During a super busy summer season this year at work I had planned on heading out for a few bigger days in the mountains during the 2018/19 winter, my time off, as I only usually manage to get out for shorter runs during the hectic work period of running our B&B on the edge of the Lakes. But my diary had started to fill up before my running season had really began and I thought f*** it, you only live once, get on with it!
As a “warm-up”, I took on the Fred Whitton on 24th August with a couple of mates. I used to ride bikes a lot, I still love it when I get the chance. The three of us flew round all the Lakeland passes. I had hardly been on a bike all year but felt strong until trying to do anything the next day that involved using my legs. I sort of realised that trying to ride 170km over 7 Lakeland passes on your bike with no prior training isn’t advised – note to self.
Fun with mates on Fred Whitton
On 8th September, I joined the Marsden Racers in their Malham Cove to Marsden charity run. What should have been a relatively easy 50 miles turned out to be a little more of a struggle than I wanted it to be. All 9 of us that started also finished with many more joining on route to run certain sections. A few of the group (including myself) started the 50 miler a little later than the first group of runners, I think just because we fancied a few minutes longer in bed that morning! Our group of 3 thought the route followed the Pennine Way for the duration of the run to Marsden, but actually it diverted off for a mile or so for a feed station. None of us in our group realised this and we just kept plodding on, missing out the feed station, which meant we had no stop until the second feed station at about mile 20. By that point I was knackered, wet, hungry but most of all gagging for a brew. Once I got myself sorted and downed the second cup of hot tea, we set off again. The remaining 30 miles went pretty smoothly with an awesome group of people, who are all based in and around Marsden. Lots of credit for the event goes to Sinead Battarbee for organising the run and for raising so much money for charity.
A week later Sinead phoned me and asked if I fancied entering the Snowdon Ultra in 7 days’ time. This is a 50-mile race of 4000 m of climbing through the Snowdon Mountain range. Again I thought, “Just do it! So what, you will be tired, just get on with it.” I was thinking that the race I really wanted to do this year was only 3 weeks away, so I decided I was going to start super slow and continue like that all day. And that’s exactly what I did for about 10 miles. After the first check-point, before the Bwlch Tryfan climb, I completely forgot about what I was doing in 3 weeks’ time and I started to move a bit more like a runner and a bit less like a very, very slow shuffler. After the second checkpoint, a guy called Jon, who was moving pretty well on the climbs, caught me on the climb up Snowdon, passed me and stayed with me until the Pyg track met the climbers track. From there he disappeared up the rest of Snowdon and stayed ahead of me till the summit. When I finally reached the top and passed 100 or so walkers/runners, I made a rapid U-turn and descended as quickly as I possibly could. I have realized that I do downhills pretty well, much better than I do climbing. I’m not so keen on actually improving my climbing. Jon and I ran together after he caught me again up towards the return of the Bwlch Tryfan climb and we stayed together till the end. I was super psyched to run with someone that was into the same sort of things as I am, beer and running, and who was willing to listen to what I had to say. We finished in 14 hours 2 minutes, coming in at joint 4th. The last 40 miles were not as slow as I would have liked in anticipation of an ultra I really wanted to race at in only 3 weeks’ time, but I was incredibly happy with the result and a good day out!
Fast forward 3 weeks, little other than a couple of swims, a bike ride and dog walks happened since the Snowdon Ultra last. I have realised that finishing as strong as I did in Wales meant that if I hadn’t been the last over the start line (literally) and hadn’t queued for at least of 30 minutes within the first mile, I would have finished much quicker. Anyway, it was a good learning curve.
So far, I haven’t said a lot about being type 1 diabetic in this first little reflection of my life in poor English on electronic paper, because I sort of have not needed to. For the last 3 years, since October 2015, I have been on a Medtronic 640G pump and for the last 2.5 years I have been fortunate enough to have a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). This little device bluetooths my blood glucose to my 640G insulin pump which then means I can keep an eye on what’s going on and act accordingly. I have for all but for one occasion totally eliminated becoming hypoglycaemic since moving onto CGM and rounded my blood glucose results into a consistent level. Don’t get me wrong, my blood sugars are not perfect, but much better now than then they have ever been before.
Loading up on insulin
That one occasion that I was hypo was within the last 2 months on a Tuesday afternoon walk. I knew I was going low at least 30 mins before it happened as my BG was dropping fast. I knocked all my basal off for a couple of hours and I thought that would be enough. It completely wasn’t, I ended up paralyzed, completely lifeless and totally useless. I am used to this state, but it doesn’t mean I like it. This happened amongst people who know me and who have dragged me out of states just as bad and worse before. I just didn’t want it to happen again, not when on CGM. This was a real confidence knocker, I felt shit and did so for days after going into that state. It’s the worse, it feels like you have been beaten up, your body is wrecked and my head space was even worse. Thank you to those who have, throughout my life, pulled me out of these holes.
I have always reduced my insulin after big days in the hills but I thought that I had learnt my lesson at secondary school when I was consistently in the sick room on a Monday after a Saturday of playing rugby and a Sunday of MTBing. Becoming hypo a day or two after big days out obviously hasn’t left me.
Living in Shap, I am always telling people how well we are located to get into all the different local hill ranges. Thankfully, this was also the case for Lakes in a Day, we are a 35-minute drive from the start and a 45-minute drive home once finished, so all I had to do was get there on time. I woke up at 5am with a BM of 12.4, a little higher than I would have liked but we had been out the night before and with an all you can eat buffet and I had got stuck in for thirds as usual. I had a slice of toast before I left home and 2 coffees; thankfully they got my movements going if you know what I mean. I arrived, registered and finished my bircher before 7.30am. I quickly calibrated my pump, which is done by doing my blood glucose with a machine and which lasts for 12 hours and photographed with fellow type 1 diabetics.
16 Type 1 runners in Caldbeck at the start line
I felt a huge sense of pride being on the start line with 16 other type 1 diabetics. I have raced downhill mountain biking as a 16-18-year-old growing up, XC as a young adult and the last 8 years I have raced in the Cumbrian Fells, never have I met another type 1 at these events. My younger brother is also a type 1; he as a kid did all the things I did, he even entered a few triathlons and did pretty well, but he is no long distance runner, no matter how much I try to get him into it. To see so many runners on the start line with the same condition was pretty special. These diabetics have endured a struggle similar to me with how their health has been affected due to type 1. To raise awareness for those with siblings, children or spouses that are diabetic is such a positive movement. It is such a great sign to everyone that with the aid of others and the will and determination, actually anything is possible.
After the photograph, there was a quick announcement about the day ahead, I zipped up my Inov8 Storm Shell which stayed on all day and we were off. I knock my basis down to 0-10% per hour when running hard. I had done this 30 mins before starting knowing that I was going to give my all at this event. With two other 50 mile run in my legs within the last 5 weeks I felt tired before I had started. Maybe I was or maybe it was the amount of social media attention about this event during the build-up. Whatever it was I did have butterflies in my stomach. It was probably down to the fact I knew I was going to run as fast as my legs would carry me from one side of the Lakes to the other and no matter what storm Callum had to say, I was going to enjoy it.
And we were off
I moved well over Blencathra and down Halls Fell ridge. I fell a few times but bounced pretty well and fell into the first check point at Threkeld in 8th or 9th place. More importantly, I was about 15 minutes up on my expected time. I said to myself, slow down, take stock, enjoy a morning croissant or 2 and say hello to the guys who had travelled to Thelkeld from the start in car to support me: hi Leigh, Eeva, Richy and Amy. It wasn’t until I left the feed station that I realised that my tube that attaches from my pump to cannula was hanging loose. Thankfully I run with a spare cannula attached for this exact eventuality. When bouncing down Halls Fell, my pump had jumped out and joined me splattered all over the trail. I was quick to clip in back in to the front of my shorts. When descending I try to move my pump from the rear of my shorts onto the front of my hip, when I remember, this way it seems to stay seated better when descending and jumps out less.
Running into Threlkeld feeding station
Next up was Clough Head, I have been up this hill since it nearly cost me my Bob Graham round last year, where I was sick out of both ends, but it still makes me feel queasy every time I head up that way and I just don’t like it. Thankfully this time I moved quicker than during the last big event and there were no toilet troubles. Although 4 people overtook me, I thought I was moving pretty well. I whipped out my pump and realised that I had broken the clip, or thought I had. Climbs like this always used to give me time to test my blood before in the days before CGM. Now it’s a quick look at the screen to check all is well and to place it in my pocket out of the way. I was getting it wrapped up in my compass string, but realised if put in my pocket, compass round my neck, hey presto, that will work.
The weather was far from great but it was sort of playing into my hands, as I knew I could run well in such conditions . I did run well, for my standards, from the top of Clough Head all the way to the little climb onto Helvellyn. I got pelted by what felt like hailstones and gusts of wind up to what must have been 90 mph. Storm Callum had really begun to kick in and I think everyone who was up there that day would agree that it was grim! I was starting to struggle with the lack of food, so I rammed in a mouthful of Harribo, a handful of salted nuts, a couple of cubes of cheese and washed it down with a few of cherry tomatoes. I love how they bust with sweet natural goodness when popped in your mouth. Although I was struggling, on the approach to the top of Helvellyn I passed someone, then realised I wasn’t going uphill anymore. The wind stopped for about 5 seconds and I felt just about all right. I was just hungry again, and once I had managed to swallow gigantic mouthfuls of what had been shoved in the general direction of my mouth, it was time to get going again.
I passed one fella on the decent to Grisedale tarn. This was a little wild, the tarn looked like the North Sea with waves crashing down. As I approached the stream leaving the tarn I had caught another runner, at this point I could see the slender built guy was struggling to cross the stream, which was up to your knees and seriously gushing. With the water pulling you one way and the wind the other it was pretty tricky to stay up-right. So I grabbed him by the waist from behind, as he pulled his way across looking to the East against the onslaught from Callum. When we crossed, he turned to say thanks. I nodded and disappeared up towards the Fairfield drag.
This is one of those climbs that’s a steep zigzag and is never easy. Today was different to ever before, storm Callum was forecast to be hitting due south all day but it was actually hitting from all angles during this climb. A couple of fellas in front of me seemed to be struggling but I felt like I was flying, using the incredibly strong winds to help give me a shove up the hill, thanks Callum! From the top of Fairfield I knew I would be able to run the decent to Ambleside fast, and that’s exactly what I did. About an hour later, pleased to have run well, I was approaching the feed station in Ambleside with a runner just in front of me. Being told that 1st & 2nd had only left 10 minutes before me was a bit of a shock, with 3rd & 4th refuelling I had a couple of slices of pizza and Bepanthened my bits and off I went following 4th place out of the door. Following 4th place out the door, you what?
Fine weather during the recce a week before the event
The next leg to Finsthwaite along the side of Windermere had been recced the week before, the weather 7 days before was a little different, it was dry from start to finish. This was the section I was going to struggle on, I knew I didn’t like running the bits that are not in the mountains and even though it was more than 600 metres of climbing it was still fairly flat for me. So I knew I was not going to be easy to keep up the pace of 3rd and 4th place. Immediately as I left the Ambleside feed station there was a detour, through kids play area: over the swings, round the roundabout, down the slide into the water feature for the next 6 or so hours.
Just outside Ambleside feed station – a bit wet under foot.
Pretty pleased I didn’t bother changing my shoes, for me that would have been a complete waste of time. My Injinji socks were wet but completely excellent at keeping my toes blister free for the duration of the race. My trusted Salomon Speedcross 4 were not getting swapped for trail shoes, with the amount of water about, if I’d had flippers, I would have put these on. What was going to keep me going and entertained were the place names along this section, for me it’s about the little smiles you can give yourself. When Eeva, Richy and I recced this section, we all smiled at Hammer Hole, Long Tongue, Bell Intake and the dinosaur sanctuary (pheasant farm) at the end of the last climb up towards High Dam, these names along with the water features kept me occupied for the next couple of hours.
Dropping in the Finsthwaite and heading straight past the feed station wasn’t the best idea I had ever had, I hadn’t filled my water up since Threlkeld and it was only when I was a 200 yards past the station in a field full of bulls did I realise that I had forgotten to take on any water. Not to worry, it’s not like we were in the middle of a drought. I filled up from a couple of burst streams and thought nothing of it with my mind already focused on the finish line starting. I folded the map over to turn onto the last 1/8 of the route. Headtorch turned on and what felt like in a blink of the eye I was fast approaching the finish line. A quick check of the pump, my blood sugars were still as steady as ever. I reached the finish line in 11 hours and 33 minutes, and received a cuddle from Leigh-ann and a couple from James and I was done. Looking at my pump within the first couple of minutes of finishing, I was pleased to see that since 5 am my blood sugar levels had been between 4-10 all day.
Crossing the finish line
I downed a couple of bottles of water once finished as I hadn’t any since before Ambleside. Not drinking fresh water en route proved the undoing of me on Sunday as my rear end turned into a tap. Note to self: DON’T FILL UP YOUR WATER BOTTLE FROM A MUDDY STREAM! Lots of fields and not many rivers caused the toilet issues, but only for half a day as well being sick for about 10 when I got home Saturday night. It can all probably be put down to the same thing!
I knocked my basal down to 80% for the next 12 hours then down to 90% for the following 24 hours. Sunday was a lazy day that saw me climb to the top of Kendal Climbing Wall stairs twice to watch my wife and mates boulder. On Monday I reduced my basis again, this time because I went for a paddle on the river Lowther for a couple of hours.
On reflection, I can almost look at being diabetic on CGM during this type of event as a benefit compared to other athletes. I have started to see being diabetic as a positive, having the CGM allows me to see what my blood glucose is doing, which is so helpful. I know when I am going to hit the wall before it happens; I can see if I have had too much sugar. I know what my blood glucose is telling to me and listening to it is something I have always done. After being diagnosed in 1995, I had very poor control until the last couple of years, not through the lack of trying. Now being able to watch what my body does with CGM has changed how I can perform and it’s 100% for the better. Now I know that if I am not doing well it’s down to the lack of training or lack of ability, I can no longer blame my diabetes for not performing. CGM has opening a new chapter in my life which I can’t wait to explore.