As diabetics we have 5 disciplines to train for in triathlon: Swim, Bike, run, transition and managing diabetes. By that I don't just mean keeping sugar levels at bay but being organised, having spares of glucose meters, enough food, spare infusion set, testing strips with you for all eventualities (read my blog about the intricacies of racing as a diabetic).
I am pretty organised, for example, I have 3 glucose meters, one has a sticker "Bike", the second has a T for transition and the other one is labelled S for the special needs bag or as a spare. I am pretty confident now testing glucose levels on the aero bars without slowing down too much and maybe that's why this racing experience thought me a lesson in several ways:
The practice race
My pre-race glucose management routine worked pretty well and I did my usual basal rate adjustment to 40% about 1.5 hours before the race. I had to take on a banana and half a gel when 45 min before the start my sugar levels had dropped from 117 to 93 mg/dl (6.5 to 5.1 mmol/l) (no sign of adrenalin kicking in which normally make sugar levels rise!)
The swim was quite pleasant - I hadn#t swum that distance before with my new waterproof pump but worked out that the combination of the banana and half a gel as well as the reduced basal rate should get me through the swim without a hypo. Just to be sure I had a gel in the sleeve of my wetsuit.
All went smoothly and I got out after 31min, with a sugar level of 140mg/dl (7.7mmol/l)! Bingo spot on!
A "flying" glucose meter on the bike
I packed away my meter in my bento box and realised after a few minutes that my finger was still bleeding from my finger prick. It didn't stop to the point that blood was running down my finger every time I held on to my aero bar. I remembered I had a tissue in the plastic bag with my glucose meter. Busy trying to retrieve the tissue without letting go of the glucose meter and my nutrition in the bento box, I hadn't given much attention to the road and before I knew it I had come off the road to the left into the greenery next to the road at full speed. It turned out to be a huge field of stinging nettles. I somehow managed to stay on my bike and I think it was only the sheer fear of falling right into the nettles that kept me pedalling on and eventually steering back on to the road. After the initial shock was over I realised that during my little excursion into the stinging nettles my glucose meter had been catapulted out of the bento box into the depth of the nettles bushes. It took a split second for me to decide NOT to stop and look for it. I knew I had to just get on with it. Needless to say that my cold feet no longer pre-occupied my mind but the stinging, itching sensation and the rash going down my legs.
With the glucose meter no longer with me, I had to listen to my body even more and rely on my own judgement to work out what my sugar levels were doing. This can be quite difficult in a race situation. I am sure most diabetics agree that having the comfort of a glucose meter is much better than having to listen to your body to recognise the signs of an oncoming hypoglycaemia (low sugar levels) or even the signs of hyperglycaemia (high sugar levels). However, I stuck to my plan:
I had only taken on another half a muesli bar during the first lap of the bike and two liquorice until I tested so with my experience from previous races and a number of training rides at the intensity I was riding at I worked out that I would probably be OK not to eat anything for the second lap and just keep the basal rate at 40%.
It worked! I briefly checked with my other glucose meter which I had in transition and the result showed 134mg/dl (7.3mmol/l). Phew!
On the run, I didn't test my glucose levels either (I had organised a special needs bag with a meter at one of the aid stations in case ) but didn't make use of it. My run was steady at an intensity I knew was OK for me to keep going for sometime without immediately falling into a hypo. I went with gut feel and had half a gel during the entire half marathon leg, had the basal rate running in 80% for the 10km and then on 100% for the last. Crossing the finish line the meter read 109mg/dl (6.0mmol/l)!
- Lesson 1: Keep focused and concentrate! No matter how long or dull the bike or run course is or how tired you are or busy eating and drinking or checking sugar levels on the bike, keep focused! My race could have easily ended in the stinging nettles because I wasn't paying attention. I was lucky to have managed to not come off the bike. This little incident won't stop me from checking levels again on the bike but has made me realise how important it is to have your mind focused and not let it wonder off which is so easy to do. On the run I noticed that my mind just wandered off and I automatically slowed down; when I re-focused I was picking up pace again.
- Lesson 2: Use training to work out what and how much nutrition your body requires at a given intensity. I was able to use the experience I had gained from training and other races to make reasonable assumptions about my nutritional requirements and how my blood sugar levels would behave. It worked. The danger of "bonking" which is effectively low sugar levels can be reduced significantly.
- Lesson 3: Give yourself some credit! It was my second ever half Ironman distance race and for the second time my glucose levels had been absolutely spot on. Yet, I wasn't very happy with my performance overall. However, when breaking down the race into smaller chunks, actually, I had a pretty good swim and my transition times have improved a lot (thanks to actually practising transitions in training - see lesson 2!). My pacing was good because I was able to maintain the same split times in each lap and when I crossed the finish line, I knew I could have continued (it's reassuring to know that when I will need to do double the distance in September)!
Instead of being annoyed and disappointed with my time, overall, I should be pleased with myself for managing glucose levels so well which to me is half of the battle ;-