The other weekend I ran my first official ultra marathon, around the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England. It took me about 19 hours to complete one 66 mile circuit of the island’s beautiful coastal path. That’s a lot longer than I’d hoped for, mainly because of the extra time it took at rest stops to stabilise my blood sugar levels.
Running was the easy part; managing type one diabetes was a far greater challenge. I learned so much in those 19 hours, about diabetes and myself in general. I can’t wait to put those lessons into practice on my next big run. Here they are:
Watch where you poo… & other stuff I learned running 66 miles
Suffering is cyclical
It seems logical; if you’re exhausted and in pain at mile 20, you’ll be doubly so at mile 40. Actually, that’s bollocks. Suffering is cyclical, not linear. I’ve come to realise that hitting rock bottom is a good thing. It means things are about to get better. And tiny things can recover the spirits: a bite to eat, a beautiful view, a friendly face, a pee in a bush or a chance encounter with wildlife. I stumbled upon three badgers on a dark footpath at mile 60. I cried my eyes out with joy.
I’m a bit of a pussy
So, yes, I’m a bit of a pussy. I bawled frequently throughout the run, not because it hurt (which it did), but because my emotions were running so hot and cold. It was like I was going through the menopause on gin. I had to wear shades on the rest stops so my kids wouldn’t forever think of me as a big blubber. I blame all the β-endorphins and endocannabinoids – chemicals cooked up by the body to numb the pain of repeated miles and divert attention from the lunacy of what I was doing – for all the tears.
Hills are my friend
That’s right. I like hills. My lowest point was at mile 47. I’d stopped to attend to a giant blister on my left little toe. Crossing my leg to inspect it caused painful cramps but I managed to dress it in about 10 minutes. I hadn’t considered how much body heat I’d lost during those 10 minutes. By the time I got going again, having popped a painkiller to silence the blister, I was shivering uncontrollably. That stretch of the route was flat and windswept. It wasn’t until I got to a steep hill that there was any shelter. Powering up that hill helped me get warm again. Some of the hillier stretches were also some of the best.
Watch where you poo*
At about mile 34 I bore my bare arse at a passing car as I prepared to, erm… drop off some excess baggage. It wasn’t intentional, honest. As nature called (yelled, actually) I’d dived off a pretty coastal footpath and into a thicket, tramping about 20ft into the undergrowth to take care of business. I was so preoccupied with sparing my fellow runners the horror of seeing me crouched and quivering in a bush I hadn’t considered there could be a road on the side of the thicket I’d walked to. As I prepared to open the bomb bay doors a car passed within feet of me, blasting its horn. I overbalanced onto my back, legs akimbo, SHORT shorts around my ankles. Thank god I hadn’t dropped off the cargo at that point. I would have fallen right into it.
I need an insulin pump
There are three key things to consider when you’re managing type one diabetes: how much you eat; how much you exercise; how much insulin you inject. Of course there are other variables at play – time of day, your general health, even the weather can affect how efficiently insulin converts food into energy – but food, exercise and insulin dose are the big three. I gave myself far too much slow acting insulin the night before the run. And once you’ve injected it there’s no going back. I had to eat pretty much non stop for the first 30 miles to counteract the high dose and stop my blood sugar level going too low. This wouldn’t have happened if I had an insulin pump because this bit of kit drip feeds you the stuff at a rate that can be adjusted according to what you’re doing. I’m hoping the NHS will prescribe me one later this year.
Caffeine kicks arse
I’m not talking espresso here, but class A caffeine. At the second rest stop at about mile 18 I was handed a curious red sachet, which I pocketed and forgot about until rediscovering it about 20 miles later, as I was struggling up a hill. ‘Fire Star’, read the packet. ‘Lasts Four Hours’. I ripped it open and necked the white powder it contained. It was like rocket fuel. The next few miles flashed past in a blur and were my fastest of the whole day. I mentioned it to a fellow runner. He sped past me like Road Runner at about mile 45 having got himself some shouting: ‘This stuff is amazing!’ It certainly is. Not too sure if it’s legal though.
It’s okay to miss the odd training run
Really, it is. For the four months leading up to the race I obsessed over my training schedule. What with work pressures and family responsibilities (our third baby arrived in February) I inevitably missed the odd training run, and then beat myself up for it. I feared I’d never get get round the 66 miles. But in the event, I not only not got round, but had enough energy in reserve to sprint the final mile. So long as you stick to the long training runs and don’t skip too many of the shorter runs, you’ll be fine. At least for this distance. Next I want to do 100 miles. Will let you know if the same applies for that!
*Please don’t write horrible things about me because of this (unless you happen to be the poor driver I startled). I don’t condone pooing in public. I was DESPERATE. And I did dig a hole and cover my tracks. I’m not a total animal.