Spring Tour

As we come into the Summer Season in the UK (despite this random hot-cold weather) I reflect back on a great ‘Spring Tour’ with DiAthlete, dishing out some type 1 motivation and getting back into endurance challenges!

From late April to early June it was flattering to have packed an absolutely full schedule on a weekly basis. It was challenging as I used up any ‘rest days’ that I had from work to travel around and meet communities at events, but nonetheless well worth it! At the beginning of March I had the first talk to the Basingstoke Young Diabetics group, and then from late April onward it was event after event – meeting over 1,500 people directly!

Having been overseas at most events in the past few years now, it was also great to be back on home soil for a lot of the events too! Not since the 30/30 Challenge in 2013 have I had the opportunity to engage with so many type 1 diabetes communities around the UK consistently. I travelled to: Cambridge, Altrincham, Bexley, Slough, Gravesend, Lancaster, the Isle of Wight, Belfast and Southwark, along with going to a school in Ashford Surrey and overseas to Romania, in Targu Mures.

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The weekend of 25th and 26th April consisted of a lot of travelling – something as an adventurer I quite enjoy doing! Seeing new places, meeting new people. On the Saturday I was at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and it was a fantastic networking event, with a massive turnout of people. This was followed up by another huge turn out in Altrincham, just outside Manchester, the very next day. This was a Type One Sports Day event hosted by JDRF North.

The Addenbrooke’s event was great. I gave a lot of energy – which is very much my style, and got the ball rolling for the weeks to come. The audience really responded well to it, I nearly missed my train to Manchester with all the after-questions! One type one mum was quite emotional after my talk, she had a few tears and I had to give her a hug! Meeting a young lady named Tracy Power there was also inspiring for me, Tracy has Polyglandular Syndrome as well as Type 1 diabetes, yet, just has this extremely positive and incredible presence about her.

Addenbrooke

To be at the Type One Sports Day by JDRF was brilliant. I really like how the JDRF North Team do their events, Chris Normington and Sadie Munroe do a great job connecting with their regions. It was the largest turn out they have had to date for a community event and with the cast they had, it was clear to see why. I was there the full day which was a treat as I watched talks from lead dietitian Francesca Annan, Lesley Jordan at Input, pro rugby league player at Sale Sharks Andy Forsyth and Andreas Petz of Team Novo Nordisk. To close the show after that lot was a real honour!

I hosted my own event at my own diabetes center in Sidcup, where I was diagnosed, Queen Mary’s Hospital. It was great to connect with my former children’s nurses, Jan and Sarah. I planned to do a sports education event, sharing my story but with a focus on educating guests on sports control in type 1 diabetes for the various effects. Reflecting back at my own story, there was a lack of advice available when it came to sports when I was growing up playing football or even when I started running. Even in the present times, there isn’t a great amount of info out there in sports health for diabetes. Yet, I have it in abundance through all my experiences – I’ve got a lot to pass on. And I want to do this in a fun way – as a child I never found the information easy to take in from professionals within hospital walls. Using my own casual approach, I believe I have a better way of getting through to young people particularly, it comes from experience!

Bexley

Although there wasn’t the largest of turn outs on the night, those that came along I felt really took something from it. A teen into football named Owen was really interested and perhaps even more so about connecting on his diabetes – its not easy to open up when younger but he did on the night. Unfortunately Ben Coker from Southend United was going to come too but he had his end of season do on and double booked himself! Ben did record a support message and I’m sure I’ll get him along to another event in future! Funky Pumpers also supported by putting on a spread of sandwiches, which was really appreciated.

Going to Slough was interesting. All the opening 4 events were very diverse in the styles of the events, yet, with one positive, community message at the end of it. In Slough there was an even blend of type 1 and type 2s in attendance. I liked this as it was a chance to speak about various effects and see what was similar and relatable in each type. I felt the few with type 2 there learned a bit on type 1 management.

The event in Gravesend was a Circle D event hosted by Shelley Bennett. I’ve known Shelley for a long while now and always have known about Circle D through that, of course! I have always felt it absolutely fantastic what she does – a bubbly, positive person bringing exactly that to young adults with type 1 diabetes in her community. Again this was a very different style of event, simply sociable! And it was very enjoyable. Circle D call it ‘The Rant Room’ and it is a chance to share stories, let off diabetes steam and socialise with others who have diabetes. Gravesend isn’t terribly far away from me, 15 mins on a train, so it meant I could also enjoy a beer at the pub with them afterwards!

Circle D

Travelling up to Lancaster takes a fair bit of time. The main problem is getting across London – even when your address comes under London! From London Victoria I travelled nice and cheaply via Megabus, up to Preston. From there I got a train to Lancaster, which is a beautiful old English city – with plenty of hills and country lanes. The last time I was there was when running the 30/30 Challenge on a route from Lancaster to Fleetwood; as I recall it rained for about 5 hours straight that day. It was good to catch up with Dave Sowerby, whose camp bed I slept on, and to meet the Lancaster I-Pump group up there.

Dave then dropped me off… in Leeds! I again had booked Megabus to get back to London and Dave had work in Leeds – so I got to see a bit of the North. As my bus wasn’t until the late afternoon and Dave dropped me off around 7am… I decided to see some more of the North, deciding Leeds really wasn’t a place to spend 8 hours or so, and headed on to York (Old York) – another great old English city! A lot of travels, no problems in diabetes control. There is the message of the tour, we can enjoy life!

That weekend in May I then returned to the Isle of Wight for the first time since I completed running around the 70 mile perimeter island in 2010. It felt a bit emotional to return, it had a personal meaning to me that challenge. After not succeeding in running the full coast route in 2009, suffering a very bad hypo in the process, to go back, when aged 19, and complete it meant anything really was possible against this disease. Sam Brooks set up a community event on the Isle in Newport and being over there had that 30/30 support feel about it. In doing my 30 mile a day for 30 day challenge it was the communities that saw me through, helping to put me up a night, carry my bags, give me food and come and cheer me on. On the Isle a lady called Sue and her family put me up the night, fed me a lovely dinner with homemade Rhubarb Crumble pie, there’s some great people about!

The talk was enjoyable as always and it was interesting to see one or two just came along not even having any association to diabetes whatsoever, just interested to hear my story and find out about it. Beforehand I caught the Winchcombes who by chance happened to be over for the weekend. And Paul Farrelly joined me on the isle too for the event. Anyone looking to do an inspiring diabetes event with speakers, look no further than Paul and I as a tag team. He motivated me to go back and do the Isle of Wight challenge all those years ago with his story, of course since then I’ve gone on to do bigger challenges and advocate for communities around the world – and between us we once capsized Sir Steve Redgrave’s rowing boat!

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The following day I then decided to relive those moments from 5 years back and have a run on the island. I only planned to run 4 miles on the North part. I ended up enduring 24 miles from Cowes to The Needles on the coast. Having just re-started training and re-building my body, it may have been a bit to soon having not endured big miles since September in New York for Marjorie’s Fund – but it proved otherwise. I kept a nice controlled pace and more so kept my diabetes in check – just one stop in a pub to reload levels! I did take one wrong turn, I should have remembered the road signs! But in terms of fitness I was very comfortable tamely running it in 4 hours.

In Ashford Surrey I went over to a school where the teacher had invited me to go and meet one of the students. His name was Jack. I spoke to his year group on my story and the aim was to pass on encouragement for Jack. I was impressed by him anyway – he loves sports and played every sport going at the school! From Rugby to Hockey! He definitely had the right attitude and just needed reminding he can keep on top and that he has the responsibility in his hands to take control.

School Ash

Travelling to Romania was an absolute adventure and pleasure to do. I went to Bucharest by myself to then get a very long 7 hour bus ride to Targu Mures. There I was supporting the Transylvanian t1 diabetes association named ASCOTID. I raced a half marathon cross country, in difficult heat and conditions – the woodland surface was a test for the ankles in my recovery but I got through it! So real positive signs from the two main runs on this tour! In Romania they receive enough for 1 blood sugar test per a day, every 3 months on prescription. This is a country where if you wish to take control of your diabetes you need to pay good money.

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I caught up with fellow young leaders Matyi and Cristina from Romania over there and I look forward to catching them later in the year when we go to Vancouver as IDF Young Leaders in November. In the future I’m definitely someone that ASCOTID can call a supporter now, their work is so valued and needed over there.

Heading to Belfast was a brilliant experience. I stayed 2 nights over there and really enjoyed meeting a fantastic community. Kathryn Cooney did a great job in making things happen over there.

Belfast coaching

We had a talk on the Friday evening when I arrived. It was a good turnout of people too, probably between 30 and 40 people came along after the original DUK NI event had been cancelled just a few days earlier. After meeting everybody, on the Sunday we then organised, out of the blue really, to do a sports education programme. This is something I’ve had in my mind for some time now and when in Miami last year actively had an event on, which everybody really enjoyed.

Opposite from being trapped in a room, inside a hospital, not wanting to listen and take things in. I presented a new initiative of active learning. I coached the information I have in sports management, in both anaerobic and aerobic exercises, to a group of young type 1s, their siblings and parents who turned out. From having a ‘rant ball’ session where everybody physically let off some diabetes steam by throwing a ball in a circle to having the kids see the effects different types of exercise can have by running or sprinting and testing. I enjoyed coaching it and the kids ranging from 7 to 17 all enjoyed taking part – when I did a sports and diabetes quiz they got every single question correct! I was impressed!

To conclude the Tour it was back home in London. I went to Southwark to meet the DUK Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark group. The last time I spoke to those guys was over 3 years ago, where I told them I planned to run the length of the Britain. This time I suggested the world – I guess I’ll have to come back in 3 years and tell them about that! Also good to see little Ed doing well, a Palace fan with type 1 who I remembered speaking to at his school a few years back!

Southwark

 

For the Summer Time I’m working on seeing if I can get a few coaching programmes on with local clinics in the UK. A main focus at the same time for me is to also work hard and earn some money this summer, then I’ll look to tour again in the Autumn Season both in the UK and overseas – a Canadian invasion of course is on the list!

If I look back at the tour and more so all the people I’ve met, I see only positives in the cause. Positives brought through unity in the communities and opportunities for people to engage in the cause. It has been fulfilling. As my DiAthlete empire grows, I want to continue that fulfillment to everybody in it. In the future together we are going to re-brand the concept of life with type 1 diabetes, overcoming the fears and phobias to outlining pragmatism towards accomplishments in the cause.

The Line

These are just words on a page. The true meaning of these words I wish to share come when you feel the real emotion of being unable to hold back a tear from rolling down your cheek. Not a tear of sorrow or hurt, a single tear of passion that has found it’s way out of your eyelid after departing from your heart.

lands end finish

I am certainly not a character in general to show that kind of emotion in public, in being Gavin Griffiths, I never really knew how to take life seriously at all! It is perhaps one of my attributes as much as a fault. After diagnosis to type 1 diabetes another side to my laid back personnel was born. This side had so much more to offer the world from within. This side, I believe, lives in all of us who are helplessly subject to daily health related responsibilities – as those of us with type 1 diabetes are. From our greatest falls and our greatest struggles comes our greatest depths as characters.

What started out as something to just try and support my local diabetes clinic with, a 29 mile run in August 2008 on the Kent coast of England, has developed into a symbol of accomplishment in this cause, a passion, a desire and a reputation – a call to adventure ever since.

Sometimes when first starting out I found myself on the ground, in public, shaking, in a state of hypoglycemia; I had no control over my own body. If you don’t have type 1 diabetes it may be hard to imagine a feeling where you cannot do anything but watch on as you are unable to control your own arms and legs, as though an evil spirit had possessed your body. This happened more than once in the early years of ultra endurance training runs and even during challenges. The key was in how I reacted.

One option is to call it a day, throw in the towel and find something different to participate in. There weren’t any healthcare professionals for me to look to for advice when starting out, everybody seemed to fear the idea of extreme exercise with type 1 diabetes.

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The best response, and the response that I know is somewhere within every single one of my blood-sugar-siblings in this cause around the world, was clenching those fists up tightly, taking a deep look into the mirror, with gritted teeth of determination, and knowing from within there is a refusal to give in.

When it comes to approaching the finish lines in all the extreme challenges I’ve ever faced (and there has been quite a few over the years!), quite often the level of hardcore endurance has beaten me to a pulp throughout; however, once that line approaches and the belief grows the strides widen up, the arms pump with pride, the legs power along with passion and more so, the heart beats aloud with a bell-ring of victory.

And that is where that tear falls from. I always make ‘The Line.’

You see when you have to think about your health multiple times each hour, every day, it is easy to develop a negative vibe towards your condition. It is understandable. Multiple times each hour though, you are winning. Sometimes you have your falls, on the whole you can get back up and you can get the better of it – in your own way. Maybe I, The DiAthlete, found a way to offer that in an extreme way which I’m passionate about, but there is an element of that in all of us.

We all have our own ways of living, we all have our own ways of learning and our own ways of loving. Within those ways of ours we can get the better of life, of type 1 diabetes; within those ways we can always make our own finish lines – and it always tastes all the sweeter.

Fellow type 1s, champions, war-horses, fellow DiAthletes, I salute you. Never give in.

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Romanian Run

Romania is a country quite far from home for me, somewhere I’d never been to before. If you’ve followed my adventures for a little while now, you’ll probably recognise that I get a buzz from that! Whilst it is not a country known for crowds of tourists each year, from my experience of being over there I can tell you you’re missing out!

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I didn’t know what to expect. My friend and fellow IDF Young Leader in Diabetes, Matyi, had asked if I could come over in support of his local type 1 diabetes organisation, ASCOTID, so I agreed. Matyi and ASCOTID are based in Targu Mures, central Romania. In doing my flights always at the cheapest price I can muster, Skyscanner wasn’t showing me any deals to fly direct – so I ventured to Bucharest on my own to make my way up to Targu Mures from there!

Even Matyi gave me a slight warning about keeping my wits when in Bucharest by my own. There was this slight risk feel to it, back home in the UK people seldom speak of Romania or at least anything positive. Home in London you do see a lot of Romanian Gypsys on the streets (they are not remotely all Gypseys in Romania though), who have made it over the borders of Western Europe. The bad reputation they might have was nothing of what I went and took in.

I stayed the night nice and cheaply via Airbnb in Bucharest. The host, Oana, was absolutely lovely, happy to help me out, give me directions and even get in a cab with me to ensure I got on the correct bus the next morning to travel to Targu Mures. There was not a sign of trouble for me, I wondered the streets, took in the sights – it might sound weird and lonely, but I’m used to doing it – I figured a long time ago that you get one crack at life.

I guess if there was any proposed trouble, my bag I carried was a rifle bag. It was the only bag I had to fit my Olympic Torch in, so it did appear as though I was armed the whole time! By the way, this was the first time an Olympic Torch had been to Romania, they’ve never hosted an Olympics. Before arriving I had already made some national news for that reason!

On these adventures Gavin Griffiths almost disappears, I become that alter ego figure that you are reading of here – The DiAthlete. There’s this added confidence, a call to adventure, excitement and interest. It all exists through a positive attitude in living with type 1 diabetes, that’s how my ‘alter ego’ was born, from the moment I was diagnosed it was in me.

I enjoyed Bucharest. It was lively and intriguing. I went out for a bite to eat in the Old Town and found myself on a night out even in a restaurant!

The next day I endured a 7 hour bus route across Romania. They don’t really do too many roads around the country, so it just swirls around the countryside on uneven lanes. I had my laptop with me and worked for much of the journey on my future project plans. There was a toilet stop in a town called Brasov, I carried my Torch on my back (in the rifle bag) just in case anybody tried anything – or Dracula came out… and then, a few long hours later, I made Targu Mures to meet Matyi.

It has been over a year and a half since I last seen him and the Young Leaders over in Melbourne – where does the bloody time go?!

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After checking into a brilliant hotel, the Grand Hotel, which had given a very kind discount to have me, I threw a shirt on and headed on to the main event going on before the Trail Race the next day. There I met the ASCOTID team for the first time, led by a lovely lady called Rodica, otherwise known as ‘Momma Rodica’ by the young ones in the local diabetes community. And also a very hard working Adrian Martin, who was ensuring everything went to plan the following day. What ASCOTID does is support their local young adults and children living with type 1 in Targu Mures and areas of Transylvania. Over there they receive a very limited amount of healthcare essentials in diabetes management, restricted to just 1 blood sugar test per day.

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I recall being wound up when my local area at home attempted to restrict people who inject insulin with type 1 diabetes to just 4 tests per day once. And I still know I was right to rebel against that, however, in seeing direct how it is in other locations, we’re fortunate wherever we are in the UK. No person is going without. Over in Romania, unless you fund yourself, you’re heavily restricted in care.

This is a place where it costs 80p for a beer for an average price, you can get a very decent meal for all of £3 over there! The Doctors, such as Matyi, are being paid the equal to around £500 per month… yet the prices for healthcare essentials such as insulin and test strips aren’t any cheaper than what they are back home.

Targu Mures itself was an absolutely beautiful town. Colourful, scenic and a lot of good people around. There is a 50/50 divide between Hungarian settlers and Romanian ones over there, which is weird. They don’t always see eye to eye but it has been that way for centuries.

I had a few interesting meals that I am not entirely sure what exactly I was eating, but it all tasted great! It couldn’t have been any more difficult to when I was in Slovenia last year and had a set menu, so I stood more chance of carb counting in Romania! Okay, a slight guess-work tactic was employed! Matyi’s mother, Maria, made me this really interesting and great traditional dish on my arrival, meat and rice mixed inside a boiled cabbage. That’s what I love about travels, trying new things and taking in different cultures – type 1 diabetes isn’t going to stop me from doing that.

The race itself, what I initially began writing this blog about, was extremely challenging. The reception I received on my arrival to the race was incredible. People wanted photographs taken, of course with the Torch but they wanted me in the pics too! Not just that, people were shaking my hand, welcoming me to Targu Mures, it was incredible. A TV station did a report on it so that was all positive for type 1 awareness and ASCOTID.

There was high expectations on me at a time when perhaps I wasn’t quite ready to compete but despite that, being there, it sure seemed to create a good impact for everybody and most importantly ASCOTID’s work. I haven’t been running much this year, not really much at all since the United States and the Manhattan Marathons for Marjorie’s Fund last September. In the recent weeks however I had been coming back to training which had been brilliant, a big thanks to Lisa, who is now coaching me. I haven’t had any professional support before and after such physical beatings over the year that I’ve put myself through, I really needed the support.

My right ankle has been my main area of problems over the past few years, yet, it has never prevented me from the finish lines! It is a lot more than the ankle though and with Lisa we are now strengthening up my body as a whole, with core strength exercises and even meditation. As I write this, two sessions on since Romania and a run again today, I’m feeling great!

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The week beforehand I had completed a 24 mile, quite hilly, run on the Isle of Wight. It was good to get back to it but at the same time I didn’t want to do too much too soon just yet. Having said that, I am a guy that once took on 30 marathons in 30 days once…

The ankles were heavily strapped up and I made sure my joints were protected as much as I could for the run. The key part in all that, as Lisa has been coaching, is that I get my posture correct. Now the route, a Trail Route (off road and in the woodlands) wasn’t the easiest for that! There was very uneven ground the whole way really and plenty of hills! To add to the challenge, especially for me as a Brit, it is a lot hotter over there and very humid – you don’t really get either of those back home.

The start was probably the craziest part. Everybody shot off like rockets when the gun sounded. I was at the front as I led the race with my Torch to begin, this meant I had to carry the Torch for the first km! And I kept going at the pace I didn’t want to go at, but with a stampede of people bombing along behind me, I had to run their race and not my own. My plan would have been to start tame and build the pace up but this was quite the opposite.

It wasn’t the best run of my career shall we say, I knew I was behind on pace. I potentially went to wrong way for a stretch as well! But the key thing is you keep on moving through it, even when you feel tired, even when you feel some pain. The tough route was challenging on my recovering ankle and also a challenge to get the posture correct, when going up and down all the time.

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I was doing in a sense a reverse Mo – Mo Farah entered the London Marathon as a 5km athlete, I was entering a half marathon as an ultra marathoner.

Although it was difficult I was never going to surrender, that was never in the plan. I had one opponent to beat in my mind, my diabetes. This was a tough race, I didn’t have any blood glucose supplies on me. I was relying on my own mind, my awareness of my own body and my knowledge of the decision I had made before the race – 3 units of Levemir, 13 units of it the evening beforehand. This was down from my daily average of 14 units in the morning and 14 in the evening. I had pondered whether to just take on 1 unit, due to the heat, yet, my morning blood sugar levels were really high when I awoke, up around 18 mmol/ls. There was some doubt in me that my insulin was working correctly, perhaps the heat had gotten to it on my bus journey the day before. So 3 units seemed a gamble but a better one.

Good call. I’m good at making these decisions!

I did lower throughout the run. To begin the race it is possible that my blood sugars increased with that speedy start. I certainly felt the symptoms of a hyper level. As it went on, I knew though it would and did lower.

With 5kms left I knew it wasn’t going to be my best time but I also knew I was going to finish and really wanted to kick on – to at least give the people of ASCOTID a glimpse of the pace I can push even at the end of a race. In my mind, to motivate myself, I kept thinking about the fact that they only get 1 test strip per day provided – something Matyi and also Cristina, Romania’s other Young Leader member who had come to the event, had shared with me. Do it for them.

I got going as well, a great motivated pace… and then, down hill and splat! I smashed into this giant wall of mud!

“WHAT THE F…. IS THAT???”

It was the steepest mud hill ever! I had to climb over it. Several times, with sweaty palms, I slid back down!

Following the mud hill came a very, very steep hill to gradually endure. That was the last part before the final stretch into the finish. I saw Matyi and a few of the ASCOTID supporters waiting there. I got a brief sprint in to finish with but would have preferred to have hit that pace earlier (had I have known the route better)!

My blood glucose levels at the end was lowering and I registered around 4.0 mmol/ls, 60 ml/dl – so just avoiding the direct hypo. I beat diabetes by finishing. I always beat it. That’s the message, we can beat it.

The awards ceremony was brilliant to be around too – I didn’t know what was being said but I liked seeing how supportive everybody was of each other. And also seeing young Luca, who has type 1 diabetes and was the week before in hospital after bad blood sugars, go and get a trophy too. Give him the supplies he needs now and finances will be saved in the future from possible longer term complications – as what I saw was a young boy that can live life to the full, as he showed by running the children’s race and kicking a ball about the day before.

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To have met everyone that I did meet, seen the views which were absolutely beautiful on the route, and helped draw in some positive awareness towards ASCOTID, with also an interview with Med-Farm, that was great. It was a good feeling to have been there for the cause and to have found out about all the work ASCOTID does. It was an honour to wear their name on my shirt and I’m sure I’ll be up for going back over next year to take it on again, this time in shape, aware of the route and prepared to win it!

The Island

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The name ‘DiAthlete’ hadn’t even came about the last time I was on the Isle, I was a recently turned 19 year old that had some unfinished business with the island in 2010, having attempted to run around the heavily inclined coastal route in July 2009. I didn’t succeed my goal at the first attempt, falling around 25 miles short in a 2 day challenge. In 2009 I had suffered two torn ankle ligaments shortly before enduring the grueling ultra marathon, which hampered my progress a great deal. I also faced a restricted time schedule with a planned music gig that I hosted on the first evening and a ferry to catch home on the next evening, it was never going to be an easy task. To add to it the extreme weather of fog and rain occurring and limited road signs, there perhaps was plenty of reasons as to why I didn’t make it around the full distance in 2009!

It left a bitter taste with me. The year before, August 2008, I had started something, running 29 miles in 3 hours and 1 minute along the Thanet coast in Kent. The feeling of failure sent my momentum crashing. Many people congratulated me, in fact the only ever award I’ve been given for my work in diabetes was for that effort, by Diabetes UK who I was supporting. I didn’t agree with it all though, I hadn’t achieved what I said I would do and the salt in the wounds was the fact that I had suffered a very bad hypo in the process, ending my first day of the run.

In 2010, to come back, it meant a lot. Perhaps, in a sense, more than any other challenge. It was about proving to myself that I could do it, that I could beat diabetes in any test, and by reaching that finish line in 2010 I gained that belief. So today when I endure even bigger extremes in my challenges, it is now about proving to others that they can beat their diabetes in any test through life too – by showing them my extreme examples.

My running and training has been a little halted since the success last year over in the United States, where I completed 7 marathons in 7 days around Long Island, NY. There were signs of shin splints coming on and also with a busy working schedule as a tour guide, I have to adapt to find time to keep it all going. The main aspect is not to lose a grip of what matters. And to me what matters is keeping the cause of diabetes positive, both in my own life and to others around me.

Whilst arranging a schedule of late where I’ve had the pleasure to meet many communities around the UK in the past few weeks, I’ve also been cramming in work to keep myself funded too – so it has been quite tiring but I wouldn’t change the things I can do for the world. It’s always an honour to meet communities in this cause all over the world. I’ve been up to Altrincham and Cambridge, had a local event in my home hospital, Queen Mary’s and also went to Slough. Coming up is a trip on Wednesday down to Ashford to speak to a school with a recently diagnosed type 1 student – and that’s what counts, it doesn’t matter if I am travelling to support one person, a small group of 10, or a full house of 150, if I can personally encourage another in their condition from my experiences, then why bloody not do that? It’s the best thing to be able to offer something to the world and that’s a gift worth treasuring.

On the Isle of Wight I took the ferry across and had this weird feeling, those memories of the events 5 and 6 years ago. It had me thinking, this is life. Whether its 5 years ago or 50 years that passes by, it is what we do that lives on within us and tells a story about us – time will just keep rolling on regardless.

I was excited to return to a place where I had many emotions and memories.

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You can see when looking at the island from the ferry deck it is quite a large size. I did well to run around that! Then again, I could look back behind me at the other big island, Great Britain, and say something similar, to more of an extreme…

I once ran the bloody length of that one!

Sam Brooks hosted the event on the Isle and I really appreciate all her work to organise it all and encourage her local diabetes community on the island. And also to Sue and Neil Bailey, who welcomed me to stay at their house. It had that 30/30 factor about it, where I look at the success of my John O’Groats to Land’s End challenge and know it was down to the community support – people who didn’t remotely know me, never having met me before, prepared to put me up a night or drive in support for the whole day to carry my bags and be a helping hand. I had never met Sue and Neil but there they were, welcoming me over, feeding me dinner, what great and generous people.

It was an absolute honour to have Paul Farrelly come over too for Sam’s event in the evening. I’ve known Paul since 2009, when I was given that award from Diabetes UK for my original Isle of Wight challenge. Paul was a speaker and he inspired a teenaged DiAthlete in the making to become just that really, with his positive attitude and adventure story of a 30 days cycle from Portsmouth to Istanbul. We were both diagnosed in 2000, both have had crazy 30 day adventures and when in a rowing boat at the same time once, both played a part in capsizing a row boat in front of the onlooking Sir Steve Redgrave!

(It was Paul’s fault initially!)

The event was great. There was a decent attendance there, one lad didn’t even have or know anybody with diabetes – he was just interested, which was good to see. And it was great to team up with Paul, we make a great team by being able to pass on interesting stories, great adventures in a relatable style to motivate others around us.

I also by chance caught the Winchcombes over there too, who happened to be on a weekend trip – who had a cycle on the 30/30 challenge, Kev cycling in support for 4 days and being a good help in the routes too.

On the Sunday I had a late return to the mainland, so had planned to run a few miles – reliving a few memories from 5 years earlier. I did more than relive a few memories, I went on to run around nearly a marathon! In recent weeks I’ve started up more training with support from Lisa Jackman, who has taken me on for a Yoga fitness routine. The aim is this could improve everything about me, prolong my running years, better my core strength and possibly even help strengthen my long term diabetes control in doing so. My body has taken a battering over the years, I won’t deny that, and I’ve never had professional support behind me to do the things I have done. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t done anything remotely major since the U.S challenges last September. When you go over 6 months without anything big on, you need to recapture yourself – mentally more than anything else.

There has been a few rejections of sponsorship for my international plans I am building and intend to fulfill. Doing this run, I decided to test myself out again. Rid that feeling of can I still do it?

Why am I questioning myself? Look what I have achieved! But there is that element when you receive the rejections, or go a long time without being out there. So again on the Isle of Wight, I guess I had something to prove.

Boy, did I go out and prove it!

Instead of running just a few miles to keep fit, I went on and ran close to a marathon in distance – and as I know full well, it is extremely hilly over there! None stop. There isn’t a moment of flat land to run on, more often than not you are climbing the hills.

I kept going, like Forrest Gump, I just felt like running!

With a check on my phone, when I started I didn’t recognise the significance of the date: 10th May. Every year on the 10th of May I find myself doing something extremely positive. Speaking at an event last year, running from Carlisle to Workington the year before on the 30/30… the thing is, it is a date that has a meaning. In 2011 a very positive character named Michael Machin passed away, he had married my Auntie Tracy in hospital a few days before in a difficult time for my family on the coast. It was a sudden occurrence really, his lungs failing, nobody expected it. The Summer before, Tracy, Michael, my cousin Jess with more of my family and some friends were with me on the Isle of Wight, cheering me on as I completed that challenge.

10th May is also the date my Grandad Harry died, when I was a young boy. My first ever public speaking gig, if you like, was at his funeral, aged 6.

Running along the Isle from Cowes to The Needles, taking a silly wrong turning (as expected) along the way, I was lucky not to join them on that date! I had forgotten about the roads without pavements! But there were no near misses, thankfully this time!

I wanted to test myself and perhaps wondered whether this might be a bit far too soon, given those shin splint signs in recent times. But I’d been doing the stretches Lisa had told me, taking more care of my body, so I was eager to kick on and see. I had no challenge on, so could stop at any time, or perhaps aim to make a fair distance down to Yarmouth and stop if it was playing up.

No such problem, at all!

Out of the blue, I went out and ran the best part of a marathon – not feeling a pain at all.

Something isn’t right with me, really! Who bloody runs that far just off the spur of a moment and feels fine??

Blood sugars weren’t perfect but were not far off it. I dropped to a 3.9 on the journey, this is because I took 10 units of Levemir, in my anticipation of only running 4 miles when I first left. I came across a shop which had a sign saying it would close at 1pm, I arrived there at 12.45 and it was shut! But luckily there was a helpful pub nearby, where I sat in for an orange juice and they gave me a few chocolate wafers. I then came across Sam on the route, who had some additional supplies, including a loaf of fruit bread. I had the lot!

IOW153

80gs of carbs consumed with around 6 miles to go to The Needles, blood sugars at 4.8 mmol/ls. Surely, I wouldn’t need anymore!

I opted to remain with water instead of lucozade, as I had eaten so much carbs. I probably made a bad call there, as it was hot – I got absolutely sun burned! Once arriving towards Alum Bay, nearing The Needles for the final mile (and some massive cliff tops to climb) I had another test and to my surprise, despite the massive load of carbohydrates I was just 4.1 mmol/ls in my blood sugar levels.

Without any supplies on me, I decided to alter my pace in a method to make my liver release natural glucose into my system, temporarily spiking my blood sugar levels to see me finish. This meant, after running such a long way, I found myself sprinting, jogging, walking for a patch, every 10 seconds. The change of endurance could trigger that ‘adrenaline effect’ to release the natural glucose in my body.

It worked. I made The Needles and completed the challenge with a level of 6.2 mmol/ls – and to finish at run in the 6s, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that!

IOW155

Some pics from 2010 Challenge and Event on the Isle of Wight:

IOW 10 3

IOW 09

 

IOW 10

 

IOW 10 1

 

 

 

 

IOW 10 2

Isle of Wight pic 2

 

IOW poster

 

IOW 10 4

 

IOW 10 6

 

IOW 10 5

 

IOW 10 8

 

IOW 10 9

 

IOW 12 IOW 10 11

 

IOW 10 12 IOW 10 13

Lucky Stars

On my travels for talks and challenges I always come across great people and great communities, which make all the difference to the cause.

Recently I met Tracy in Cambridge, who was diagnosed with Addison’s disease at the age of just 9 and then with type 1 diabetes as well, aged 17.

If there’s one thing I would pride myself on, apart from of course the freakish levels of stamina and handsome natural quiff, it is being a good judge of character. Tracy is one of those you come across and think, that’s a ‘game-changer’ right there (that’s what I call those standout inspirational figures I meet in all areas) – someone who will in some way or form spread positivity into other people’s lives on a regular basis, perhaps without even knowing it. Tracy has that positive, inspiring edge, no shadow of a doubt. And I see around me in our community many with that potential too – if you face something like diabetes that lives in you, you have the opportunity to better it and inspire by living life to the full.

Tracy shares a blog called ‘Lucky Stars’ and if you want to check her incredible story and positive impact out, just click here:

http://tracyluckystars.wix.com/luckystars

Sports and Type 1 evening!

Diathlete (1)

On Tuesday the 28th of April from 6pm until 8pm at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup (South East of London / North of Kent borders) there will be a DiAthlete evening taking place!

Sharing stories and spreading some motivation, along with some tips for helping better active control in sport, will be Ben Coker – a professional footballer for Southend United FC, who are currently fighting for promotion to League 1! Come and hear Ben’s story and how he goes about controlling diabetes as a pro footballer.

And also I will be there myself, with a different form of endurance as an Ultra Marathon runner and adrenaline junky. So we have a range of experiences to share on the different effects diabetes might have in exercise! Light snacks provided.

If you are travelling, the main lines that go to Sidcup Station from London are London Charing Cross, Cannon Street and Lewisham. And from Kent, Gravesend. It is around a 15-20 minute walk from the train station, keeping along Station Road before turning left to Frognal Avenue.

Bus routes going to the Hospital: 229, 286, B14 and R11

And the address (for those driving there is a car park both at the hospital or else at Sidcup Place just in front of the Hospital) is:

Diabetes Center, 3rd Floor A&E Block (turn right when entering the main doors), Queen Mary’s Hospital, Frognal Avenue, Sidcup, Kent, DA14 6LT

See you there! Any questions tweet me @Diathlete

Ben Coker

Diabetes Desolation

Feeling alone with your type 1 diabetes

Living with diabetes is an emotional rollercoaster, sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down – quite literally when it comes to blood glucose! Through being very involved among type 1 diabetes communities, I certainly know as well as feel that there is a big positive to come from living with it, through the people we can meet and be in contact with all around the world. It has become to me like one large global family. In the U.S last year I saw many local communities that were brilliant, Minneapolis and Miami being some great examples of people with diabetes connecting – and not just associating because of diabetes, that’s just a meet cue, but actually great friends in life through it. And as a Young Leader in Diabetes member, I count well over 100 people from various nationalities worldwide as great friends too.

But what of those who haven’t had that opportunity or haven’t been able to open up that door yet, to connect within those communities we have? Diabetes and depression has often been linked and without support available from experience, hidden dark places can exist. I recall my most difficult times being during school with diabetes, where others didn’t understand what I had, some poked fun at a time when I was most sensitive about it – and the results were not pretty, I had many park or playground punch-ups. At that time I didn’t open the door up to the communities around, I just wanted to keep diabetes as far away as possible – not a good plan when it lives inside of you. Today I’m the boss of it. I’m happy about my diabetes, and by opening that door up I’ve found that many more doors have followed – I’ve been to many locations in the world and hope for many more, to meet all the communities that make the difference where it counts the most.

After starting a new job on the side of DiAthlete I’ve became friends with John Butt, a man aged in his 50s with 20 years experience living with type 1 after an adulthood diagnosis. However, his experience hasn’t been within the community we have, and I imagine that there are many around who haven’t yet, for different reasons, found the way through that accepting door and into the diabetes community.

John has shared his story:

I listened to the Surgeon Vice Admiral as he stated that my medical classification had been revised to P8 PUNS, I knew that P8 meant that I was, at that moment in time, unfit for Naval Service. It was the addendum of PUNS that hurt the most, ‘permanently unfit for naval service’.  My career in the Royal Navy was over. I had served in the Falklands War refuelling helicopters from the hastily constructed flight deck of the MV Baltic Ferry in San Carlos Water (bomb ally) and had served two six month tours in the Adriatic supporting UN troops in Bosnia from HMS Ark Royal. 

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on Friday 13 October 1995, not a date that you are likely to forget, and left the RN on 26 May 1996 at the age of 35.  I had been looking forward to a minimum of another five years in the service of the crown, now I felt it had been cruelly taken away from me.

I had reached the position of Petty Office Air Engineering Artificer (Mechanical), not something to be scoffed at, and had experience of working on the anti submarine Sea King Mk 1, 2 & 5 helicopters, Wessex 5 helicopter in the Search & Rescue roll.  Additionally I spent two years seconded to the RAF servicing Canberra the T17 and T17A aircraft of 360 Squadron at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, finally returning to the Navy and a return to the servicing of the beautiful Sea Harrier FRS1 (sex on four legs).  In the course of my duties I have had the honour to work with some of the finest engineers, pilots and air crewmen; many of who have been honoured by Her Majesty with numerous awards of the Air Force Cross and the George Medal.

This though is where I come to the effect that T1 has had on my life.  It’s not so much the condition it’s self that has affected me but the lack of knowing others with the same illness, a lack of support one might say. The ability to be able to talk and compare experiences I believe it to be fundamental in the way we control our condition, lives and for me it has been a very lonely journey over nearly 20 years.

Ok I can talk to my GP or practice nurse, better still talking to my consultant and DSN at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. Even better though is talking to someone that lives with the condition themselves, who can empathise with the twists and turns that we, as type 1 diabetics, go through.

I found that not knowing others with type 1 was to a certain extent damaging to my health, not my physical but mental health. I had considered withdrawing my insulin treatment to let time take its course.  I’m glad that I didn’t but I had been in a very dark place.

I returned to work last week having taken six months out, I didn’t want my old job back, I just wanted to go back to guiding here in London on a casual basis, it had been 12 years since I last guided. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the new trainee guides take out a Novorapid pen as he prepared to have lunch; my chance to talk to someone that understood what I have gone through without having to explain any of the terminology or the condition was compelling. I listened to his story, as he did mine.

Although my diabetes was late onset his had been diagnosed before he reached his teenage years, but it really helped me to be able to talk. One of the benefits that I see as being diagnosed as a youngster is your parents travelling on that very same journey as you, the term ‘type 3’ has often been used to describe those that care for us as we take that diabetes trip as children. They live through what you do, the good and the bad, and are a constant support. My parents or siblings however, have never been able to take that journey with me having been diagnosed as an adult.  I usually end up with cheese and biscuits and drool as the rest of the family enjoy apple crumble and chocolate eggs at Easter, my mum usually saying ‘are you allowed this John’.

Why not connect with John on Twitter to those in the ‘DOC’ and share your stories too.

Diabetes Bottoms Up!

Drinking alcohol whilst on injections with type 1 diabetes

When outside of preparations for an extreme challenge, it is no hidden secret that I do quite enjoy a good old jolly up; it is a part of many young adult’s lives – my opinion is that in living with type 1 diabetes we should not have to miss out on winding down and being social. Whilst this is my view, we still of course do have diabetes and therefore DO NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE!

Being responsible and being drunk is quite the juxtaposition… but with diabetes we cannot afford to completely switch off the ball, at any time.

…So what do I do when out on the jolly?

Champs

I feel that my brain is in such a way that even when pretty bladdered, my responsibilities today are still drilled into my head. That’s life with diabetes. Having recently passed a course and began some part-time work as a London Tour Guide, whilst the DiAthlete empire grows, I was out to celebrate quite recently and got speaking to a man named John, who has type 1 diabetes too. Despite being in a merry state, I was still able to share some useful advice! The key for me, however, is all about knowing what I am doing and being prepared for it – and that’s what counts with diabetes long term overall, down any walk of life.

If I am going out to a nightclub, which perhaps includes a few starting drinks in the local boozer beforehand, before leaving I will prepare for it in my diabetes. I’ve always been prepared to make a few tweaks, take a few risks and find the results in my own diabetes – this is how I expanded my knowledge in sports for control. My preparations are built around the fact I am on Levemir with my basal rate of insulin on MDI and take this on a twice daily split.

On an average day, without crazy marathons or a jolly up, my split dosage of basal consists of 14 units in the morning time and another 14 units injected in the evening – roughly 12 hours apart.

The twist I make for a night out is firstly making a decision on what I intend to drink. This would normally be beers. I enjoy a pint of lager, Guinness my preferred option. The ingredients in many lagers and bitters host barley, hops and yeast – which entails flavourings and ultimately means there’s levels of carbohydrates included to the ingredients. As we know with type 1 diabetes control, carbohydrates do make blood sugar levels rise and that is why we have to inject insulin to counteract it, as we do not produce our own insulin. Yet, the likes of ingredients such as barley particularly can actually spin the effect of carbohydrates and lower blood sugar levels. On average with lager there will be a slightly higher percentage in the balance of carbohydrates, which means blood sugars will gradually rise. This will not be instant, perhaps mirroring the delayed blood sugar rise of a fatty meal, yet with every two pints that would be when a single unit of quick acting insulin may be required (on average and depending on the person of course). For a Guinness, it includes more water and barley then perhaps the average lager does, which means blood sugars won’t increase as strongly as other drinks. The likes of Stella and Fosters, for example, have a slight element more sugar included in the mix, but again with similar ingredients such as the yeast and barley – so it is a delayed increase in blood sugar levels.

My method of controlling blood sugar levels on a night out is to decide pre jolly-up what I am going to drink. So for a night on the lagers, preferably remaining on the same lager, I would decide to increase my basal insulin – so where my evening amount is on average 14 units, to boost it up to 15 or, if going for it, 16 units of levemir. This way I have a stronger amount in the background to counteract the increase of blood sugar levels throughout the night. My advice would be, if you are sticking to the lagers whilst on injections, to start with just one extra unit – if in a nightclub you might go dancing, having too much background insulin whilst participating in exercise can cause a crash in blood sugar levels. And furthermore, if you are on the pull and accomplish your drunken goal… you don’t exactly want too much basal insulin in your system if you return home with a partner. Just saying!

The responsible move is to remain on the same drink.

Another form of lager that is around in some pubs is called ‘Pils Lager’ – and this appears to have the balance of yeast, barley, hops, slight carbohydrates and no sugar – meaning it will not really increase blood sugar levels. It isn’t my preferred choice of taste but is a good plus for people with diabetes – particularly those with type 2 as well actually.

Now I cannot make it more clear here but to say if YOU DO TAMPER WITH INSULIN, make sure you keep on the right track. It is an initial risk, trial and error, and if drunk, you have less control over yourself as well. So knowing your plan for the night is crucial. Stronger lagers, (most) wines, cider, yes, go for a slight basal increase to prevent high blood sugar levels. I’ve done this and it works.

What you DO NOT WANT, is a basal increase when on a night out and drinking spirits, shots, Jack Daniels, Vodka… even some types of Champagne. These drinks will cause the opposite effect, in fact if you are going for a night out and those are the drinks you are setting yourself on, you may find you need slightly less basal insulin. Normally people do not drink these straight. You will have a ‘JD and Coke’ – and although generally a normal Coke is something with diabetes we look to avoid unless seriously hypo, when it is mixed with whiskey, it isn’t going to be as harmful. I wouldn’t advise drinking normal Coke all night though, this can be unpredictable: the whiskey could cause a hypo, the Coke a hyper.

Alcohol can and in many cases will cause hypos to happen if under prepared for them. So on one hand whilst playing it safer and drinking beers might be where the increase of basal works, in any other context, do not increase the basal with alcohol.

Hard liquor such as Vodka has no carbohydrates – absolutely nothing! So there is nothing included in the ingredients to increase blood sugars. In cases, such as what I often share regarding sports, the body can react and release glucose from the liver when it thinks blood glucose levels are crashing – but under the influence of alcohols such as whiskey and various liquors, the hormonal response is impaired and unable to react at all. Spirits are well known for lowering blood sugar levels and therefore I would normally try to avoid them. Normally…

shots 1

An interesting part is that you usually associate people who drink the whiskeys and spirits as being quite grouchy, perhaps trouble starters, when drunk on the spirits – this is without diabetes. The reason being that whilst being completely drunk and not in control of their minds, they are also in a state of hypo as the spirits can increase insulin secretion as well. And in living with diabetes we all know, if we are hypo we tend to be grumpy gits!

Whilst I am normally on the beers, there has been occasions where I’ve been out and felt quite high in blood sugar levels, the feeling of saliva increasing in my mouth an indication I get, and so have made the decision to actually swap tactics. I found myself high on the beers, and so have one or two Vodka and Diet Cokes to lower blood sugar levels. The last time I done this I arrived home, tested my blood sugars, and went to bed calling myself a genius with a level of 9.4!

9.4

The negative effect was of course the hangover the next day though!

Wine shares similarities to beers – some are worse than others. Generally, wine tends to include more sugar and includes fruits, with natural sugars. So a night on the wine is likely to increase blood sugars slightly more effectively than lager. Some wines have a far greater amount of sugars, an example being Port Wine. It has a lot of grapes in there – recently on a night out with family, my Uncle Al opened up a few bottles of Port. It was tasty, I liked the stuff, I’ll give my Portuguese friends credit… my Grandad polished off a bottle to himself! But my blood sugars rocketed and I had to take a correction dosage. Knowing what you’re drinking is the key!

Similar to the sugar-fruit effect is Cider. Cider, although sharing similarities in some ingredients of lagers, is on the whole different and much, much sweeter, so again a greater increase to blood sugar levels and the extra unit(s) to basal insulin if remaining on the ciders is important.

My best advice that I can pass on is to go out, have fun, we all live once – but ultimately try to not get completely trashed as the more trashed we are, the less responsibility we are able to keep up! We are more likely to get drunk faster when living with diabetes as well. It is your diabetes, you make the decisions, you take the control. It can’t stop us from having fun – but know your body, limits and what you are putting into it for the greatest results.

Bottoms up!

I’m now going to finish my jolly up season and aim to get the fitness levels up to standard, there may be some more challenges to come soon enough ;)

DiAthlete

Running Fitness Magazine

Featured in April’s edition of Running Fitness Magazine as their ‘Inspiring Runner’. You can check out the article on pages 20 & 21, aiming to also raise awareness of type 1 diabetes too!

The issue also features the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Daley Thompson, so The DiAthlete is in a good company of athletes there! The magazine will be out in the coming weeks.

RunFitmag1

DiAthlete Running Notes

“Having type 1 diabetes certainly makes running exciting!”

Diathlete alp running img

I had a training run this afternoon and went at it with a good pace, shorter distance. Good to be back running, although no upcoming races and, as yet, no confirmed major challenges this year (more to come on that) but it’s important to keep positive and ready.

As an athlete you need to work hard to keep on top for both performance and general fitness, whilst looking after your body. As a person with type 1 diabetes, that brings a whole new level to the game! You have to keep on top of everything!

GOOD POINTS in training today: Diabetes! I’m the boss of that:

Started with a blood glucose level of 12.0 mmol/l (216 mg/dl).
Finished with a blood glucose level of 10.5 mmol/l (189 mg/dl)

- Likely to now gradually decrease, blood checks in the next 30 minutes to hour.

Completing the run! (only 3 miles nothing like 900 miles!) but in living with diabetes my opinion is that it doesn’t matter how fast or how far, it is all about finishing what you set out to do and that’s how you stick it to diabetes.

I consumed around 10gs of orange juice and had lowered basal insulin rate by a unit this morning (on split long acting dosage). If I was running further and at a more consistent pace, I would have lowered it much, much more! Shorter distance, 5k, can mean you run faster and can even increase blood glucose if competing (this was training).

Aside from diabetes, I ran with a new technique. Had a bad previous injury 6 years ago and it meant I naturally altered my running pattern to protect weakened ankles. This caused worse effects on joint areas. Thanks to an assessment session with Lisa Jackman, who will be doing a 10 week yoga-fitness development training program on me for running, she highlighted the problem. Legs felt good running today.

BAD POINTS: although there’s not too much on the calendar in the coming weeks just yet, I need to build my fitness levels back. Stamina is there no question, it comes from will power largely, plus I’m a freak. But recovery time has increased after runs, so need to lay off the late night cheese and beers and get the healthy stuff back inside more often! Cholesterol is important with long term diabetes for all types.