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!

Everything I did wrong (but did anyway) training for a marathon after a broken ankle and marathon running with type 1 diabetes

This is another one of those posts for a niche audience. If you found this post, you’re likely looking for information about:

  • Running after a broken ankle (or are coming from my “tips for returning to weight bearing” and looking for an update from me, two years after my trimalleolar ankle fracture)
  • Running with the “Galloway method”, also known as run-walk or run/walk methods for marathon or similar long distances – but with information about run-walking for slow runners.
  • Running a marathon with type 1 diabetes, or running an ultra with type 1 diabetes
  • Running a marathon and training for a marathon and going without fuel or less fuel
    *Update: also running an ultramarathon with the same methods (less fuel than typical)!

There’s a bit of all of this in the post! (But TLDR – I ran my marathon (finally), successfully, despite having a previously broken ankle. And despite running it with type 1 diabetes, I had no issues managing my blood sugars during even the longest training runs, even with significantly less fuel than is typically used by marathon runners. I also ran a 50k ultra using the same methods!)

running a marathon after a broken ankle and with type 1 diabetes

First up, some context that explains why I chose run-walking as my method of running a marathon (as that also influences fueling choices) and what it is like to be a slow marathon runner (6 hour marathon ish). I broke my ankle in January 2019 and began running very tiny amounts (literally down the block to start) in summer 2019. I progressed, doing a short run interval followed by a walk interval, increasing the total numbers of intervals, and then slowly progressing to extend the length (distance and/or time) of the running intervals. In early fall 2019, I was attempting a couch-to-5k type program where I would extend my running intervals even longer, but I still had subsequent injuries (a very stubborn big toe joint, then intermetatarsal bursitis in TWO spots (argh)) that made this not work well. Eventually, I went back to running 30 seconds and walking 30 seconds, then keeping those “short” intervals and extending my run. I focused on time at first: going from 5 to 10 to 15 to 20 etc minutes, rather than focusing on distance. Once I built up to about 30 minutes of run-walking (30:30, meaning running 30 seconds and walking 30 seconds), I switched to adding a quarter or half mile each time depending on how I was feeling. But doing 30:30 seemed to work really well for me in terms of the physical impact to my feet, even with long miles, and also mentally, so I stuck with it. (You can go read about the Galloway run-walk-run method for more about run-walking; most people build up to running more, say 5 minutes or 8 minutes followed by a minute of walking, or maybe run 1 mile and then walk for a minute, or walk through the aid stations, but I found that 30:30 is what I liked and stuck with it or 60:30 as my longest intervals.)

This worked so well for me that I did not think about my right ankle a single time during or after my marathon! It took days to even remember that I had previously broken my ankle and it could’ve been problematic or weaker than my other ankle during my marathon. It took a long time to get to this point – I never thought I’d be forgetting even for a few days about my broken ankle! But two years later, I did.)

When COVID-19 struck, and as someone who paid attention early (beginning late January 2020), I knew my marathon would not be taking place in July 2020 and would be postponed until 2021. So I focused on keeping my feet healthy and building up a running “base” of trying to stay healthy feet-wise running twice a week into fall 2020, which worked fairly well. At the start of 2021, I bumped up to three runs a week consistently, and eventually began making one run every other a week longer. My schedule looked something like this:

Monday – 3 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – 4 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – 5 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – 6 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – (back to) 3 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – 8 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Monday – (back to) 3  miles  Wednesday – 5 miles   Friday – 4 miles

Monday – 10 miles  Wednesday – 3 miles   Friday – 3 miles

Note that these runs I refer to were all technically run-walks, where I ran 30 seconds and walked 30 seconds (aka 30:30) until I covered the miles. I was running slow and easy, focusing on keeping my heart rate below its maximum and not worrying about speed, so between that and run-walking I was often doing 15m30s miles. Yes, I’m slow. This all enabled me to build up to safely be able to run 3 runs weekly at first, and then eventually progressed to adding a fourth run. When I added a fourth run, I was very conservative and started with only 1 mile for two weeks in a row, then 2 miles, then up to 3 miles. Eventually, later in my training, I had some of my other runs in the week be a bit longer (4-5 miles) in addition to my “long” run.

But, because I’m so slow, this means it takes a lot of time to run my long runs. If you estimate a 15-minute mile for easy math, that means an 8 mile “long” run would take at least 2 hours. With marathon training (and my goal to train up to multiple 22-24 mile runs before the marathon), that took A LOT of time. And, because of my broken ankle and intermetatarsal experiences from 2019, I was very cautious and conservative about taking care of my feet during training. So instead of following the usual progression of long runs increasing 2-3 weeks in a row, followed by a “cutback” long week, after I hit two hours of long running (essentially 8 miles, for me), I started doing long runs every other week. The other week was a “cutback” long run, which was usually 8 miles, 10 miles (for several weeks), up to eventually 12-14. In terms of “time on feet”, this meant 2-3 hours “cutback” long runs, which according to many people is the max you should be running for marathon training. That doesn’t quite work for slow runners such as myself where you might be doing a 6-hour marathon or 7-hour marathon or thereabouts. (The standard advice also maybe doesn’t apply when you are doing run-walking for your marathon training.)

I had ~6 months to build up to my marathon (from January to the end of July), so I had time to do this, which gave me a buffer in my overall training schedule in case of scheduling conflicts (which happened twice) and in case of injury (which thankfully didn’t happen). I ended up scheduling training long runs all the way to full marathon distance (26ish miles), because I wanted to practice my fueling (especially important for type 1 diabetes marathon runners, which I’ll talk about next) as well as get my feet used to that many hours of run-walking. I did my long runs without care for speed, so some of them were closer to 16-minute mile averages, some were around 15-minute mile averages for the entire run, and the day I ran the full marathon course for training I ended up doing 16+ minute miles and felt fabulous at the end.

I ended up doing a few “faster” “shorter” long runs (on my cutback weeks), where I would do a half marathon-ish distance on the actual marathon course (a public trail), and try to go faster than my super slow long run pace. I had several successful runs where I was at or near marathon pace (which for me would be around 13m30s). So yes, you can train slow and run fast for a marathon, even without much speed work, and even if you are doing a run-walk method, and even if you’re as slow as I am. Running ~15-minute miles took forever but kept my feet and body healthy and happy through marathon training, and I was still able to achieve my sub-6 hour marathon goal (running 13:41 average pace for 26.2+ miles) on race day.

Now let’s talk about fueling, and in particular fueling for people with type 1 diabetes and for people wondering if the internet is right about what fueling requirements are for marathon runners.

I previously wrote (for a T1D audience) about running when fasted, because then you don’t have to deal with insulin on board at the start of a run. That’s one approach, and another approach is to have a smaller meal or snack with fewer carbs before the run, and time your run so that you don’t need to bolus or inject for that meal before you start your run. That’s what I chose for most of my marathon training, especially for longer runs.

On a typical non-running day, I would eat breakfast (½ cup pecans, ¼ cup cranberries, and a few sticks of cheese), my OpenAPS rig would take care of insulin dosing (or I could bolus for it myself), and my BGs would be well managed. However, that would mean I had a lot of insulin on board (IOB) if I tried to run within an hour of that. So instead, during marathon training, I ended up experimenting with eating a smaller amount of pecans (¼ cup) and no cranberries, not bolusing or letting OpenAPS bolus, and running an hour later. I had a small BG rise from the protein (e.g. would go from 100 mg/dL flat overnight to 120-130 mg/dL), and then running would balance out the rest of it.

I generally would choose to target my blood sugar to 130 mg/dL at the start of long runs, because I prefer to have a little bit of buffer for if/when my blood sugar began to drop. I also figured out that if I wasn’t having IOB from breakfast, I did not need to reduce my insulin much in advance of the run, but do it during the duration of the run. Therefore, I would set a higher temporary target in my OpenAPS rig, and if I was doing things manually, I would set a temporary basal rate on my insulin pump to about ⅓ of my usual hourly rate for the duration of the run. That worked well because by the time the beginning of my run (30-45 minutes) brought my BG down a little bit from the start with the protein breakfast bump (up to 130 mg/dL or so), that’d also be when the reduced insulin effect would be noticeable, and I would generally stay flat instead of having a drop at the beginning or first hour of my run.

After my first hour or so, I just kept an eye periodically on my blood sugars. My rule of thumb was that if my BG drifted down below 120 mg/dL, I would eat a small amount of carbs. My carb of choice was an individually wrapped peppermint (I stuffed a bunch in my pocket for the run) that was 3-4g of carb. If I kept drifting down or hadn’t come back up to 120 mg/dL 10-15 minutes later, I would do another. Obviously, if I was dropping fast I would do more, but 75% of the time I only needed one peppermint (3-4g of carb) to pause a drift down. If you have a lot of insulin on board, it would take more carbs, but my method of not having IOB at the start of long runs worked well for me. Sometimes, I would run my entire long run with no carbs and no fuel (other than water, and eventually electrolyte pills). Part of this is likely due to the fact that I was run-walking at such low intensity (remember 15-ish minute miles), but part of this is also due to figuring out the right amount of insulin I needed for endurance running and making sure I didn’t have excess insulin on board. On my faster runs (my half marathon distance fast training runs, that were 2+ minutes/mile faster than my slow long runs) and my marathon itself, I ended up needing more carbs than a super slow run – but it ended up being about 30 grams of carbohydrate TOTAL.

Why am I emphasizing this?

Well, the internet says (and most coaches, training plans, etc) that you need 30g of carbs PER HOUR. And that you need to train your stomach to tolerate that many carbs, because your muscles and brain need it. And without that much fuel, you will ‘hit the wall’.

My hypothesis, which may be nuanced by having type 1 diabetes and wearing a CGM and being able to track my data closely and manage it not only by carbs but also titrating insulin levels (which someone without diabetes obviously can’t do), is that you don’t necessarily need that many carbs, even for endurance running or marathon running.

I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between people who max out their long runs around 16-20 miles and who then “hit the wall” around mile 20 of a marathon. Perhaps some of it is muscle fatigue because they haven’t trained for the distance and some of it is psychological of feeling the brain fatigue.

During my marathon, in which I ran 2+ min/mi faster than most of my training runs, I did not ever experience hypoglycemia, and I did not “hit the wall”. Everything hurt, but I didn’t “hit the wall” as most people talk about. Those might be related, or it might be influenced by the fact that I had done a 20, 22, 24, 26, and another 21 mile run as part of my training, so my legs were “used” to the 20+ mile distance?

So again – some of my decreased fueling needs may be because I was already reducing my insulin and balancing my blood sugars (really well), and if my blood sugar was low (hypoglycemia), I would’ve needed more carbs. Or you can argue my lower fueling needs are because I’m so slow (15-16 minute mile training runs, or a 13m40s marathon pace). But in any case, I wanted to point out that if the fueling advice you’re getting or reading online seems like it’s “too much” per hour, there are people who are successful in hitting their time goals and don’t hit the wall on lower fueling amounts, too. You don’t necessarily have to fuel for the sake of fueling.

Note that I am not doing “low carb” or “keto” or anything particular diet-wise (other than eating gluten-free, because I also have celiac disease) outside of my running fuel choices. This was a successful strategy for me, and I eat what might be considered a moderate carb diet outside of running fuel choices.

Ps – if you don’t fuel (carbs or other nutrients) during your runs, don’t forget about your electrolytes. I decided to keep drinking water out of a Camelbak in a running pack, rather than filling it with Gatorade or a similar electrolyte drink, but I’m pretty electrolyte sensitive so I needed to do something to replace them. I got electrolyte pills and would take them every 30 minutes or so on long training runs when it was hotter. Play around with timing on those: if you don’t sweat a lot or aren’t a salty sweater, you may not need as many as often. I ended up doing the bulk of my long runs on hot days, and I sweat a lot, so every 30 minutes was about right for me. On cooler runs, one per hour was sufficient for me. (I tried these chewable tabs in lemon-lime but didn’t like the salt feeling directly in my mouth; I ended up buying these to swallow instead: I didn’t have any digestion issues or side effects from them, and they successfully kept my electrolytes to manageable levels. The package says not to take more than 10 within a 24 hour period, but I ended up taking 12 for my longest training run and the marathon itself and suffered no ill effects. It’s probably set to max 10 because of the amount of salt compared to the typical daily amount needed..but obviously, if you’re doing endurance running you need more than the daily amount of salt you would need on a regular day. But I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice, of course – I’m just telling you what I chose to do).

In terms of training, here’s everything the internet told me to do for marathon training and everything I did “wrong” according to the typical advice:

  • Your long run should be 20-30% of your overall weekly mileageWhat I did: Sometimes my long runs got up to 70% of my weekly mileage, because I was only running 3 and then 4 days a week, and not doing very long mid-week runs.
  • Have longer mid-week runs, and build those up in addition to your true long runWhat I did: I did build up to a few 5-6 mile mid-week runs, but I chose consistency of my 4 runs per week rather than overdoing it with mid-week medium runs
  • Run 5-6 days a weekWhat I did: Only run 4 times a week, because I wanted a rest day after each run, and wanted a rest day prior to my longest run. I ran Monday, Wednesday, Friday, then added Saturday short runs. Monday was my long run (because I have the benefit of a flexible schedule for work).
  • Get high mileage (start from a base of 30-40 miles a week and build up to 50-60 miles!)What I did: I started with a “base” of 10 miles a week with two runs that I was very proud of. I went to three runs a week, and then 4. My biggest running week during training was 40.55 miles, although they were all 20+ mile weeks (long or cutback weeks) after the first two months of training.
  • Do progressively longer long runs for two or three weeks in a row and then do one cutback week, then continue the progressionWhat I did: Because of the time on my feet cost of being a slower runner, I did an every-other-week long-run progression alternating with a shorter cutback week.
  • Long run, tempo run, speed work, etc. plus easy runs! All the things each week!What I did: a long run per week, then the rest of my runs were usually easy runs. I tried a handful of times to do some “speed” work, but I often time was trying to keep my feet from being injured and it felt like running faster caused my feet to be sore or have other niggles in my legs, so I didn’t do much of that, other than doing some “cutback” long runs (around half marathon distance, as well as my last 21-mile run) at close to marathon pace to get a feel for how it felt to run at that pace for longer.

TLDR, again:

I signed up for a marathon in fall 2018 planning to run it in July 2019 but was thwarted by a broken ankle in January 2019 and COVID-19(/20) for 2020, so I ultimately trained for and ran it in July 2021. I am a slow runner, and I was able to achieve my sub-6 hour marathon goal using run-walk and without causing additional injury to my feet. And, because of my “slow” or less intense running, I needed a lot less fuel than is typically recommended for marathoners, and still managed my blood glucose levels within my ideal target ranges despite 5, 6, and even 7 hours run on my feet. Yes, you can run marathons with type 1 diabetes. And yes, you can run any length endurance runs with type 1 diabetes! I also ran a 50k ultramarathon using the same methods.

Running and fueling for runs with type 1 diabetes

This blog post is not for you. (Well that sounds mean, doesn’t it? It’s not meant to be mean. But this post is written for a very small subset of people like me who are stumbling around on page 16 of Google trying to find someone sharing experiences and specific details around methods (both successful and less so) for fueling for longer endurance events such as full marathons or ultramarathons with type 1 diabetes. So – please don’t be offended, but also don’t be surprised if you don’t find this post very useful!)

I’ve started running again, and more, this year, and am now to the point where I’m considering running another full marathon sometime next year. As I adventure into running longer distances, and more miles, I’m reflecting on what I did in my first full marathon that worked related to diabetes, and what I want to try to do differently. This post is logging some of my experiences and notes to date, in honor of fellow page-16-of-Google-seekers, rather than waiting til after I run another full (if I do) and there continuing to be not much info out there.

Some background on my running:

I’m not a runner. And not a good runner. I never liked running. But, I walked the Seattle half marathon in December 2012 and thought it might be fun to then walk the full marathon in December 2013. However, I also tried snowboarding for the first time in January 2013 and majorly damaged my knee. I could barely walk the few blocks to work every day, let alone do my normal activities. It took several months, and several PT sessions, to get back to normal. But part of my frustration and pain manifested into the idea that I should recover enough to still walk that full marathon in December. And in order to be off the course by the time it closed, I would need to run a little bit. And I could barely walk, and never ran, so I would need to do some training to be able to run a mile or two out of the 26.2 I planned to otherwise walk. So I set off to teach myself how to run with the idea of walk/running the full, which evolved into a plan to run/walk it, and mostly eventually run it. And that’s what I did.

Now – this marathon was December 2013. This was right when we created DIYPS, and a year before we closed the loop, so I was in full, old-school traditional manual diabetes mode. And it sucked quite a bit. But now, almost 5 years later, with the benefit of everything I’ve learned from DIYPS and OpenAPS about insulin and food timing etc., here’s what I realized was happening – and why – in some of my training runs.

What I worried about was going low during the runs. So, I generally would set a low temporary basal rate to reduce insulin during the run, and try to run before dinner instead of after (to reduce the likelihood of running with a lot of active insulin in my body). I would also eat some kind of snack – I think for energy as well as making sure I didn’t go low. I would also carry a bottle of Gatorade to drink along the way.

With the benefit of 5 years of lots of learning/thinking about all the mechanics of diabetes, here’s what was happening:

Per the visualization, the carbs would hit in about 15 minutes. If I reduced insulin at the time of the run, it would drive my blood sugar up as well, over a longer time frame (after around 45+ minutes as the lack of insulin really started to kick in and previous basal impact tailed off). The combination of these usually meant that I would rise toward the middle or end of my short and medium runs, and end up high. In longer runs, I would go higher, then low – and sip gatorade, and have some roller coaster after that.

Now, this was frustrating in training runs, but I did ok for my long runs and my marathon had pretty decent BGs with no lows. However, knowing everything I know now, and commencing a new burst of running, I want to try to do better.

Here’s what I’ve been doing this year in 2018:

My original interest in running was to set a mileage goal for the year, because I didn’t run very much last year (around 50 miles, mostly throughout summer), and I wanted to try to run more regularly throughout the year to get a more regular dose of physical activity. (I am very prone to looking at Seattle weather in October-December and January-March and wanting to stay inside!) That mileage goal was ambitious for me since I didn’t plan to race/train for any distance. To help me stick to it, I divided it by 12 to give myself monthly sub-goals that I would try to hit as a way to stay on top of making regular progress to the goal.

(Ps – pro tip – it doesn’t matter how small or big your goal is. If you track % progress toward whatever your mileage goal is, it’s really nice! And it allows you to compete/compare progress, even if your friends have a much bigger mileage goal than you. That way everyone can celebrate progress, and you don’t have to tell people exactly what your mileage goal might be. What’s tiny for you is big for others; and what’s big for you may be small to others – and that doesn’t matter at all!)

This has worked really well. The first few months I scraped by in keeping up with my monthly goal. Except for February, when I had three weeks of flu and bronchitis, so I surged in March to finish February’s miles and March’s miles. I then settled back into a regular amount, meeting my monthly goals…and then surged again in August, so I was able to finish my yearly mileage in the middle of September! Wahoo! I didn’t plan to stop there, though, so I planned to keep running, and that’s where the idea of running the Seattle half (always the Sunday after Thanksgiving) popped up again, and maybe a full next year. I started adding some longer runs (two 7.5 miles; a 9.35 miler, and now a 13 miler) over the past month, and have felt really good about those, which has enabled me to start thinking more carefully about what I did last time BG-wise and why this time is so much easier.

Earlier in the year, even on my short runs (one mile or so), I quickly realized that because of the shorter peak of Fiasp, I was less likely to have previous insulin activity drive me low during the run. Within the first handful of runs, I stopped eating a snack or some carbs before the run. I also stopped setting a super high target an hour before my run. I gradually moved into just avoiding >1.5u of insulin on board before short runs; and for longer runs, setting a target of ~110 about 30 minutes before I walked out the door, mostly to avoid any of that insulin activity dosed that would kick in right after I started running. (Keep in mind when I talk about setting targets: I’m using OpenAPS, my DIY closed loop system that does automatic insulin dosing; and for fellow DIY closed loop users, I’m also using exercise mode settings so I can set lower targets like 110 and the targets also automatically adjust my sensitivity and recalculate IOB accordingly. So without those settings, I’d probably set the target to 130 or so.)

And this has worked quite well for me.

Is it perfect? No, I do still go low sometimes..but probably <10% of my runs instead of 50% of them, which is a huge improvement. Additionally, because of having OpenAPS running to pick up the rebound, there’s not usually much of a rebound and resulting roller coaster like I would have in 2013. Additionally, because autosensitivity is running, it picks up within a few hours of any additional sensitivity to insulin, and I don’t have any overnight lows after running. Yay!

However, that all assumes I’m running at a normal-for-my-body or slower speed.

There’s a nice (annoying) phenomenon that if you sprint/run faster than your body can really handle, your liver is going to dump and your BG will spike as a result:

I didn’t ever notice this in 2013, but I’ve now run enough and at varying paces to really understand what my fitness level is, and see very obvious spikes due to surges like this when I’m sprinting too fast. Some days, if I run too fast (even for a mile), I’ll have a surge up to 180 or 200 mg/dL, and that’ll be higher than my BG is for the rest of that 24 hour period. Which is annoying. Funny, but annoying. Not a big deal, because after my run OpenAPS can take care of bringing my down safely.

But other than the running-too-fast-spikes, my BGs have been incredible during and following my runs. As I thought about contributing factors to what’s working well, this is what’s likely been contributing:

  • with a mix of Fiasp & another short-acting insulin, I’m less likely to have the ‘whoosh’ effect of any IOB
  • but I’m also not starting with much IOB, because I tend to run first thing, or several hours after a meal
  • and of course, I have a DIY closed loop that takes care of any post-run sensitivity and insulin adjustments automatically

As I thought more about how much I’ve been running first thing in the morning/day, and usually not eating breakfast, that made me start reading about fasted long runs, or glycogen depleted runs, or low carb runs. People call them all these things, and I’m putting them in the post for my fellow page-16-of-Google-seekers. I call it “don’t eat breakfast before you run” long runs.

Now, some caveats before I go further into detail about what’s been working for me:

  • Your Diabetes May Vary (YDMV). in fact, it will. and so will your fitness level. what works for you may not be this. what works for you will probably not work for me. So, use this as input as one more blog post that you’ve read about a potential method, and then tweak and try what works for you. And you do you.
  • I’m not doing low carb. (And different people have different definitions of low carb, but I don’t think I’m meeting any of the definitions). What I’m talking about is not eating breakfast, a snack, or a meal before my runs in the morning. When I return from runs, I eat lunch, or a snack/meal, and the rest of my day is the usual amount/type of food that I would eat. (And since I have celiac, often times my gluten free food can be higher carb than a typical diet may be. It depends on whether I’m eating at home or eating out.) So, don’t take away anything related to overall carb consumption, because I’m not touching that! That’s a different topic. (And YDMV there, too.)
  • What I’m doing doesn’t seem to match anything I’ve read for non-T1D runners and what they do (or at least, the ones who are blogging about it).

Most of the recommendations I’ve read for glycogen depletion runs is to only do it for a few of your long runs in a marathon training cycle; that you should still eat breakfast before a full marathon; and you should only do fasted/glycogen depletion for slow, easy long runs.

I’m not sure yet (again, not in a full marathon cycle training), but I actually think based on my runs to date that I will do ok (or better) if I start without breakfast, and take applesauce/gatorade every once in a while as I feel I need it for energy, and otherwise managing my BG line. If I start a downtick, I’d sip some carbs. If I started dropping majorly, I’d definitely eat more. But so far, managing BG rather than trying to prescriptively plan carbs (for breakfast, or the concept of 30-60 per hour), works a lot better for me.

Part of the no-breakfast-works-better-for-me might be because the longevity of insulin in your body is actually like 6 hours (or more). Most non-T1D runners talk about a meal 3 hours before the start of your race. And they’re right that the peak and the bulk of insulin would be gone by then, but you’d still have a fair bit of residual insulin active for the first several hours of your race, and the body’s increased sensitivity to that insulin during exercise is likely what contributes to a lot of low BGs in us T1 runners. There’s also a lot of talk about how fasting during training runs teaches your body to better burn fat; and how running your race (such as a marathon) where you do carb during the race (whether that’s to manage BGs or more proactively) will make your body feel better since it has more fuel than you’re used to. That’s probably true; but given the lower insulin action during a run (because you’ve been fasted, and you may be on a lower temp basal rate to start), you’re likely to have a larger spike from a smaller amount of carbs, so the carb-ing you do before or during these long runs or a marathon race may need to be lower than what a non-T1D might do.

tl;dr – running is going better for me and BG management has been easier; I’m going to keep experimenting with some fasted runs as I build up to longer mileage; and YDMV. Hope some of this was helpful, and if you’ve done no-breakfast-long-runs-or-races, I’d love to hear how it worked for you and what during-race fueling strategy you chose as a result!