This weekend marks 1 year since I made it to Land’s End during the GBR 30/30 Challenge, which saw me take on 30 ultra marathons in as many days.
Time really does seem to whiz by sometimes, so make sure you make the most of it!
I’m pleased to say that 1 year since the feat of running the entire length, breadth and wrong-turn country lanes of the United Kingdom, I am still running – and I’ll always keep on running for the diabetes cause so long as I have legs and so long as I have heart!
The 30/30 Experience
Without a shadow of a doubt this was a once in a lifetime experience, which doesn’t happen in too many lifetimes at all! I feel this is possibly why to say it was a year ago seems crazy, as it was such an incredible experience that it continues to seem like just yesterday.
Going into that challenge there were a number of feelings and thoughts, the key feeling being that I never had any doubt I would somehow succeed – even when counting up the marathons and miles in my head and thinking, is this humanly possible? Always from within there somewhere, I knew I could do it.
To be perfectly honest, in going into a challenge of running over 900 miles in the space of a month, the feeling I had was relief more than anything! Relief that the challenge was going ahead – there was very little help for me to organise such an endeavour, more or less, I worked alone to arrange everything. 30 events in 30 days is a big project for 1 person! I was motivated even more though by some individuals sitting on the ‘Political Thrones’ of diabetes and stating to me words such as ‘foolhardy’ and statements like ‘I don’t mean to p*ss on your parade, but there is no point trying to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes.”
I let those people know my thoughts, don’t you worry about that…
I was extremely grateful to a number of volunteers for getting involved and joining in, and this continued to grow in amazing numbers throughout the challenge. Matt Wood and his wife Clare were immense, just so keen to help out – Matt running the first marathon and last one, travelling from South London to both John O’Groats (the furthest Northern point in mainland Scotland in the North East) and Land’s End (the furthest Southern point in mainland England, in the South West). Gary Pettengell also was a key part as he put in time to help train me for many, many months beforehand and the fact I completed the feat and rose back to my feet each morning, declares that Gary’s work was effective. And there were SO MANY incredible people I met throughout the journey, each day.
On Day 2 I experienced the ‘danger’ zone for the first time, where I had to run on the main road into Inverness – a dual carriageway. It was quite terrifying at times, cars whistling by at speed right next to me! I remained safe there, but come Aberdeen on Day 5, where I had great support from Phil McLean – who had volunteered to be the saviour of that day for the challenge just hours beforehand, I unfortunately had a slight collision with a rather fast, black Mercedes vehicle. Basically he wasn’t stopping and there was no pavement… it was only minimal contact as I nudged towards a drop into the River but fortunately kept my balance! I didn’t actually realise the contact was made until that night in my hotel, where I came across the bruising on my elbow, but it shook me up a wee bit.
Fortunately I wasn’t hit by any more cars on the journey, not without the near misses though! Coming out of Liverpool, after a wrong ferry across the Mersey (which meant instead of simply crossing the river, we had a lovely tour of where-buildings-used-to-be in Liverpool) and then a wrong turn onto the Rock Ferry Bypass out of Liverpool. It is a fast main dual carriage way – absolutely not for pedestrians – that I found myself with support runner for the whole day, and fellow type 1 diabetic, Thomas Jones, in the back of a Police Car for running on… Now, if you are a Police Officer from Merseyside and have in the back a fellah with a London based ID and cheeky, common Southern accent, it may be a rumour, but surely that’s a bonus right there!? After speaking to the Officers of my mistake and challenge I was enduring, they opted to give a warning and put us back on the right path! With the cars coming at us at around 70mph down that Rock Ferry Bypass – we were lucky not to have been seriously injured, it has to be said.
On another occasion, on a Somerset route from Cheddar Gorge to Taunton, edging towards the final week where I had gained much road experience and lost all fears, I made an important call as my Sister Kaylie and support runner Jeff Astle, parent to Mimi who also has type 1 and ran with my Torch that day too, running behind in support:
“Cross Over!” was my order as we ran towards a wide bend on a main and pavementless country lane.
We crossed over and 2 seconds later a ploughing tractor came storming around the corner, taking all branches and hedges on the side of the lane with it!
Those were extreme experiences on the journey, which I’ll always remember, but the key part was what I was doing it all for. The people involved and showing support in each area, that really mattered to me. Especially with young people recently enough diagnosed with diabetes, coming to terms with it at young ages, out there supporting. Examples are of young Alfie Huke who ran with me a good few hundred meters holding my Olympic Torch, which was twice the size of him! He went a great pace and I’ve heard since from his Dad, Chris, who also ran 10 miles in support that day, that Alfie has gone on to compete in his School’s sports day and win 5 out of 6 races, finishing in 2nd in the other… diabetes certainly wasn’t stopping him in any form – which is the message of the challenge, keep positive, keep being yourself and don’t let diabetes stop you, and you can accomplish anything you want in life.
Another incredible example was young Amy Winchcombe, who then aged 12, cycled an entire day along side me, along with her Mother Jayne and Father, Kev. Kev cylced 4 days in a row of the final few days – and only fell off his bike about 4 times..! He was brilliant.
Amy completing that hilly, hilly, hilly… HILLY(!) route was amazing, the best bit though was how she finished it – obviously whilst all the way controlling her blood sugars. As the finish point at St Agnes beckoned, Amy hopped off her bike and had a sprint – UP the biggest hill of the day! Once I get my strides going at the end of races, you aren’t catching me for pace – especially in long distance, I’ll always finish sprinting. I tell you what, I might have opted to push Amy’s bike up the final part, but I was not catching her!
Family was the other key area – as well as family friends (kind of more family too in a way). Gary Gunner, my drink-cyclist! Gary cycled 8 days in a row on the tough second week after the ligament injury problem that had me limping. I needed family at that point and with my Dad, Vince, and Gary joining me for the week, it was great. Gary is old fashion and doesn’t believe in technology – so he had no mobile phones. On a few occasions we lost him! How do you lose a support cyclist I don’t know, one thing was for sure though, without fail he’d be parked up outside the first pub in the next town for a quick pint to refuel with!
He was immense, jokes aside, out with me in all weather conditions – and along the North West, it absolutely poured down non-stop! And my Dad was a support driver for a week, the pair made a great team for me, to wind down with afterwards too. My Mum was there when she could be at 3 of the weekends too, so it was always a boost to see my parents – who of course had to deal with diabetes directly, so well, when I was diagnosed as a child.
My auntie Jayne was another exceptional Team Member for my final week in the West Country, her and sis Kaylie became my unofficial Support Team on the venture – and kept me supplied and amused!
It has to be said, there was a spiritual element of belief in me on this – as though, in a weird way, I was being protected (and boy did I need it!). The above experiences of dangerous roads and me being unharmed being an example, but things kept happening in my favour, such as a man called Esk coming out of nowhere on his bike for a casual Sunday cycle to end up guiding me safely through the first half of the 2nd route, avoiding the dangerous roads for a good section. The key bit was on 10th May, a date which has seen both my Grandad Harry pass away and also Michael, my Aunt’s husband and someone who supported every challenge of mine in the past, so an Uncle to me really, also sadly passed before his time in recent years. On the 10th, after struggles with an injury out of Scotland that was supported by a great physio called Cloutilde and miraculously recovered as I kept going, doing the assigned exercises as I went, I met a brilliant young girl also with type 1 diabetes named Angel – supporting me all the way! Angel’s mother, Bev, handed me a wooden Angel to carry with me for the rest of that journey, and the first day I ran with that was on the 10th! Now that’s an odd coincidence. Coincidence or not, it gave me an added boost to have it in my pocket for the remainder of the challenge.
Some further incredible experiences was the support from the Sports world. I wanted to target sports clubs, particularly football team stadiums, because I love sport and it shows support against discrimination in a sense – having big clubs support me as someone with diabetes, enduring tough athletic feats, it resembles that the big professionals do care and won’t leave people out because of diabetes (it happens in the world). I went to many clubs, 28 from the football world and a cricket ground (Somerset County) and a music/entertain venue (Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle). There were clubs such as Wick Academy FC from the Scottish Highland League, who welcomed me in halfway through my first route with Matt and Clare, to absolute giants of the game – Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox being one, Manchester United FC at Old Trafford another. Man Utd gave me a guided tour around Old Trafford – so I probably added on about 3 miles that day.
To top it, after completing the run, the very next day I found myself at Wembley Stadium after travelling through the night – to watch my Crystal Palace beat Watford 1-0 and gain promotion to the Premier League. On a Sky Sports News interview by their reporter Kate Riley, she asked me my prediction, I said it would be tight and went for “1-0 to the Palace, Kevin Phillips to pop up late on.”
Miss Riley now knows I’m a psychic!
Doing it Diabetes Style
The objective of the challenge was to complete it, but furthermore, to do so managing my diabetes and showing it wasn’t holding me back.
It wasn’t plain sailing by any means – there were some bizarre levels at times. But I think the fact I completed it, alive and well, shows my message how diabetes can’t stop you to any extreme with the right resources available – my Blood Sugar Meter and Insulin. The levels went up and down a fair bit, generally with Marathons levels lower, but there was so much adrenaline, so much passion and so much efforts to keep everything stable, in the extremest of endurances it wasn’t always to plan! My main aim though was to prevent the hypos and short-term affects that could hamper my progress out running. I think to say I had 7 hypoglycaemic levels (low blood sugars) shared across the 30 days, that says job done. It means on 24 days of running ultra distances (as the final day had x2 hypos) I prevented hypos from happening.
My insulin plan was crucial. I started keeping to my background insulin of Levemir split into 2 dosages. However, with a much lower amount than my average day. I saw the background insulin as key to my success in control. I had as little as 4 units in the morning to begin with and 12 units in the evening (down from my normal ratio of 14u in morning, 14u in evenings). I found this still meant hypos early on in the runs, or distinctive drops in levels – so I adjusted my plan. 2units in the mornings, 10 in the evenings (after runs) and the timings of the injections were key as it would measure how much insulin was in my body when running. As the morning background insulin wore out, and perhaps on many days the adrenaline also kicked in, my levels increased in the afternoons – sometimes as ridiculously high as 20mmls!
In running you are battling your own mind and levels of endurance as it is, in being hyperglycaemic it makes that mental fight even harder as your focus and concentration goes all over the place, your body feels differently and it became all the more challenging. I’d get frustrated and hot-headed with high levels! So I made a plan to inject for a 3rd time my Levemir, during runs. If I injecting quick acting insulin whilst high, even just a unit when as high as 20.0, I would crash immediately. If I injected 1 unit of Levemir, things actually gradually balanced out effectively. On one of the days, when running to Worcester I believe, my levels started at 6.7mmls and finished at… 6.7mmls – you can’t better that!
Another lad who deserves a mention and made me reflect really proudly on the challenge was young Danny Moon, then aged 15 he set out to run over 15 miles having never ran any long distance before, from Blackpool through to Preston. We were out in the pouring rain all day, yet, he kept trotting on with a brilliant attitude to just keep on going. He learned from it, I hope, which was also key – as he came out in the morning with no blood testing meter and a limited supply of energy boost. I made him use one of my spare needles to check his levels on my meter and of course, fortunately, had energy resources for emergencies – and his levels crashed to 4.0mmls, boarding the hypo. So the lesson on the day was always be prepared with diabetes – have supplies on hand, have your testing meter prepared and make sure your body is doing ok. In doing so, he was absolutely able to achieve a great feat in running that entire first half, keeping right up there with me. I was really proud of him.
Overall I look back at this challenge 1 year on and do feel proud in accomplishing this. It is something I can tell my family about, something my families family in generations to come can talk about as a challenge I completed. And what counts with this, is I done it as someone who lives with diabetes. The feeling after doing it was of uncertainty I will admit, and more frustration in some respects – I had hoped to raise more money for Diabetes UK and JDRF UK, to support them more in consideration to the giant feat I had put myself through. But – it was a 7 grand or so they didn’t have beforehand! There were some feelings of being let down in some areas, a little welcome into the bad sides of the political areas of diabetes and it was hard for it all to sink in that I had actually completed what I had just completed. Every day afterwards I was waking up, even at the earliest hours of the mornings, thinking to myself… “I gotta run! I got another Marathon to get through!” It was difficult to comeback to reality.
Here’s the thing: screw reality, I’m living the dream! I’m achieving what people told me was impossible and diabetes, it can be all the negative things it is, but it will never beat me and has made me achieve in life and meet so many brilliant people through it – that’s an absolute positive in my book.
One Year On
There’s always something to run for in any path of life, right? I’m literally doing that for my cause; I live with diabetes every day, therefore I see it as my duty to beat diabetes every day – running super crazy distances is one of the best ways I enjoy doing so.
After the 30/30 challenge success, I went to Australia and had possibly an even more brilliant experience – becoming an IDF Young Leader in Diabetes, representing the UK, one of 70 nations, as 1 of 132 members in the Young Leaders. I met absolute legends from all over the world – you’ll never get the togetherness, bond and general friendship unity that the Young Leaders shared in so many different cultures, backgrounds and religions in any other aspect of the world really. It nearly makes me think if everyone in the world had diabetes and was a part of our circle, the world would be an incredible place. Of course, I do not wish diabetes upon anyone! But the feeling was because of diabetes we all instantly hit it off and became great friends.
The stories of all the leaders touched my heart, something for each story I relate to, yet, being from the Western world it can be said there are experiences I do not have or that absolutely should not happen, yet, these Leaders and many people in their countries have been or go through all of the time. The IDF atlas statistics were worrying, 5.1 million deaths caused by diabetes in 2013 worldwide. By 2035, ONE BILLION people will have or will be at serious risk of developing diabetes – that counts for type 1, type 2 and pre diabetes. 1 Billion – that’s a Seventh of the world!
Over in Aussie I completed another Ultra Marathon in Adelaide too, it was hot – but I got through it in the end. I had some time out to work on projects, but, one year on, I am back in training, back saying “diet coke or water please” at bars instead of my notoriously preferred pints, and I am back as THE DIATHLETE – RUNNING FOR DIABETES.
I’ve a lot, lot more to offer, many more miles to run and all the while these horrific statistics exist and keep growing, the stories of hardships for people with diabetes and of discrimination go on, I’ve got a body to give for the cause – and I look forward to giving it my all.
My hand is out for anyone in the world to come and join me.