike or my trainer.  Easy outside riding to follow if it feels strong enough during indoor rides.  My physiotherapist says she should have a good idea on Friday whether or not I will be able to race without doing serious damage to my ankle.  It won’t be 100%, so it is likely I will be doing significant amounts of walking during the marathon portion of the race.  It’s possible I will only be able to walk, in which case I will need to have a really good swim and bike to give myself plenty of time to still make the cut off time.  Naturally, I was looking up marathon walk results from the Edmonton marathon this past weekend to see what kind of walking time might be reasonable.  I’ve worked through all of my timing possibilities and obsessed about different walk/run ratios that might work.  I can calculate and recalculate all I want, but I’m really just holding my breath until Friday.

Calgary 70.3

Update #18  •   Posted 1398 day(s) ago

I was a little worried about how I would be able to perform at the Calgary Half Ironman.  The few weeks before I was feeling pretty sick, and thought for sure I had iron deficiency anemia.  I had this in second year university, and felt pretty much the same.  I was extremely tired all the time and no amount of sleep seemed to solve it.  I would get dizzy after standing for short periods of time, and was exhausted after going up a single flight of stairs.  I was noticing it the most in my run training.  For someone who just finished a marathon a couple months ago it wasn’t right for me to be completely out of breath after 10 minutes of light running.  I finally admitted something was wrong with me and went to the doctor to ask for blood work to check my iron levels.  He added this to my regular diabetic blood work I was due for anyways.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I got the call to say I needed to come back in and discuss my blood work.  I thought for sure my iron was low and I would just get some prescription iron pills.  I wasn’t at all expecting to hear that my iron levels were fine but my kidney function tests were abnormal.  My creatinine levels were high and my glomeruler filtration rate was low.  The doctor explained that sometimes people have outside of “normal” ranges as their normal, but this was concerning because I had 7 years of regular blood tests that said I always fall in the normal range.  As usual, I can’t just get news like that and not want answers.  Unfortunately there weren’t really any.  I had to go back in for more blood work.  The symptoms of high creatinine are exactly what I had been feeling.  This was shadowing my confidence in finishing Calgary 70.3.  I really thought hard about whether I could physically finish the race.  I hadn’t been feeling bad in my swims and bikes, so I decided that I should at least start the race for the experience.  If I wasn’t feeling well after the bike I would just take a DNF.  Or I could walk the run.

As usual, I didn’t sleep at all the night before the race.  I have an extreme fear of sleeping through my alarm clock on race day, even though I pretty much never do this day to day.  I like to eat 3 hours before race start so I minimize the amount of insulin in my body when I start, so I dragged myself up at 3:45 am to eat all the food I had laid out the night before.  I checked my blood sugar, it was 11.8.  This was not how I wanted to start the day, and was confused about how it got here since it was 6.1 before I went to bed.  Decision time.  I feel like I already make a million decisions a day about my diabetes and it seems to ten fold during training and racing.  When I think about how much easier racing would be being about to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted, I wonder why people get so wound up about their race nutrition.  My nutrition plan involves a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and the throw your hands up in the air and just deal with what your blood sugars want plan.  You spend so much time analyzing and testing only to end up making split second decisions based on what your blood sugar is at that moment.  I decided to take enough insulin to cover what I planned on eating plus my blood sugar correction, eat only the LaraBar and go back to bed for an hour.  I tossed and turned a bit more before my final alarm went off.  I got up and checked my blood sugar, hoping as the glucometer counted down that I would see a better number. 8.7 showed up on the screen, things were moving in the right direction.  I had a shower and put my tri suit on, got all my stuff together and ate an apple before I left.  I planned on eating more before my swim. 

I got to the lake with my gear bags and started setting things up by my bike.  I checked my blood sugar again, 9.8 with insulin still on board.  I figured I would level out perfect in time to eat my usual Real Fruit bar (30g of carbs) right before the swim.  Once I got everything set up I figured I would go to the bathroom before putting my wetsuit on.  The bathroom lineup spanned about 2 blocks.  Just kidding, I will wait until later.  I went back to where my bike was racked and checked my blood sugar again.  I often check obsessively before a race to make sure it’s not trending in the wrong direction.  11.1, not the direction I wanted.  Pre-race jitters was probably amping it up a little.  I looked at my insulin on board again and hesitated to bolus.  I decided to leave it.  I took my bolus down to -100% (off), my usual for swims.  I put my wetsuit halfway on and got everything I needed for swimming out and put my clothes into the red bag.  After dropping it off with the volunteers I went back to my bike one last time to check my blood sugar.  9.7 meant it was heading back down, but I was unsure of my plan to eat the 30g of carbs.  I questioned whether I should eat half a bar.  I still had some insulin on board and the swim is a really bad time to go low.  I shove a gel in the sleeve of my wetsuit for “just in case” but there is no real way of checking my actual levels while in the water.  I decided to go in for a little warm up and contemplate my choices.  I got back out in time for the moment of silence for the boy that had drowned in the lake on Friday.  We all wore blue wristbands in his honour.  I decided to stick with my plan of the full bar and ate it as I was walking over to the volunteer holding my wave sign.  I chatted with some of the other ladies as we waited for our turn to start.

SWIM – 1.9??? km 37:24

The swim was a really confusing course.  There were actually pro athletes who were disqualified because they didn’t swim the right course.  I was good until we started the first turn, and then I was just lost also.  Because everyone had different colour swim caps, I could tell I was passing the men who had started 5-10 minutes before us, and even some of the relay racers who started almost 15 minutes before.  I was feeling pretty good about my swim, besides what seemed like an abundance of very aggressive swimmers.  I got my feet grabbed and ran over more times than I feel like is reasonable for one race.  I’m lucky I’m really comfortable in the water and besides being irritated, the physical contact and water splashing in my face doesn’t bother me.  I felt like the swim was long.  Seeing posts on the official Calgary 70.3 Facebook page, most people’s garmins clocked their swim somewhere between 2.2 and 2.6 km.  I was careful running out of the water and into transition as I’ve had problems with my calves cramping during this part of the race before.  I had far too much race left to have that problem now.

T1 – 7:11

I got stripped!  Wetsuit stripped.  It was awesome, it’s so much quicker than trying to peel it all off myself.  I’m slow in transition.  I was looking at the top pro’s time in transition, just over a minute!  That’s crazy!  I could probably be done in half the time, but I’m back to making decisions.  I got out of the water at 9.7.  Eating the full bar got me pretty much exactly at what I started the swim with, so had I started with a normal number it would have been great.  I had planned on eating a banana at this transition but ditched the idea because of my blood sugar level.  Besides the regular transition activities, I also had to readjust my temp bolus to -60% for the remainder of the race and decide how much food I would need to bring with me to maintain blood sugars.  I took some things and ditched others into my clear bag along with my wetsuit and swim gear.  I started my bike computer and hopped on after the dismount line.

BIKE – 90 km, 3:20:43

Being a faster than average swimmer and a slower than average everything else means I get passed a lot in the bike.  I was surprised though how many men were passing me.  This meant I had gotten ahead of them in the swim!  It was an absolutely beautiful, clear day with little wind.  I couldn’t have asked for better biking conditions.  Heading out was mostly uphill, good practice for the Wisconsin hills I will be facing in September.  I could see the mountains in the horizon and was feeling pretty content, besides a nagging pain in my stomach.  I had felt this coming out of the water on the swim.  It felt not too bad curled up in aero, but I noticed how bad it really was when I stopped at the first aid station (~30 km) to check my blood sugar.  Sugars were 7.8, I was pleased with the way my nutrition was going on the bike.  There were a few rough hills right before the halfway point, at which time things started going downhill.  The coasting felt great.  I could see my average pace picking up.  Dan and Shawn were parked on the side of the road cheering, I wasn’t expecting to see them out on the bike course so it was a nice surprise to have people cheering my name!  I stopped again at the second aid station (~60 km) to check my blood sugar again, 6.6.  I coasted back into T2, it was cool seeing people already lined up and cheering.

T2- 6:25

Not even that much faster than my first transition.  I racked my bike and checked my blood sugar, 9.4.  It had jumped a bit.  I had again planned on a banana but ended up just eating half of it and blousing 0.2 units.  I knew my blood sugar would drop on the run a bit.  I switched socks and shoes and walked over to the timing mat to start my run.  I don’t usually run in transition so I can get my legs used to being off the bike a little before taking off in running mode.

RUN – 21.1 km,  2:37:18

I actually hoped I would throw up.  Anything to make it go away.  I was in a ton of pain.  Every step I took my stomach would knot up even further and pain would shoot through my abdomen.  I couldn’t figure out what went wrong or what I could do to make it feel better.  I took walking breaks.  I stopped about ten times in the first 3 km to squat down or curl up in a ball hoping it would help.  I knew the run was going to be bad for me but I didn’t expect it to be because of stomach problems.  My legs were actually feeling really strong, like I hadn’t even biked at all.  I continued to struggle, and just kept the bargaining game going with myself.  If I ran to a certain point, I could walk to a next certain point.  I mostly just ended up running until I couldn’t stand the pain anymore, then I would walk until it dulled.  Every aid station I took water, and each addition to my stomach seemed to make it hurt more when I started running again.  I checked my blood sugar, 8.8.  I knew I would have to give a little more insulin so I could start taking in some electrolytes and sugar or I would end up crashing hard.  I bolused another 0.2 units.  I checked again just before the turnaround point, 6.8.  A number I was happy with to start drinking some of the coke and Gatorade at the aid stations.  I took water and coke or Gatorade at every aid station until the end.  I poured ice down my sports bra and grabbed sponges to soak my face and neck with ice cold water.  Despite only being 21 degrees, the sun was glaring and I was hot.  Around 13 km, my stomach settled a little.  I could run without feeling like doubling over.  I ran most of the rest of the way, taking some short walking breaks and walking the uphills.  There was a monster hill that lasted about a kilometre and ended at the 18 km mark.  It’s rough to have a hill like that so close to the end of the race.

I finished at 6:49:01.  A time I knew I could beat, but was overall happy with.  I came in to my family cheering me on at the finish line, and a blood sugar of 5.4.   I have a lot of reflecting and work to do before my full Ironman, but I’m happy to have finished this stepping stone.  I’m incredibly lucky to have such supportive family, friends, and tri team members.  Coming into the finish line and seeing your people cheering you on is such an emotional experience.  I’m now certified as half crazy, full crazy to come in 48 days.

Time Flies...

Update #17  •   Posted 1412 day(s) ago

T-minus two months until Ironman.  Wait – what?  That can’t be right.  Feels like it wasn’t too long ago I was writing my first update on getting started.  It’s been a whirlwind 11 months, and here I am 13 days away from Calgary 70.3.

I had a bit of a rough bike on Saturday morning.  I woke up feeling pretty unmotivated to do anything but go back to sleep, but convinced myself to get out and ride anyways.  I never regret going for a ride and always feel amazing after.  I was sitting at 7.7, then ate breakfast and did my “usual” amount of insulin dosing for a ride based on what I ate.  I took my basal down 80% and filled two of my water bottles with Tailwind and one with just water.  As I started pedalling I immediately felt the heat.  It was 10 am and already 26 degrees.  There was a haze from the forest fire smoke that had been rolling in.  I settled into a pace and it felt like a struggle to maintain my usual cadence.  I absolutely huffed up the first big hill and wondered if the smoke was affecting my lungs.  I was drinking quite a bit and was uncharacteristically excited to finish my ride.  25 km in, I checked my blood sugar.  18.4?!?!?!?!  It had been a very long time since I’d been that high, more or less while biking.  I find my blood sugar drops a lot on the bike and I have to really restrict my insulin and eat crazy amounts.  No wonder I was a total exhausted mess.  I was about 8 km from home and contemplated just going back and ending my ride.  Despite feeling like chugging 2L of water and curling up in a ball to sleep for 6 hours, I talked myself into finishing.  This was far from ideal blood sugars for riding, but realized this very well could become a reality in my upcoming races.  I needed to decide how to deal with it and how my body would recover.  I pedalled right past the house and kept going.  I was sweating horribly from the heat and starting to get nauseous.  I had bloused two units of insulin when I had stopped to test, and was begging my body to start processing it.  My head was pounding.  There was an unusual amount of bugs that were pelting me all over as I surged forward.  One managed to get into my helmet and I could feel it crawling and buzzing its wings as it tried to escape in panic.  I wanted to stop and throw my helmet off, but told myself to keep going and hoped it wasn’t something with a stinger. I would get rid of it at the turnaround when I stopped to check my blood sugar again.  Mental toughness training, get used to being uncomfortable.  I sipped my bottle with just water in it, thankful I held back on putting the electrolyte/sugar combination in all of my bottles.  40 minutes later I hit the turnaround point and stopped to check my blood sugar.  5.6, it absolutely amazes me how quickly the combination of insulin and exercise drops my levels.  I knew I was in a bit of trouble though because I still had insulin on board and 40 minutes back to home.  I ate a fruit bar (30g of carbs) and went back to drinking the Tailwind solution.  My ride ended with me sitting at 5.4, sweating profusely, feeling awful, but still glad I went.

I’m feeling both ready and not at all prepared for my upcoming half Ironman.  I know I can do all the distances, it’s just a matter of getting them together in a nice combination.  I’m a little worried about the run, I’ve been trading my running workouts in for extra swim workouts and bike workouts.  The combination of heat and smoke has scared me off running a little.  It’s been crazy warm even into the late hours of the night, and I can’t help but worry about the possibility of another anaphylactic attack.  The smoke has been making me cough just walking around, and I can’t imagine it will be easy on my lungs running.  The rain has knocked some of the smoke out of the air and it’s a bit cooler today, so I’m going to try and get one in this evening.   

I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself during training.  For instance, when I don’t feel like swimming I tell myself I can sit in the hot tub for a couple minutes when I’m done.  I haven’t actually sat in the hot tub yet, but for some reason at 5 am that sounds like the only thing as appealing as staying in bed.  I’ve come a long way in a year.  I feel disappointed now when I only get a 2 km swim or 40 km bike in.  Yet, I still have a lot to work on.  I am feeling pretty confident about my diabetes management for the swim, I almost always end up with good blood sugars coming out of the water.  The run usually isn’t too bad because I can check as often as I want to make adjustments.  That’s where the bike is tricky.  A test requires stopping, which always seems to get you out of a rhythm.  The bike course has markers every 10 km, and my plan is to test 10 km in to make sure I catch anything before it becomes a real problem.  I will then test at the 30 km, 60 km, and 80 km mark.  This will give me a bit of time to make sure I eat anything else I need to before heading out on the run.  I’m planning on getting in a few extra shorter runs before race day, just to get the legs and lungs back up to par.  I’ve decided I will bite the bullet and hit an indoor track if the weather and air quality continue to be poor.

As for Ironman, I’ve made some small goals for the next 9 weeks:

  • Swim open water at least once per week (I actually like swimming in the lake!)
  • Get all the running workouts in, even if this means hitting a treadmill or indoor track
  • More hills on the bike (my training rides in Sundre have actually been great for this, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten 2 km/h faster on my usual route around here since starting to ride down there)
  • Bike to and from work at least once.  This seems like not that big of a deal except I live 60 km away.
  • Write down all of my food and training nutrition.  I actually think this one will be the hardest.
  • Do a few short training triathlons
  • Try and run off the bike for 15 minutes every time
  • Hit bootcamp at least 3 times per week, I still have some stabilizer muscles that need strengthening, and who doesn’t need more squats in their life?
  • Yoga once per week – that whole stretching/relaxing thing I don’t spend nearly enough time on
  • At least 6 hours of sleep per night.  I often boarder 4, which sometimes leaves me run down.  I think I need to make this one of my biggest priorities.

 

On another note, I was heart broken to hear about the two young children that have died in the past couple days from undiagnosed diabetes.  Both went into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).  Small children with DKA are prone to cerebral edema (swelling of the brain tissue), which has a mortality rate of up to 50%.  Diabetes is no joke.  There is a great need to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of diabetes.  Both children were though to have something common, strep throat and a stomach flu. 

Warning Signs for Type 1 Diabetes:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Fruity, sweet, or wine-like odour on breath
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Heavy, laboured breathing
  • Frequent urination
  • Sugar in urine
  • Increased appetite
  • Drowsiness, lethargy
  • Stupor, unconsciousness

 

If you or anyone you know are exhibiting any of these signs or symptoms, call a doctor immediately.  It took me a long time to admit something was wrong with me and go to a hospital, I later realized how dangerously close to death I was. 

Why Is Diabetes Funny??

Update #16  •   Posted 1423 day(s) ago

Earlier this week, Crossfit posted on their twitter account a picture of a can of coke, with “Open Diabetes” written beside it.  The tweet included a quote from their CEO, “Make sure you pour some out for your dead homies.”  When confronted about the statement, they proceeded to respond with further ignorant, uneducated comments such as “Anyone can get T2 diabetes, even those with T1. Stop assuming we don’t know the difference and help us raise awareness.”

Help us raise awareness?  By spreading incorrect information and mocking a very serious disease?  I’m embarrassed for Crossfit for making these statements.  As a health and fitness company, they should be encouraging people to live an active and healthy lifestyle, not trying to shame those suffering from a chronic illness.  It’s not just Crossfit though.  I see and hear the diabetes jokes everywhere.  I even see my friends posting pictures of amazing dishes of food and commenting about their “diabetes on a plate” or how they’re going to give themselves diabetes.  I reply as often as I can to try and spread the correct information about diabetes.  Sometimes people apologize and take down their posts.  Others tell me it’s just a joke and I shouldn’t take it personally.  I wonder why people think diabetes is funny.  MS, ALS, cancer, and other chronic illnesses aren’t funny.  Why is diabetes?

This whole issue stems from a lack of education and awareness about what diabetes is, both Type 1 and Type 2.  I understand that not everyone knows a lot about diabetes, but I don’t think that is any excuse for spreading ignorance.  It makes you look like this:

Under 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1.  This makes it relatively unknown to the general public, and often the term “diabetes” is generally used to refer to Type 2.  Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are very different diseases. 

Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent Type 1, and currently no cure.  People with Type 1 are insulin dependent, and will die without taking insulin via multiple daily injections or an insulin pump. 

Type 2 is a metabolic disorder in which a person’s body still produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively. It is usually diagnosed in adulthood and does not always require insulin injections. Many factors contribute to the development of Type 2.  Diet and lifestyle are some of the factors, but not all of them.  Genetics plays a huge role in the development of Type 2.  This means someone could be obese and never develop Type 2, and a fit individual that eats a healthy diet can still get the disease.  One of the most dangerous things about Type 2 is it often goes undiagnosed for an extended period of time. 

Both types of diabetes require a significant amount of work to manage properly.  They are 24/7 diseases that never take a day off.  It’s an incredibly time consuming balance of diet, exercise, medication, appointments, and ugly consequences.  The insulin that keeps us alive has equally as much potential to kill us.  The number one thing that gets me through the exhausting management and constant nagging of my disease is the support I get from my family and friends.  People with Type 2 do not deserve any less support.  By spreading the wrong message and joking about diabetes, a stigma has been established.  People keep their diabetes a secret, and feel ashamed about their disease.  This disconnects an important part of dealing with a chronic illness – the support. 

Next time someone tells you they have diabetes, don’t throw that judgemental look.  I’ve seen it.  I hate it.  The “you did this to yourself” and “you deserve this” look.  Maybe instead tell them you’re glad they were so open to you about their illness.  That you appreciate how much work it must be to deal with it every day.  Support them to live a healthy and active lifestyle with their disease.  Don’t make them feel ashamed.  Don’t make them feel scared.  Don’t show the world how ignorant and misinformed you are by joking about diabetes.  I do not find my suffering funny.  Think about how it would feel to be sick all the time.  To stab yourself multiple times a day.  To do everything at your job perfectly and it never turn out the way it should.  

Be a part of the solution.  Help me raise awareness by spreading the correct information.  Appreciate that your body works in a way that allows you to eat and exercise without hours of careful planning.  Never take it for granted.      

Vancouver Marathon

Update #15  •   Posted 1481 day(s) ago

I’m almost always nervous for races.  For whatever reason this time I wasn’t.  Not sure if it was because I hadn’t had time to think about it, or because I really didn’t have high expectations of finish time.  I had been sick for three weeks, followed by two weeks of long work days and far too much eating in Texas right before the race.  I had hardly done any running, and when I did it was at most just over an hour.  Certainly nowhere near marathon distance.  This marathon for me was a training race, a stepping stone to Ironman.  I wasn’t worried about my time, just about finishing.  I knew I could do the distance, I had completed the 50K Grizzly Ultra in October, it was more just about not embarrassing myself on time.  Road running seems to place a lot more importance on finish time than trail running.  I was happy to have a crew of Exist Cycle friends with me.

Jaime, Mike, and I went for our prescribed 3K run on Saturday morning.  It felt good.  The fresh ocean air was awesome, and the km’s went by fast.  I felt a little better about my looming 42.2 the next day.  We met up with Kara and Joanna at the expo to pick up our race packages and all kinds of goodies.  I always find it difficult not racing around home and having to make food choices that would be much easier back in my own kitchen.  I think I did pretty good eating fish for lunch and dinner, not to mention the beautiful ocean views from the patio.  We laughed a lot, and it almost made me forget I had to run the next day!  I debated all day about what to wear for the race.  Shorts?  Tights?  Long sleeve?  I decided to wear my tights and long sleeve over my short sleeve.  Worst case scenario I could tie it around my waist or ditch it at an aid station.  I was already carrying so much stuff for my medical conditions I didn’t think that would really weigh me down.  I seriously looked something like this guy:

  

 I woke up early Sunday morning, 3 hours before my race start in order to eat breakfast.  I don’t like starting a race with a lot of insulin on board or I will tank almost instantly.  My blood sugar was 7.3, and I bolused enough to cover the banana and Larabar I ate.  I checked my blood sugar before I left the hotel at 7:00, another 7.3.  I still had some insulin on board so I ate another banana and started walking to the train station with Mike.  Despite being all geared up, it still hadn’t really hit me I was running a full marathon.  I was calmed thinking this was just a nice long training run, it didn’t matter what time I finished, just that I finished.  Mike gave me some last minute advice about walking through the aid stations and when he usually takes in some energy while we rode on the train.

We got to the start line just before 8:00, half an hour until race start.  I checked my blood sugar again, 9.8.  A little high, but with the insulin I had still in my body it should drop for the race.  Compulsively, I checked my sugar again at 8:20, the last one before race start.  It sat at 8.4, and I was feeling confident it would come down as I started running.  I decreased my basal by 50% for the next 6 hours (I can do this under 6 hours right???) and started chatting to some of the runners around me.  I still had the Ziploc bag full of dried mangoes in my hand, contingency plan if my blood sugar started dropping right before the start.  Even though I knew I didn’t need it, there weren’t any garbage cans in sight, so I decided to hang on to it until the first aid station.

My initial plan was to walk through every aid station (~every 2 km) and drink my water while doing so, then every other aid station (~every 4 km) check my blood sugar and attempt to get some carbs in my body.  When I hit the second aid station it was around 9:10, and my blood sugar had dropped to 4.6.  Perfect time to eat!  I shoved a couple of the dried mangoes in my mouth.  They tasted so gloriously good.  I don’t know what it is about those things when I’m running but they just are amazing.  I decided not to throw the rest of them out because of this, and ended up running with a ball of Ziploc bag and mango all sweaty in my hands.  Two aid stations later, at 9:43 I was at 9.8.  What?  No!  Too many mangoes.  I decided to wait another two aid stations before I ate again, figuring it would drop by then.  At the next aid station I got all confused and took an electrolyte drink by accident thinking it was water.  Foiled!  It was only a small amount and I didn’t think it would affect my blood sugar too much. 

Next aid station came up 10.2 at 10:03.  This reaction was slightly less calm.  More like WTF??  F- this I need to eat or I’m going to crash hard later.  I bolused a unit and decided to let it come down until the next aid station, at which time I ate a few more mangoes, bolused another 1.5 units, and threw the rest of the mangoes out.  I was at about 12 km when I felt a blister coming in on my left foot.  I hadn’t had a blister running in a long time.  I even got off blister free after my ultra!  This was bad news, I still had another 30 km to go on this sucker.  I imagined what a bleeding ugly mess it would likely be at the finish, and was thankful I was wearing pink socks because if it was bleeding I could probably get away with washing the socks and them not staining.

I knew it was going to take a bit for my blood sugar to come back down from the mango ordeal so I didn’t bother panicking myself by checking too soon again.  I waited until 10:47 to check, and got 7.3.  Much better.  I ate half of a Real Fruit bar and was feeling pretty good crossing the halfway point.  I had significantly more hip and knee pain during the Hypo Half in February long before this.  I was optimistic that my legs could keep running the rest of the distance.

I knew I had some insulin still on board and checked at 11:03.  5.0, and would likely continue dropping.  I ate the rest of the fruit bar and was having a hard time chewing it and getting it down.  I felt like I needed more water and less solids.  I made a point of grabbing two or more water cups at every aid station after that.  Sometimes the last half got dumped on my head.  It was actually a beautiful day, and in fact hot at some points.  My long sleeve did indeed get tied around my waist, and I had to keep pushing back the looming concern about the potential EIA attack that could come with the heat for me.  I convinced myself it wasn't that hot, I would be fine. 

I was a little worried my sugar would continue to drop, so I checked it at 11:18.  It was 5.8.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating anything else, so I disconnected my insulin pump completely and took two of the electrolyte drinks they had at the aid stations, followed by two waters.  This didn’t seem to upset my stomach at all, and I decided this was my new game plan at every aid station.

At 11:32 I checked again, and was holding steady at 5.9.  It wasn’t long after this I hit the 30 km mark, and that is sort of where the wall was at for me.  Besides the blister I had been feeling really good up until this point.  It seemed like now it was extremely robotic to get running again after making it through the aid stations.  I kept reminding myself to enjoy the view along the seawall, smile, and that this was just a training run.  I went out of my way to high five every random kid with their hand stuck out.  Something about tiny children giving me a high five like I was a hero made me want to keep running. 

Noon hit and I was at 5.5, the electrolyte/water/zero insulin plan was working.  It was still becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself to start running again after getting through the aid stations.  Once I got going the running didn’t feel so bad, but it was painful and I know I grimaced every time I picked up speed.  I told myself over and over it was just 2 km until the next station, that I could run and then have the quick 20 second walk break through the aid station while drinking.  The porta potty’s always came right before the station itself.  Never have I been so excited to see porta potty’s.  It’s really weird the things you start to appreciate in total exhaustion.  I was glad I wore the socks my sister gave me for my birthday, and the shirt my brother got me for Christmas.  They made me smile.  I was glad I wore my ridiculous tights because I got so many compliments on how sweet they were during the race.  I was mostly glad my blood sugar was hanging on for me.

The last few km’s seemed to take forever, but there was more and more fans cheering the closer I got to the finish.  I hit the 1 km to go mark, and turned the corner thinking I would be able to see the finish.  Not quite.  When I saw the finish, I wanted to run fast.  My legs decided otherwise.  Plus that blue banner still looked forever away!  Were they sure this was only a km?  I have pretty good eyesight and I can see it vaguely so I was thinking it seemed at least two….

Then I could hear my name!  Jaime, Kara, and Joanna were there on the sidelines cheering with signs!  I waved.  I felt awesome!  There is nothing better than having people waiting for you at a finish line.  I finally made it across at 4:27.06.  Considering everything, I am really happy with this time.  My blood sugar ended up at 4.5 at the end.  Perfect. 

Mentally, I feel better going into Ironman knowing I can run a marathon.  I’m also seriously wondering how I’m going to do that after biking 180 km!  I learned lots over the weekend, some things I think I’m good at, and some things I think need some work.  I’m impressed with my mental strength and ability to push myself to keep at these long distances.  I really do believe that is the make or break factor in all of this.  I know I have some work to do on nutrition.  It is alarmingly clear by the fact that I didn’t have my pump connected for half the marathon that I will need to eat A LOT during Ironman to keep my blood sugar up.  I need to figure out how to do this without making myself nauseous.  I loved having the support of my team there this weekend, and am so glad to be doing Ironman with a crew of awesome people.  I’m thankful for everyone in my life who supports me, wishes me good luck, cheers for me, asks how my race went, and those that tell me I’m both crazy and not crazy.     

Unexpected Diagnosis

Update #14  •   Posted 1522 day(s) ago

“Strength is when you have so much to cry for, but you choose to smile instead.”

I’ve been in a few weeks of utter frustration with my diabetes.  I am currently experimenting with nutrition on my bikes and runs, and it is absolutely throwing my blood sugars through a loop while I get it all dialled in.  I’ve had more high blood sugars than I have ever had before, and a few very persistent lows while on the bike and running.  This has led to either cutting them short, or eating so much I feel like I’m going to throw up for the rest of the training session.  Often followed by another annoying high.  I am very meticulous about my blood sugars and it’s been mentally tough to watch the swings and play around with things.  I know training is the time to get all this stuff figured out, but I wish it was easier than guess and check.  I think I’m going to put a CGMS sensor in over the weekend and see if that will help me out at all.  I’m determined to have my nutrition plan and blood sugars cooperate, and will battle through the frustration in the mean time.

 Yesterday I went back to the allergy specialist, hoping round two of my testing would give me something definitive.  Everything I was tested for came back negative.  Between the elimination of all other possibilities and the fact that my symptoms started to go away on the trail once I sat down, I have exercise induced anaphylaxis.

I was really hoping this was a cruel joke.  This can’t happen to me.  I love exercise.  Especially strenuous pushing myself to the limits type exercise.  I feel lost.  I was told I should always carry my epipen, which I have been.  I should also have my cell phone with me in case of an emergency, and it is recommended I no longer run alone, especially on the trails.  There isn’t a ton of information out there as it is a rare condition, but here is what I’ve been thinking about.

Things I Know:

  • Exercise induced anaphylaxis is a combination of two things, exercise (usually strenuous, most frequently running) and a trigger.
  • Triggers can be extreme weather (hot/cold/humid), food, and environmental allergies
  • I think mine that day might have been a combination of the heat and either the birch pollen, ragweed, or timothy grass (my environmental allergies)
  • If it isn’t known if or what food may have triggered it, it’s recommended not to exercise for 4-8 hours after ingestion of any food (because that’s realistic)
  • Outdoor exercise should be avoided when precipitating factors exist.  This means not running outside when it’s really hot, cold, humid, or during allergy season.
  • The reactions don’t necessarily happen every time the conditions favour it

 

Things I Don’t Know:

  • Whether this will happen again.  Some people only experience a single reaction.  If I carry an epipen around for the rest of my life and never have to use it, that would be ideal
  • What my triggers really are.  I have a guess, but that doesn’t mean I’m right, or that other ones won’t cause problems in the future.

 

I’m scared.  I never want to feel the way I did on that trail ever again.  Having something so unpredictable is terrifying.  This will impact my training significantly.  I will have to shuffle my run training around to be either mostly treadmill based, or during times of cooler weather this spring/summer.  There may be a period of time during the high pollen that I will be exclusively using the treadmill.  I need to take some time to seriously consider whether I can do remote trail races still.  I love trail running.  It has always granted me so much freedom from my burdens, and now is a high risk activity requiring special attention.  I’m supposed to stop exercising at the slightest indication of symptoms, take my epipen, and get to the hospital.  This will reduce the likelihood of full blown anaphylaxis.  Will I forever be running paranoid about whether my skin is itchy and my hands are swollen?  What if I realize it too late?

 

I have so many questions and very few answers.  I want to cry, but instead I’m going to run.  Tonight.  Because my dreams are so much bigger than my fears.  Because I believe in looking forward instead of looking back.  Because it makes me smile.

D-Day

Update #13  •   Posted 1574 day(s) ago

“It can’t be anything but Type 1 Diabetes.”

I will never forget these words.  I immediately felt a rush of emotions – scared, confused, panicked, upset, lost.  I had gone in knowing this diagnosis was a possibility, but now it couldn’t be untrue.

Looking back, I started really showing significant signs and symptoms during final exams in my first semester of second year university.  Extreme exhaustion however didn’t seem abnormal during finals.  My family took off to Canmore for Christmas and a skiing vacation.  It was at that time I felt noticeably unwell.  I love snowboarding, and could hardly get myself through a day on the hill.  I felt dizzy and nauseous, and would only be able to get through a couple runs before having to return to the lodge to lie down on the floor.  I would convince myself to get back out there only to struggle through another two.  I was so thirsty I could hardly stand waiting to get to the bottom to get water.  I shoved snow in my face every chance I got.  I felt like I had been in the Sahara desert for weeks on end without water.  No amount of liquids would quench this thirst.  I complained about it, but wrote it all off to some kind of flu.

In January I moved up to Riverview, 20 minutes east of Elk Point for my very first co-op work term.  I would be working at the Canadian Salt Company salt plant and living in this town of 19 houses.  I had a house all to myself overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.  I got progressively sicker and had many excuses for why I felt so bad.  I was exhausted because I was learning so much at my new job.  I was thirsty because I was working at a salt plant (you could taste the salt on your lips after walking around in the plant).  I was going to the bathroom all the time because I was drinking so much water.  It’s always hard for me to accept the fact that something’s wrong with me.  I lived alone so no one was there to tell me how ridiculous it was that I needed to go to bed at 7 pm and get up 12 times in the night to go to the bathroom.  I couldn’t explain the weight loss.  I had dropped 10 pounds that month, and I was eating all the time because I was starving, and wasn’t exercising because I was too tired to do so.  On the last weekend in January, I went hiking at one of the parks in the area.  Just picking my own feet up took me to a point of complete physical exhaustion.  When I got home I felt dizzy and nauseous and spent an hour lying on the bathroom floor waiting to throw up.  What happened to me?  I didn’t even recognize this helpless, sick person.  I finally admitted to myself that something wasn’t right.

I was in a fairly remote area with limited medical care.  I didn’t really know what to do, and didn’t want to drive all the way to the closest hospital just to find out I had some kind of virus.  My boyfriend at the time offered to let me talk to his mom about it since she was a nurse.  This is when I first heard the possibility of this being diabetes.  She asked when I was coming home next and offered to check my blood sugar when I drove down the following weekend.  I thought there was no way I had diabetes, and with no access to internet I had to wait until the next day to do some investigation.

I had every sign and symptom of Type 1 Diabetes.  I looked at 20 different websites hoping to find something else.  I googled all of my symptoms hoping something else would come up.  I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I sort of knew this is what I had, but kept up hope that it might not be.  I didn’t know a lot about diabetes, but from what I was reading it didn’t sound good.

I sat with the feeling for the rest of the week.  It consumed my thoughts.  I ate things like cinnamon buns in case I did have diabetes and couldn’t ever eat anything that tasted good again.  I realize now that’s probably the worst possible thing I could have done for myself.  I also know now I should have gone to the closest ER as I was at risk of slipping into a coma.

I was told to fast for 12 hours and come into the hospital for the end of night shift.  My fasting blood sugar was 24.9.  Nurses aren’t able to officially diagnose medical conditions, but the look on her face told me I had something to be worried about.  I couldn’t stop fidgeting while I waited to see the doctor.  He didn’t waste any time confirming that I had Type 1 Diabetes.  I instantly burst into tears.  I had known, but I also had hope.  His words stripped my hope and just left me with this awful disease.  I didn’t even really know what this meant for me.  An obviously intelligent but socially awkward man, the doctor stumbled over his next words “You’re sad, aren’t you?”  Unable to figure out how to deal with the crying mess of a 19 year old with a newly diagnosed chronic medical condition, he simply left the room.  He came back only after a nurse had calmed me down with an entire box of Kleenex and a shot of insulin.  He explained almost nothing, besides that he would be referring me to the Red Deer Diabetes clinic to do some education.   He handed me a prescription for a ton of different things I knew nothing about, and told me he didn’t think my work term thing would be a good idea.  I panicked.  I loved engineering.  What would I do if I couldn’t be an engineer?  Would I fail out if I didn’t finish this work term?  He handed me a sick note to excuse me from work for a week. The nurse explained I could go back to work once I finished the required education.  I was relieved.  He asked me if I had any questions.  I had about a million, but since I hadn’t eaten in 16 hours I asked if I could eat something.  He told me I could eat whatever I felt like and left the room.

We stopped at Tim Horton’s in Olds before having to head to Red Deer to tell my parents.  I had a bagel and an ice cap, another poor choice made in complete ignorance.  I still had no idea what was going on, what having diabetes really meant, or what a normal blood sugar was.

When I got home and told my mom, she exploded.  We fought.  I cried more.  I guess she didn’t want to admit something was wrong with me either.  When I couldn’t take it anymore I left to go to the pharmacy to pick up all of these things I apparently needed.  The pharmacist looked at my prescription and asked me a bunch of questions, none of which I knew how to answer.  She asked when I was diagnosed, and when I responded that I had just found out that morning, she seemed confused about why I wasn’t still in the hospital and was coming to her before receiving education.  She did her best to explain to me how my glucometer worked, but couldn’t help me with insulin since the doctor hadn’t left dosing instructions and I had no clue how to give myself the shots.  I still had no idea what the numbers on my glucometer were supposed to say.

The next day I fumbled around attempting to remember how to use my meter.  It was after breakfast, and the reading displayed “HI”.  Great, not even a number.  I flipped through the owner’s manual to try and figure out what was going on.  Apparently the meter can’t read blood glucose values above 33.3 mmol/L and will just display “HI” if the reading is above this value.  It said to re-test and if it still read HI to go to seek medical help immediately.  I did it again with no change in result.  I panicked.  I had no idea what to do.  I decided to just go watch my brother’s volleyball game like I was supposed to and would check again after.  HI.  My meter greeted me three more times.  Lost, I told my mom.  This was ridiculous; none of us knew what we were doing.  She drove me straight to the Red Deer hospital.  I was put on IV fluids for a few days.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any beds available so I had to stay in the ER.  I could start my classes at the Diabetes Clinic the following week.  It was loud all night and hard to get sleep.  A nurse came in every hour to check my stats and blood sugar.  At some point I fell asleep, and then woke up in a panic.  I was soaked in sweat, shaky, and unable to move.  I was so dysfunctional I couldn’t even push the nurse call button.  I lie there wondering if someone was going to find me soon and if I was going to die.  A nurse came in and checked my sugars.  5.9, actually a really good blood sugar he said.  He mentioned that my blood sugar had been high for so long that a normal number was probably shocking my system so he gave me a couple cookies to eat.

The next day I was relocated from my bed in the ER to a lazy-boy recliner chair, where I would spend the rest of the day.  Still no beds upstairs and less space in the ER by the minute.  I couldn’t sleep and was bored to tears.  I kept losing my vision as my blood sugars bounced around.  Sometimes I could see ok, other times I could hardly at all.  It made reading anything impossible.  I was allowed out on day pass to the Diabetes Clinic the following day to start my education.  It was an extremely overwhelming amount of information.  I learned what Type 1 Diabetes was, about all the different kinds of insulin, what influences your blood sugar levels, how to count carbohydrates, insulin to carb ratios, how to give myself needles, and the horrid complications that go along with the disease.  I was told my A1c (a measure of your average blood sugar level over 3 months) was 13.1%.  Normal A1c readings are under 6.0%. Back at the hospital, I gave myself a shot for the very first time.  I was nervous.  I’m not scared of needles, but this was so very far outside my comfort zone.  The nurses encouraged me along.  I would have to get used to it.  This was my fate for the rest of my life.  They told me it would get easier.

In some ways it has.  Seven years later I can stab myself without even thinking about it.  The carbohydrate counting and insulin doses have become easier to calculate.  It may have gotten easier, but nothing about living with a chronic illness is easy.  I’m told a lot when people find out I’m diabetic that I’m lucky it’s a disease I can manage.  I’m not sure everyone realizes what a burden the management is.  It’s overwhelming and consuming.  Simple tasks become complex problems.  It’s no wonder the rate of depression among diabetics is higher than the general population.  It’s completely exhausting.  I feel so lucky that I was diagnosed later in life and able to enjoy my entire childhood care free.  However, it is difficult knowing how much easier life is without this beast.  How good I can really feel, how much energy I used to have.  Since being diagnosed, I have never felt as good as I did before my body destroyed itself.  I maintain a normal life, but the harsh reality is I’m still sick.  In order to maintain decent blood sugar control, behind every “normal person” move I make is a series of calculations and obsessive planning.  Even then sometimes it doesn’t work out.  My diabetes challenges me.  I face it every second of every day.  Everything I accomplish with good blood sugar control is twice as much to celebrate.  It tries it’s hardest, but I won’t ever let this disease get the best of me.

Escape Hatch

Update #12  •   Posted 1588 day(s) ago

It took everything I had to convince myself to go for my run today.

I’ve been in a state of constant pain for the past two months.  Some days are better than others, but the past couple weeks have been pretty tough.  The pain throbs deep down in my joints.  My hips, knees, feet, ankles, and hands all suffer.  Mornings are the worst.  They’re stiff, swollen, and hurt the most.  It keeps me up at night.  I wake up at all hours and have to remind myself to breathe.  I have been limited to around 1-3 hours of sleep a night for the past few weeks.  Between the pain and lack of sleep it takes an amazing amount of will power just to get out of bed in the morning.  I spend the rest of the day in a zombie like trance, wanting nothing more than to curl up and sleep.

I went to my doctor in December, and he told me he thought I might have Rheumatoid Arthritis – another autoimmune disease.  He referred me to a rheumatologist.  I saw the specialist on Tuesday, and he told me he didn’t think it was RA – good news.  I was very relieved, but was looking for an answer.  He told me he thinks its reactive arthritis – the pain I was experiencing was caused by a virus and typically takes 3-6 months to go away.  I hate wait and see.  What happens after 6 months if its still there?  6 months takes me into Vancouver Marathon weekend, and a significant portion of my training.  I’ve tried yoga, stretching, foam rolling, days of nothing but rest.  Nothing helps.  The pain is beyond my reach, and the rheumatologist told me to stop taking the anti-inflammatory/pain medication my family doctor prescribed.  The one thing that was making it slightly better.  Apparently the drugs are very hard on your kidneys, and diabetes is already too hard on my kidneys.  I can’t go on like this.

I’ve been very blessed to be the kind of person that can be in constant motion all day, and function very well off limited sleep.  It allows me to cram as many things as I want to do in one day while still being functional enough to do everything the next.  Right now it seems I’m limited to just exactly what I need to do in a day – sticking exactly to training plan and getting to work.  This pain is testing me not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.  How much can I really handle?  Where is my breaking point?

Another restless night last night.  I tried to disconnect my mind from my body, let it ease, convince it to drift off to sleep.  I was still up at 4 am, the last time I checked the time.  At some point after that I fell asleep briefly, and woke up with low blood sugar.  I forced myself to get up and eat as I needed to treat the low.  I wanted to cry as I walked down the stairs and struggled to open containers and packages in the kitchen.  I crawled back in bed to try and warm up a bit and managed to fall asleep in absolute exhaustion, a novelty I don’t have during the week.  I woke up a broken two hours later feeling more rested, but not any more well.  I think things have been worse lately because I’m sick again.  Going for a run is enough work just having to evaluate my blood sugars, insulin on board, and what I’m going to need to balance everything out with the exercise.  Luckily today my blood sugars were cooperating.  6.2 with a little insulin on board, I decided to eat a banana before heading out.  My throbbing joints were trying to convince me not to go all the way to getting out the door.  I made myself a deal that I just need to get out there, and I could cut it down to a 5K if I needed to.

I felt like a robot.  My movement was strained and mechanical.  I spent the first ten minutes begging my joints to loosen up.  Then it happened.   A smile crept across my face.  My mind managed to disconnect from my body.  My legs just kept moving as my thoughts wandered to how good the sunshine felt on my face, the sounds of the birds in the trees, and how the air smelled like spring.  I ducked off the paved trail and into the trees.  I ran to where I had intended to turn around and just kept going.  That feeling of freedom I first felt when running after being diagnosed with diabetes returned.  I ran until my body pulled my mind back in.  My joints screamed they had enough.  I ended up running 12 km, more than the 8.5 I had planned, and way more than the 5 km I told myself I could bow out at.

I can do this.  I will overcome this.  I’ve found the escape hatch, even if it’s only temporary.

Reflecting on 2014 & Looking Ahead to 2015

Update #11  •   Posted 1607 day(s) ago

2014 has been a crazy year for me.  Not unlike most of the rest of my years, it has been a roller coaster of amazing events and some interesting challenges.

I started the year just finishing a battle with a really horrible flu.  In the middle of six weeks of being terribly ill, I was having severe abdominal pain.  I found out it was a result of my dysfunctional gallbladder.  I went back to playing volleyball for the first game of the year as I was having more energy, seemed my body was finally fighting the flu off.  In the middle of the first game I mistimed my block and ended up injuring my index finger on my left hand.  I have jammed my fingers in volleyball more times than I have fingers so I taped it up and played out the rest of the games.

The next day my finger was the typical swollen, bruised, and stiff.  As the week progressed the swelling went down, but I wasn’t gaining any mobility back.  My game had been on Monday, it took until Friday for me to really accept something maybe wasn’t quite right.  My first response is always to deny something is wrong with me.  I spent the day texting pictures to Jason of all of the angles of my finger and asking him if he thought it looked ok.  He tried to convince me to just go in and get it looked at, but we were leaving after work for a ski trip all weekend and I didn’t want to delay us hitting the road.  Luckily, the hospital close to where I was living had a pretty short wait time.  Jason drove me there himself.  The doctor didn’t think my droopy finger was broken, but was pretty sure I had ruptured the tendon.  He had x-rays done to be sure, and turns out my finger was indeed broken.  I had chip fractured it right where the tendon attaches, hence my inability to straighten the top knuckle of my finger.  I was given a horrible hard plastic splint and referred to a surgeon for a consult.  I missed an awesome powder weekend, but was lucky enough to have my occupational therapist sister craft me a more comfortable splint in her kitchen until I got in to the hand rehabilitation clinic.  The surgeon decided I wouldn’t need surgery but sent me to the hand rehab clinic for a splint and some therapy.  I had what is called “mallet finger” and was horrified to find out it would be about 12 weeks of rehab.  Looking back on the pictures I’m not really sure how I thought it wasn’t broken.

A lot of people commented I was lucky it was my left hand, but it’s surprising how much I use both of my hands.  I type more than I write at work, and I couldn’t swim or play any of my usual team sports I do all winter, or even spend time in the gym since I couldn’t lift anything.  My sister told me to take the time very seriously, as improper rehab could result in permanent deformity.  I’m usually bad for getting back into things too quickly.  A blessing in disguise, as it was my finger injury that had me branch out looking for other things to do with just my legs.  I ended up joining Exist Cycle studio to do spin, and eventually their triathlon team.

I found out not too long after that I would need surgery to remove my gallbladder.  I had the surgery at the end of March, just as I was finishing up my finger therapy.  I was nervous for my surgery, I’d been to the hospital plenty, but never knocked out completely.  I spoke with the anaesthesiologist before hand to discuss my blood sugar control during that time.  After finding out I was the hospital’s first ever surgical patient with an insulin pump, and the anaesthesiologist telling me he would let my blood sugar run as high as 14 mmol/L I was not feeling very good about what was to come.  I’m very sensitive to high blood sugars, I feel absolutely terrible at like 9, more or less 14!  Especially post surgery when I wasn’t going to be feeling great anyways.  I went to the endocrinologist and had him write the surgical team very specific instructions on dealing with my blood sugars during surgery.  I was allowed to keep my pump on during surgery, which is not very common.  My sugars were stable the morning of the surgery, which made me feel more confident going in.  The prep seemed to take a while, but once I was taken back everything happened really fast.  I was awake and sent home before I knew what was even happening.  The doctor that discharged me told me I should move around the house, but I couldn’t lift anything over ten pounds for six weeks.  The day after, my mom convinced me it would be good “moving around” for me to walk to the used bookstore, which in all fairness was about half a block from my house.  Between the pain and the icy sidewalk, it took me an eternity to get there.  I was ok looking at books for about five minutes, decided on a few and went to pay.  As I was waiting for my transaction to process I started feeling dizzy.  And nauseous.  The stupid machine couldn’t go fast enough.  I spotted a plastic chair in the corner and got there probably just in time.  I stuck my head between my legs and tried to breathe.  My mom and sister kept chatting away and browsing books.  Soon enough they found me and I told them I just needed to get home.  Another eternity back, and I felt exhausted by the time I got home.  I tried to lay down but got up right away to throw up.  Now I really hate this normally, but it was just awful with healing abdominal wounds.  I had four.  They were mostly small as the surgery was done laparoscopically, but the damage was the same on the inside.  I wondered how I would possibly do a triathlon in two months if I couldn’t even walk half a block.

 I started to heal and slowly got back into activities.  It was a glorious moment when I made it walking all the way around the block without completely losing my breath.  The surgeon had told me I would be back to normal activities in two weeks, so I had been really hopeful.  It took me a lot longer than that, I think because my definition of “normal activities” is different from the general population.  I was certainly back at work and functioning, but I wasn’t back into training.    

After getting back into spin slowly and taking my first ride on my road bike ever outside, I started to notice one of my incisions was not healing properly.  It was the beginning of May and I was only one month out from my first tri.  I phoned the surgeon’s office and they told me to stop in at a certain time between his scheduled surgeries and he could take a look at it.  He told me it was likely a stitch abscess (my body reacting badly to the internal stitches I had) and that if he removed the stitch the localized infection would clear up quick.  He reopened the wound that was almost healed and started digging for the stitch with tweezers.  Without freezing.  I think he thought he would be able to grab it right away, but it sort of buried itself on him and he was repeatedly digging deeper to try and retrieve it.  The med student in the room looked horrified, and kept asking if I was ok.  I’m sure my face was saying otherwise, but I said I was.  I have a pretty high pain tolerance.  The surgeon was unable to successfully retrieve the stitch and cut it out, so the decided to clean the wound out really well, stuff it with gauze, and told me I needed to let it heal from the inside out in order to prevent further infection.  I was to remove the gauze the next morning, and continue covering the open wound under it healed.  Pulling gauze out of your own body is not a really great way to start a morning.  The reopened incision site was about half an inch, and I had absolutely no idea how long it would take to heal.  I was back to not being able to do anything.  After being in week four of six, I was frustrated to be starting over.  It healed faster than I thought it would, and I decided to still do the Half Moon Triathlon race I had signed up for the first weekend in June.  I told myself I could take it slow and just practice.  It didn’t matter how fast I finished.

The race went surprisingly well for how little training I had been able to do early in the year.  I was hooked on triathlon and was looking forward to my other upcoming races.

Sinister 7 was only a month after my first tri.  I spent lots of time in June building back up my cardio and running so I would be able to at least pull my weight for our team in this race.  Ten days before race day, I decided to go on a training run on the single track trails by the river in Fort Saskatchewan before I went coaching.  I had run this 5 km loop a million times, and knew it wouldn’t take too long.  Normally I run with a backpack chocked full of my phone, diabetes gear, water, and just about anything else you could possibly imagine.  For whatever reason that day, I decided to have a light running day and just took off on the trail with a SPI belt that contained my glucometer, some sugar, and my car keys.  I mean I was only going for a 5 km anyways right?

Dead wrong.

About 1 km into my run my skin started feeling itchy.  It was really hot that day, and I don’t find it uncommon during hot weather for my skin to feel a little itchy and my fingers swell up a bit.  I didn’t think much of either and kept plugging through.  About 2 km in to the loop I could feel my lips getting fat.  I started to panic a bit, but convinced myself it was all in my head.  Nothing was wrong.  My tongue started growing until it filled my whole mouth.  My lips continued to puff out.  I looked down and my whole body was covered in hives.  I knew then it was bad.  I was halfway through the loop and knew I needed to get out.  I told myself to relax and keep running.  Soon my eyes started swelling and closing.  Everything became really bright, something odd I still can’t even really explain.  I panicked.  I knew it was probably only a matter of time before my throat started closing up.  I’d had allergic reactions before, but never like this.  I would get stuffed up, or itchy eyes.  On one occasion I had broken out in hives.  But this was another beast.  Anaphylaxis.  I told myself to stop running, to not stress my respiratory system.  I went back and forth.  No – run, you’ll get to your car faster!  You can’t run, you will only make it worse!  I started feeling faint.  I decided I would sit down for a minute and try and collect myself.  I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and besides that the trail is isolated.  I am often alone when I run on that trail and I knew it.  I had to get out of there.  I picked myself up, walked about ten steps and everything went black as I fell to the ground, face in the dirt.  I told myself to take a few more seconds, then get up and go again.  I did.  I fell.  I rested.  I got up.  I fell.  I did this about six times before I accepted the fact that my car was about 2 km away, and at this rate I was never getting there.  I was lucky I was still breathing.  I kept telling myself that as the panicked voice in my head told me that it was only a matter of time before I would die out here.  I picked myself up and fell over one more time.  I tried crawling with not much more success.  Why didn’t I bring my collection of things with me today?  How did a quick run turn into such a disaster?   I didn’t even have anything to call for help, and my tongue and lips were too swollen to make words to shout out.

Bad things happen to me often.  But somehow there is always some kind of saving grace that makes it not nearly as bad as it could have been.  This time, it was mountain bikers on the trail.  One of them found me.  He somehow was able to make out the words I spoke that I couldn’t even understand myself.  Maybe it was my swollen face that gave it away.  He was prepared enough to have his cell phone with him.  He called 911.  The dispatcher had no idea where we were.  He spent what seemed like forever trying to explain to her our location, as we were not on any sort of street.  Time was ticking.  My throat stayed open.  He swatted mosquitoes off my back as we waiting for the ambulance to show up.  His friend biked to the boat launch to direct the paramedics to my location on the trail.  Two ambulances and six medics showed up to get me off the trail.  I told the bikers thank you as I was being treated and they rode off.  How do you even express enough gratitude to someone who saved your life?  I wish I knew who they were, so I could tell them exactly what their actions meant to me.

The doctor in the ER told me he wasn’t surprised I had an anaphylactic reaction.  I had Type 1 Diabetes.  Apparently once your body decides to wage war on itself, it really goes all out.  I was given a prescription for an epipen and told to go to my family doctor to get allergy testing done.

The tests came back.  Apparently I’m allergic to a ton of things, and it wasn’t really clear exactly what had caused my reaction.  I was only three days away from Sinister, a trail running race even more remote than my Fort Saskatchewan loop.  I was nervous to say the least.  My medical form was a total nightmare.

Have you had surgery in the past 12 months? Yes – laparoscopic cholecystectomy

Do you have any medical conditions? Yes – Type 1 Diabetes

Do you have any allergies? Yes – recent anaphylactic allergic reaction while running to unknown

Do you carry an epipen? Yes

Are you on any medications? Yes – Humalog (insulin via insulin pump)

Do you wear eyeglasses? – No

Good thing my eyes are still in good condition. I researched all of the cross reactive foods to the allergies I had and struggled to find things to eat on race day that contained none of them.  My backpack was ridiculously stuffed.  Beyond the mandatory equipment list required by the race of a hydration pack, space blanket, whistle, water resistant jacket, and toque I also had to carry a lot of extra medical equipment.  This included my glucometer, test strips, lancet device, syringe in the event my pump failed, lots of sugar in case I went low, glucagon, two epipens, and some Benadryl.  Pretty much a bag of bricks.

When Dave finished his leg he went to the medical tent to get some ice since he had rolled his ankle at some point during the run.  The team there noticed his race number and said “Hey!  You’re on the team with the girl who has Type 1 Diabetes and anaphylaxis!” Apparently my form must have stood out.  We joked that they probably would be following me while I was running on a quad.

Soon enough it was my turn to run.  I took a deep breath and hoped for the best.  I really had no idea how it was going to go.  Thankfully, the race went great.  I ran as fast as I was hoping I would, and with no medical problems.  Even my blood sugar cooperated for me.  After I finished my leg I went into the medical tent.

“Hi, I’m on team 851 and had quite an extensive medical form, I just thought I would come let you know that I’m done running so you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“Oh!  You’re Heather Cole! Glad to see you’re finished, no problems?”

 This was a different medical tent than Dave had gone to.  The entire crew knew me by name and number.  At least I didn’t get followed by a quad.

The rest of my races went really well, with the exception of the XTERRA hiccup.  The madness of medical problems and wildlife close calls were interlaced with some really amazing times.  I had quite a few really good friends get married this year, including my sister who I was lucky enough to stand up for as her maid of honour.  There have been so many very adorable babies and more to come!  I found a really amazing triathlon group that I love training with.  I spent a week in the most unreal powder ever in Jackson Hole.  I spent more time on my bike than I’ve gotten to in the past few years.  I finished an ultramarathon (I still can’t believe this).

While I know my medical struggles are far from over, I really am excited for everything 2015 will bring.   Vancouver Marathon, Calgary 70.3, and Ironman Wisconsin are my big races for the year.  I’m hoping I will be able to do some international work, and buy my first house.  I’m looking forward to all of the new friends I will make along the way, and making more memories with those already in my life.

Cycle for Cancer & Charity Events

Update #10  •   Posted 1641 day(s) ago

Well at least you don’t have cancer….

I can’t count on my fingers how many times I’ve been told this after sharing with someone that I have Type 1 Diabetes, especially right after my diagnosis.  I think people say this to try and make me feel better, but to me it sounds like “at least you don’t have a serious disease.”  Diabetes is in fact very serious and life-threatening.

  • T1D is a leading cause of life-threatening and debilitating complications, such as blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, amputation, and even death.
  • Eighty per cent of Canadians with diabetes die from a heart attack or stroke.
  • Diabetes is the single leading cause of blindness in Canada.
  • Seven out of ten non-traumatic limb amputations are the result of diabetes complications.
  • Poorly controlled diabetes before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy among women with T1D can cause major birth defects in five to ten per cent of pregnancies and spontaneous abortions in 15 to 20 per cent of pregnancies.
  • The life expectancy for people with T1D may be shortened by as much as 15 years.

These stats don’t give me the warm and fuzzies.  After I was diagnosed I was doing really good accepting everything I was going to have to deal with until “complications” day at the Diabetes Education Center.  This was the day it hit me.  Barring an accident (which I wouldn’t completely rule out at this point due to my natural tendency to be involved in disaster), my diabetes would be the thing that killed me.  Since I’ve never had cancer, I can’t honestly tell you which disease is worse.  I can however with absolute certainty tell you they both suck.

I know people that have cancer, beat cancer, and lost their battle with it.  It’s an ugly disease that doesn’t discriminate between young, old, healthy, or already sick.  While I don’t think I’m luckier to “just have diabetes” I certainly do feel lucky I don’t have cancer.

I’m also very lucky to be part of an amazing spin studio that spends a lot of their efforts fundraising for local charities.  This past weekend I rode at Exist Cycle’s “Cycle for Cancer” event.  They put on five free 45 minute spin classes with all of the donations and fundraising going towards the Alberta Cancer Foundation.  There were six of us that took on the challenge of riding all five classes and trying to hit the over 100 km ride mark.  I decided to do this as part of my Ironman training, but mostly in memory of my Aunt Susan who lost her battle with lung cancer.

 I had a blast at the event.  Five awesome instructors, good tunes, and even better company.  It’s always more fun testing your limits with other people.  You get to joke, complain, and celebrate together.  We all ended up riding over 100 km.  Better yet, my blood sugar stayed between 4.9 and 7.5 for the whole 5 hours.  Another endurance event diabetes win for me.  It was tough, especially the last ride.  When your body starts getting fatigued, your mind starts turning on you.  One of the reasons I love riding/running/racing for charity events is because it gives you a reason to not give up.  The physical pain you feel from the activity pales in comparison to those suffering from the disease.

I’ve been told my decision to do Ironman next year is selfish.  That I’m giving up a lot of other things in my life to train and compete.  I could fundraise for diabetes charities without sacrificing so many other things.

 I don’t disagree.  Every charity event I’ve ever done has been partly selfish.  I do these things because I want to do them.  I choose to fundraise because I know I can make a difference while doing something I love.  I could easily cycle 100 km on my trainer in my living room or do Ironman without donating or fundraising at all.  Don’t ever feel guilty about doing a charity event because you want to do the actual race or grow a moustache.  I once had someone tell me they really wanted to do the MS ride but felt weird fundraising for it because they didn’t know anyone with MS.  I told her I knew people with MS.  It was a great charity and she should do the ride.  Whether you’re directly impacted by the fundraising you’re doing or not, someone else is.  You may not know them.  You may not ever see how much it makes a difference.  If you’re curious, I would highly recommend you spend some time volunteering.  It will open your eyes in ways you would never imagine.  Run, race, ride for those who can’t.  Be grateful for your ability to do all of these things.  Know that your fundraising helps take steps towards a cure, improve patient care, and most of all gives hope to those affected.  Make the most of the time you have in the life you were given.  When your muscles get sore and your mind starts making you doubt yourself, think of all those you’re helping and push even harder.  Smile because you’re making a difference.

World Diabetes Day

Update #9  •   Posted 1653 day(s) ago

Today is World Diabetes Day, so I thought I would post some facts about Type 1 Diabetes along with what diabetes is to me.

What is Type 1 Diabetes? (Facts about Type 1 from JDRF)

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent Type 1, and currently no cure.

Before the discovery of insulin in the early 1920’s, Type 1 Diabetes was a death sentence.  Some of the more fortunate were kept alive for a few months with a starvation treatment that restricted food for days at a time.  While insulin injections or infusion allow a person with Type 1 to stay alive, they do not cure the disease, nor do they necessarily prevent the possibility of the disease’s serious effects, which may include: kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, amputations, heart attack, stroke, and pregnancy complications.

Living with Type 1 is a constant challenge. People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses (either by injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and daily activities throughout the day and night. They must also test their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with T1D still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood sugar levels, both of which can be life-threatening. People with T1D overcome these challenges on a daily basis.

What Does Type 1 Mean to Me? (Random Jumbled Thoughts from Myself)

There are always two parts to what a chronic illness is.  The actual medical facts, and the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the patient dealing with the disease.  The facts are above, and below are some random thoughts about what diabetes means to me.  The good, the bad, and the ugly….

  • Informing people that I have indeed moved beyond the 1990’s and that what they think is a pager is actually my insulin pump.  Observing the resulting horrified reaction and profuse apologies.
  • Finding test strips everywhere.  Places you think test strips would never get to.  Places you think you’ve never had a test strip around.  How do those things even get there?
  • Sitting on the sidelines chugging juice boxes and waiting for my blood sugar to come back up.  Wishing I could be playing.  Feeling sick when I start playing again because I have consumed unreasonable amounts of liquids.
  • Going to bed every night not knowing whether you will wake up in the morning.  The machine that keeps me alive has equal amounts of potential to kill me silently.  Trying not to think about this.
  • Getting to do some pretty amazing things.  I biked across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta with Cyclebetes, ran on a team of Type 1’s in the Canadian Death Race and Relais du Lac Memphremagog, and went on a kayaking trip in Alaska.  All of which I wouldn’t have done without my D.  Next year I will be doing this Ironman with a group of Type 1 Diabetics.  Something I never would have ever thought I could accomplish.
  • The tears rolling down my mom’s face when I was being taught how to give myself insulin injections.  Squeezing her hand so she knows I’m strong enough to do it.
  • Almost going on a first date with blood smeared all over my forehead.  I was fixing my hair after checking my blood sugar and didn’t realize my finger was still bleeding.  Good thing I decided to check the mirror one last time when he rang the door bell….
  • Having a greater appreciation for how your body works.  Trying to replicate a pancreas is impossible.  I am so grateful for all my other systems that work the way they are supposed to.  Except my gallbladder that also didn’t quite work so it had to go.
  • Beating myself up about everything.  Even though I know it’s impossible to be perfect, I still want to be and am really hard on myself when my blood sugar is off.
  • The creativity required to wear an insulin pump with a dress.  Different dresses require different placement so it doesn’t look like you have some awkward growth.
  • How insulin pump tubing defies the laws of physics.  If my tubing is not the same height as the door knob, how does it get caught on there every damn time?
  • Meeting amazing people who not only share my disease but are doing the coolest things despite it!  It’s so awesome how you have an instant friendship connection.
  • Driving 6 hours to volunteer for 8.  It being all worth it when a kid says his favourite part of the day was meeting other Type 1 Diabetics so he feels less alone.
  • Watching my family eat Christmas Dinner with an empty plate because my blood sugar is too high to eat.
  • Being terrified that if I ever do have kids that they might get diabetes.  Knowing I will blame myself.
  • Hitting the wrong spot on a blood sugar check resulting in my finger throbbing like I just smashed it with a hammer.
  • Paying $65 for a Continuous Glucose Monitoring sensor that only lasts 3 days.  Ripping it out after 2 hours by accident.  Burning a couple $20 bills would have been more fun.
  • Having low blood sugar, and when going to get my juice box from my purse I get all stumbly (because I’m not as functional low) and accidently step on my purse.  Not only does this cause the juice box to explode, leaving me to forge for other sugar, but ruins my really nice leather purse.
  • Having a prof in University ask me if I would like to write my exam in the special needs room after telling him I had diabetes and would need my glucometer and some sugar on my desk.  Followed by a horrifying story about his co-worker with diabetes who passed out just last month.  I just need a juice box on my desk thanks…
  • Not looking sick.  Most of the time I really appreciate this.  But it’s hard when my blood sugar is high and it refuses to come down.  I can spend hours or half a day with a pounding headache, my eyes having a hard time focusing, nauseous, thirsty, unable to eat anything, and drowsy.  I feel so lethargic all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep.  It’s kind of like the stomach flu except 100 times worse.  I can almost feel the sugar shredding my blood vessels.  But I don’t look sick at all.  So I slap on a smile and go to work.  Give presentations, focus in meetings, make decisions, talk to people, all while feeling like at any second I could burst out in tears for how much my body is pained.
  • Trying to stand tall through the dirty looks and judgemental comments.  There is a lot of misinformation out there about diabetes.  It hurts that people continue to spread the wrong message because they think it’s funny.  I try my best to educate people and get the right facts out there.  I hope you will help me do the same.
  • Tears of frustration.  I have cried so many.  There is nothing about this disease that is easy.  You can do absolutely everything like you’re supposed to, and your blood sugar still decides to do its own thing.  There is a very extensive list of things that increase and decrease your blood sugar.  Long story short, everything does.
  • Diabetes is 24/7.  I don’t get to for one second forget that I have it.  My brain is constantly multi-tasking between what I’m actually doing and thinking about my blood sugar, next meal, and things I need to do before I exercise.  A lot of things take hours of planning to be able to do.  Things like races take weeks or even months.  Figuring out how I’m going to deal with my diabetes race day is as much a part of my training plan as the actual sports training is.  If I ever get cured I’m pretty sure I will need to pick up a new hobby to fill all my spare time that I usually use dealing with diabetes.
  • I carry a lot of things everywhere.  This includes during races.  My camelback makes it similar to running with a weighted vest.
  • A lot of medical equipment is not designed to work beyond room temperature.  Insulin denatures at warm temperatures and is no good anymore after it freezes.  When I was travelling in SE Asia I had to change my insulin almost every day because it went bad so fast in the heat.  My glucometer almost never works in the winter if it’s been outside for more than a minute.  I frequently snowboard with a glucometer in my sports bra and lines in my abdomen from having my pump pushed against my body to stay warm.  During camping trips I sleep with all of my gear in my sleeping bag with me.  Insulin and test strips aren’t the best cuddlers.
  • My pump however is waterproof, and I’ve swam with it lots.  This is pretty cool except that it’s so heavy it pulls down my bikini bottoms.
  • After I get out of the pool my fingers look like I was being nibbled on by a piranha.
  • How badly people want to have their blood sugar checked when they’re drunk.  Still not sure why.
  • Being that friend that always has candy in their purse when my friends get really drunk and think that rockets are the best thing ever.
  • Inevitably being chosen for the “random search” every time I go to the airport, followed by the question “do you have any sharps?”
  • Horrible inconvenient timing for low blood sugars.  Like in the middle of a hair cut.  Oh excuse me can you just hold off with those scissors for a sec while I get some juice from my purse?
  • Starting to forget what life is like without diabetes.  It was hard when I first got diagnosed because I knew how much easier life was without it and how awesome it is to get to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without thinking about it.  I really have to pull into my memory bank to remember not the things that happened before I was diagnosed, but how I felt. 
  • The best part of it though, is being able to see how much your friends and family really care.  I have received an unbelievable amount of support from my family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even complete strangers.  It never fails to blow me away how kind people can really be.  Please know it means the world to me.  I couldn’t do this on my own.  

Where It All Started

Update #8  •   Posted 1664 day(s) ago

I recently read “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances” by Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal).  It’s actually hilarious and you should probably read it.  It’s a series of pretty funny comics about running, mostly centered on the reasons he runs.  This got me thinking about the reasons I started running, and why I still run.

People start running for various reasons, weight loss, fitness, training for other sports, mandatory gym class activity… Although I guess running started for me as “mandatory gym class activity” and progressed to “training for other sports”, I hated running at this time.  I was bad at it.  My lungs burned and I was slow.  If someone had bet me then I would run an ultramarathon in the future, I would have put money on it never happening.  The 3 km Dawe Run killed me.

 I really started running when I was 19.  I mean running just to run, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.  The reason?  A combination of small town boredom, new found energy, and the desire to defy diabetes.

I started my first co-op work term in January 2008 at the Canadian Salt Company.  The mine/plant is located about 20 minutes east of Elk Point.  For those of you that don’t know where that is but may be suspecting it’s in the middle of absolute nowhere, you’re correct.  I lived in the plant town called Riverview, which consisted of three streets, two avenues, and an outdoor hockey rink.  There are 19 houses and I think only about 10 of them actually had people living in them.  You had to haul your own garbage out and either boil tap water or buy bottled to drink.  It’s a good thing I’m surprisingly ok with living mostly as a hermit, since not only was I living alone, I also didn’t have cable, internet, and barely had cell phone service.  Being before the time of my owning a smart phone, I was pretty much left to amuse myself and cuddle the stray tom cat I was feeding.  I made the hour trip into St. Paul once a week to get groceries and 7-day movie rentals, since I had a shoe-box TV and a DVD player.

 I felt horribly ill and tired all the time.  I made about 100 different excuses as to why I felt that way, until I was officially diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on February 2nd.  My diagnosis is a story all in itself, which I will tell another time.  The first month was the hardest.  You don’t get to “ease” into diabetes; it just hits you in the face all at once.  The finger poking, food measuring, carbohydrate counting, insulin ratio calculating, corrections, and learning absolutely everything the hard way is overwhelming.  I cried so many tears of frustration.  I love solving problems, but this one was the most complicated one I have ever had to face.  After some time, I fell into a routine.  I’m good at recognizing patterns and found that diabetes loves consistency.

At the same time, the weather started warming up.  As my blood sugars evened out, I regained some of the energy I had been missing.  I was really enjoying my walk through the woods to and from work, and I started getting restless spending my evenings in front of the TV.  With absolutely no fitness facilities of any kind in reasonable driving distance, I decided to go for a run after dinner one night.

I would love to tell you it was absolutely magical and I have loved running ever since, but I had been sick for a long time.  I was weak.  It was more blood sugar analysis and carbohydrate balancing.  It was lots of burning lungs and sore legs.  I did however figure out that if I ate the same thing every day for dinner and went for an hour long run, my run would completely burn off the carbs I ate for dinner, which for me meant one less needle a day.  For someone who was taking 6 or 7 needles a day, one less probably wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, but this was a huge glorious victory to me.  (For the record – I can’t do this anymore.  I was in what was called my “honeymoon” phase at the time and my body was still producing some insulin, so I was on very small amounts of insulin to start until the autoimmune reaction destroyed the rest of the cells.)

 Once I got my blood sugars right and my body got more in tune with running, I really started to enjoy it.  I loved that when I ran on the range roads the horses would always come to the fence and stare at me as I went by.  I loved the smell of the spring air and the uninterrupted sounds of nature as I soaked in the flowing North Saskatchewan River running down the Iron Horse Trail.  I loved that I didn’t feel sick, and for that small part of my day I felt free from my new burden.  My diagnosis had ripped up the life I knew, and running helped me start putting the pieces of a new start together.  It healed me in a way I can’t even begin to describe.

There are days I still struggle with running.  It’s still hard, and I’m still slow.  It still burns my lungs and pains my legs.  But it also still makes me feel free.  Good blood sugar runs still make me feel like I’ve defied my diabetes.  Trail running in particular still heals me, maybe because that’s where it all started.

First Ultra

Update #7  •   Posted 1684 day(s) ago

Dear Body,

I’m sorry.  Thank you for staying in one piece. 

Love,

Heather

 

I ran my first ultramarathon on the weekend.  It was a 50 km trail race, the Grizzly Ultra.  Back at the Canmore Nordic Center for my 4th race there this year.  It would be an understatement to say I was nervous for this race.  50 km would be a PB on distance for me, with 38 km (Hamel at Death Race) being my longest run yet.  On top of that, I had been preferentially riding my mountain bike over run training all summer and especially in September.  I wasn’t entirely sure my body would survive, and was even less sure my mind would make my legs move.

 

My friend Darren had signed up to race with me, the debate is still out on who made who sign up.  We made a plan to meet at the typical gas station meeting point on the way out to Canmore in the morning.  Race morning didn’t go quite as planned, as an explosion and electrical fire in downtown Calgary on Saturday left Darren’s building without power.  An early morning text message alerted me to the fact that he actually couldn’t get his vehicle out of underground parking.  We figured I had enough time to run into Calgary and pick him up with some time to spare before race start.  My breakfast blood sugar was 5.4, the perfect number to start out the day.  Darren had to haul his race supply bucket down 17 flights of stairs, then down a couple blocks as the road was closed and I couldn’t quite get to his building.

 

We arrived at the Nordic Center with about an hour to spare.  I parked the truck while Darren got his race package and unloaded our bins.  I met him at the back of the Nordic Center and we grabbed our bins to go inside to get all our gear sorted.  I laughed so hard when his bucket essentially exploded when he picked it up (sorry Darren, I know I’m a jerk).  It was hard not to laugh since this string of events is usually something that would happen to me.  I checked my blood sugar, 7.6.  So far so good on the blood sugar front.  I was really hoping it would cooperate with me, 50 km is too long of a race to be dealing with really bad highs/lows and could make or break my ability to finish.

 

We listened to the pre-race announcements and I checked my sugar again, 6.5.  With 15 minutes until race start, I decreased my basal by 50% and ate a couple pieces of dried mango.  We got all lined up in the start chute and Darren and I hugged (in case I died) and wished each other good luck.   

 

LEG 1 – 14 km, 309m Elevation Gain

Seriously – what is with all these fast people?  I was getting passed by the masses.  I thought I was maybe running a little slow, but looked down at my garmin to see I was running 5:15 min/km up a gradual hill, which is pretty fast for me.  I reminded myself not to get caught up in the rush, as a lot of these people were running on a relay team and only had one leg to do.  I also had a lot of race left to go.  Leg 1 is mostly rolling hills and I felt pretty good.  I saw Darren as he was running back from the turnaround point and we high fived.  I knew that was likely the last time I would see him until the finish, he’s a lot faster than me.  I came back into the stadium at 1:28:01, a great time for a 14 km trail run (for me – not so much for all the crazy fast people).  I got to my bucket and checked my blood sugar, 4.9.  For some reason good blood sugars in a race always seem like a bigger accomplishment than my actual times.  I drank some electrolytes and grabbed a few pieces of dried mangoes to eat as I started Leg 2.

 

LEG 2 – 12 km, 385m Elevation Gain

The second leg starts as a climb out of the Nordic Center, so I took this opportunity to eat my mangoes and get some water in.  There was a photographer standing in the middle of the hill, I can only imagine how great the photo of me walking and shoving mangoes in my mouth looks.  Once the hill levelled off I started running again.  My Achilles tendon on my left leg was starting to pull and ache.  I was horrified as it was far too early into this race to be having problems.  I tried to ignore it and kept pushing forward.  About halfway into the leg came another up hill section.  I took the time as I was walking up the hill to check my blood sugar, 5.3.  I ate a couple stingers to make sure I wouldn’t go low in the next 6 km back to home base.  The last two km was mostly down hill, and I finished Leg 2 in 1:36:06.  So far I was really happy with my times.  I could hear Natalie cheering me on as I came in to the stadium.  She was running the race on a team and we got to chat for a bit as I riffled through my bin.  I checked my blood sugar again, 6.2.  I was glad I made the decision to eat the stingers.  I knew as the race went on my blood sugar would continue to drop more intensely with the build up of time spent exercising.  I decided to put my basal down to -70% for the remainder of the race.  I drank more electrolytes, ate a banana, and took off for Leg 3 which I had heard was the toughest, most technical, and fun.

 

LEG 3 - 12 km, 510m Elevation Gain

 The first two km of Leg 3 were not too bad.  I was feeling a little sore in my hips and knees after the first two legs, but besides my Achilles, was in better shape than I thought I would be at this point.  The trail dropped into the singletrack and became a nasty series of short steep hills.  Bret absolutely loved this leg on his bike, and I could see why.  However running them did nothing but destroy whatever was still feeling good in my knees.  After that section, the rest of the leg was slow and painful.  I started to panic I wasn’t going to meet my goal time of 7:30.  I reminded myself I was just here to finish, and that I should be happy with anything under 8 hours.  I re-focused on just getting the leg done.  More uphills and steep knee pounding down hills.  I was moving at turtle pace.  It felt like I had been on this leg forever, and was secretly wishing I was on my bike.  I checked my blood sugar to distract myself a little and make sure I was still on track.  The 6.1 made me smile, at least my blood sugars will still cooperating.  I ate two more stingers and pushed on.  I finally made it back to the stadium in pain, with a horrible looking gait at 2:11:23.  Back at the bucket, my blood sugar was 6.6.  I knew I needed something to get me through the next 12 km.  I cracked open my all dressed chips bag.  Amazing.  I don’t even normally crave chips but at this moment they tasted like magic.  More electrolytes, a handful of chips for the road, and off to Leg 4.

 

LEG 4 – 7 km, 272m Elevation Gain

The first 2 km of this leg is an ugly uphill battle.  I walked and ate the rest of my chips.  Another photographer on the hill, I wondered if there would be any photos of me from this race where I wasn’t walking and eating.  It was hard to look down at my garmin and see how slow I was going.  Once I crested the hill, I convinced myself I needed to start running.  My legs were in a world of pain and my feet were feeling pretty tight in my shoes.  The last 10 km of the race was a very intense battle of my mind convincing my body to keep moving.  I actually liked the last 5 km of Leg 4.  It was really fun and technical singletrack.  Had I just run that leg, I would have loved it.  My sore body kept me from fully pounding down the hills and leaping over rocks and roots like I normally would, but I still enjoyed it.  I actually surprised myself how much I was able to run in this leg, even though it was slow.  I struggled to maintain 10 min/km pace.  As I came down the last hill a spectator yelled at me “You’re almost there!” I told him I still had the last 5 km to go after, and he said “Well you’re rocking those pants though!” (I was wearing my Friday pants again).  I finished Leg 4 in 1:19:03.  I was starting to think I had half a chance at making my 7:30 time again.  I checked my blood sugar quick, 8.7.  Darn chips.  It was my first “off” blood sugar of the race but I didn’t touch it.  I knew that it would burn off in the last leg.  I opted to drink some water from the aid station at the base and just start on the last leg without stopping at my bucket.

 

LEG 5 – 5 km, 215m Elevation Gain

The last leg is a bit of a double edged sword.  It’s exciting because you only have 5 km left, but daunting because you still have 5 km left.  I knew this was going to be the longest and roughest 5 km run of my life.  I can usually cruise through a 5 km run in 25 minutes.  This one however had big hills, and I knew my running pace at this point would be put to shame by some people’s fast walking.  The up hill at the start was tough, but it seemed harder to convince my legs to get moving to a run after I got to the top.  I kept using landmarks for where I had to run to next before I could take a short walking break.  Every once in a while my Achilles would pull so hard I thought I was going to fall over.  Everything hurt.  850m from the finish my garmin died.  I ran out of water in my camelback.  It was time for this to be over.  I knew I was going to come in close to my 7:30, but wasn’t sure where I was at anymore without my trusty watch.  I crossed the bridge that I knew would lead to the down hill back to the stadium.  As soon as I saw the finish line I had an insane rush of emotions.  Happy, accomplished, and for some reason a strange desire to just cry.  Not sure from exhaustion or if they would be happy tears.  I choked them back and saw Darren cheering me on at the chute leading to the finish line arch.  7:33:47, darn close to that 7:30.

 

I made it.  50 km.  My first ultra.  5.0 blood sugar at the finish line.  Take that diabetes, I beat you today.  Thank you body for getting me to the finish line.  Thank you mind for being stronger than the emotions and pain.

 

Most of all thank you to my friends and family for your amazing support to get me through all ten of my races this year.             

 

2014 Races:

Stephie’s Bike Tour: 85 km road bike

Half Moon Triathlon: 750m swim, 20 km road bike, 5 km run – my first triathlon!

Edmonton Off Road Triathlon: 600m swim, 10 km mountain bike, 6 km trail run

Beaumont Triathlon: 500m swim, 15 km road bike, 5 km run

Sinister 7 Leg 4: 18 km trail run

Grizzly Open Water Swim: 1500m open water swim

XTERRA Canmore: 1500m swim, 24 km mountain bike, 10 km trail run

Blitz Duathlon: 7 km trail run, 20 km road bike, 3 km trail run

Grizzly Mountain Bike Relay: 26 km mountain bike

Grizzly Ultra: 50 km trail run

Team Racing

Update #6  •   Posted 1691 day(s) ago

I absolutely love racing on a team.  Which is out of character for a control freak that has a hard time asking for help or delegating tasks because I just like to do everything myself.

In team racing I can combine pushing myself and seeing my own results with achieving a common goal with other people.  While everyone’s time contributes to the overall team time, I can still focus on my individual performance.

My first taste of team racing was in competitive swimming with team relays.  I loved swimming the medley relays because I always got to do breaststroke, my favourite stroke.  The zone relays at provincials were the most fun, because I got to race with girls from other swim clubs within my zone.  It was awesome to race with people I normally competed against.

I have since run many races as a team, including four Sinister 7’s, three Canadian Death Races, and Relais du Lac Memphremagog.  Some of my teammates have been friends, and others complete strangers that quickly become friends.  There’s something about sweaty hugs and high fives that really solidifies a new friendship.  I did my most recent team race this past weekend with my brother, the Grizzly Mountain Bike Marathon – a 50 km race split into five different legs.  The course is the same for the 50 km ultra I will be running this weekend, so I figured I mine as well get on my bike and check out some of the course.

As a typical older sibling there was a lot of things I dragged Bret into.  Normally I would start out in something and get him involved.  It would never take him long to catch up, and then completely blow me out of the water.  This was true for volleyball, snowboarding, and even the couple running races I got him to sign up with me for.  But mountain biking has always been Bret’s.  Ever since we were little I’ve never been able to keep up with him on his bike.  Despite our two year difference, I’m fairly certain we got our training wheels off at almost the same time.  While I cautiously figured out the new balance, Bret tore laps around our close.  His speed never died down as we moved from the paved roads to trails on our family camping trips.  Eventually he got into the adrenaline packed sport of downhill mountain biking.  I’ve been trying to convince him for years to buy an XC bike so he can ride with me more, and this year after careful consideration and many visits to the bike store, he finally bought an amazing XC bike.

After spending an evening huffing it after him up the Pneuma trail on Moose Mountain, I thought to myself I am not sure he fully realizes how fast he really is.  He patiently waited for Jason and I to catch up to him on the trail, and waiting even longer on the way down.  I joked to Jason if I hopped over to the gravel road he would still beat me down on the singletrack.  I later asked him if he would be interested in racing the Mountain Bike Marathon as a two person team with me.  He was stoked.  After we decided on how we were going to divide the legs, I gave him the full disclaimer that in the mountain bike world, I’m not very fast.  It was possible I would be coming in after the first two legs in last place, putting him in a position of playing serious catch up for the last three.  He told me he didn’t care and it would just be for fun.  I think he really does just love being on his bike.

I woke up race day morning at 4.8, a perfect pre-breakfast blood sugar.  I ate my berries and granola, and bolused slightly less than I had for the Blitz event a couple weeks ago.  Bret came to pick me up and we loaded our bikes.  His truck was fully packed as my parents and his girlfriend Jessica were coming to watch.  I checked my blood sugar when we got there, 5.1.  A good number, and with just over a unit of insulin on board I decided to eat a banana and let things level out in the next hour before race start.  I got all my gear on and got my bike ready.  During pre-race announcements I reminded Bret that it was possible I would be coming in last.  He just smiled, told me it was all for fun, gave me a high five, and told me good luck.  I checked my blood sugar one last time, 6.7, perfect.

I seated myself at the back for race start.  I didn’t need to get trampled 5 m into my 26 km.  Everyone bolted out of the gate.  I was pumping my legs as fast as I possibly could across the flat field and people were just blowing away.  I was secretly hoping this was just the initial start madness and people would settle into their pace soon.  As I feared, that was in fact their pace.  Sometimes I am just in awe of how fast people can actually get going on a bike.  My goal time for my two legs was two hours, but I figured I would be in sometime between 2:00 and 2:30.

Despite being completely lost from the pack, I felt fast on the first leg.  There was a lot of downhill on the way there, and at the turnaround point I only saw two people still coming behind me.  The uphills on the way back were not significant, and I felt powerful pushing up them.  I passed a few more people, and ripped into the stadium for the transition to leg 2.  In the madness I didn’t even check my time coming in from the first lap, so I had no idea where I was at.  Leg 2 started with an ugly climb.  Although steep, it was manageable.  Just relentless.  It seemed to go on forever.  There was a photographer sitting at the final crest of the climb.  My face in the photo describes the thoughts in my brain perfectly.  I reminded myself that Bret was waiting back at the Nordic Center to get going.  I had to keep pushing as hard as I could so he could get started.  The trail levelled out for a bit, and opened up to a beautiful view of the mountains.  I soaked it in before I started more climbing.  My lungs were burning and my legs weren’t too far behind.  I knew that everything I was climbing now would come back down towards the end of my leg.  I thought about what I might be at for time.  I was hoping I would be coming in on the two hour mark.  I had a bit of a fun descent through a wide trail in the trees before the climbing started again.  I had looped back to the trail I came out on so I knew this was the last ugly climb before I could cruise back to home base.  I pushed as hard as I could and forced myself to gear up at the top so I could push ahead even though my body resisted.  The rest of the trail was fast and fun.  I popped off my bike and ran into transition area to transfer the timing chip to Bret.  He was eagerly waiting and ready to go.  He got the timing chip around his ankle and took off flying.  I checked my blood sugar, 6.4 at the end of the race.  Couldn’t be happier with my blood sugars for the race, and better yet I came in at 1:31!  Much faster than I thought I was going to be, and significantly faster than my XTERRA time for the 24 km bike I did at the Nordic Center a month and a half earlier.

I changed and settled into a good spot with my parents and Jessica to watch the rest of the race.  Bret came in after each of his legs with a smile on his face.  We could see the hill at the start of Leg 4 from where we were sitting, and it looked ugly.  People were moving up it at snail’s pace.  Bret powered up it with no problem, and navigated all the technical singletrack on all of his legs, hopping over jumps and flowing in the berms, passing people as he went.  He cruised in to the finish at 3:41, beating our 4 hour time estimate I had thrown out to my dad.  After crushing a sample of everything at the aid station, with a salt crusted face Bret told me he had so much fun and was definitely up for doing it again next year.        

That’s the other reason I love team races.  Beyond getting to see what I can do, I also get to see my teammates push themselves to the limits and accomplish some amazing things.  I already can’t wait to see how fast he’s going to be next year.   

 

Fanny Packs, Friday Pants, and “Fun”Races

Update #5  •   Posted 1706 day(s) ago

What’s cooler than wearing a fanny pack?

Wearing two fanny packs.

Technically they are SPI belts, but by the time I stuff all of my things in them they look more like a full blown fanny pack.  I typically run with a small back pack on, but was a little torn about wearing it for the duathlon I was doing this weekend since I had all the gear I needed in bags on my bike.  I decided for the 7 km and 3 km run distances I could probably go without water, and just drink lots on the bike.  I was looking forward to not feeling as bogged down with all the water and other things I usually stuff in my back pack.  I put my epipen in the SPI belt that doubles as my race number holder, and the other held my glucometer and glucose.

I notice every time I go to a race there are so many people that look so intense!  All the official gear, outfits, and some serious muscles.  I’m never that person, but I knew for sure that the double fanny pack would never qualify me as “intense” so I decided to ditch my typical tri shorts and bike jersey race outfit for my Friday pants and a neon orange tank top.  My Friday pants are tight, mid calf length spandex with an outrageous purple design on them.  The first time I wore them to the spin studio Jaime commented on how much she loved them, and said she had a pair of crazy design pants like that she called her Friday pants.  Outrageous outfit and fanny packs ready to go, I was excited for this “fun” race.

The Blitz Duathlon (7 km trail run, 20 km road bike, 3 km trail run) was my 8th race of the year.  It’s so easy to get burnt out in a race season.  I’ve done it with as little as two races by just putting so much pressure on the race results and training.  I love to race, but it does take its toll on both my body and mind.  This year I decided to sign up for some “fun” races – ones where I don’t focus on the result but more just enjoying the race itself.  I think it’s really important to spend time just loving everything about a race – the scenery, fresh air, speed, other athletes, pain, and the feeling of accomplishment.  Don’t get me wrong, I still show up to compete and do my best.  I still have a goal time.  I still look at my results.  I just don’t beat myself up if the race doesn’t go exactly as planned and focus on all the things I really loved about the race that day.  I try new things with my strategy and nutrition.  Basically what a lot of people consider a training race, but I like the word fun better.

I woke up race morning without any nerves.  The day promised beautiful weather and I was really excited to just be outside.  I woke up at 6.8, a little higher than I normally wake up but nothing to be worried about.  I took some insulin and had a shower, part of my pre-race wake up routine.  I sat down for my breakfast of blackberries and granola.  I was hoping this would work out better than the XTERRA morning.  I changed into my awesome outfit and drove out to Station Flats, just south of Bragg Creek.

I dropped my bike off at the transition area and parked up the road.  I have this obsessive problem with being extremely early for races, as I hate feeling rushed.  I was still two hours out from start time.  I sat in my car at the parking lot and listened to some good music while I kept an eye on my blood sugar.  8.4 and 8.0 showed up over the next half an hour.  Not bad considering I still had a bit of insulin on board, I thought it would settle out nicely.  I checked one last time, 7.4, before I walked from the parking lot back to the start/finish line.  I double checked everything was still good with my bike as a lot more people were starting to rack up.  I met up with Greg who had agreed to sign up to race with me that day.  We chatted about the race and how we both were a little under prepared as he had been enjoying some company and hiking in the Calgary/Canmore area for a few days, and I had wrecked myself on a demo mountain bike the day before.  My left palm was severely bruised, and although I knew it wouldn’t affect me much, I was dreading the ache it would cause me on the bike.  Another check, 3.9 50 minutes before race start.  Crap.  I shoved as many dried mangoes as I had in my bag into my mouth while trying to casually keep conversation.  I dropped my basal rate by 50% for the next 4 hours to cover the entire race time.  I figured that would do it.  I checked again 20 minutes later, 4.1, not exactly where I wanted to be pre-race.  I downed a banana and checked my bag.  Greg and I went for a little jog down to the road and back to try and warm up a bit.  We made it back just in time for pre-race announcements.  I checked again, 6.1 with 10 minutes to go before the start.  Much better.  I felt confident that number would settle out nicely during my run.

I was all smiles as the race kicked off.  Greg and I wished each other good luck and took off down the trail.  Running on trail is difficult at the start of the race.  There isn’t really good passing opportunities compared to road running.  I picked my way around a few people as we got going.

Run #1

0-1 km – A nice rolling trail.  Beautiful.  I was feeling good and loving it already.

1-3.5 km – How did this get so hard so fast?  Mostly an up hill battle, especially towards the turnaround point.  I had read on the website that this run was mostly rolling hills.  What I think they meant was it rolled up on the way there and rolled down on the way back.  I was struggling.  I realized I hadn’t even ran in almost two weeks.  Bad training.  My lungs hated me, but my legs tried to convince them it was alright.  I reached the turnaround point and high-fived the awesome volunteers before heading back down the trail.

3.5-7 km – I love running down hill.  I am blessed with fairly stable ankles so I can take the trail descents pretty quick.  My lungs calmed down and I settled into a really good pace.  I got the smile back on my face and cruised back into transition at 49:04 and a 7.1 blood sugar.  I shoved two stingers in my mouth and put on my bike gear as fast as possible.  Just changing shoes is much easier than trying to strip off a wetsuit.  Despite swimming being the best part of my triathlon, I was a bit thankful to actually have a dry butt heading on to the bike.

Bike

The website described the bike as rolling hills, with most of the elevation gain in the first 10 km, and the way back a nice quick ride to transition.  It was indeed mostly gradual uphill on the way there with a couple epic hills and enough downhill on the way back to make you forget how hard you peddled up.   Greg said he clocked in at 63 km/hr going downhill, and if I actually owned a bike computer I wouldn’t have been able to read it as my eyes watered up so bad despite having my glasses on.  While going that fast downhill was a good rush, my mind couldn’t help but wander to the horrible pile of limbs and bike parts I would be if I happened to lose control.  I’m not very stable on my road bike, reaching for my water bottle on flat ground is a challenge most of the time.  I thought about Jaime’s ditch excursion from a couple weeks ago, laughed a little, then told myself to focus and I would be fine.  I soaked in the view and the fast ride on the way back, coming in at 47:20 including transition time.

Run #2

What is with these calf cramps???  I’ve had them on multiple races this season.  I drank my entire bottle of water on the bike, I felt like it couldn’t be just dehydration.  I had to stop about 500 m into the run to stretch out against a tree.  Running uphill the first 1.5 km actually helped stretch them out a little as well, so I was able to push it hard the last half of the run.  The second run loop was pretty muddy, and I passed people trying to pick their way through drier ground.  I’d been through worse in other trail races, and my flip flops were waiting for me at the finish line anyways.  I came in with a smile on my face at 1:57:55, just under my goal time of 2 hours.

I ended up 4th for women 20-29 out of 15, and 11th for women overall out of 46.  Not bad for a race comprised of the worst 2/3 of my triathlon.  Best of all I had an amazing time in the mountains on a beautiful day.  How do Sundays get any better than that?

That Feeling

Update #4  •   Posted 1711 day(s) ago

“All I feel like doing is crawling into bed and sleeping.”

Exactly what I thought when I finished work yesterday.  I had a pretty rough day, starting with being up in the middle of the night dealing with low blood sugars, sleeping through my alarm only to wake up to another low, then getting caught in extremely backed up traffic on the Henday on the way to work.  I would love to say things got better from there, but I battled a few more lows during the day and was pretty busy at work all while being the level of functional that allows you to put on two medic alert bracelets and not notice the redundancy for 3 hours.

So how did I go from wanting to crawl in bed to riding my mountain bike until the sun went down?  Certainly not a magic mental switch, I actually did the snaps up on my bike shorts completely wrong, a pretty good feat considering there are only two.  It’s that feeling your soul craves louder than your mind can scream at your body.  The shear happiness and satisfaction that comes with doing something you love.  A smile that inevitably creeps across my face as I fly down the singletrack, the feeling of accomplishment after slogging up a steep hill, and the flutter in my heart when I attempt a technical trail feature.   

Do I fail?  Yes, in fact it’s rare I have a ride on my mountain bike that doesn’t involve losing some skin and adding new colour to the fading collection of bruises on my legs.  Coach Dan and I had a conversation last week about setbacks.  I know injury and illness is on my list.  I’m the kind of person that gets stitches twice in one month and has nurses recognize me at the hospital from my last visit to the ER.  I’ve had a particularly challenging year so far.  The setback talk got me thinking about what keeps people going.  How do people get back up and brush the dirt off?  What drives us to take the cards we’ve been dealt and throw them out the window as we accelerate forward?

That feeling.

I once was on a trail ride that was supposed to take about 2 hours. I had done this trail before and along with my trusty guide book I should have known where I was going. Instead my horrible sense of direction got us not only lost, but it took me over an hour to realize I had no idea where we were.  That sinking feeling that I didn’t recognize the trail turned into accepting that forging a creek when there wasn’t supposed to be a creek guaranteed we were way off track.  I suggested we keep going, as the trail was “bound to loop back to the parking lot.”  Well it did, but not for four more hours, putting our total ride time at 6 hours.  While my riding partner was doing everything he could not to strangle me, I was having the best time of my life.  I didn’t even care we were lost.  The trail had such amazing flow I could have rode it for 6 more hours.

People often ask me how I have the energy to do everything I do.  To get out of bed at 4am and not get back there until 11pm.  To battle the extra work of diabetes management during exercise, bad blood sugars, and the rehab after broken bones and surgery.  To do a trail running race 10 days after having an anaphylactic allergic reaction while running.

I can’t get enough of that feeling.   

Group Road Ride Adventure or "Who are the dummies biking in the rain?"

Update #3  •   Posted 1732 day(s) ago

I drove out to Ardrossan after work today to meet up with a crew of Exist riders, a mix of friendly faces and new friends, for a group road ride. Coach Dan had sent me a very thought provoking email about mental training and writing a training journal. While I plan to officially start documenting next week I decided to make a few mental notes while riding about things I may need to work on during training.

Anything titled "Adventure" should probably have some sort of near death experience.  Jaime took the ride lead and not long after we picked up speed, a few swerves and she had veered off into the ditch.  Magically she kept speed, pedalled through, and popped back up on the road.  Couple more swerves and she was cruising again.  Ok, maybe she didn't almost die but I was equally as confused as to what happened and impressed how she managed to pull that off without it resulting in complete carnage.

Mental note: Learn how to recover from a ditch excursion gracefully. Wait - how do you learn that? Practice? Don't even think about it...

Not too long into the ride it was obvious I was the slowest in the group. This is nothing new for me, I know I'm slow on the bike. And run. I talked with Rob for a bit, he had just ran the Edmonton Marathon last weekend – his first marathon, an amazing accomplishment!  He soon easily breezed ahead of me.  This guy on sore marathon legs is killing me!

Mental note: Come up with ways to get faster. 

1. Buy a faster bike. I only paid $900 for my bike. This is not a fancy or fast bike. 

2. Train harder. Bikes aren't cars, the person pushing the pedals makes the bike fast.

Jaime fell back and asked how I was doing. I told her I was slow. She told me to push a bigger gear, that I should get used to riding there and I needed to develop the strength anyways.  Even if my cadence slowed I would still be moving faster. I decided to give it a go. It went pretty well until we hit an uphill. My quads screamed a little at me and I briefly thought about down shifting before I gritted my teeth and battled through. I was a little surprised I could climb in that gear.

Mental note: Spend more time pushing your limits on rides. You're capable of more than you think most of the time.

We stopped at the end of the road to regroup and I took the opportunity for a blood sugar check. 3.3 - I disconnected my pump and shoved as many fruit mentos in my mouth as possible while still being able to breathe. I thought I had eaten enough with the combination of decreasing my basal rate by 50% before the ride. I still haven't quite figured out blood sugars and road riding. It doesn't act at all the same as mountain biking, where adrenaline tends to push it up and balance out the cardio drop.

As we rode by Elk Island National Park the rain started to fall and a lone bison eyed us up from the other side of the fence. I laughed to myself a little because when Jason and I first started dating I convinced him to go on a hike in Elk Island with promise of beautiful scenery and bison sightings. I must have picked the worst trail in the park as we just ended up whacking our way through knee deep grass for 10 km in the 30 degree heat while getting swarmed by bugs. We didn't even see a single bison. While he didn't complain once he was not nearly as enthused as me when I spotted a lone bison by the fence from the highway as we were leaving the park. He's given me a hard time about it a few times since then.

Mike hung back with me for a bit and we chatted about his experiences in both Challenge Penticton last year and Calgary 70.3 this year.  He’s got some great stories and I’m looking forward to picking his brain for some advice in the next year.

I realized that pushing the big gear was becoming easier, I felt like I was getting faster as the ride went on.  Or maybe it was just the added motivation from the rain and looming black clouds.  I pedalled with Leanne and Shawn for a while.  Leanne is inspiring.  She’s proof mental toughness and motivation can do amazing things for you.  I mean, she drove out to Ardrossan on a spare tire last night to join us for a ride – most people would have used that as an excuse to not show up.

Mental note: Don’t make excuses. Find a way to make it happen.

I talked with Shawn throughout the ride about Ironman and training.  I somehow managed to convince him to join me in this crazy journey. I’m really excited to have him as my training partner, he’s fun and encouraging.  I know he won’t let me fail.

I caught up to Jaime as she was slowing down to check on the rest of the group.  We commented for a few minutes about how we couldn’t believe how dark it was until we realized we were both wearing sunglasses.  Ok, maybe not as dark as we thought.  I said “really, for the clouds the weather could be a lot worse.”  Real life foreshadowing.

As I caught up to Greg – former coworker turned friend, the rain really started to hit hard.  The threatening black clouds finally lit up and the thunder rumbled.  We both laughed about our inability to really see anything because the hammering rain managed to get past our glasses.

With Jaime’s encouragement we all pedalled hard the last couple km’s into the parking lot to celebrate the finish of a wet, but awesome 50 km ride.  The eventful rides are usually the most fun.

Mental note: I’m lucky to have such amazing people in my life that will join me on crazy adventures.

 

 

A1c's and XTERRA

Update #2  •   Posted 1741 day(s) ago

I knew as soon as I registered that XTERRA was going to be a tough race for me. 1500m open water swim, 24 km mountain bike, and 10 km trail run at the Canmore Nordic Centre - where the trails are rocky, rooty, and the hills are steep and long. As a triathlon newbie this year it would be a big challenge. An emergency shutdown at my plant three and a half weeks before the race resulted in a bit of a hold on my training as I was working long days, including weekends. Not doing much for that amount of time before the race made me extra nervous going into it. With spots for the XTERRA championships in Hawaii on the line, I knew there were going to be some crazy fast competitors and I had to remind myself even if I got destroyed I was there to push myself hard to the finish and have fun. I felt a little better a few days before the race as I went to the doctor to get my latest A1c results. I couldn't have been happier with my number - 5.7%! I've been hovering around the 6.0% mark since recovering from diagnosis. Always 6.0 to 6.3, I couldn't quite break into the 5's, and this has been a goal of mine. Five days later I'm still pumped about the result. Even if the race kicked my butt, I was kicking diabetes' butt.

Race morning was less than ideal. I woke up at 4:15am with a blood sugar of 5.8, which is great. I ate my breakfast - blueberries and granola and gave more insulin than I normally would so by the time I was done setting up my transition areas I could have a banana before the race. I got to the Quarry Lake parking lot just after 6am to set up my bike at T1. It was absolutely pouring rain, so I took an extra moment just to see what my blood sugar was doing. 14.0!! Nerves were getting the best of me. I bolused a few units and grabbed my gear and went to the transition area. I carefully laid out all of my gear, folded between my towel with a garbage bag over top to at least try and keep it dry for now. Back at my car I decided to check again to see if my blood sugar had budged at all. 14.7 - worse! I took another unit and decided to walk to the lake as I still had lots of time. Despite the rain the lake was pretty calm, and the sun was starting to come up. The clouds were sitting low over the mountains, and the rain was slowing down a bit. Might just be a beautiful morning after all.

I drove up to the Nordic Center to set up T2 - my running gear. I stashed my shoes, tri belt with my race number, and a banana in a garbage bag then retreated into the day lodge to escape the rain that managed to pick back up. I went back and forth between the lodge and my car obsessing over my blood sugar. Another 14.0, more insulin. Down to 11.8 two hours before the race start. Contemplated changing my site. I hate putting in a new site before a race. No guarantee it won't kink on entry and I find I risk ripping sites out the most right when I first put them in. I decided to put a new site in but also leave the old one in the event the new one wasn't good, I could take it out after the race. 13.1 and another unit of insulin. I was getting nervous I would drop right before the race so I left it and went back to the lodge to relax and chat with some other racers. One more check before the pre-race meeting - 6.8. I ate the rest of my blueberries and hurried to T2 for the meeting. 15 minutes later I went back to my car to grab my wetsuit and swim gear. 4.8 - dropping too fast with insulin still on board. I ate the banana I had always intended on eating and worked my way into my wetsuit. I grabbed my cap and goggles along with my spare glucometer and a couple packs of Stingers (basically sugar in gummy form) and headed to catch the bus down to the lake. It had stopped raining and when I got there I went to the transition area to see if my gear was still somewhat dry. The garbage bag had done the trick. Another check - 4.8, couple Stingers. I sat down by the lake for a bit, still about an hour before race start. I obsessively checked my blood sugar every 10 minutes. 5.2 - good going up! 4.8 - crap, another Stinger. About 20 minutes before the race I walked back to my bike and checked my sugar one final time, 5.4. I wasn't sure where I would settle out but didn't want to be low during or after the swim so I took two more Stingers and headed back down to the lake to get in for warm up. I chatted with some more athletes between warm up and race start, hearing lots about how tough the bike course was. I tried not to think about it too much and just focus on the swim - always my best. The start was typical open water swim start madness - arms and legs everywhere, getting knocked around, and swallowing plenty of water. I settled into a good pace and the pack seemed to spread halfway into the first lap. Three laps of a 500m course, and I was feeling strong. The swim was great and I was feeling more confident as I headed out of the water. During the 300m run into T1 my right calf balled right up. I've had cramps coming into the run off the bike before, but never this early. I half walked half limped as I tried to stretch it out while still making forward progress.

Finally making it to my bike I gave my feet a quick wipe and started getting my biking gear on. Once suited up I checked my blood sugar again, 6.8 - nice! I jammed all my swim gear into the black garbage bag and headed off. As a faster swimmer and slower at everything else I'm used to people passing me on the bike and run. This race was no exception. As we climbed up the never ending steep hill coming out of the Nordic Centre, I was impressed with how fast some of the athletes were ripping up the double track. Once getting to the top of the ugly climb, we dropped into some technical singletrack. The track was just as slick as I feared, and my bike was sliding everywhere over the roots. After a small drop my chain slipped off my bike. Crap. I stopped to put it back on. It continued to slip from second into first on the front ring and would go from there to pinned between my gear and frame. I got off multiple times to fix it before I gave up and realized that first gear on the front was all I had. I realized later that I had lost a bolt on the gears, so both my second and third were loose, which is why the chain wouldn't stay on. I usually ride exclusively in my second gear on the front and just shift in the rear as I need to. Only being able to be in first gear not only didn't help with traction on the roots but while I was fine climbing hills, I couldn't pick up any speed on the flats and downhill sections. I was slow and couldn't do much about it. After a particularly gruelling climb I stopped to check my blood sugar (sort of a good excuse to also catch my breath). 7.8 - at least my blood sugar was co-operating. I had a few minor wipeouts as my bike slipped out from under me on some roots, but towards the end of my first lap a rock drop caught me a little by surprise and I went right over the handle bars. Despite landing hard, my body was still intact. Phew. Cruising into the centre to make my first lap and head back for round two, I realized people were already finishing their second and starting the run. I knew I was slow but it was a little disheartening. I accepted the fact that I was probably going to be finishing last and that I wasn't going to be much faster the second time around on this bike and hit the hills with some motivation to enjoy this second lap. I nailed some of the uphills I struggled a little the first round on, as well as the rock drop! I actually finished my second lap about 30 minutes faster than my first.

Racking my bike and ditching my biking gear for running stuff, I checked my blood sugar again. 4.1 - yikes. I was glad I had stashed the banana there and ate it as I was running out of the transition area.

I could hear my parents cheering me on, and saw them over by the day lodge. I yelled "I'm sorry I'm slow!" as I passed. Watching triathlon is probably not the most exciting, as you just see someone in and out of the transitions. I felt strong for the first kilometer of the run and was thinking that this was going to go a little better. Wrong. My calf cramp came back in an epic fashion. I struggled through the first 5 km loop in 45 minutes. So slow, but I was excited that I would finish, only had one loop left, and turns out there were still people behind me. My calf loosened up a bit in the last couple km's, allowing me to improve my lap time by 10 minutes. I was so happy to see the finish, and was excited I completed the full XTERRA! Not at all the time I was hoping for, but still proud I survived the whole thing. I exchanged high five's with some people that finished close to me, we had been cheering each other on as we passed back and forth on the course. The one nice thing about being in the back half of the pack - I find everyone so encouraging. There was 3 women in my 25-29 age category, I came in 3rd. I think on a better day I could have taken second, but the girl that won also took top honours for female overall, she was FAST. However, I beat her in the swim - small victories.

 

First Update - Getting the Ball Rolling

Update #1  •   Posted 1747 day(s) ago

It was a beautiful evening so I went for an easy 25 km ride before heading to Exist Cycle to meet up with Jaime and Dan to chat about Ironman training.

I stumbled on the Exist studio when I was looking for something to keep me active while I recovered from a volleyball hand injury this past winter. I fell in love with the spin classes and Jaime's high energy and fun personality. Along with owning the studio she is a certified personal trainer and will be getting me started on a killer strength training program to develop lean muscle over the winter "off season".

I joined Exist's triathlon training group where I met Coach Dan. With multiple Ironman's and other endurance events like Death Race under his belt he's certified bad-ass. Dan made training fun with his awesome quotes and endless advice.  I know my race season wouldn't have gone anywhere near as well if it wasn't for Dan getting my triathlon "career" off to such a great start. Dan will be putting together my tri specific training program.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have these two amazing people in my corner and I'm so excited to officially kick off my training in a few weeks!