2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon Race Report Recap

I recently ran my second-ever 50k ultramarathon. This is my attempt to provide a race recap or “race report”, which in part is to help people in the future considering this race and this course. (I couldn’t find a lot of race reports investigating this race!)

It’s also an effort to provide an example of how I executed fueling, enzyme dosing (because I have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, known as EPI), and blood sugar management (because I have type 1 diabetes), because there’s also not a lot of practical guidance or examples of how people do this. A lot of it is individual, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for anyone, but if anything hopefully it will help other people feel not alone as they work to figure out what works for them!

Context of my running and training in preparation

I wrote quite a bit in this previous post about my training last year for a marathon and my first 50k. Basically, I’m slow, and I also choose to run/walk for my training and racing. This year I’ve been doing 30:60 intervals, meaning I run 30 seconds and walk 60 seconds.

Due to a combination of improved training (and having a year of training last year), as well as now having recognized I was not getting sufficient pancreatic enzymes so that I was not digesting and using the food I was eating effectively, this year has been going really well. I ended up training as far as a practice 50k about 5 weeks out from my race. I did several more mid- to high-20 mile runs as well. I also did a next-day run following my long runs, starting around 3-4 miles and eventually increasing to 8 miles the day after my 50k. The goal of these next-day runs was to practice running on tired legs.

Overall, I think this training was very effective for me. My training runs were easy paced, and I always felt like I could run more after I was done. I recovered well, and the next-day runs weren’t painful and I did not have to truncate or skip any of those planned runs. (Previous years, running always felt hard and I didn’t know what it was like to recover “well” until this year.) My paces also increased to about a minute/mile faster than last year’s easy pace. Again, that’s probably a combination of increased running overall and better digestion and recovery.

Last year I chose to run a marathon and then do a 50k while I was “trained up” for my marathon. This year, I wanted to do a 50k as a fitness assessment on the path to a 50 mile race this fall. I looked for local-ish 50k options that did not have much elevation, and found the Strawberry Fields Forever Ultra.

Why I chose this race, and the basics about this race

The Strawberry Fields Forever Ultra met most of my goal criteria, including that it was around the time that I wanted to run a 50k, so that I had almost 6 months to train and also before it got to be too hot and risked being during wildfire smoke season. (Sadly, that’s a season that now overlaps significantly with the summers here.) It’s local-ish, meaning we could drive to it, although we did spend the night before the race in the area just to save some stress the morning of the race. The race nicely started at 9am, and we drove home in the evening after the race.

The race is on a 10k (6.2 miles) looped course in North Bonneville, Washington, and hosted a 10k event (1 lap), a 50k event (5 laps), and also had 100k (10 laps) or (almost) 100 miles (16 laps). It does have a little bit of elevation – or “little” by ultramarathon standards. The site and all reports describe one hill and net 200 feet of elevation gain and loss. I didn’t love the idea of a 200 foot hill, but thought I could make do. It also describes the course as “grass and dirt” trails. You’ll see a map later where I’ve described some key points on the course, and it’s also worth noting that this course is very “crew-able”. Most people hang out at the start/finish, since it’s “just” a 10k loop and people are looping through pretty frequently. However, if you want to, either for moral or practical support, crew could walk over to various points, or my husband brought his e-bike and biked around between points on the course very easily using a mix of the other trails and actual roads nearby.

The course is well marked. Any turn had a white sign with a black arrow on it and also white arrows drawn on the ground, and there were dozens of little red/pink fluorescent flags marking the course. Any time there was a fork in the path, these flags (usually 2-3 for emphasis, which was excellent for tired brains) would guide you to the correct direction.

The nice thing about this race is it includes the 100 mile option and that has a course limit of 30 hours, which means all the other distances also have this course limit of 30 hours. That’s fantastic when a lot of 50k or 50 mile (or 100k, which is 62 miles) courses might have 12 hour or similar tighter course limits. If you wanted to have a nice long opportunity to cover the distance, with the ability to stop and rest (or nap/sleep), this is a great option for that.

With the 50k, I was aiming to match or ideally beat my time from my first 50k, recognizing that this course is harder given the terrain and hill. However, I think my fitness is higher, so beating that time even with the elevation gain seemed reasonable.

Special conditions and challenges of the 2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon

It’s worth noting that in 2021 there was a record abnormal heat wave due to a “heat dome” that made it 100+ degrees (F) during the race. Yikes. I read about that and I am not willing to run a race when I have not trained for that type of heat (or any heat), so I actually waited until the week before the race to officially sign up after I saw the forecast for the race. The forecast originally was 80 F, then bounced around mid 60s to mid 70s, all of which seemed doable. I wouldn’t mind some rain during the race, either, as rainy 50s and 60s is what I’ve been training in for months.

But just to make things interesting, for the 2022 event the Pacific Northwest got an “atmospheric river” that dumped inches of rain on Thursday..and Friday. Gulp. Scott and I drove down to spend the night Friday night before the race, and it was dumping hard rain. I began to worry about the mud that would be on the course before we even started the race. However, the rain finished overnight and we woke up to everything being wet, but not actively raining. It was actually fairly warm (60s), so even if it drizzled during the race it wouldn’t be chilly.

During the start of the race, the race director said we would get wet and joked (I thought) about practicing our backstroke. Then the race started, and we took off.

My race recap / race report the 2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon

I’ve included a picture below that I was sent a month or so before the race when I asked for a course map, and a second picture because I also asked for the elevation profile. I’ve marked with letters (A-I) points on the course that I’ll describe below for reference, and we ran counterclockwise this year so the elevation map I’ve marked with matching letters where “A” is on the right and “I” is on the left, matching how I experienced the course.

The course is slightly different in the start/finish area, but otherwise is 95% matching what we actually ran, so I didn’t bother grabbing my actual course map from my run since this one was handy and a lot cleaner than my Runkeeper-derived map of the race.

Annotated course map with points A-I
StrawberryFieldsForever-Ultra-Elevation-Profile

My Runkeeper elevation profile of the 50k (5 repeated laps) looked like this:
Runkeeper elevation profile of 5 loops on the Strawberry Fields Forever 50k course

I’ll describe my first experience through the course (Lap 1) in more detail, then a couple of thoughts about the experiences of the subsequent laps, in part to describe fueling and other choices I made.

Lap 1:

We left the start by running across the soccer field and getting on a paved path that hooked around the ballfield and then headed out a gate and up The Hill. This was the one hill I thought was on the course. I ran a little bit and passed a few people who walked on a shallower slope, then I also converted to a walk for the rest of the hill. It was the most crowded race start I’ve done, because there were so many people (150 across the 10k, 50k, 100k, and 100 miler) and such a short distance between the start and this hill. The Hill, as I thought of it, is point A on the course map.

Luckily, heading up the hill there are gorgeous purple wildflowers along the path and mountain views. At the top of the hill there are some benches at the point where we took a left turn and headed down the hill, going down the same elevation in about half a mile so it was longer than the uphill section. This downhill slope (B) was very runnable and gravel covered, whereas going up the hill was more dirt and mud.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a hairpin turn and we turned and headed back up the hill, although not all the way up, and more along a plateau in the side of the hill. The “plateau” is point C on the map. I thought it would be runnable once I got back up the initial hill, but it was mud pit after mud pit, and I would have two steps of running in between mud pits to carefully walk through. It was really frustrating. I ended up texting to my parents and Scott that it was about 1.7 miles of mud (from the uphill, and the plateau) before I got to some gravel that was more easily runnable. Woohoo for gravel! This was a nice, short downhill slope (D) before we flattened out and switched back to dirt and more mud pits.

This was the E area, although it did feel more runnable than the plateau because there were longer stretches between muddy sections.

Eventually, we saw the river and came out from the trail into a parking lot and then jogged over onto the trail that parallels the river for a while. This trail that I thought of as “River Road” (starting around point F) is just mowed grass and is between a sharp bluff drop with opening where people would be down at the river fishing, and in some cases we were running *underneath* fishing lines from the parking spots down to the river! There were a few people who would be walking back and forth from cars to the river, but in general they were all very courteous and there was no obstruction of the trail. Despite the mowed grass aspect of the trail, this stretch physically and psychologically felt easier because there were no mud pits for 90% of it. Near the end there were a few muddy areas right about the point we hopped back over into the road to connect up a gravel road for a short spurt.

This year, the race actually put a bonus aid station out here. I didn’t partake, but they had a tent up with two volunteers who were cheerful and kind to passing runners, and it looked like they had giant things of gatorade or water, bottled water, and some sugared soda. They probably had other stuff, but that’s just what I saw when passing.

After that short gravel road bit, we turned back onto a dirt trail that led us to the river. Not the big river we had been running next to, but the place where the Columbia River overflowed the trail and we had to cross it. This is what the race director meant by practicing our backstroke.

You can see a video in this tweet of how deep and far across you had to get in this river crossing (around point G, but hopefully in future years this isn’t a point of interest on the map!!)

Coming out of the river, my feet were like blocks of ice. I cheered up at the thought that I had finished the wet feet portion of the course and I’d dry off before I looped back around and hit the muddy hill and plateau again. But, sadly, just around the next curve, came a mud POND. Not a pit, a pond.

Again, ankle deep water and mud, not just once but in three different ponds all within 30 seconds or so of each other. It was really frustrating, and obviously you can’t run through them, so it slowed you down.

Then finally after the river crossing and the mud ponds, we hooked a right into a nice, forest trail that we spent about a mile and a half in (point H). It had a few muddy spots like you would normally expect to get muddy on a trail, but it wasn’t ankle deep or water filled or anything else. It was a nice relief!

Then we turned out of the forest and crossed a road and headed up one more (tiny, but it felt annoying despite how small it looks on the elevation profile) hill (point I), ran down the other side of that slope, stepped across another mud pond onto a pleasingly gravel path, and took the gravel path about .3 miles back all the way to complete the first full lap.

Phew.

I actually made pretty good time the first loop despite not knowing about all the mud or river crossing challenges. I was pleased with my time which was on track with my plan. Scott took my pack about .1 miles before I entered the start/finish area and brought it back to me refilled as I exited the start/finish area.

Lap 2:

The second lap was pretty similar. The Hill (A) felt remarkably harder after having experienced the first loop. I did try to run more of the downhill (B) as I recognized I’d make up some time from the walking climb as well as knowing I couldn’t run up the plateau or some of the mud pits along the plateau (C) as well as I had expected. I also decided running in the mud pits didn’t work, and went with the safer approach of stepping through them and then running 2 steps in between. I was a little slower this time, but still a reasonable pace for my goals.

The rest of the loop was roughly the same as the first, the mud was obnoxious, the river crossing freezing, the mud obnoxious again, and relief at running through the forest.

Scott met me at the end of the river road and biked along the short gravel section with me and went ahead so he could park his bike and take video of my second river crossing, which is the video above. I was thrilled to have video of that, because the static pictures of the river crossing didn’t feel like it did the depth and breadth of the water justice!

At the end of lap 2, Scott grabbed my pack again at the end of the loop and said he’d figured out where to meet me to give it back to me after the hill…if I wanted that. Yes, please! The bottom of the hill where you hairpin turn to go back up the plateau is the 1 mile marker point, so that means I ran the first mile of the third lap without my pack, and not having the weight of my full pack (almost 3L of water and lots of snacks and supplies: more on that pack below) was really helpful for my third time up the hill. He met me as planned at the bottom of the downhill (B) and I took my pack back which made a much nicer start to lap 3.

Lap 3:

Lap 3 for some reason I came out of the river crossing and the mud ponds feeling like I got extra mud in my right shoe. It felt gritty around the right side of my right food, and I was worried about having been running for so many hours with soaked feet. I decided to stop at a bench in the forest section and swap for dry socks. In retrospect, I wish I had stopped somewhere else, because I got swarmed by these moth/gnat/mosquito things that looked gross (dozens on my leg within a minute of sitting there) that I couldn’t brush off effectively while I was trying to remove my gaiters, untie my shoes, take my shoes off, peel my socks and bandaids and lambs wool off, put lubrication back on my toes, put more lambs wool on my toes, put the socks and shoes back on, and re-do my gaiters. Sadly, it took me 6 minutes despite me moving as fast as I could to do all of those things (this was a high/weirdly designed bench in a shack that looked like a bus stop in the middle of the woods, so it wasn’t the best way to sit, but I thought it was better than sitting on the ground).

(The bugs didn’t hurt me at the time, but two days later my dozens of bites all over my leg are red and swollen, though thankfully they only itch when they have something chafing against them.)

Anyway, I stood up and took off again and was frustrated knowing that it had taken 6 minutes and basically eaten the margin of time I had against my previous 50k time. I saw Scott about a quarter of a mile later, and I saw him right as I realized I had also somewhere lost my baggie of electrolyte pills. Argh! I didn’t have back up for those (although I had given Scott backups of everything else), so that spiked my stress levels as I was due for some electrolytes and wasn’t sure how I’d do with 3 or so more hours without them.

I gave Scott my pack and tasked him with checking my brother-in-law’s setup to see if he had spare electrolytes, while he was refilling my pack to give me in lap 4.

Lap 4:

I was pretty grumpy given the sock timing and the electrolyte mishap as I headed into lap 4. The hill still sucked, but I told myself “only one more hill after this!” and that thought cheered me up.

Scott had found two electrolyte options from my brother-in-law and brought those to me at the end of mile 1 (again, bottom of B slope) with my pack. He found two chewable and two swallow pills, so I had options for electrolytes. I chewed the first electrolyte tab as I headed up the plateau, and again talked myself through the mud pits with “only one more time through the mud pits after this!”.

I also tried overall to bounce back from the last of mile 4 where I let myself get frustrated, and try to take more advantage of the runnable parts of the course. I ran downhill (B) more than the previous laps, mostly ignoring the audio cues of my 30:60 intervals and probably running more like 45:30 or so. Similarly, the downhill gravel after the mud pits (D) I ran most of without paying attention to the audio run cues.

Scott this time also met me at the start of the river road section, and I gave him my pack again and asked him to take some things out that he had put in. He put in a bag with two pairs of replacement socks instead of just one pair of socks, and also put in an extra beef stick even though I didn’t ask for it. I asked him to remove it, and he did, but explained he had put it in just in case he didn’t find the electrolytes because it had 375g of sodium. (Sodium is primarily the electrolyte I am sensitive to and care most about). So this was actually a smart thing, although because I haven’t practiced eating larger amounts of protein and experienced enzyme dosing for it on the run, I would be pretty nervous about eating it in a race, so that made me a bit unnecessarily grumpy. Overall though, it was great to see him extra times on the course at this point, and I don’t know if he noticed how grumpy I was, but if he did he ignored it and I cheered up again knowing I only had “one more” of everything after this lap!

The other thing that helped was he biked my pack down the road to just before the river crossing, so I ran the river road section like I did lap 3 and 4 on the hill, without a pack. This gave me more energy and I found myself adding 5-10 seconds to the start of my run intervals to extend them.

The 4th river crossing was no less obnoxious and cold, but this time it and the mud ponds didn’t seem to embed grit inside my shoes, so I knew I would finish with the same pair of socks and not need another change to finish the race.

Lap 5:

I was so glad I was only running the 50k so that I only had 5 laps to do!

For the last lap, I was determined to finish strong. I thought I had a chance of making up a tiny bit of the sock change time that I had lost. I walked up the hill, but again ran more than my scheduled intervals downhill, grabbed my bag from Scott, picked my way across the mud pits for the final time (woohoo!), ran the downhill and ran a little long and more efficiently on the single track to the river road.

Scott took my pack again at the river road, and I swapped my intervals to be 30:45, since I was already running closer to that and I knew I only had 3.5 or so miles to go. I took my pack back at the end of river road and did my last-ever ice cold river crossing and mud pond extravaganza. After I left the last mud pond and turned into the forest, I switched my intervals to 30:30. I managed to keep my 30:30 intervals and stayed pretty quick – my last mile and a half was the fastest of the entire race!

I came into the finish line strong, as I had hoped to finish. Woohoo!

Overall strengths and positives from the race

Overall, running-wise I performed fairly well. I had a strong first lap and decent second lap, and I got more efficient on the laps as I went, staying focused and taking advantage of the more runnable parts of the course. I finished strong, with 30:45 intervals for over a mile and 30:30 intervals for over a mile to the finish.

Also, I didn’t quit after experiencing the river crossing and the mud ponds and the mud pits of the first lap. This wasn’t an “A” race for me or my first time at the distance, so it would’ve been really easy to quit. I probably didn’t in part because we did pay to spend the night before and drove all that way, and I didn’t want to have “wasted” Scott’s time by quitting, when I was very capable of continuing and wasn’t injured. But I’m proud of mostly the way I handled the challenges of the course, and for how I readjusted from the mental low and frustration after realizing how long my sock change took in lap 3. I’m also pleased that I didn’t get injured, given the terrain (mud, river crossing, and uneven grass to run on for most of the course). I’m also pleased and amazed I didn’t hurt my feet, cause major blisters, or have anything really happen to them after hours of wet, muddy, never-drying-off feet.

The huge positive was my fueling, electrolytes, and blood glucose management.

I started taking my electrolyte pills that have 200+mg of sodium at about 45 minutes into the race, on schedule. My snack choices also have 100-150mg of sodium, which allowed me to not take electrolyte pills as often as I would otherwise need to (or on a hotter day with more sweat – it was a damp, mid-60s day but I didn’t sweat as much as I usually do). But even with losing my electrolytes, I used two chewable 100mg sodium electrolytes instead and otherwise ended up with sufficient electrolytes. Even with ideal electrolyte supplementation, I’m very sensitive to sodium losses and am a salty sweater, and I have a distinct feeling when my electrolytes are insufficient, so not having that feeling during after the race was a big positive for me.

So was my fueling overall. The race started at 9am, and I woke up at 6am to eat my usual pre-race breakfast (a handful of pecans, plus my enzyme supplementation) so that it would both digest effectively and also be done hitting my blood sugar by the time the race started. My BGs were flat 120s or 130s when I started, which is how I like them. I took my first snack about an hour and 10 minutes into the race, which is about 15g carb (10g fat, 2g protein) of chili cheese flavored Fritos. For this, I didn’t dose any insulin as I was in range, and I took one lipase-only enzyme (which covers about 8g of fat for me) and one multi-enzyme (that covers about 6g of fat and probably over a dozen grams of protein). My second snack was an hour later, when I had a gluten free salted caramel Honey Stinger stroopwaffle (21g carb, 6 fat, 1 protein). For the stroopwaffle I ended up only taking a lipase-only pill to cover the fat, even though there’s 1g of protein. For me, I seem to be ok (or have no symptoms) from 2-3g of uncovered fat and 1-2g of uncovered protein. Anything more than that I like to dose enzymes for, although it depends on the situation. Throughout the day, I always did 1 lipase-only and 1 multi-enzyme for the Fritos, and 1 lipase-only for the stroopwaffle, and that seemed to work fine for me. I think I did a 0.3u (less than a third of the total insulin I would normally need) bolus for my stroopwaffle because I was around 150 mg/dL at the time, having risen following my un-covered Frito snack, and I thought I would need a tiny bit of insulin. This was perfect, and I came back down and flattened out. An hour and 20 minutes after that, I did another round of Fritos. An hour or so after that, a second stroopwaffle – but this time I didn’t dose any insulin for it as my BG was on a downward slope. An hour later, more Fritos. A little bit after that, I did my one single sugar-only correction (an 8g carb Airhead mini) as I was still sliding down toward 90 mg/dL, and while that’s nowhere near low, I thought my Fritos might hit a little late and I wanted to be sure I didn’t experience the feeling of a low. This was during the latter half of loop 4 when I was starting to increase my intensity, so I also knew I’d likely burn a little more glucose and it would balance out – and it did! I did one last round of Fritos during lap 5.
CGM graph during 50k ultramarathon

This all worked perfectly. I had 100% time in range between 90 and 150 mg/dL, even with 102g of “real food” carbs (15g x 4 servings of Fritos, 21g x 2 waffles), and one 8g Airhead mini, so in total I had 110g grams of carbs across ~7+ hours. This perfectly matched my needs with my run/walk moderate efforts.

BG  and carb intake plotted along CGM graph during 50k ultramarathon

I also nailed the enzymes, as during the race I didn’t have any GI-related symptoms and after the race and the next day (which is the ultimate verdict for me with EPI), no symptoms.

So it seems like my practice and testing with low carbs, Fritos, and waffles worked out well! I had a few other snacks in my pack (yogurt-covered pretzels, peanut butter pretzel nuggets), but I never thought of wanting them or wanting something different. I did plan to try to do 2 snacks per hour, but I ended up doing about 1 per hour. I probably could have tolerated more, but I wasn’t hungry, my BGs were great, and so although it wasn’t quite according to my original plan I think this was ideal for me and my effort level on race day.

The final thing I think went well was deciding on the fly after loop 2 to have Scott take my pack until after the hill (so I ran the up/downhill mile without it), and then for additional stretches along river road in laps 4 and 5. I had my pocket of my shorts packed with dozens of Airheads and mints, so I was fine in terms of blood sugar management and definitely didn’t need things for a mile at a time. I’m usually concerned about staying hydrated and having water whenever I want to sip, plus for swallowing electrolytes and enzyme pills to go with my snacks, but I think on this course with the number of points Scott could meet me (after B, at F all through G, and from I to the finish), I could have gotten away with not having my pack the whole time; having WAY less water in the pack (I definitely didn’t need to haul 3L the whole time, that was for when I might not see Scott every 2-3 laps) and only one of each snack at a time.

Areas for improvement from my race

I trained primarily on gravel or paved trails and roads, but despite the “easy” elevation profile and terrain, this was essentially my first trail ultra. I coped really well with the terrain, but the cognitive burden of all the challenges (Mud pits! River crossing! Mud ponds!) added up. I’d probably do a little more trail running and hills (although I did some) in the final weeks before the race to help condition my brain a little more.

I’ll also continue to practice fueling so I can eat more regularly than every hour to an hour and a half, even though this was the most I’ve ever eaten during a run, I did well with the quantities, and my enzyme and BG management were also A+. But I didn’t eat as much as I planned for, and I think that might’ve helped with the cognitive fatigue, too, by at least 5-10%.

I also now have the experience of a “stop” during a race, in this case to swap my socks. I’ve only run one ultra and never stopped before to do gear changes, so that experience probably was sufficient prep for future stops, although I do want to be mentally stronger/less frustrated by unanticipated problem solving stops.

Specific to this course, as mentioned above, I could’ve gotten away with less supplies – food and water – in my pack. I actually ran a Ragnar relay race with a group of fellow T1s a few years back where I finished my run segment and…no one was there to meet me. They went for Starbucks and took too long to get there, so I had to stand in the finishing chute waiting for 10-15 minutes until someone showed up to start the next run leg. Oh, and that happened in two of the three legs I ran that day. Ooof. Standing there tired, hot, with nothing to eat or drink, likely added to my already life-with-type-1-diabetes-driven-experiences of always carrying more than enough stuff. But I could’ve gotten away very comfortably with carrying 1L of water and one set of each type of snacks at a time, given that Scott could meet me at 1 mile (end of B), start (F) and end of river road (before G), and at the finish, so I would never have been more than 2-2.5 miles without a refill, and honestly he could’ve gotten to every spot on the trail barring the river crossing bit to meet me if I was really in need of something. Less weight would’ve made it easier to push a little harder along the way. Basically, I carried gear like I was running a solo 30 mile effort at a time, which was safe but not necessary given the course. If I re-ran this race, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with minimal supplies.

Surprises from my race

I crossed the finish line, stopped to get my medal, then was waiting for my brother-in-law to finish another lap (he ran the 100k: 62 miles) before Scott and I left. I sat down for 30 minutes and then walked to the car, but despite sitting for a while, I was not as stiff and sore as I expected. And getting home after a 3.5 hour car ride…again I was shocked at how minimally stiff I was walking into the house. The next morning? More surprises at how little stiff and sore I was. By day 3, I felt like I had run a normal week the week prior. So in general, I think this is reinforcement that I trained really well for the distance and my long runs up to 50k and the short to medium next day runs also likely helped. I physically recovered well, which is again part training but also probably better fueling during the race, and of course now digesting everything that I ate during and after the race with enzyme supplementation for EPI!

However, the interesting (almost negative, but mostly interesting) thing for me has been what I perceived to be adrenal-type fatigue or stress hormone fatigue. I think it’s because I was unused to focusing on challenging trail conditions for so many hours, compared to running the same length of hours on “easy” paved or gravel trails. I actually didn’t listen to an audiobook, music, or podcast for about half of the race, because I was so stimulated by the course itself. What I feel is adrenal fatigue isn’t just being physically or mentally tired but something different that I haven’t experienced before. I’m listening to my body and resting a lot, and I waited until day 4 to do my first easy, slow run with much longer walk intervals (30s run, 90s walk instead of my usual 30:60). Day 1 and 2 had a lot of fatigue and I didn’t feel like doing much, Day 3 had notable improvement on fatigue and my legs and body physically felt back to normal for me. Day 4 I ran slowly, Day 5 I stuck with walking and felt more fatigue but no physical issues, Day 6 again I chose to walk because I didn’t feel like my energy had fully returned. I’ll probably stick with easy, longer walk interval runs for the next week or two with fewer days running until I feel like my fatigue is gone.

General thoughts about ultramarathon training and effective ultra race preparation

I think preparation makes a difference in ultramarathon running. Or maybe that’s just my personality? But a lot of my goal for this race was to learn what I could about the course and the race setup, imagine and plan for the experience I wanted, plan for problem solving (blisters, fuel, enzymes, BGs, etc), and be ready and able to adapt while being aware that I’d likely be tired and mentally fatigued. Generally, any preparation I could do in terms of deciding and making plans, preparing supplies, etc would be beneficial.

Some of the preparation included making lists in the weeks prior about the supplies I’d need in my pack, what Scott should have to refill my pack, what I’d need the night and morning before since we would not be at home, and after-race supplies for the 3.5h drive home.

From the lists, the week before the race I began grouping things. I had my running pack filled and ready to go. I packed my race outfit in a gallon bag, a full set of backup clothes in another gallon bag and labeled them, along with a separate post-run outfit and flip flops for the drive home. I also included a washcloth for wiping sweat or mud off after the run, and I certainly ended up needing that! I packed an extra pair of shoes and about 4 extra pairs of socks. I also had separate baggies with bandaids of different sizes, pre-cut strips of kinesio tape for my leg and smaller patches for blisters, extra squirrel nut butter sticks for anti-chafing purposes, as well as extra lambs wool (that I lay across the top of my toes to prevent socks from rubbing when they get wet from sweat or…river crossings, plus I can use it for padding between my toes or other blister-developing spots). I had sunscreen, bug spray, sungless, rain hat, and my sunny-weather running visor that wicks away sweat. I had low BG carbs for me to put in my pockets, a backup bag for Scott to refill, and a backup to the backup. The same for my fuel stash: my backpack was packed, I packed a small baggie for Scott as well as a larger bag with 5-7 of everything I thought I might want, and also an emergency backup baggie of enzymes.

*The only thing I didn’t have was a backup baggie of electrolyte pills. Next time, I’ll add this to my list and treat them like enzymes to make sure I have a separate backup stash.

I even made a list and gave it to Scott that mapped out where key things were for during and after the race. I don’t think he had to use it, because he was only digging through the snack bag for waffles and Fritos, but I did that so I didn’t have to remember where I had put my extra socks or my spare bandaids, etc. He basically had a map of what was in each larger bag. All of this was to reduce the decision and communication because I knew I’d have decision fatigue.

This also went for post-race planning. I told Scott to encourage me to change clothes, and it was worth the energy to change so I didn’t sit in cold, wet clothes for the long drive home. I pre-made a gluten free ham and cheese quesadilla (take two tortillas, fill with shredded cheese and slices of ham, microwave, cut into quarters, stick in baggies, mark with fat/protein/carb counts, and refrigerate) so we could warm that up in the car (this is what I use) so I had something to eat on the way home that wasn’t more Fritos or waffles. I didn’t end up wanting it, but I also brought a can of beef stew with carrots and potatoes, that I generally like as a post-race or post-run meal, and a plastic container and a spoon so I could warm up the stew if I wanted it. Again, all of this pre-planned and put on the list weeks prior to the race so I didn’t forget things like the container or the spoon.

The other thing I think about a lot is practicing everything I want to do for a race during a training run. People talk about eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes, etc. I think for those of us with type 1 diabetes (or celiac, EPI, or anything else), it’s even more important. With T1D, it’s so helpful to have the experience adjusting to changing BG levels and knowing what to do when you’re dropping or low and having a snack, vs in range and having a fueling snack, or high and having a fueling snack. I had 100% TIR during this run, but I didn’t have that during all of my training runs. Sometimes I’d plateau around 180 mg/dL and be over-cautious and not bring my BGs down effectively; other times I’d overshoot and cause a drop that required extra carbs to prevent or minimize a low. Lots of practice went into making this 100% TIR day happen, and some of it was probably a bit of luck mixed in with all the practice!

But generally, practice makes it a lot easier to know what to do on the fly during a race when you’re tired, stressed, and maybe crossing an icy cold river that wasn’t supposed to be part of your course experience. All that helps you make the best possible decisions in the weirdest of situations. That’s the best you can hope for with ultrarunning!

The multivariable equation that is running with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

I’ve written in the past about running with type 1 diabetes. I’ve tried running fasted, which works well in one sense because I have no extra insulin on board. I’ve modified my strategy further to run 2 or more hours after breakfast, so I have fuel but don’t have (much) IOB. But as I’ve extended my forays deeper into longer distance ultrarunning, and as I learned I have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), running is getting a little more complicated.

For past thoughts on T1D running, here’s my post on running fasted and thinking about IOB. I also wrote more here last year about marathon and 50k ultramarathon training and how I use small doses of carbs to “correct” for dipping blood sugars. Last year, my body didn’t seem to need or want much additional fuel, so I didn’t force it. Part of that was likely a symptom of my undiscovered EPI. Now, however, that I am taking enzymes for pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy so I can digest what I eat, I have more energy (because my body is actually using what I eat), but I also get hungry and seem to need more fuel while running. But everything I eat needs enzymes to help me digest it, even things that I eat while ultrarunning.

So…it’s complicated to run with type 1 diabetes and micromanage insulin and carbs to manage blood glucose levels; and I’m limited in my fuel choices because I have celiac disease; and now I have to also carry, titrate, and dose enzymes for any fuel that I eat on the run as well.

Oh, and like insulin, the timing of enzymes matters. But there are no studies on enzyme digestion and how that changes during exercise, let along endurance activities like ultrarunning. So I am running in the dark, so to speak, trying to figure out things myself as I go along.

Here is more detail about what I’m doing and why I’m constantly running multivariable equations in my head while training for a 50k, 50 mile, and maybe even 100 mile run later this year:

First and foremost, managing blood sugar levels comes first.

I wear a CGM, so I can see how my blood sugar (BG) is changing during the run. I have a pump, so I can make any changes to insulin dosing. I also have an open source AID system (OpenAPS), so before running I set a higher target which tells the system not to give me as much insulin as it would otherwise. (It also does an awesome job with post-run insulin sensitivity changes! But that’s another post.) As I’ve previously written about, reducing insulin on board (IOB) when I know I’ll be running is the important first step, so I don’t have to start taking carbs and treating a low at the start of my run. Usually, my open source AID and I (by giving it a temporary target) do a good job getting me to my run start without much IOB, and ideally somewhere around 120-130 mg/dL.

From that level area, I can see rises and dips in BGs and dose accordingly. I carry easily dissolving small mint-like candies that are a few carbs (3-4g), or Airhead minis (8g of carbs), and with any dip below 120 or recurring drop that’s not coming up after 15 minutes since my last carb, I take more. These are pretty much straight sugar, and my body seems to do ok with absorbing carbs without enzymes, as long as there is no fat or protein involved.

However, with ultrarunning it’s generally considered to be ideal to proactively be consuming fuel to balance out the energy that you’re burning. Again, this is where I’m less experienced because for the last years, my body never wanted fuel and I did ok. However, now I seem to need fuel, so I’m working on figuring this out because food typically has some fat and protein, and I have to dose enzymes for it.

I carry a baggy with some single-enzyme (lipase) pills and some multi-enzyme (lipase for fat, amylase for carbs, and protease for protein) pills. I carry carefully measured single-serving snacks that I know the fat and protein quantity of. For each snack, I might need 1-2 enzyme pills of various sorts.

Timing matters: I can’t take enzymes and then snack slowly for 30 minutes. To eat slowly, I would need to take enzymes every 10-15 minutes to match the speed of eating so it will ultimately be there to help the food digest.

But, more carbs/food at once has an effect on how I feel while running and also to my BGs. I’ve tried to find things I love to eat running and can eat within 5 minutes – even while running 30 seconds and walking 60 seconds repeatedly – that are also less than 1-2 enzyme pills worth of fat and protein and aren’t too many carbs at once. These may be 15-20g carb snacks which means a bigger impact to my BG levels, and I may need to even do a small bolus (give insulin) for what I am eating. The challenge again is that food can hit BGs in about 15 minutes but it takes ~45 minutes for insulin activity to peak. And, during exercise, I’m more sensitive to insulin than I normally am. There’s no magical calculation to know how much “more” sensitive I am in the midst of a run, so I have to guess and thread the needle between not giving too much insulin that would cause a low BG but giving enough so I don’t spike above 180 mg/dL, which is what makes me feel icky while running.

Preferably, and very personally, I’d like to float up and down between 120-140 mg/dL or 130-150 mg/dL, which is higher than BGs usually hang out for me without exercise (remember: open source AID!), but is high enough that I have buffer against a low, so if I suddenly dip and I haven’t looked at my BGs in 15 minutes, I can usually still carb up and prevent an annoying low. (Lows matter even more on runs because they slow me down physically, which is usually not what I’m going for.)

It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I undershoot the insulin because I’ve miscalculated my effort running, and my BG drifts high and I have to decide whether or not to correct further. Other times, I overshoot (or have increased my run effort and didn’t take that into consideration) and cause BG to dip or dive toward low. Then I have to carb up but hopefully not so much that I cause a high.

My priority list therefore is: manage BGs, take in fuel, try not to over or undershoot on insulin for the fuel or overshoot carb corrections for drifting BGs, plus remember to take enzymes for the fuel and dose the right amount, plus stay on top of my electrolytes. Oh, and keep run-walking.

And along the way, I am also trying to document and learn whether the absorption of enzymes changes during different intensities or lengths of exercise; whether these over the counter enzymes are reliably measured enough for small snacks, and whether my personal ratios for fat and protein are any different during exercise the way my sensitivity to insulin changes during exercise.

It’s a lot of work. Plus, the pre-work that goes in to finding, measuring, and preparing foods that I think I want to eat during the run!

My current short list of single-serving snacks that I can tolerate while doing long runs includes: 8 gluten free peanut butter pretzel nuggets; 1 serving of chili cheese Fritos; 6 gluten free yogurt covered pretzels; and 1 gluten free stroopwaffle. Each of those is 15-20g of carb, 1-2 enzyme pills, and some of them have a bit of sodium. (I’m also fairly sensitive to sodium so I take electrolyte pills every 30-45 minutes while racing, but I’ve realized the extra fueling with a bit of sodium makes it so I don’t have to take the electrolyte pills every 30 minutes like I used to.)

When I build up to my longer (50 mile or maybe 100 mile ultras, if I get there!) runs, I’m also going to need additional “real food” options, as I doubt I will be able to or want to eat stroopwaffle and Fritos for as long as the run will take. This is just a theoretical list, but it includes tomato soup (sodium and warm liquid!), instant mashed potatoes (soft and not much chewing involved), grits and oatmeal (not together, but same reason as mashed potatoes). These all luckily also happen to be lower in fat and protein, which means easier to digest (in theory), and I am less likely to have better error margins against getting the enzyme dosing wrong given the small amounts of fat and protein.

What it comes down to is that running with type 1 diabetes is a giant constant personal science experiment. Celiac makes it more work, but also removes some of the variables by limiting what I can to eat: as at races I can’t eat out of any open bowl or package due to cross contamination concerns, and reading packages takes time, so it’s way safer to just eat what I bring myself. Having EPI on top of that means mastering the art of digesting food with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, which is its own special form of science experiment.

There’s a lot of variables, a lot of science, and a lot of learning going on every time I go for a run. Doesn’t it sound fun?!


(PS – If you’re someone with EPI who has some experience with endurance activity and changes to dosing enzymes..or find that it doesn’t change anything…please reach out! I’d love to chat and take my knowledge base from n=1 to n=2!)

Multivariable Equations: Running with Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Peer pressure during and “after” the COVID-19 pandemic, why it’s similar to living with celiac disease or food allergies, and a reminder that we usually have choices

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What the experience will be like at the venue. What the short-term risks are over the next few days. What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative?

For those of us who are reading this in 2022 or beyond, we may read the above scenario and think primarily about COVID-19 risk factors and mitigations.

But for those of us living with celiac disease (or food allergies or other significant dietary restrictions), the above scenario is one we lived with even prior to 2019 and COVID.

Here’s how this scenario could read specifically for COVID-19, with COVID-specifics bolded:

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Is it indoor or outdoor? What is the ventilation like? Is everyone in your group vaccinated and boosted? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get COVID-19, how will that impact your schedule/life/childcare etc? How at risk are you for hospitalization with COVID-19? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Are you concerned about “long COVID” or associated conditions? What are the risks that a COVID infection would make your personal health situation worse?

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but wear an N95 mask and only take off your mask to quickly eat or drink. Or you could go and mask, but not eat. Or you could bring a CO2 meter to evaluate the ventilation, and use that to decide.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. N95 masking, and/or not eating) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as picking an outdoor venue instead of indoors, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve close proximity and eating or drinking, such as a walk?

Now consider how this scenario could read specifically for someone with celiac disease (or food allergies or food restrictions), with those specifics bolded (in a pre-pandemic life):

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Do they have a gluten free menu? Do they indicate that they have cross-contamination practices in place for making the food gluten free? Does the menu even have food that is worth eating? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get glutened and are someone who is symptomatic, how will the minutes, hours, and days following of not feeling well influence your schedule/life/childcare etc? What will you not be able to do because you won’t feel well enough? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Some people with celiac disease aren’t symptomatic, but are causing damage even if they don’t feel it in the minutes/hours/days following. Eating gluten causes the immune system to attack the body, increasing the risk for cancer and other complications.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but not eat if there’s not food worth eating or if you determine (in advance or at the restaurant) that they doesn’t have safe practices for preventing cross-contamination. You could go, but bring your own food and do your own thing.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. not eating, or bringing your own food) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as recommending a different venue that has safer gluten free options, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve eating, such as a walk?

In both a COVID-19 scenario and a scenario for someone with food allergies, food restrictions, or celiac disease, my point is that you have choices. While other people’s choices can affect you, your choices are the ones that matter most.

With celiac disease, which I’ve had for more than 13 years, I’ve personally chosen many times to not eat at places that weren’t safe for me.

I would eat a meal or snack before I go or while I’m there, or I bring food from elsewhere. Sometimes I’ve felt really awkward, but it was safer and the right choice for me to make. Sometimes it’s because I couldn’t change the venue, and the venue’s safe food was dry lettuce and dry chicken, and it just wasn’t worth eating. (Ever turned your nose up at airplane food? Same idea.) Sometimes I would bring my own food, and it’s gotten a lot easier to use a delivery service to get food from a safer (and often tastier) place. Or sometimes I couldn’t change the venue and there were supposedly safe options, but then the waiter did something that indicated it was likely not safe for me (e.g. saying “oh, just take the bread off your plate, no big deal”). That’s pretty much an automatic “do not eat here, it’s not safe” red flag being waved in my face.

It’s not fun to not get to eat or not get to do what everyone else around you is doing. I get it. Trust me, I do.

But do you know what is even LESS fun than feeling awkward? Getting glutened. Within minutes, feeling your chest tighten and getting abdominal cramps (that are like getting a “stitch in your side”, but all the way across your abdomen, and unrelenting for 30 minutes) that make you think you should go to the ER. Days of fatigue, brain fog and sore abdominal muscles. Knowing that you’ve increased the chances of tears in your small intestines and increased the risk of various types of cancers. All because of a speck of a crumb that found its way into your food.

So I make awkward choices. Sometimes I face teasing, and occasionally outright bullying, although thankfully that has been rare. And I’ve survived these choices.

I’ve gotten better over time, researching venues and making recommendations about safe places for me to eat. 99% of the time, people have zero problem going to the places I recommend. They want me to be safe and happy, they don’t really care what they eat, they’d rather have my (happy) company than to go someplace without me. (And if your  friends/colleagues/family members don’t care that much about you…maybe this will give you some food for thought.) I can’t always find safe GF options, so I also plan ahead and pack tasty snacks or food options, eat in advance, or plan to eat afterward.

And when that’s not possible, I make the choice to do the “awkward” but safe thing for me.

So in a COVID-19 or similar pandemic, I want you to know that you have choices. I’ve read a few stories from folks online who have shared regrets that they felt “peer pressure” to go eat at a conference, inside, because that’s what their friends or colleagues were doing. And they got COVID-19. Which doesn’t sound fun in the short run (being sick, getting stuck in foreign countries or strange cities, having to disrupt the lives of everyone around you, struggling to not infect your loved ones, being stuck without child care), nor the long run (risks of long COVID, or risks of additional conditions that can occur following COVID).

If you need ideas, here are some you can consider:

  • Pick an outside venue.
  • Get takeout food and go eat outside somewhere.
  • If you are inside, ensure good ventilation (sit by windows, open the windows). If you’re unsure the ventilation is good enough, you can bring a CO2 meter* to measure just how stale the air is. If you have a choice, sit somewhere quieter and further away from others, so you don’t have to yell in each other’s faces to be heard.
  • If the ventilation isn’t great, or you’re in a loud and/or crowded venue talking face to face with people who haven’t recently tested, you might want to stay masked except for when you are eating or drinking. Then put your mask back on. Limit the time you are exposed to the indoor air that everyone else’s been breathing.
  • If you are inside a poorly ventilated, loud, and/or crowded space, or otherwise consider the risks to be too high for your comfort, you can leave your N95 mask on the whole time – you don’t have to eat just because everyone else is eating unmasked!

I get it. It’s hard, it’s awkward, and peer pressure is real. But you do have choices you can make, and it gets easier when you think about your choices in advance and mitigate or decide how you’ll handle such a situation.

I hope this has given you food for thought about what choices you could make if you’re worried about such situations, and know that there are many others out there making similar choices, whether it’s because of COVID-19 or because of things like celiac disease, food allergies, or other dietary restrictions for health reasons.


Note: this is the CO2 monitor we bought (amazon affiliate link). It’s pricey, but we’ve definitely put it to use on planes and at meetings and feel like it is a worthwhile tool.

Findings from the world’s first RCT on open source AID (the CREATE trial) presented at #ADA2022

(You can also see a Twitter thread here summarizing the study results, if you are interested in sharing the study with your networks.)

TLDR: The CREATE Trial was a multi-site, open-labeled, randomized, parallel-group, 24-week superiority trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of an open-source AID system using the OpenAPS algorithm in a modified version of AndroidAPS. Our study found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2 to 18.8; P<0.001) compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy; a difference that corresponds to 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day. The system did not contribute to any additional hypoglycemia. Glycemic improvements were evident within the first week and were maintained over the 24-week trial. This illustrates that all people with T1D, irrespective of their level of engagement with diabetes self-care and/or previous glycemic outcomes, stand to benefit from AID. This study concluded that open-source AID using the OpenAPS algorithm within a modified version of AndroidAPS, a widely used open-source AID solution, is efficacious and safe.

The backstory on this study

We developed the first open source AID in late 2014 and shared it with the world as OpenAPS in February 2015. It went from n=1 to (n=1)*2 and up from there. Over time, there were requests for data to help answer the question “how do you know it works (for anybody else)?”. This led to the first survey in the OpenAPS community (published here), followed by additional retrospective studies such as this one analyzing data donated by the community,  prospective studies, and even an in silico study of the algorithm. Thousands of users chose open source AID, first because there was no commercial AID, and later because open source AID such as the OpenAPS algorithm was more advanced or had interoperability features or other benefits such as quality of life improvements that they could not find in commercial AID (or because they were still restricted from being able to access or afford commercial AID options). The pile of evidence kept growing, and each study has shown safety and efficacy matching or surpassing commercial AID systems (such as in this study), yet still, there was always the “but there’s no RCT showing safety!” response.

After Martin de Bock saw me present about OpenAPS and open source AID at ADA Scientific Sessions in 2018, we literally spent an evening at the dinner table drawing the OpenAPS algorithm on a napkin at the table to illustrate how OpenAPS works in fine grained detail (as much as one can do on napkin drawings!) and dreamed up the idea of an RCT in New Zealand to study the open source AID system so many were using. We sought and were granted funding by New Zealand’s Health Research Council, published our protocol, and commenced the study.

This is my high level summary of the study and some significant aspects of it.

Study Design:

This study was a 24-week, multi-centre randomized controlled trial in children (7–15 years) and adults (16–70 years) with type 1 diabetes comparing open-source AID (using the OpenAPS algorithm within a version of AndroidAPS implemented in a smartphone with the DANA-i™ insulin pump and Dexcom G6® CGM), to sensor augmented pump therapy. The primary outcome was change in the percent of time in target sensor glucose range (3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL]) from run-in to the last two weeks of the randomized controlled trial.

  • This is a LONG study, designed to look for rare adverse events.
  • This study used the OpenAPS algorithm within a modified version of AndroidAPS, meaning the learning objectives were adapted for the purpose of the study. Participants spent at least 72 hours in “predictive low glucose suspend mode” (known as PLGM), which corrects for hypoglycemia but not hyperglycemia, before proceeding to the next stage of closed loop which also then corrected for hyperglycemia.
  • The full feature set of OpenAPS and AndroidAPS, including “supermicroboluses” (SMB) were able to be used by participants throughout the study.

Results:

Ninety-seven participants (48 children and 49 adults) were randomized.

Among adults, mean time in range (±SD) at study end was 74.5±11.9% using AID (Δ+ 9.6±11.8% from run-in; P<0.001) with 68% achieving a time in range of >70%.

Among children, mean time in range at study end was 67.5±11.5% (Δ+ 9.9±14.9% from run-in; P<0.001) with 50% achieving a time in range of >70%.

Mean time in range at study end for the control arm was 56.5±14.2% and 52.5±17.5% for adults and children respectively, with no improvement from run-in. No severe hypoglycemic or DKA events occurred in either arm. Two participants (one adult and one child) withdrew from AID due to frustrations with hardware issues.

  • The pump used in the study initially had an issue with the battery, and there were lots of pumps that needed refurbishment at the start of the study.
  • Aside from these pump issues, and standard pump site/cannula issues throughout the study (that are not unique to AID), there were no adverse events reported related to the algorithm or automated insulin delivery.
  • Only two participants withdrew from AID, due to frustration with pump hardware.
  • No severe hypoglycemia or DKA events occurred in either study arm!
  • In fact, use of open source AID improved time in range without causing additional hypoglycemia, which has long been a concern of critics of open source (and all types of) AID.
  • Time spent in ‘level 1’ and ‘level 2’ hyperglycemia was significantly lower in the AID group as well compared to the control group.

In the primary analysis, the mean (±SD) percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range (3.9 – 10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL]) increased from 61.2±12.3% during run-in to 71.2±12.1% during the final 2-weeks of the trial in the AID group and decreased from 57.7±14.3% to 54±16% in the control group, with a mean adjusted difference (AID minus control at end of study) of 14.0 percentage points (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2 to 18.8; P<0.001). No age interaction was detected, which suggests that adults and children benefited from AID similarly.

  • The CREATE study found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14.0 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy.
  • This difference reflects 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day!
  • For children AID users, they spent 3 hours 1 minute more time in target range daily (95% CI, 1h 22m to 4h 41m).
  • For adult AID users, they spent 3 hours 41 minutes more time in target range daily (95% CI, 2h 4m to 5h 18m).
  • Glycemic improvements were evident within the first week and were maintained over the 24-week trial. Meaning: things got better quickly and stayed so through the entire 24-week time period of the trial!
  • AID was most effective at night.
Difference between control and AID arms overall, and during day and night separately, of TIR for overall, adults, and kids

One thing I think is worth making note of is that one criticism of previous studies with open source AID is regarding the self-selection effect. There is the theory that people do better with open source AID because of self-selection and self-motivation. However, the CREATE study recruited a diverse cohort of participants, and the study findings (as described above) match all previous reports of safety and efficacy outcomes from previous studies. The CREATE study also found that the greatest improvements in TIR were seen in participants with lowest TIR at baseline. This means one major finding of the CREATE study is that all people with T1D, irrespective of their level of engagement with diabetes self-care and/or previous glycemic outcomes, stand to benefit from AID.

This therefore means there should be NO gatekeeping by healthcare providers or the healthcare system to restrict AID technology from people with insulin-requiring diabetes, regardless of their outcomes or experiences with previous diabetes treatment modalities.

There is also no age effect observed in the trail, meaning that the results of the CREATE Trial demonstrated that open-source AID is safe and effective in children and adults with type 1 diabetes. If someone wants to use open source AID, they would likely benefit, regardless of age or past diabetes experiences. If they don’t want to use open source AID or commercial AID…they don’t have to! But the choice should 100% be theirs.

In summary:

  • The CREATE trial was the first RCT to look at open source AID, after years of interest in such a study to complement the dozens of other studies evaluating open source AID.
  • The conclusion of the CREATE trial is that open-source AID using the OpenAPS algorithm within a version of AndroidAPS, a widely used open-source AID solution, appears safe and effective.
  • The CREATE trial found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14.0 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy; a difference that reflects 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day.
  • The study recruited a diverse cohort, yet still produced glycemic outcomes consistent with existing open-source AID literature, and that compare favorably to commercially available AID systems. Therefore, the CREATE Trial indicates that a range of people with type 1 diabetes might benefit from open-source AID solutions.

Huge thanks to each and every participant and their families for their contributions to this study! And ditto, big thanks to the amazing, multidisciplinary CREATE study team for their work on this study.

Note that the continuation phase study results are slated to be presented this fall at another conference!

Findings from the RCT on open source AID, the CREATE Trial, presented at #ADA2022

AID (APS) book now available in French!

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Olivier Legendre and Dr. Mihaela Muresan, my book “Automated Insulin Delivery: How artificial pancreas “closed loop” systems can aid you in living with diabetes” (available on Amazon in Kindle, paperback, and hardcover formats, or free to read online and download at ArtificialPancreasBook.com) is now available in French!

The French version is also available for free download as a PDF at ArtificialPancreasBook.com or in Kindle (FR), paperback (FR), and hardcover (FR) formats!

 

French version of the AID book is now available, also in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle formats on Amazon

Merci au Dr. Mihaela Muresan et Olivier Legendre pour la traduction de l’intégralité de ce livre !

(Thank you to Dr. Mihaela Muresan and Olivier Legendre for translating this entire book!)

What you should know about starting on Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT)

It’s been about two weeks since I started on pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) and it’s been really interesting to experience the difference it is making for me.

For context (and you can read more here), I have moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI or PEI), but I have very obvious symptoms following anything I eat for a few hours, as well as next-day bathroom habits. My clinician didn’t think trying PERT would be a problem even though my elastase levels were only borderline low, and it didn’t hurt. It definitely helped in multiple ways.

Here’s what the experience has been like starting on PERT, what I like about it, what I found challenging, what it’s like to scientifically titrate your dosing of PERT, and a handful of random other thoughts.

Here is what I like about Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT)

With undiagnosed EPI, for the last almost two years, I would eat food with dread. And not a lot of food (averaging 2 meals a day), because I had to severely limit the kinds of things I was eating to try to reduce my symptoms (with mixed success). With my first few doses of PERT, I ate relatively small, careful and low-FODMAP meals so I could better assess whether PERT was working.

And wow, was it working.

With the first few small (and low-FODMAP, to reduce variables that I was testing) meals, I had an immediate improvement. I didn’t realize until I took PERT how sick I felt every time I ate anything, even when I didn’t have obvious post-meal symptoms of gas, stabbing abdominal pain, or next-day bathroom habits. With PERT, I felt…nothing? Which is apparently how I used to feel after I would eat. There was no sick feeling, no bloating within an hour, and no discomfort for hours. There was no gas after I ate or overnight. In the morning, I didn’t have steatorrhea.

I got braver and experimented with a few bigger meals. In some cases, I still felt not-sick after I ate, but did develop some gas. However, it was significantly reduced.

From tracking the cumulative fat and protein levels in everything I ate, I was able to see that things less than 50 grams of fat and protein (combined) worked exceptionally well with the level of PERT I had started on. PERT has different dosing options, and I had started on a relatively moderate dose. I saw that some of my 70-ish gram meals were fine, but the ones in the 90s definitely needed more PERT.

Even when I could tell I needed more PERT, though, it wasn’t a complete failure. Even for meals with 90+ grams of fat+protein, I had a reduction in feeling sick, way less gas, and improved bathroom habits, even if they weren’t as ideal as what happened when I ate <50g of fat and protein meals.

As I discussed in my previous post, I had felt like a boiling frog where I didn’t really feel good every day, but there was usually nothing obviously wrong (no broken bone, no stabbing pain every day). So it was hard to know what was wrong. Now, taking PERT, I can see a clear difference on the days when the dosing is well-titrated to what I’m eating (no symptoms after I eat, plus I feel a lot better!) compared to when the dosing isn’t optimal (reduced symptoms but still there, sometimes will still feel sick or abdominal discomfort).

I also now have back the lab results of the bloodwork I asked my gastroenterologist to run on fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E) and iron, to make sure I didn’t have any deficiencies that need addressing. Thankfully, I didn’t – which is probably influenced by the fact that I am absorbing some of what I eat without PERT, but is also likely due to the fact that I take two multivitamins daily plus additional vitamin D supplements. I can imagine that I would have much lower levels without the supplementation, so I’m glad I had built the habit in the last two years of making sure I was taking my vitamins. (Which I wasn’t doing before two years ago consistently, and intuitively was worried about getting the right nutrients given the changes I was making to what I was eating, so that was a good habit to have built up!)

As a pleasant result of taking PERT, I’m also seeing improvements in symptoms that I did not think were correlated with EPI.

For example, in October I developed severely dry eyes, which I’ve never had before. I’ve been using lubricating eye drops several times a day and gel drops at night ever since. After about a week of PERT, I realized that I was waking up in the morning and my first thought wasn’t about putting drops in my eyes because they weren’t painfully dry. And then on days following when my PERT dosing wasn’t optimal (as evidenced by post-meal gas or abdominal discomfort, etc), my eyes are more dry than they are on the other days.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the skin on my face improving. In the last year, I started having more acne breakouts and changes to my skin tone. This, like the eye dryness, has started to noticeably improve in the last week or so (with no other changes to routine or the weather: it’s still winter here!).

What I find challenging about Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT)

There’s not a lot of guidance to patients regarding PERT titration (changing dosing levels as needed). My GI doc wrote a script for one size and said we could size up if it wasn’t working. That was it.

Thankfully, I have 19 years of experience with titrating insulin dosing for everything I’m eating, and I have an inclination to use spreadsheets to track things, so I began to take PERT and write down the relevant details of what I was eating (date, timing, what it was, how much fat and protein it had, what PERT dose I took), the result (any post-meal symptoms including timing) and whether it caused steatorrhea or other bathroom-related changes. From this, I was able to very quickly group meals into “wow that worked awesome”, “hmm, this reduced symptoms but it wasn’t perfect”, and “wow that needed more PERT”. For me, those roughly ended up being <50 grams combined of fat and protein (“wow that worked awesome”), around 70 grams (“hmm, this reduced symptoms but it wasn’t perfect on every front”), and more than 90 grams (“wow that needed more PERT”).

Interestingly, a lot of the medical literature I read about PERT indicates that most people are not taking enough. Given my analysis of my own data, that’s currently true. (Personally I’m currently trying to collect more data in each category before I discuss dosing with my clinician, to figure out what dosing or prescription I might need).

I’m only two weeks in, so I can’t yet give solid advice to anyone else taking PERT, but I imagine in the future I would likely feel more confident saying the following to someone else starting on PERT:

  • If you can, write down the date, timing, what you eat, and the nutrients (e.g. fat, protein, and carb) of what you’re eating, and track what symptoms you have when following a meal. Also make sure to note how many and what dose of PERT you took.
  • See if you can group the data between which meals turned out well, which could be improved, and what didn’t work. That may help you discuss with your doctor what level of enzyme you need for what type of meal.

Anecdotally in the EPI communities, people discuss taking 3-4 of the largest dose PERT for meals, vs 1-2 for their snacks. It seems to be very, very individual about what people need. Some people (like me with moderate EPI) have symptoms, others can have severe insufficiency (severe EPI) but have fewer symptoms. As a result, we may need more or less PERT, depending on how our bodies are generating symptoms.

One frustration I have about GI-related conditions, whether that’s those that result in people using the low FODMAP diet or EPI resulting in the need for PERT – and even in the diabetes community where insulin is needed – is that there’s very much a perception of individual blame in the day-to-day operations. If you have symptoms, you probably did something wrong. You ate a high FODMAP thing, or you ‘stacked’ FODMAPs…or for EPI, you didn’t take enough PERT or you ate the wrong thing. In diabetes, you didn’t take enough insulin, or you did it at the wrong time, or you forgot, or you ate too much, or you ate the wrong thing…. There is SO much blame and shame going around, and it’s frustrating to see (and experience).

Having tracked my data for two weeks now, I can see very clear cause and effect in the data: when I feel great, my PERT dosing has been well-matched to what I was eating. When I have some symptoms, the PERT dosing was not-optimal, and sometimes as a result I have a lot of symptoms and don’t feel well. It’s a very clear cause and effect relationship between having sufficient enzymes or not having enough enzymes. I am working to not feel guilty, e.g. I did something ‘wrong’ by choosing the wrong sized meal to go with the PERT dosing, and instead frame it as data that I’m collecting to inform the future prescription I need of PERT.

(My point here is that I don’t like the blame/shame that goes around, and yet, I still feel it, too. I’m trying to remove myself from those patterns of thinking, because it’s not at all helpful.)

It’s helpful instead for me to think “Wow, that was not enough PERT this time! Next time I should take 2 of this dose, or supplement my single PERT with standalone lipase” rather than feel shame or guilt because I ate a “big” meal. This is in part why I’m trying to stay away from thinking and using words like “big” or “small” meal, because the size is so arbitrary, depending on whether you’re looking at volume of food on a plate, thinking about calories, carbohydrates (to take insulin for it), or the fat and protein amounts (to dose PERT for it).

Also, everyone with EPI is likely VERY different from one another, and so my cutoffs of 70 or 90g of fat+protein may be numerically more or less than what someone else needs. (Those who take PERT will also notice I am very careful to not specify what PERT dose my one pill is, because everyone’s needs are different, and I don’t want anyone to accidentally anchor on my dose numbers, because what I need may not be what everyone else needs.)

And I can imagine some folks without EPI reading this with their own perceptions of fat and protein levels thinking judgmental thoughts about the numerical amounts of what I’m eating at different times.

Having to track fat and protein makes me grumpy, for a few reasons. In part, because it’s “one more thing” to track (in addition to general carbohydrate estimates to be able to dose insulin or inform my automated insulin delivery system about what I’m eating). In part, because I set up a spreadsheet to learn from what I’m doing, so I need to count it, input it into my spreadsheet, and then analyze the data later. I know I won’t always need to do this, and eventually I’ll learn intuitively what dosing I need for different types of meals.

But, I now have to remember to get out my PERT, take it “with the first bite” (which I interpret as swallow the PERT and then immediately try to put a bite of food in my mouth so I match the timing of the food with the PERT), then write down the timing of when I took my PERT and input the fat and protein and details of the meal into my spreadsheet…and then remember to also enter carbohydrates into my automated insulin delivery system (which I don’t have to do, but I get better outcomes with a meal announcement so I want to do so. When I’m not working on PERT titration, it doesn’t feel like a burden.).

Although I am grumbling about the titration learning curve and process of figuring out my dosing and what I am eating, I know it’s like any learning curve: I will figure it out soon, and the routine of taking PERT will become as easy as remembering to enter carbs or take insulin for what I’m eating.

And as a short-term benefit and reward of learning to dose PERT for what I’m eating, I feel so much better. Immediately, after every meal, as well as the next day, and I also feel better overall while improving other ‘symptoms’ that I didn’t realize were correlated with my EPI. Hooray!

What it’s like to start on Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT)

What You Should Know About Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) or Pancreatic Exocrine Insufficiency (PEI)

I have a new part-time job as a pancreas, but this time, I don’t have any robot parts I can make to help.

This is a joke, because I have had type 1 diabetes for 19+ years and 7 years ago I helped make the world’s first open-source artificial pancreas, also known as an automated insulin delivery system, that we jokingly call my “robot parts” and takes care of 90+% of the work of living with type 1 diabetes. PS if you’re looking for more information, there’s a book for that, or a free 3 minute animated video explaining automated insulin delivery. 

The TL;DR of this post is that I have discovered I have a mild or moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, known as EPI (or PEI, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, depending on which order and acronym you like). There’s a treatment called pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) which I have been trying.

It took a long time for me to get diagnosed (almost 2 years), so this post walks through my history and testing process with my gastroenterologist (GI doctor) and the importance of knowing your own body and advocating for yourself when something is wrong or not quite right.

Background

About six years after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was doing a summer internship in Washington, D.C. (away from home) and started getting chest tightness and frequent abdominal pain. Sometimes it felt like my abdominal muscles were “knitting” into each other. Because I had type 1 diabetes, I had heard at one point that about 10% of people with type 1 also develop celiac disease. So, thankfully, it was as simple as calling my endocrinologist and scheduling testing, and getting an endoscopy and biopsy to confirm I had celiac disease. It took about 2 months, and the timing was mostly that long due to getting back to Alabama after my internship and the testing schedule of the hospital. This is relevant detail, because I later read that it takes an average of 7 years for most people to get diagnosed with celiac disease. That has been floating around in my brain now for over a decade, this awareness that GI stuff is notoriously hard to diagnose when you’re not lucky enough to have a clear idea, like I did, of an associated condition.

So, with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, I use automated insulin delivery to get great outcomes for my diabetes and a 100% very careful gluten-free diet to manage my celiac disease, and have not had any GI problems ever since I went gluten-free.

Until January/February 2020, when I took an antibiotic (necessary for an infection I had) and started to get very minor GI side effects on day 5 of the 7-day antibiotic course. Because this antibiotic came with a huge warning about C. diff, and I really didn’t want C. diff, I discontinued the antibiotic. My infection healed successfully, but the disruption to my GI system continued. It wasn’t C. diff and didn’t match any of the C. diff symptoms, but I really lost my appetite for a month and didn’t want to eat, so I lost 10 pounds in February 2020. On the one hand, I could afford to lose the weight, but it wasn’t healthy because all I could bring myself to eat was one yogurt a day. I eventually decided to try eating some pecans to add fiber to my diet, and that fiber and change in diet helped me get back to eating more in March 2020, although I generally was eating pecans and dried cranberries (to increase my fiber intake) for breakfast and wasn’t hungry until late afternoon or early evening for another meal. So, since my body didn’t seem to want anything else, I essentially was eating two meals a day. My GI symptoms were better: not back to how they were before February 2020, but seemed manageable.

However, in July 2020, one night I woke up with incredibly painful stabbing abdominal pain and thought I would need to go to the ER. Thankfully, it resolved enough within minutes for me to go back to sleep, but that was scary. I decided to schedule an appointment with my gastroenterologist. I took in a record of my symptoms and timing and explained what was most worrisome to me (sudden stabbing pains after I ate or overnight, not seemingly associated with one particular type of food; changes in bathroom habits, like steatorrhea, but not as severe as diarrhea). He made a list of suspected things and we began testing: we checked for C. diff (nope), parasites (nope), bloodwork for inflammation (nope, so no Crohn’s or IBS or IBD), my celiac markers to make sure I wasn’t being accidentally glutened (nope: 100% gluten-free as proven by the blood work), H. pylori (nope), and did a CT scan to check for structural abnormalities (all good, again no signs of inflammation or any obvious issues).

Because all of this happened during the global COVID-19 pandemic, I was cautious about scheduling any in-person tests such as the CT scan or the last test on my list, a colonoscopy and endoscopy. I have a double family history of colon cancer, so although it was extremely unlikely, given everything else on the list was coming back as negative, it needed to be done. I waited until I was fully vaccinated (e.g. 2 weeks after 2 shots completed) to have my colonoscopy and endoscopy scheduled. The endoscopy was to check for celiac-related damage in my small intestine since I hadn’t had an endoscopy since my diagnosis with celiac over a decade ago. Thankfully, there’s no damage from celiac (I wasn’t expecting there to be any damage, but is a nice confirmation of my 100% very careful gluten free diet!), and the colonoscopy also came back clear.

Which was good, but also bad, because…SOMETHING was causing all of my symptoms and we still didn’t know what that was. The last thing on my doctor’s list was potentially small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), but the testing is notoriously non-specific, and he left it up to me as to whether I decided to treat it or not. Having run out of things to test, I decided to do a two-week course of an antibiotic to target the bacteria. It helped for about two weeks, and then my symptoms came back with a vengeance. However, I had realized in spring 2021 (after about 9 months of feeling bad) that sometimes the stabbing abdominal pain happened when I ate things with obvious onion or garlic ingredients, so January-July 2021 I had avoided onion and garlic and saw a tiny bit of improvement (but nowhere near my old normal). Because of my research on onion and garlic intolerances, and then additional research looking into GI things, I realized that the low FODMAP diet which is typically prescribed for IBS/IBD (which I don’t have) could be something I could try without a lot of risk: if it helped, that would be an improvement, regardless of whatever I actually had.

So in August 2021, as noted in this blog post, I began the low FODMAP diet first starting with a careful elimination phase followed by testing and adding foods back into my diet. It helped, but over time I’ve realized that I still get symptoms (such as extreme quantities of gas, abdominal discomfort and distention, changed bathroom habits) even when I’m eating low FODMAP. It’s possible low FODMAP itself helped by avoiding certain types of food, but it’s also possible that it was helping because I was being so careful about the portions and timing of when I was eating, to avoid “stacking” FODMAPs.

One other thing I had tried, as I realized my onion and garlic intolerance was likely tied to being “fructans”, and that I had discovered I was sensitive to fructans in other foods, was an enzyme powder called Fodzyme. (I have no affiliation with this company, FYI). The powder works to target the FODMAPs in food to help neutralize them so they don’t cause symptoms. It worked for me on the foods I had experimented with, and it allowed me to eat food that had onion powder or garlic powder listed as a minor ingredient (I started small and cautious and am working my way up in testing other foods and different quantities). I longingly wished that there were other enzymes I could take to help improve digestion, because Fodzyme seemed to not only reduce the symptoms I had after I ate, but also seemed to improve my digestion overall (e.g. improved stool formation). I did some research but “digestive enzymes” are generally looked down upon and there’s no good medical research, so I chalked it up to snake oil and didn’t do anything about it.

Until, oddly enough, in November 2021 I noticed a friend’s social media post talking about their dog being diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). It made me go look up EPI in humans to see if it was a thing, because their experience sounded a lot like mine. Turns out, EPI is a thing, and it’s very common in humans who have cystic fibrosis; pancreas-related surgeries or pancreatic cancer; and there is also a known correlation with people with type 1 diabetes or with celiac disease.

Oh hey, that’s me (celiac and type 1 diabetes).

I did more research and found that various studies estimate 40% of people with type 1 diabetes have low levels of pancreatic elastase, which is a proxy for determining if you have insufficient enzymes being produced by your pancreas to help you digest your food. The causal mechanism is unclear, so they don’t know whether it’s just a ‘complication’ and side effect of diabetes and the pancreas no longer producing insulin, or if there is something else going on.

Given the ties to diabetes and celiac, I reached out to my GI doctor again in December 2021 and asked if I should get my pancreatic elastase levels tested to check for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), given that my symptoms matching the textbook definition and my risk factors of diabetes and celiac. He said sure, sent in the lab request, and I got the lab work done. My results are on the borderline of ‘moderate’ insufficiency, and given my very obvious and long-standing symptoms, and given my GI doc said there would be no harm from trying, I start taking pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (called PERT). Basically, this means I swallow a pill that contains enzymes with the first bite of food that I eat, and the enzymes help me better digest the food I am eating.

And guess what? For me, it works and definitely has helped reduce symptoms after I’m eating and with next-day bathroom habits. So I consider myself to have mild or moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

(Also, while I was waiting on my test results to come back, I found that there is a lipase-only version of digestive enzymes available to purchase online, so I got some lipase and began taking it. It involves some titration to figure out how much I needed, but I saw some improvement already from low doses of lipase, so that also led me to want to try PERT, which contains all 3 types of enzymes your pancreas normally naturally produces, even though my elastase levels were on the borderline of ‘moderate’ insufficiency. Not everyone with lower levels of elastase has insufficiency in enzymes, but my symptoms and response to lipase and PERT point to the fact that I personally do have some insufficiency.)

More about my experiences with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

Unfortunately, there is no cure for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Like Type 1 diabetes, it requires lifelong treatment. So, I will be taking insulin and now PERT likely for the rest of my life. Lazy pancreas! (Also, it’s possible I will need to increase my PERT dose over time if my insufficiency increases.)

Why treat EPI? Well, beyond managing very annoying symptoms that impact quality of life, if left untreated it’s associated with increased mortality (e.g. dying earlier than you would otherwise) due to malnutrition (because you’re not properly absorbing the nutrients in the food you’re eating) and bone density problems.

Oddly enough, there seem to be two versions of the name (and therefore two acronyms) for the same thing: EPI and PEI, meaning exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. I haven’t found a good explanation for why there are two names and if there are any differences. Luckily, my research into the medical literature shows they both pop up in search results pretty consistently, so it’s not like you end up missing a big body of literature if you use one search term or the other.

Interestingly, I learned 90% of people with cystic fibrosis may need PERT, and thankfully my friend with CF didn’t mind me reaching out to ask her if she had ever taken PERT or had any tips to give me from her knowledge of the CF community. That was nice that it turns out I do know some other people with EPI/PEI, even though they don’t usually talk about it because it seems to go hand in hand with CF. Some of the best resources of basic information about EPI/PEI are written either by CF foundations or by pancreatic cancer-related organizations, because those are the two biggest associated conditions that also link to EPI/PEI. There are also other conditions like diabetes and celiac with strong correlations, but these communities don’t seem to talk about it or have resources focused on it. (As with low FODMAP resources where everything is written for IBS/IBD, you can extrapolate and ignore everything that’s IBS/IBD specific. Don’t be afraid to read EPI/PEI information from communities that aren’t your primary community!)

Sadly, like so many GI conditions (remember in the intro I referenced 7 years average diagnosis time with celiac), it seems ridiculously hard to get to a diagnosis of EPI. I essentially self-diagnosed myself (and confirmed the diagnosis in partnership with my GI doc who agreed to run the tests). I am still very surprised that it never came up on his list of possible conditions despite having symptoms that are textbook EPI and having diabetes and celiac, which are known correlations. Apparently, this is common: I read one study that says even people with super high-risk factors (e.g. pancreas surgery, pancreatic cancer) aren’t necessarily screened, either! So it’s not just me falling through the cracks, and this is something the gastroenterology world needs to be better about. It’s also common for patients to bring this up to their doctors vs their doctors suggesting it as a potential diagnosis – this study found 24% of people brought up EPI, like I did, to their doctors.

Also, unfortunately, I had a few people (including family members) suggest to me in the last two years that my symptoms are psychosomatic, or stress-related. They’re clearly, as proven by lab work, not psychosomatic or stress-related but are a result of my exocrine pancreatic functions failing. Please, don’t ever suggest someone dealing with GI issues is experiencing symptoms due to stress – this is the kind of comment you should keep to yourself. (The last time someone mentioned this to me was months ago, and it still bothers me to think about it.)

Advocate for yourself

One of the very important things I learned early on when living with type 1 diabetes was the importance of knowing my own body, and advocating for myself. This unfortunately was a hard lesson learned, because I had general practice (GP or primary care / PCP) doctors who would refuse to treat me because I had diabetes because they were concerned about prescribing something that would mess up my blood sugars. They’d completely ignore the point that whatever infection I had would cause MORE disruption to my blood sugars by having me be sick and suffer longer, than I would have disruption to my blood sugar levels from a prescription. Sigh. So for the last almost two decades, I have had to go into every health encounter prepared to advocate for myself and make sure I get the medical expertise for whatever I’m there for, and not the less experienced take on diabetes (assuming I wasn’t there for diabetes, which I usually wasn’t).

This has translated into how I approached finding solutions for my GI symptoms. Per my history described above, I had increasing but minor GI symptoms from February-July 2020. Having new, stabbing pains in my abdomen led me to the gastroenterologist for a long list of testing for various things, but I had to continue to push for the next round of testing and schedule and manage everything to proceed through the list we had discussed at my appointment. Later, after we ran through the list, I had to try things like low FODMAP for myself, and then do additional research and identify the test for EPI as a likely next step to try.

I felt a little like the ‘boiling frog’ analogy, where my symptoms gradually worsened over time, but they weren’t startling bad (except for the points in time when I had stabbing abdominal pain). Or the two times, almost one year apart (Oct 2020 and Dec 2021) where I had what I considered bad “flares” of something where I got really hot and feeling really ill all of a sudden, but it wasn’t COVID-19 and it wasn’t anything specific causing it, there were no obvious food triggers, and the only thing I could do was lay down for 2-3 hours and rest before I started to feel better. Those were probably correlated with “overdoing it” with physical activity, but I’ve also run a marathon and a 50k ultramarathon in the last year and didn’t have problems on those days, so there’s not a certain threshold of activity that appears to cause that. Thankfully, that has only happened two times.

Other than those scenarios, it wasn’t like breaking my ankle where there was a clear “everything was fine and now something is broken”, but it was more like “I have had not-good-digestion and various increasing GI symptoms that don’t fit any clear problem or diagnosis on our shortlist of the 5 likely things it might be. It’s not excruciating but it is increasingly impacting my quality of life, and twisting myself into a pretzel with an evolving pattern of dietary modifications is not solving it”. It took me continuing to advocate for myself and not accepting suffering for the rest of my life (hopefully!) with these symptoms to get to an answer, which for me, so far, seems to be moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

What it’s like to start taking pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

PERT is typically measured by the units/amount of lipase it contains, even though it contains all 3 types of enzymes. (Some of the Medicare documents in different states actually are really helpful for comparing the size of dosing across the different brands of PERT. That also helped me look up the various brands in my insurance plan to see whether there would be a price difference between two of the most common brands.) Depending on symptoms and your level of insufficiency, like insulin, it requires some titration to figure out the right doses. I’ve been attempting to track generally the amount of fat that I’m eating to try to get a sense of my “ratio” of fat to lipase needed, although the research shows there is likely not a linear correlation between grams of fat and units of lipase needed. Another way to think about it is at what level of grams of fat in your meal do you need more than your current dose. For example, one pill of PERT at my current dose seems to work up to around 70 or so grams of fat per meal, as long as it doesn’t have more than 50% protein. Meals containing much more fat (120 g or so) definitely require more, as do meals with either a higher quantity of protein or a closer ratio of 1:1 fat to protein.

Different people have different needs with regard to whether they need enzyme support “just” for fat, or also for protein and carbs. I appear to at least need some support for carbs as well as protein, but am still establishing at what levels I need which dosing of which enzymes.

Personally, I am tracking to see whether my symptoms are reduced or eliminated in the hours following my meals (gas, abdominal discomfort, a sick feeling after eating) as well as the next day (bloating/abdominal distension, bathroom habits such as reduced steatorrhea), and overall whether I have any more of those really bad “flares”. My initial tests of taking PERT show improvements after my meals (I don’t feel sick after I eat anymore!) and often the next day.

After the first few days of trying food that was low FODMAP but giving me minor symptoms before PERT, I’ve also felt confident enough to try meals that I’ve avoided eating for over a year, such as a gluten free burger from one of our nearby local favorites! Even though it’s been well over a year since I’ve had it last, I immediately could tell a difference in how I felt eating it, due to taking PERT with it. There was no wave of fatigue before I was halfway through the burger, and no gas or feeling sick to my stomach after eating. I had clearly forgotten what it was like to not feel miserable after eating and to actually enjoy eating food! So far, PERT has been exceeding my expectations (although those were rather low).

It makes it slightly less annoying, then, to think about the price of PERT. Roughly, one month of PERT at the dosage I’m currently on costs the same as 3 vials of insulin in the US (in the ballpark of $800). Like insulin, PERT is necessary and worthwhile (and thankfully I do have health insurance).

Pancreases are great when they work…and expensive to replace!

A play on the spiderman meme of two spiderman's pointing at each other, indicating similar things. Labeled "exocrine pancreatic functions" and "endocrine pancreatic functions", indicating both of mine are not working as they should be.

TLDR: I have a new thing, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, to deal with. Thankfully, there’s a treatment (PERT) that I can use to reduce symptoms and hopefully limit the potential impacts on morbidity long term. If you have diabetes or celiac and you have unexplained GI symptoms over time, you might want to do some research into EPI and discuss it with your gastroenterologist.

Also…for any endocrinologist reading this…or any other healthcare providers…if you have patients with diabetes and suspected GI issues, please consider EPI as a possible diagnosis once you’ve ruled out celiac disease and other likely suspects. Given the high rates of lowered elastase in all types of diabetes, it’s worth screening for EPI in patients with otherwise-unexplained steatorrhea or similar symptoms.

Looking back at work and accomplishments in 2021

I decided to do a look back at the last year’s worth of work, in part because it was a(nother) weird year in the world and also because, if you’re interested in my work, unless you read every single Tweet, there may have been a few things you missed that are of interest!

In general, I set goals every year that stretch across personal and professional efforts. This includes a daily physical activity streak that coincides with my walking and running lots of miles this year in pursuit of my second marathon and first (50k) ultramarathon. It’s good for my mental and physical health, which is why I post almost daily updates to help keep myself accountable. I also set goals like “do something creative” which could be personal (last year, knitting a new niece a purple baby blanket ticked the box on this goal!) or professional. This year, it was primarily professional creativity that accomplished this goal (more on that below).

Here’s some specifics about goals I accomplished:

RUNNING

  • My initial goal was training ‘consistently and better’ than I did for my first marathon, with 400 miles as my stretch goal if I was successfully training for the marathon. (Otherwise, 200 miles for the year would be the goal without a marathon.) My biggest-ever running year in 2013 with my first marathon was 356 miles, so that was a good big goal for me. I achieved it in June!
  • I completed my second marathon in July, and PR’d by over half an hour.
  • I completed my first-ever ultramarathon, a 50k!
  • I re-set my mileage goal after achieving 400 miles..to 500..600…etc. I ultimately achieved the biggest-ever mileage goal I’ve ever hit and think I ever will hit: I ran 1,000 miles in a single year!
  • I wrote lots of details about my methods of running (primarily, run/walking) and running with diabetes here. If you’re looking for someone to cheer you on as you set a goal for daily activity, like walking, or learning to run, or returning to running…DM or @ me on Twitter (@DanaMLewis). I love to cheer people on as they work toward their activity goals! It helps keep me inspired, too, to keep aiming at my own goals.

CREATIVITY

  • My efforts to be creative were primarily on the professional side this year. The “Convening The Center” project ended up having 2 out of 3 of my things that I categorized as being creative. The first was the design of the digital activities and the experience of CTC overall (more about that here). The second were the items in the physical “kit” we mailed out to participants: we brainstormed and created custom playing cards and physical custom keychains. They were really fun to make, especially in partnership with our excellent project artist, Rebeka Ryvola, who did the actual design work!
  • My third “creative” endeavor was a presentation, but it was unlike the presentations I usually give. I was tasked to create a presentation that was “visually engaging” and would not involve showing my face in the presentation. I’ve linked to the video below in the presentation section, but it was a lot of work to think about how to create a visually and auditory focused presentation and try to make it engaging, and I’m proud of how it turned out!

RESEARCH AND PUBLICATIONS

  • This is where the bulk of my professional work sits right now. I continue to be a PI on the CREATE trial, the world’s first randomized control trial assessing open-source automated insulin delivery technology, including the algorithm Scott and I dreamed up and that I have been using every day for the past 7 years. The first data from the trial itself is forthcoming in 2022. 
  • Convening The Center also was a grant-funded project that we turned into research with a publication that we submitted, assessing more of what patients “do”, which is typically not assessed by researchers and those looking at patient engagement in research or innovation. Hopefully, the publication of the research article we just submitted will become a 2022 milestone! In the meantime, you can read our report from the project here (https://bit.ly/305iQ1W ), as this grant-funded project is now completed.
  • Goal-wise, I aim to generate a few publications every year. I do not work for any organization and I am not an academic. However, I come from a communications background and see the benefit of reaching different audiences where they are, which is why I write blog posts for the patient community and also seek to disseminate knowledge to the research and clinical communities through traditional peer-reviewed literature. You can see past years’ research articulated on my research page (DIYPS.org/research), but here’s a highlight of some of the 2021 publications:
  • Also, although I’m not a traditional academic researcher, I also participate in the peer review process and frequently get asked to peer-review submitted articles to a variety of journals. I skimmed my email and it looks like I completed (at least) 13 peer reviews, most of which included also reviewing subsequent revisions of those submitted articles. So it looks like my rate of peer reviewing (currently) is matching my rate of publishing. I typically get asked to review articles related to open-source or DIY diabetes technology (OpenAPS, AndroidAPS, Loop, Nightscout, and other efforts), citizen science in healthcare, patient-led research or patient engagement in research, digital health, and diabetes data science. If you’re submitting articles on that topic, you’re welcome to recommend me as a potential reviewer.

PRESENTATIONS

  • I continued to give a lot of virtual presentations this year, such as at conferences like the “Insulin100” celebration conference (you can see the copy I recorded of my conference presentation here). I keynoted at the European Patients Forum Congress as well as at ADA’s Precision Diabetes Medicine 2021; an invited talk ADA Scientific Sessions (session coverage here); the 2021 Federal Wearables Summit: (video here); and the BIH Clinician Scientist Symposium (video here), to name a few (but not all).
  • Additionally, as I mentioned, one of the presentations I’m most proud of was created for the Fall 2021 #DData Exchange event:

OTHER STUFF

I did quite a few other small projects that don’t fit neatly into the above categories.

One final thing I’m excited to share is that also in 2021, Amazon came out with a beta program for producing hardcover/hardback books, alongside the ability to print paperback books on demand (and of course Kindle). So, you can now buy a copy of my book about Automated Insulin Delivery: How artificial pancreas “closed loop” systems can aid you in living with diabetes in paperback, hardback, or on Kindle. (You can also, still, read it 100% for free online via your phone or desktop at ArtificialPancreasBook.com, or download a PDF for free to read on your device of choice. Thousands of people have downloaded the PDF!)

Now available in hardcover, the book about Automated Insulin Delivery by Dana M. Lewis

How to run 1,000 miles in a year

Everything I read about “how I ran 1,000 miles!” didn’t actually explain how to run 1,000 miles. Or it did, but not in terms I could understand.

For context, I’m a slow runner. REALLY slow. My fast days (12-13 minute miles) are most people’s super slow days. More often, I’m a 14-15 minute per mile runner. And I historically haven’t run very much. Most years I ran ~60 miles. My biggest running year was the year I ran my first marathon (2013), when I accomplished 356 miles. Since then, I’ve never gone much above 200 on a really good year. It didn’t help that I broke my ankle in January of 2019 – or maybe it did, because it made me determined to learn how to walk and run again, and use running to help me regain and improve my overall biomechanics. So I decided to run a second marathon in 2020, which was canceled from the pandemic, and 2021 became the year of the second marathon. It was scheduled for July 2021, and my goal was 400 miles for the year IF I was successfully training for the marathon, and back to a “stretch” goal of 200 miles if I didn’t end up training (because of injury or other reasons like the pandemic).

But I set out, managed 400 and even 600 miles by the end of July when I ran the full marathon. And because my training had gone well (more below with the “how to”), I decided to also continue training and tackle a 50k (31 mile) ultramarathon at the end of September. From there, I thought I’d be stuck around 800 miles but then I decided with effort that I could make 1,000 miles. And I did. Here’s how it happened:

Baby steps, a focus on process, and a heck of a spreadsheet. Or as they say in answer to “how do you eat an elephant?”, “one bite at a time”, ergo, one run at a time.

I focused on building consistency first, and at a weekly level. My goal was 3 runs per week, which I had never consistently managed to do before. That started as Monday, Wednesday, Friday, with a rest day in between each run. After a few months, I was able to add a 4th run to my week, which was often Saturday. This was my first time running back to back days, and so I started with my 4th run being only one mile for a few weeks, then increased it to two miles, then up to 3 miles. My other three runs consisted of one “long” run and two other short, 3ish mile runs.

The focus on consistency at a weekly level is what enabled me to run 1,000 miles in a year. Even 400 miles felt like too much for me to tackle. But 3 (then 4) runs a week? I could focus on that.

The spreadsheet helped. I had the number of miles for each run laid out. After I completed the run (using Runkeeper tracking on my phone so I knew how far I’d gone), I would hop on my spreadsheet (using Google sheets so it could be on my laptop or on my phone), and log the miles. I found just recording in Runkeeper wasn’t a good enough psychological anchor, I wanted to “write down” the run in some way. The other thing I did was put checkboxes for the number of runs per week into my spreadsheet, too (did you know you can do that? Awesome Google Sheets feature.) So it was satisfying to open my sheet and first, check the box that I had done one of my weekly runs. Then, I entered the miles for the run. I had put in conditional formatting to check for how many miles I was “supposed” to run for that run, so that if I was within a half mile or over the run distance, it turned bright green. Another nice feedback mechanism. If I was off by more than half a mile, it was a lighter green. But regardless, it turned a nice color and emphasized that I had been putting in some miles. And, I also had a formula set to calculate the weekly total, so after each run I could see my weekly total progress. (Again, all of this is automatically done in Runkeeper or Strava, but you have to go to a different screen to see it and it’s not as satisfying to be able to track inputs against multiple outputs such as weekly, monthly, and overall totals at a glance, which is how I designed my spreadsheet).

I added a miniature chart to visualize weekly mileage throughout the year, and also a chart with a monthly view. All of these made it easier to “see” progress toward the big mileage goals.

If you’re a well-established runner, that might sound silly. But if you’re trying to build up to consistent running…find a feedback mechanism or a series of logging mechanisms (maybe it’s a bullet journal, or a handwritten chart or log, or moving marbles from one jar to another) that you can do to help cement and anchor the completion of a run. Especially when running feels hard and terrible, it’s nice to find something positive and constructive to do at the end of the run to feel like you’re still moving forward toward your goal, even when it’s hard-earned progress.

The ‘baby steps’ I took to build up to 1,000 miles literally started from baby steps: my first run was only 5 steps of running. After I broke my ankle, it was a huge effort to return to weight-bearing and walking. Running was also a huge hurdle. I started with literally running 5 steps…and stopping. Calling that a success, and going home and logging it on my sheet with a checkbox of “done!”. The second time I went, I did 5 steps, walked a while, then did a second 5 steps. Then I stopped, went home, checked the box, etc. I focused on what the smallest running I could do successfully without pain or stress, built up a series of intervals. Once I had 10 intervals strung together, I expanded my intervals of running. 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. That took months, and that was ok. The point I focused on was the attempt: go out and “run”, with the smallest measurable interval counting as success, and not worrying about or really even focusing on overall mileage. In part, because the amounts were SO small (0.07 miles, 0.12 miles, etc – nothing to write home about). Most people who talk about starting running focus on “30 minutes” or “1 mile” or “5k” which felt so far beyond my reach coming off of the broken ankle.

So take it from me (or really, don’t listen to anyone else, including me): focus on YOUR achievable interval of running (even if it’s measured in a handful of steps), do that, call it a win, and repeat it. Over and over. You’ll find you build some strength and endurance and improve your biomechanics over time, even with baby steps and small intervals of running. The consistency and repeated efforts are what add up.

It’s ok if you find a distance or time interval that you can’t go past – maybe it’s 15 seconds or 30 seconds (or more or less) of consecutive running that’s your sweet spot. Great, stick with it. Run that interval, then walk, then run again. There’s no wrong answer for what’s the best length of interval for you. I had a bunch of foot issues pop up when I was trying to lengthen my intervals, and it turns out 30 seconds of running is my sweet spot. I can run longer (now) but I still prefer 30 seconds because psychologically and physically that feels best, whether I’m running faster or slower. So I do most of my runs with a run of 30 seconds, then walking whatever intervals I want for that run, e.g. 30:30 (run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds), or 30:60 (run 30 seconds, walk 60 seconds), etc.

Don’t believe it’s possible to do long distances that way? I did it for my 50k ultramarathon. In my July marathon I ran 60 seconds and walked 30 seconds. I achieved my time goal but it was hard and less fun during the race. For my ultramarathon two months later, my goal was to just finish before the time limit and to have more fun than I did during the marathon. I used 30 second run, 60 second walk intervals for the ultramarathon, and it was fantastic. I beat my time goal (finishing hours before the cutoff), and felt awesome throughout and at the end of the 50k. I even passed people at the end!

Remember, there are no rules in running, other than the ones you make for yourself. But don’t listen to rules you read on the internet and feel bad because you can’t do what other people do. Do what you can, repeat it, build up safely, and if you’re having fun you’ll be more likely to continue. And like my running 1,000 miles in a year, you may find yourself reaching goals that you never would have thought were possible!

Risk calculation in pandemic and post-pandemic era for assessing travel opportunities

As someone who’s frequently been asked to travel and give talks over the last decade or so, I’ve had an evolving calculation to determine when a trip is “worth” it. This includes assessing financial cost to me (whether accommodations and travel are paid for; whether my time being paid for or not); opportunity cost (if I do this trip, what can’t I do that I would be doing otherwise); relationship and family cost (time away from family); as well as wellness cost (such as jet lag and physical demands of travel during and after a trip).

It’s clearly not a straightforward calculation and it has changed over time. Some things can influence this calculation – for example, if someone is willing to pay for my time and indicate that they value my presence by doing so, I may factor that in as a higher signal of whether this trip might be “worth” it, among the other variables. (And I’ve written previously about all the reasons why people, including patients, should be paid for their time in giving talks and traveling for conferences, meetings, and events, and I still believe this. However, there *are* exceptions that I personally am willing to make regarding payment for my time, but those are unique to me, my situation, my choices, the type of organization or meeting, etc. and I make these exceptions on a case by case basis.)

The pandemic also changed this calculation by adding new variables.

After February 2020, I did not complete any travel for work (including giving talks, attending conferences, etc.) for the rest of the year or in 2021. I was an early voice for interventions for COVID-19 beginning in February 2020, in part because of the risk to the community around me as well as to the risk to myself as someone who has type 1 diabetes. I received a few in-person speaking invitations that I turned down directly, or encouraged them to evolve into virtual events so that I and others could participate safely.

Now, though, it’s becoming clear (sadly) that COVID-19 will be endemic, and although I am not ready to go back to in-person events, many people are, and conferences are increasingly returning and planning to return to in-person physical events moving forward.

And as a result, I see and experience a mismatch in risk tolerance and risk calculations among different groups of people.

For some people, the risk calculation is as simple as considering, “am I fully vaccinated? Then I’m good to go and attend any events and follow whatever regulation or lack of regulation exists for that conference.

For other people, it is a more complex risk calculation. It may take into account whether they are someone with a condition or chronic illness that puts them at higher risk for severe outcomes, even with COVID-19 vaccination. It may take into account a loved one or family situation where someone close to them is at higher risk. It may take into account that there are different rates of COVID-19 cases, and different rates of vaccination, at their home location compared to the conference location. It may take into account the risk of disruption to their lives if they were to acquire COVID-19 during travel or at the conference and be forced to remain in a different city or country, sick and alone, until they were cleared to travel. That also includes the financial disruption of paying for lodging, changed travel plans, as well as any disruption to home life where childcare or other plans were upended at home while the person was stuck elsewhere.

It is, therefore, much more complicated than “am I vaccinated?” and “does the conference have a protocol?”.

There’s no straightforward answer; there may not be the same answer for everyone in the same situation. Therefore people are also likely to have different risk calculations to make and may arrive at a different decision than you might want them to make.

I hope we can all expand our awareness and recognize that different people have different situations and that the COVID-19 pandemic – still – affects all of us very differently.