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Tri Training with Type 1 Diabetes

Kathleen's Story, Q&A with GGTC
2/04/2012 2:04 PM

For our GGTC February Newsletter, I asked Kathleen to share her triathlon story with the club.  Enjoy reading her story! -Chris Nosek

Why did you decide to get into triathlon?

In March 2008, I attended a week long "camp" entirely devoted to diabetes, fitness, exercise and sports education. The sport was triathlon and a fellow camper organized a group of women with diabetes to do the Longhorn 70.3 in Oct 2009. Team WILD: Women Inspiring Life with Diabetes


How long have you been racing?

My first sprint was the See Jane Tri in Sept 2008. I was floundering on my own and attempted Wildflower Olympic in May 2009. I didn't have a structured training program and the race did not go well athletically or diabetes wise. I immediately got hooked up with GGTC, TAG and then HIT for a successful 70.3 finish at Longhorn. I continued with Olympic distance races in 2010 (did TAG again!) and in September 2011, eleven Team WILD women with type 1 diabetes participated in IronMan Wisconsin, including myself.


What main challenge did you have to navigate in order to participate in triathlon?

Type 1 diabetes requires balancing blood sugar levels and insulin dosing. Sounds simple but it's actually quite complex. I analyze every morsel of food that goes into my mouth and then I make an educated guess on insulin dosing. Salad, pasta, tootsie roll, GU, Clif Blox, electrolyte drinks, recovery drinks, all of it requires evaluation and then some kind of action.  I also take into consideration the energy I'm currently expending, will expend over the next few hours and have expended in the last 24 hours. I also need to account for variables like sleep, hormones, stress, etc. All of this and more affects blood sugars. Whether it's a casual stroll in the park, a 4 hour bike ride or an 8 hour race, I'm thinking about and actively managing diabetes in addition to concentrating on the actual swimming, biking, running, swerving/honking cars, seals, unleashed dogs, etc.


How has Type 1 Diabetes impacted your training and racing?

Diabetes affects absolutely everything I do on a daily basis and even more so training and racing. When people are meeting at 8am for a long bike ride, many get up at 7:45 throwing back whatever's in the fridge or a protein bar in the car. Some forget to bring nutrition or they will buy something along the way. I eat at least 3 hours before I'm going to get on the bike because it helps reduce my risk for a low blood sugar on the ride and hours later. I have to pack absolutely everything I need to eat with me. I can't take the chance that a place will be open for me to get fuel and just the right fuel. I'm also carrying additional food in case I have a low blood sugar as well as a ton of medical supplies. There's no "winging it" with diabetes but often times I'm better prepared than those who do not have diabetes b/c I have to be and that is a good thing.  It takes careful planning and vigilance. Despite my best efforts, high and low blood sugars are part of having diabetes, emergencies still happen and my risk for lows increases when I work out and they can be quite serious. Most can be treated if I stop what I'm doing, eat and then let that fuel do it's thing but by the time this "back of the pack" gal does all that....I'm really back of the pack and often times the very last person out there. It kinda sucks to come back to your car and everyone is gone but that also somehow makes me stronger and more determined to work even harder yet.


What are your goals for this year?

I signed up for HIT to Wildflower. I will not race b/c I'm doing the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Napa Tour de Cure bike ride that same weekend. I will do the Steelhead 70.3 in Michigan in August with my women friends with type 1 diabetes and my first marathon in Chicago in October with the ADA.


What advice do you have for others who don't think they can do it?

We all have our challenges and as unique as they may be, we are united in the fact hat we are all imperfect. Don't compare yourself to others. I did it for years and until I accepted myself and my limitations, only then could I truly overcome them, succeed and feel really good about my personal and individual growth and accomplishments. I'll never be fast on the bike or the run. NEVER! So what! I'm out there just the same as the people who are already driving home when I'm crossing the finish line.


Is there anything you think other members should know?

Many of us are completers and not competers. Just finishing is HUGE and it somehow takes away from it when people just ask, "What's your time". If someone is totally psyched about their time, they'll let you know. How about "Congrats!! Great job!". For many of us just getting to the start line is an accomplishment and yes, it sucks not finishing (been there!) so please don't say "better luck next time" or "didn't you train enough". Acknowledge the disappointment, pat that person on the back, and remind them how awesome they are and that not finishing doesn't take away from the weeks or months of training.  Then there of those of us that just getting to a training day took a ton of effort. Thank you to everyone who has supported me, cheered me on or pat me on the back. It means a lot. Really.  -Kathleen 


Thank you, Kathleen for sharing your story with us and continuing to inspire so many of us as we embark on our own swim/bike/run journeys.  You are part of the reason GGTC is a great club! 
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Kathleen Fraser
Tri Training with Type 1 Diabetes

Member, Kathleen Fraser, answers questions about balancing triathlon and Type 1 Diabetes.
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February 2012