Hi, my name is Jamie and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2018. Last year, I took part in the “Virtual London Marathon” and want to share my story with you in order to motivate and inspire. If I can do it, so can you!
It seems like a lifetime ago that I was diagnosed; largely because my Type 2 diabetes is a huge part of my daily life.
Changing lifestyle helped to reduce my HbA1c significantly
I was formally diagnosed in May of 2018 but had felt unwell for at least 12 months prior to my diagnosis. My initial HbA1c reading was 68 mmol/mol (8,4%). Since embarking on my “Healthier Lifestyle Program” I have reduced my HbA1c to 42 mmol/mol (6,0%) and as I write this article, I have been off medication for 1 year.
From the outset I knew I had to increase my activity levels and modify my food choices. Fortunately for me, I love challenges and have historically enjoyed many forms of exercise.
My motivation for exercise had decreased as I reached my 40’s (I am now 54). Previously exercise was playing a sport like football or training to be better at football. When I stopped playing football it left a void that I filled with work and family life, raising my 4 sons, and watching them play the beloved game instead.
In life, timing is everything and I was fortunate that at the time of my diagnosis my children were reaching an age where my wife and I both had more time for ourselves, this has been so important. Of the two lifestyle changes required to address my diabetes I have found activity to be the easiest to manage and maintain. Food management is more complex, which I discuss in more detail in this article.
How my marathon journey started
As I reflect now, the transition to exercise more was simple. I just picked something I could do that was easy, with no real cost and most important of all that I enjoyed doing. I picked walking, not ambling, or strolling, but full on walking, as fast and as far as I could go. At first it was like an adventure. Exploring fields, woodland, and footpaths in my local area, working out routes and enjoying the landscape. This became my good habit, all I needed was a good pair of shoes and a fitness tracker.
Time ticked on, I lost some weight, my blood sugars reduced, and I became more and more ambitious. My annual activity (steps recorded by an activity tracker worn 24/7) was topping 2000 miles, about 15,000 steps a day. Out in all weathers, no excuses and loving every minute of it.
I started to talk to friends about walking a marathon, they all humoured me but no one else was keen. I put off the idea until July 2020, when I came across a charity fundraiser called “The Samarathon”. This entailed covering 26.2 miles throughout the whole of July.
I decided to walk a marathon and cover over 200 miles during the month. So, this was my first unofficial marathon distance, I also raised over £900.
After walking my first marathon, the fuse was lit
After this I wanted more. I wanted to do another marathon, but I wanted something more official. Because of Covid the London Marathon was postponed in 2020 but they did introduce “The Virtual London Marathon” as a temporary replacement. This was an ideal introduction for me. It took place on the same day as the postponed race, and you were given from midnight to midnight to complete the distance. I walked this first official marathon in 7 hrs and 12 minutes, over 1 hour faster than my previous try.
Aesop’s famous fable about the tortoise and the hare is a very apt analogy of my progress from walker to marathon runner/walker in 2021.
As I say in the title of this article “It’s a marathon not a sprint”. This is such a good way to compare diabetes and marathon training. Diabetes will be with me forever; this is hard to accept but the bad days do not define who I am. Just as those marathon training days where your legs feel like lead don’t define your athletic capability.
Jeffing helped me with the transition from walking to running
I started training for the 2021 Virtual London Marathon in February 2021, this is when I first started to incorporate running into my walking. There is a technique called jeffing which really helps with the transition from walking to running. In very simple terms, you run a bit and then walk, slowly but surely your running time increases, and you walk a little less. By May I could run 5k and run/walk 10k, my plan was to run a distance for every mile of the 2021 Virtual London Marathon and I set a time in my head that I wanted to beat.
Training was going well but during early September I contracted Covid and was quite unwell for a few days with flu-like symptoms. At one point I thought about withdrawing as I felt very lethargic and I was unable to train for most of September.
However, as October 3 crept closer, I began to feel better and excited. Excited to participate, excited that I was raising money for Diabetes UK and excited for the other virtual runners who I had become friendly with during lockdown through an initiative called #mindtalk.
Eating more carbs to store energy
For the 3rd Marathon I did something very “un-diabetic” before the race; I ate loads of carbs. This felt very foreign, and my blood sugars did rise a little. I knew they were too high when I started to visit the toilet too frequently but on race day it made a massive difference. Having that store of energy helped massively throughout the duration of the event.
On the day, I left home at 5.30 a.m. and the adrenaline kicked in. All that training and preparation came together and sure enough for the first 19 miles I managed to run a significant distance every mile. From this perspective I ran the perfect race and finished with a time of 6 hrs 25 minutes! Faster than last year and 5 minutes under the personal target I had set. You feel so many emotions when covering that magical distance – elation, despair & relief at the end. I am not afraid to admit that when the app told me I had finished the marathon, I shed a tear or two.
This type of event and achievement is so important to me and my Type 2 management. I know it’s not for everyone, but it keeps me focused and motivated. I am already planning for next year. I have entered the ballot for the real London Marathon in 2023 and have entered The Brighton Marathon on April 10. Making these commitments is so important and sharing your experiences and making yourself accountable is also vital too.
I consider them perhaps as a mountain climber would consider his rope and anchor; diabetes is the mountain, and the rope and anchor are the building blocks that underpin the whole relentless ascent.
As sporting achievements go, I think this year’s marathon is top of my list. At the same time, it’s helping me to keep my Type 2 diabetes managed well.