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Ultra Racing with Type 1 Diabetes

Written by Seun Alaba

Disclaimer: Before I go into depth of my experience, I’ll just clarify that I’m no expert in providing a solution to maintaining my sugar levels. Managing diabetes is a highly personal thing that has different ways of disrupting people’s objectives.

In short, it’s tough. Similar to balancing on a tight rope, except you’re tired a lot of the time and have lots of consequences when you fall.

To the normal individual, riding through France and eating pastries for 20 hours a day is a dream. For me, probably not so much. Eating highly processed food will affect my blood sugar levels often causing it to spike. This usually leads to me having to take insulin to bring it back down. However, once you’ve started exercising, your normal ratios of insulin are out of the window and there’s no app in the world that can calculate it for you. Just vibes and hoping you got the maths right.

My strategy was to try and stock up on ‘riding’ food for the first few days and then find actual meals on the way. Sounds pretty simple. It worked for the first two days as I knew how much carbs were in my homemade flapjacks.

Things kind of went downhill after the 4th day once my food stocks had become depleted and the shops became less common with the option of food limited.

As a normal person you can probably get away with riding for a few hours with no food. Being caught out with just a bag of 2 stale baguettes was all I had for some of the nights. Not ideal but you roll with the punches and deal with it regardless. Having shops closed usually after 6pm and then not opening until after 9am was also pretty difficult as a diabetic as I had to then rely on those vending machines for pizza late at night and also early in the morning.

It’s a double edged sword as you get that nice hit of dopamine from the pizza but it spikes your blood sugar levels and then makes you crash. For those of you who don’t know, going high will make your muscles feel sluggish and also you feel severely dehydrated. Going low, is like what you folks feel when you bonk, except you feel fuzzy and confused also. Get too many of both and it’ll give you mood swings. Unfortunately, it’s part of exercising whilst diabetic. It’s quite hard to stay in the green range in this environment let alone doing it in this setting.

Anyway, you quickly learn to adapt to your surroundings. I had no option but to do so. No amount of ‘training’ will get you ready for racing as a diabetic until you’ve done a race. I spoke to Doctors before the race and some didn’t understand as they just give you standard advice regarding sports that are often less than 90 minutes. Thankfully I did have some advice from a specialist that was helping with managing my insulin ratios but that soon become defunct once my body adapted to the changes and became more stubborn.

Photo Credit: Michael Drummond @DrummondPhoto

In essence, you’re constantly making mathematical equations in your head deciding what to eat, how many carbs is in the food and how much insulin to take considering the fat content also. Sounds pretty complicated right?

Although I felt like I had my regime nailed down during training in terms of eating regularly and taking the right amount of insulin, as I'm comfortable with riding long days. It didn’t translate to a protocol appropriate for an Ultra over 10 days.

This is a highly simplified version of what I had to go through. It requires far more than just a few words on a post to actually describe what it’s like. There’s certainly things I am going to change for my next ultra in 2024. All of which I’ll experiment with in the coming weeks.


You can find Seun on Instagram @SeunAlaba and make sure you follow @UltraDistanceScholarship too!

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