When does being competitive become a negative force rather than a positive driving force? And can it ever be negative ? These are a couple of questions that have been playing on my mind recently. Two significant things happened. I had a bike crash and my husband raced his first middle distance triathlon.
What do these have to do with being competitive? I came off my bike and haven’t been able to swim since. Then a week after my crash, my husband raced his first triathlon.! Maybe its being immensely proud of him because he’s my husband and because he has type 1 diabetes.
Most of us know that when we exercise we need to fuel adequately so that we have enough energy to see us through the session. If we don’t eat enough we become fatigued but can usually struggle on. Even if we completely bonk, a few carbs and 20 minutes later we are sufficiently recovered to continue. Unless you have Diabetes. Not only does having type 1 diabetes mean that balancing nutrition and insulin paramount, it also requires regular monitoring. Prior to eating and often shortly after, a blood glucose reading is needed to determine whether the amount of insulin administered should be adjusted or whether more food is needed to counteract a slightly too large dose.
Imagine starting a 1900 m swim, you have lowered your insulin so that you don’t suffer a hypo and you eat shortly before you start. The swim is tidal and its hard work going against the tide, but you get out and head for T1 happy and a bit tired. Are you tired because you’re in a race and because of swimming hard against the tide or is your blood sugar level out? You can’t just get on to our bike and eat because you might need insulin or you might be so low that you’d fall off your bike. You watch everyone else grabbing their bikes and leaving T1 whilst you try and check your blood sugar. And then, if, as was the case with my husband, it is so low that the monitor can’t register it, you have to eat. Immediately. More time ticks away. You are almost alone in T1. You get the picture now,
I’m sure. My husband, Eugene, has pretty good control of his Diabetes and has learnt what foods to avoid. When he set off on his bike I was happy and confident that he would be fine. So when he arrived back to T2 looking awful I knew something was very wrong. He had started to feel unwell, he had a headache and was tired. But it was hot he told himself and so he drank his bottle of fluid – and stopped to re measure his blood sugar level, only to discover that he had forgotten to pull out the finger lance (used to draw blood) in his pocket. He stopped to ask a Marshall for help- she offered him a a cocktail stick. In his state of confusion he relays how he was so desperate that he spent a minute or so trying to jam it in to his finger in the hope that it would draw blood.
Back on his bike and without any choice but to continue, he rode onto a petrol station where he eventually managed to get a safety pin. Success! His suspicions were quickly confirmed – his blood sugar was so high that it was off the scale. Eating a cliff bar and drinking a bottle of energy drink – an easy mistake when your brain can’t figure out what’s going on, had resulted in a massive spike.
Back in T2 he slumped to the floor and was ready to quit. He looked awful, but I knew that if he gave up he would only berate himself afterwards. I persuaded him to start the run (it was 4 laps),to walk the first lap and to retest his sugar level and then decide if to do another. Gradually his blood sugar level stabilized and came down, after each lap he ran more, walked less and smiled more.
People who don’t have diabetes wrongly assume that managing it is a case of simply eating correctly, but there is much more to it than this. The complexities are too vast for this current post, but the point I am trying to convey is that with any disability diabetics are at a disadvantage before they even start. He completed a middle distance and was so unconcerned about being competitive, other than against the finish time and had overcome such huge difficulties.
I felt completely humbled. I considered this and I knew, that this is what endurance sport is all about- overcoming the challenge against yourself. Lessons come in all sorts of unexpected forms, but they are always there. Whether you choose to learn from them is entirely up to you!
Excerpted from Claire Doherty's blog