Monday’s Rundays: Why an insulin pump is my dream running kit

Running 40 or so miles a week for the past fortnight has been a breeze. Not really. It just feels like that, relative to dealing with diabetes at the same time. See, control of this condition requires consistency, as far as I can tell (see the disclaimer below). And when you’re training for a 186 mile race, setting up a business and raising three kids all at the same time, consistency is hard to find.

And so my blood sugar level has been all over the place. I’ve had eight hypos this week. This is when the amount of sugar in a litre of blood falls below 4 millimoles. Cells need more than four to function properly, says the NHS. Legally, I’m not supposed to drive at less than five. Hypos can cause lethargy, confusion, seizures, and, eventually, death. So they’re kind of a big deal. But there’s one bit of kit that will help me avoid all this.

Why an insulin pump is my dream running kit

Of course, training has to be consistent (duh… that’s what makes a schedule a schedule). The first two weeks of every four are steady, every third week is intense (meaning the long runs are 30-50% longer than the previous two weeks – see above) and the fourth is easy. For every four week cycle I will inch up the mileage until I’m ready (or not) to run the Marathon des Cote in June.

That means constantly having to readjust my insulin doses. I take two kinds of insulin – a long acting (or ‘basal’) insulin which I take every morning and night and a short acting one that I take with food. All in all that amounts to at least five jabs a day, sometimes more if I need to correct my blood sugar because it is too high (which it is frequently). Three main factors dictate how much I inject: my blood sugar level at the time of the jab; how much exercise I will be doing; and how much I will be eating.

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The problem is that once the insulin’s in, it’s in. If a run turns out to be more intense than expected (say if it’s windier, colder, wetter) I can end up flat on my arse with a rock bottom blood glucose reading. Last week’s longest run was cut short just before mile 10 because my level had plummeted to just 1.8mmol (see above). I’d run out of Lucozade and gels so had to stop and wait, twitching by the side of the road, for the Mrs to pack the kids into the car and drive two miles to pick me up. I sat out yesterday’s 40 minute outing because my pre run test revealed I was just 2.2mmol and I didn’t have time to do the run after waiting for it to come back up.

There are two big worries here. The first is that I am not noticing the symptoms of hypoglycaemia even when my blood as dipped below 2mmol (in the past I’ve gone into convulsions at 2.5mmol and had to be treated by paramedics); the second is that as the training progresses and things get more intense, the diabetes is going to get harder to manage.

I’ve been waiting for more than two years for one thing that will help with all this: an insulin pump. This is a device that you apply to your skin and constantly administers insulin through a canula, a bit like a fully working pancreas (which I sadly lack). An insulin pump would mean that I’d no longer have to try to anticipate what I’ll be doing for the 12 hours after an injection of basal insulin.

It would make all this much less of a headache. Fingers crossed I get that pump soon.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, a physio or a sports therapist; I doubt they’d even give me job handing out oranges at half time of a football match. I am just a type-one diabetic and former fat bloke with a stupid idea. This blog is my account of following that idea to its conclusion. Do not attempt anything similar without seeking prior medical (and psychiatric) advice.

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