Between 5th of September until 8th October I was away on the Diathlete USA Tour. This was a series which entailed 11 flights, 4 U.S States, meeting and speaking to many diabetes communities and numerous challenges – the main one being running the equal to 7 marathons in 7 days! Proudly sponsored by Dexcom, where I used their Dexcom G4 CGM device throughout, the tour and challenges were in aid of the type 1 diabetes global initiative of Marjorie’s Fund.
In this blog I will be speaking about the extreme running challenge that took place!
THE MANHATTAN MARATHONS
On one hand the prospects of running 7 marathons in 7 days is huge! Yet, some might have expected me to be fine given the 30/30 challenge last year. Personally my feeling was that this was going to be the toughest challenge I had faced to date. The reason being that I was far, far away from home in a location I had never been before and to add to it, unfortunately, I had to spend my summer season working in order to get by. I found myself sleeping in both a tent in a field and in a boarding school for the space of the two months build up. It was difficult to get a concrete training schedule going and diet plan together for my preparations.
I came into it with an element of doubt, which has never been the case before. I was asking myself, am I ready? Can I do it? Never in doubt, however, was my ability to control my diabetes the best I could for the endurance. Experience was greatly in my favour and I was relying on that for both control in my diabetes and success in physically running the marathons.
The pre run plan in terms of control was to lower my background insulin (Basal) from 14 units of Levemir in the morning of my split dosage to 4 units. I would time the evening before’s injection, which again is on an average day 14 units, so that come the morning there would be a small but minimal percentage of that evening dosage left in my system. At 10pm the evening beforehand I would inject and at 9.30am I would begin running.
It did not quite begin that way, unfortunately! We had a bit of a rush to make the start point on time and then waiting around to get all the Marjorie’s Fund team at the start line and have all the pieces I needed in my backpack for the journey, it went on longer than we wished! So it turned out to be a 10.30am start!
I am the kind of guy who would show up late to my own funeral, it has to be said…
Blood sugar wise I started a little bit higher than I wanted, even though to begin runs I tend to prefer to begin a little more on the high side as the endurance will gradually decrease my blood sugar levels in keeping up the same pace continuously when running. It was 16mmol/ls as my Dexcom G4 reflected attached to me. (this is around 270 dl/ml I believe). My preference would have been to start with a level around 12mmol/ls – so around 200dl/ml.
In using a CGM (continuing glucose monitor) for the first time, having previously always carried my blood testing meter with me on challenges and stopped to test with it, the advantages were clear to see from the off. It is effectively your diabetes control in view with you 24/7. I set my ‘HYPO’ alarm to start beeping and vibrating when my levels dropped below 5.0mmol/ls as even though to be 5.0 is a good level on your average day, I could be made aware of when my blood sugars were dropping lower than they needed to be and give a boost to prevent the hypoglycaemia from taking place.
It was effective – for I only suffered 2 hypo levels during the runs, and they both came on the last day!
The first day was an enjoyable start. The weather was quite hot and I was joined by Team Marjorie’s Fund to see me off out of New York City, leaving the Cure Thrift Shop at E 12th Street. It is a great City where you just get a buzz from being there in the Manhattan area. We crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and I got a little excited to see a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the far background, the first time I’ve ever seen it. Dr Jason Baker, a fellow type 1 and founder of Marjorie’s Fund, was on his bike along with Joy and Brian Pape of the board, and Zoe Treeson was running beside me. After the bridge it was time to share our farewells and I was on my own, running through locations I had never encountered before.
Brooklyn was across the bridge and it was an interesting stretch along Broadway. The further away from Manhattan I ventured, the more run down it seemed to get. There was an area which was a complete ghetto, to be truthful, glass all over the floor, smashed windows, burned out vehicles… and I was aware that it is legal for people to have guns. There I was in my Union Jack flag wrapped around me, trotting through it…
I run with the flag because it is my ‘good luck’ charm!
I found that it did not take too long for my levels to drop. Running in a fair bit of heat with the weight of my backpack on me – 7 days worth of clothing, gels, a few drinks, diabetes essentials such as insulin, a laptop and wash stuff makes a fair load! My Dexcom sent the alarm that I had fallen from the highs to begin with to below 5.0 mmol/ls and had the helpful tool of showing two arrows facing downwards indicating that my levels were rapidly decreasing.
Having been alerted, I whipped out my gels from my backpack in true action style. There is a side pocket which my gels were fitted to. I reached to the side and grabbed a gel, bit the lid off and consumed the glucose! After taking the gels the plan was to keep moving forward but I decided it was best to walk the next mile to take it easier and not burn so much energy for a moment, whilst bumping the levels back up. This was effective as despite the near hypo, the low was prevented and I kept moving forward and making progress.
That’s what life is all about in my view, no matter what comes at you be that something like diabetes, you take it, do what you have to do and ultimately keep on moving forward.
Day 1 went a bit wrong after a positive start. When running again I found myself making a wrong turn and heading down Howard Beach. This mistake went on for several miles before I realised there was a river to my left side which was not on my map! As my sugars lowered I stopped for lunch. And then found Sunrise Highway – the road I would be on for the next few days.
Once Day One had finished I began to get that challenge vibe back again. After leaving Rockville in the morning of Day 2, this time on time for once at 9.30am, I made great progress hitting a 5 and a half mile per hour pace with the backpack on. It was a long stretch onto Bayshore. I feel that once I made it to the next town along, Freeport, in really good time, the confidence just came flurrying through me again. Why did I have those pre challenge doubts!? I had a long way to go but always knew I could do it and diabetes absolutely was never, never going to hold me back.
Sunrise Highway was interesting as for the main part there was ‘sidewalks’ for me to run along, yet, every now and then they just disappeared and I found myself running toe to wheel with traffic – and I don’t mean to be critical to my Yankee friends across the pond, but their driving is insane!
Horns constantly beeping and not at me, at each vehicle they come across. This is quite distracting when you are running about! To add to it, every block more or less has a crossing, which is a runner’s nightmare. Constantly having to halt progress to wait for the signal to cross the street. I noticed that even when the signal says you can cross, cars still make a right turn anyway!
And that was the other confusing part, in the UK we drive on the left and so when crossing roads, I didn’t know where to look!
There were periods where I felt a little drained for energy, as if I just wanted to have a little rest and sit down and then continue. At these points I just slowed right down to around a 4 mile per hour pace and pushed on… but I’d soon get bored and up the pace once again.
It was a lonely run out there on my own. My one contact with human life was a car driving past, acknowledging my Union Jack flag and shouting from the window: “Go Home Australia!!!”
It did make me chuckle a bit, silly Yank…
On the plane a woman called me a ‘Limey’ which was an interesting name. It dates back to the years of British America where the limes were used in Sailor’s diet in order to prevent scurvy. I wasn’t feeling the love out there to begin with…
My control was ranging pretty well. I consumed carbohydrates in the forms of the gels and drinks ranging from 30-40gs per hour and it seemed to work very stable. In fact, my best control for the whole tour over 6 weeks was during the runs!
Sunrise Highway was a mental torture – I spent the whole day on it! My hotel that night, Bay Shore Inn, was as rough as a Sunday morning in Blackpool. The area seemed to be the kind of place where if you did offend someone, the chances of being shot were fairly high. The walls were grotty and I dared not sleep inside my covers of the hotel bed.
To begin Day 3 I guess I just wanted to hit the road and get out of there as quickly as possible! So I did just that, wrapped my flag around me, checked out… and then realised I had packed my shorts away and in fact was just out in my boxers.
A good thing I brought my flag!
On Day 3 I discovered GATORAIDE – and blimey my levels shot up! The alarm had been beeping to signal the levels were crashing and so to prevent a hypo I found a shop and purchased this blue drink or glucose. Within the next hour I rocketed up to a 17 mmol/l level. I hate being too high as it makes me feel so awkward in my body! And to be running a marathon, it makes it even more challenging to keep moving and feeling as good as possible.
In running high, I shot 2 units of Novorapid in to reduce the levels, which as my Dexcom was indicating, were only growing higher!
Within the next hour I crashed back down. The biggest mistake was that I injected in my leg I think, as my legs are constantly moving when running and so the quick acting insulin is forced into the system even quicker.
I absolutely crashed to 4 mmol/ls (70dl/ml) and had to resume the Gator treatment!
Eventually things balanced out as I finished the day at Medford and I was so pleased to make the finish there and get that day done with! I was also finally off of Sunrise Highway and heading North to make the loop where eventually I would, hopefully, arrive back in Manhattan. Sandy from Marjorie’s Fund happened to be working in Long Island and she was able to support by taking a few of my dirty tops away and lessening the load on my back to run with.
Day 4 was the hottest day for weather during the run. It was a complicated route too, heading north but going off-road and making the miles up before winding round into Port Jefferson. I sweated buckets out there with a bag on my back and this increased the speed of which my blood sugar levels decreased. I was consuming carbohydrates and gels on a half an hour basis. I’ve noticed the Americans on average did not tend to use the term ‘half an hour’ and so I’d like to explain this means 30 minutes…
I kept a good pace going toward the end of the run, which I was delighted with. This was mainly because this girl was out going for a run and she overtook me along the road as I was trotting along. The competitive nature in me thought… oh no you did not just take me!
So I kept up at her pace, and she was going well in the heat! She also did not have a large backpack and I doubt she had ran for the past 3 and a half days solid, but nonetheless, it was game on!
We were running along a road called ‘Jayne’ Road. This reminded me of Auntie Jayne back home…
And then at the end of this seemingly never-ending road, I returned the favour and overtook the girl – Union Jack waving about as I passed…
Once this road had ended, I was in the home stretch into Port Jefferson. This was a place I really loved seeing – a seaside town with a great atmosphere to it.
The following day, Day 5, was a very, very long one. It took me on a scenic route, which I enjoyed but brought about many hills and the weather was still very warm. My camera broke as I picked up a great pace, probably 10 miles per hour when heading downhill, and the camera shot out its pouch and smashed on the floor.
I decided to slow the hell down from there…
The roads were more dangerous on this Northern Blvd, no sidewalks at all. When they did show up, a few meters later they disappeared again. WHAT IS THE POINT!!! But in the USA everything is bigger in size and the roads were particularly in that category. This helped me out (although the vehicles are much bigger too).
I saw a dead Racoon on the road side at one point. Wow, never seen one of those before and they look really freaky!
Day 5 just seemed to go on and on for ages. It was more than a Marathon that I ran in distance that day and I did feel the impact of that. The most dangerous part was toward the end as it was a thinner sized main road, with no sidewalk and no lay-by. Cars were speeding by and I was restricted to tuck myself in as far as possible to avoid any contact. When there was a moment with no traffic brushing past, I sprinted to get out of that area faster and make an area where, thankfully, there was sidewalk once again. From there I made it to Centerport and the views from where I was staying were spectacular.
In the evening I was grateful to Nick from Dexcom in the Long Island area, who came and met me to take me for a meal. After we ate he drove to the local shops for me to pick up some more supplies for the next run.
Nick: “Cliff Bars are full of energy and carbs, some of those could be good?”
Gavin: “Yeah, that ought to keep me alive.”
We loaded up with a few cliff bars which contain 40gs of carbs per bar and he dropped me back, helping me to change the sensor for the first time. On my previous insertion with the sensor, when on my flight to New York I had a bleed. This caused no problem to the results of the Dexcom but I was concerned to see it. I am grateful to the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) as when I posted about my problem I was given plenty of reassurance. This time there was no bleed and there has not been another since, touch wood.
Day 6 was Day 6 and in my mathematical genius mind through living with diabetes, I knew that meant only 2 more runs of 7 were remaining. I took it nice and easy, wanting to save as much energy for the final day. It was another long stretch remaining for the majority along that Northern Blvd – again a scenic route with warm weather.
The part I enjoyed the most was arriving to a town called Roslyn. It was probably three quarters of the way there, to Bayside, and I was ahead of the times I had set myself – even though it was a challenge of endurance and I had all day! So I stopped for a late lunch in an appealing restaurant. The meal was fantastic. I did look around and see people dressed in suits and dresses on the other tables – there was me with a head scarf on, sweat all over, roughed up from living wild the past week.
Sod’em I’m as classy as I want to be…
I dug right in!
Once I made it into Bayside I just wanted to get a good rest and get going again to complete the final day back into Manhattan.
The rest part was not achieved.
I could not sleep. This had been a problem on most nights but more so the last. I kept awaking at ridiculous times and feeling uncomfortable. In total I must have tallied around 2 hours of actual sleep before the alarm went to say GET THE HELL UP!
I got up and ran and ran and hit an incredible pace in the first few miles considering the week of marathons! Maybe a pace of around 6-7 mph. There was a problem though, a MAJOR problem…
Probably a little down to awaking absolutely gormlessly with the lack of sleep, I proceeded to inject my average morning dosage of 14 units of Levemir insulin into my system, as opposed to the 4 units I had lowered it to in order to counteract the endurance I was facing. I realised this during injecting and pulled the pen out of my leg having injected around 11 units of the dosage. FAR TOO MUCH!
From there I knew I was going to crash hypo and would need to consume as much carbohydrates as possible. In making a fantastic start in pace, it made me crash even quicker. I consumed the last of Cliff Bar and also another bar I had purchased which was 20gs, yet, still saw my levels go low when approaching Queens. It went down to 2.2mmol/s (around 40 dl/ml) and I had to keep focus. I had ran out of supplies when passing the Mets stadium and was on the lookout for a shop, which soon enough I found.
Soon after the levels began to drop lower once again, my Dexcom beeping away. I prevented the hypo on that occasion as I found a shop to buy a drink and boost myself, whilst walking for a bit. Once Manhattan and the New York City skyline was in view I felt re-energised in myself. I knew I was going to make it.
Despite the skyline view, I had a long way to go still. I ran down from Queens beside the East River and headed for Brooklyn, where I would cross the Brooklyn Bridge. The rain absolutely hammered it down at this point but the views were spectacular! In progressing into New York City I took a loop which went from West New York to the East, before coming back in to the Cure Thrift Shop at E 12th Street. When in the City, partly worn down by the rainy weather too, I crashed to a second hypo of the day and challenge! But in having a short stretch remaining, decided to play my old tactics of changing the pace, sprint, jog, sprint, walk, to boost the levels up again by releasing glucose from the liver. And then, I met Dr Jason Baker and we sprinted in to the finish line to meet the supporting Marjorie’s Fund team and celebrate!
I believe in the team and their work. Marjorie’s Fund is a charity that support young adults in need with type 1 diabetes, across many locations of the world where people cannot get the support or supplies they need very easily at all in order to survive. Marjorie’s Fund helps support their needs and provide education for people to take control of their diabetes and thrive into adulthood.
Never doubt yourself! In completing this challenge of running 7 marathons in 7 days, I feel it shows what we are capable of given the supplies and education in control for our diabetes – and that is absolutely anything! This diagnosis cannot prevent you from fulfilling your dreams and I dream for a world where one day that is the case for all areas living with type 1 diabetes.