Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. And like many people, I suspect I'm not the only one who finds the hardest part of it is actually getting up off the sofa in the first place.
My particular weapon of choice when it comes to exercising is running. I remember thinking when I got diagnosed that it was the end of my dream of running the London marathon. I couldn't see how I could manage something as complex as diabetes whilst doing something as gruelling as a marathon.
Thankfully my specialist care team at the time helped me see that diabetes doesn't have to be a barrier to things if you don't let it. Whilst I'm sure he might already be one of the most famous diabetics, Sir Steve Redgrave is someone that probably personifies that attitude more than anyone else.
Training for a marathon is a pretty tough business as you can imagine and adapting that regime to take into account diabetes makes it that little bit more complex. I started by working out a plan for how often I could expect to run. I suffer from a few other, less glamourous, conditions (mild asthama and shin splints) that hampered me a bit but it gave me a place to start.
After that, I was back speaking to my specialist care team and trying to understand what effect my training plan would have on me. This was back before I'd been on a DAFNE course so a lot of the information felt brand new (despite how long I'd been diabetic).
The upshot of it all involved running with one pocket full of jelly babies and the other with my blood glucose tester packed in a little plastic zip-lock bag so I could monitor how I was responding to the exertion. Happily I found I could do about 10 miles before I needed an energy boost and that 4 jelly babies would get me about 4 miles. That made running on the day a lot simpler!
I learned a few important lessons from that training which I think can apply to any kind of exercise you're thinking about:
- Always have fast acting carbs with you. I learned that one pretty quickly after having to abandon a run when I went unexpectedly low
- Speak to your care team before you try something new, be it a marathon or any kind of physical activity. The hour I spent with a dietician made a world of difference
- Monitor your BG. I found that even having pretty good control before I started training, my routine mean things changed (e.g. my sensitivity to insulin at certain times) and monitoring is the only way to understand that
- Don't be afraid to adjust your doses. While I was on my two insulin regime, I'd never appreciated I could adjust my basal insulin (nor did I know by how much). If you're doing lengthy exercise, this could help
- Do some research - websites like Runsweet are packed with information and tips for all kinds of exercise
- Make the most of the opportunity. I was incredibly well supported and raised £1500 when I ran the London marathon. If you're taking on any kind of challenge, then encouraging people to sponsor you can provide extra motivation for you whilst raising money for good causes.
I think the most important tip is to find something that works for you. I know that running isn't for everyone but I genuinely believe that 20 minutes of something a couple of times a week not only makes you feel better but can have a significant impact on your quality of life as a diabetic. I finished the year on an exercise bike in front of the TV as I couldn't run comfortably and that was just as good as dong miles on the pavements.
I'm happy to report that I completed the marathon last April in a respectable, if not earth shattering 5 hours 30 minutes (about 30 mins slower than I would have liked). My plans for this year are a little more modest, but do include some unfinished business with the Sheffield Half Marathon in May (an injury training for that race in 2008 set me back a lot) as well as four 10km races.
As always, I'm raising money for DiabetesUK and The Children's Hospital Charity in Sheffield (specifically to raise funds for a summer camp for children with diabetes). I'm aiming to raise £500 this year and if you'd like to contribute, you can do so by visiting my fundraising page (note all money is split 50/50 between the two charities)