The Type 1 Running Mindset: what to think about, when there’s plenty to think about!

By Gavin Griffiths

Mentality. All things in life require a mental approach: how to tackle this ‘must do’ job at work, at school, at home, with finances, on the sports field, at the gym, and so on and so on! At different points of life, we find moments of confidence in taking on what is in front of us and moments of sheer struggle to break objectives down in our state of mind. In living with type 1 diabetes, this also applies… but multiplied a thousand times more (it can seem at times!) as our diabetes mindset has to be considered with every decision or activity in our lives.

With a personal history of running endurance challenges and marathons in my life, I know how mentality can shift from one turn to another; one moment you are finding your stride, clocking the miles with growing confidence as you progress along your route… feeling good on the inside when breathing freely, taking in the scenery around you; the next the weather changes, you aren’t focusing on the scenery but on your own feet and the path they are on, the landscape alters, the running becomes a lot more testing as strides seem to counter against you, the clock ticks but little progress is shown and you start to doubt your challenge, you start to doubt yourself as the mind starts telling you to slow down, to walk, to stop.

The slightest stumble can knock back tonnes of experience and built up confidence. Transitioning that into diabetes life, whether it is that unexplained hyper you corrected for but just didn’t come down, then when it did, CRASH, a hypo; or that one standout, negative word or sentence a health worker mistakenly used during an appointment, or you read on social media, which made you feel frustrated as your hard day-to-day work with diabetes, from the blood glucose tests to insulin decisions, felt disregarded; or that little moment of subconsciously thinking those closest do not get it, whether a parent, partner or friend, after questioning why you did or did not do something (they only meant to support you) and under your skin the mind sneers “this is my condition, back off;” or maybe that feeling of frustration which had been building a while, but not apparent when people talk to you, nor when you go about managing diabetes, just a small element in the background about your condition, the forgotten whisper of “why me” which we never publicly share as though it’s a thought-crime.

When running those long routes – in some challenges I’ve experienced being out there for over 12-hours of solid running, sticking to the road, trying to reach checkpoint after checkpoint, only to reach the finish line and get up early the next morning to do it all again – I would reflect that what helped my mentality to keep on going was not thinking about the long-haul too drastically. Not thinking about whether I would finish in 12 hours or in 3 hours, or of the pace that I was setting. Not thinking about how many more miles to go, especially if there were many more miles to go! If thinking too much about these statistical pieces of information, I would put myself off my stride and begin to ask questions or worry about the route and my performance. Taking snippets of that information and using it as a guideline was useful, making those ‘snippets’ something to build momentum from, such as in 1 hours’ time I can stop a bit for lunch… and I feel this approach is something that I also look to take into my health and diabetes life.

When we talk of complications, when we talk of Hba1c %s, when we talk of our blood glucose level at this very moment, it can be quite off-putting to visualise all these numbers and health insights as a long-term picture. Transitioning that thought into the ‘snippet guideline’ in my opinion is the most productive way to see it, like with the marathon challenge: this is the shorter piece of info that I will take into account, but ultimately it is me and the long road ahead where the outcomes exist, and I choose to enjoy those landscapes around me, saving the energy one decision at a time.

Knowing about a complication, though we may be fearful of what it means, puts us in a better position by knowing of it to then work with, over not knowing of it on our path. The number of the hba1c result, again, is very useful to know, to have a whereabouts we are on our route as it stands, but without digging too far beyond that: some runners start too fast and burn themselves out, and in a race, the best advice is not to worry about the other runners but to focus on your pace; the hba1c is just a number and not a full reflection of yourself, the efforts you make and the level of health and fitness you have. The blood glucose level in this moment, whether in range, a little high, very high, a little low,  very low, now there we find some running fuel; I would rather be 16.5mmol/l and aware about it, in order to do something about it, than 16.5mmol/l and unaware. This is a number, what we need to know is what that number is doing, and more so, why.

By running up the big hills in training, one step at a time, finding our stride, our pace, testing our endurance, we get there… and when we get there, and when we go out again, and again, we begin to adapt and over time running those big inclines will always remain a challenge, but a challenge where we’ve strengthened in our core fitness and gained confidence in our mentality towards tackling it.