On October 14, 2023, I completed my seventh half marathon in Louisville Kentucky. Earlier this year, I decided that I'd go for the 50 state challenge which you're probably familiar with if you frequent half marathons. Many runners in our community dive into either running a race in every state, running a half marathon in every state, or a marathon in every state for fun! Being that my favorite distance is 13.1 miles, I also accepted the challenge.
Strategically, I realize that I am getting the surrounding states "out of the way" pretty early in my life. This probably isn't the smartest idea as when I eventually have kids, they will now be down for the adventures of traveling across the country for my running endeavors. None the less, I've completed Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, and now Kentucky. Technically, I completed a California half marathon too, but it was virtual due to COVID. Don't worry... I won't count that as long as California is my 50th state. So far, I have LOVED traveling for races. It is so so so effing fun. Not only do you run with a new community, but you get to see a new city, run on new terrain, and spend the rest of the weekend exploring. If I haven't said it already, I have LOVED it. To the point where I am telling my husband my birthday gift can be for me to run another half marathon in ___ state (I know, it takes a special person to actually ask for this kind of gift lol). Some of my favorite memories include running Broadway in Nashville, running into Canada from Michigan, and running the Indy 500 track (kissing the bricks!) in Indiana. These are all things I am so blessed to do and even more blessed to run to them with my own physical body and fitness. If you're up in the air about racing but enjoy running, let's chat.. there are so many more reasons that racing is pure joy than just crossing the finish line.
I decided on Louisville, Kentucky because like I said, getting the easy drivable ones out of the way. I had never been to Louisville so I thought it would be a good date-weekend for my husband and I, including drinking bourbon, learning about the Louisville slugger bats, having my husband chase me around the city while I was running. Sounds fun!
I began training for this race in mid-July, but prior to that had built a solid base from May-June. I was already running 20 mile weeks with 7 miles being my weekly long run. This base building period really helped me gain fitness and start training already steps ahead of the game. This allowed me to create a plan that would re-visit similar mileages each week and have down weeks without feeling any "oh this is crunch time though.." thoughts. For instance, if I was out of town one weekend and couldn't fit a 10 mile long run in, I'd just shift it to the next weekend. It was that flexible because I was already able to run over half the distance of the half marathon. These long runs were also done outside on some pretty epic hills near my house. I honestly have no choice but to run these unless I drive to a different trail, which is just not something my current schedule is allowing me to do. So, my roads and parks near my house contain some up and down hills that I was determined to get "good at". I attribute these hills to my success in this half marathon too.
During this base building time, I also made it a point to run consecutive days in a row. My thought process here was to tackle the issue of "running on tired legs". If you know me, you know my cardiovascular endurance is pretty epic. I can bike, hike, run and swim for hours before tapping out. But that doesn't mean my legs and muscles don't get tired. So, I'd train consistently for 3-4 days before taking a day off from running. This helped me immensely. What this also does is increase your total volume which studies have shown is really good for runners to get better at endurance and speed. To be honest, none of my runners run just 3 days a week. I typically increase their volume to 4 or 5.
Lastly, I lifted weights every other day and walked 10,000 steps every day. The step goal was easy to do when I would run, but a little harder to reach on my off day. I stayed very consistent with this throughout my training season too. Strength training was always full body, full of compound lifts and practice with explosiveness (moving my muscles faster under load). I love training this way and simply remained consistent throughout my entire training cycle with this approach.
My training consisted of one long run, one speed day (either track workouts or tempo runs), and 2-3 EZ runs with strides thrown in.
Long run: I really tried to dial back these long runs to hitting a true conversation pace. At first, this was hard. I just like running uncomfortably. But once I allowed my legs to **glide** instead of work, it became so much more enjoyable and 9,10,11 miles seemed a lot easier. This is all information I train my clients through but have a difficult time performing myself. Every 2-3 weeks, I had a "down week" where I'd shave off 2-3 miles from my long run and overall mileage. This allowed my body to recover and show up stronger for the next week.
Speed workouts: I remained consistent with Tuesdays being my workout days. I did 400 and 800 repeats on the track (averaging about 5-6 miles total) and tempo runs up to 25 minutes. I felt pretty confident in my speed work but I did not inch past the level I was trying to race at.
Strength training: I lifted weights for about an hour every other day of the week. Every lift was full body with an emphasis of glute, quad and hamstring strength.
Yoga: The last month of training (September) I picked yoga back up and immediately felt the benefits. My balance and coordination grew stronger, muscles were less achy, and felt more mobile in general. I did yoga the days I did not strength train.
Diabetes, Pump life, and Running
It would be a disservice to my overall training and racing experience recap if I didn't touch on this huge topic. In June, I started using the pump (Omnipod) after 19 years of being 100% MDI. This change was needed; I was dealing with many overnight highs and couldn't get a grip on how to control this with taking injections. So, I started the pump in June and although this was a blessing, it caused havoc in my running journey. What's different about the pump versus injections is the pump communicates with my continuous glucose monitor. When my blood sugar trends up, it gives me insulin by itself. If my number goes low, it suspends insulin by itself. This is typically an awesome tool for diabetics, but when I am as active as I am, it's extremely hard to avoid lows when insulin is constantly being given to me. When I gave myself injections, it was much easier.. I simply didn't give myself insulin before running. But now, my pump constantly knows where my blood sugar is at and what direction it's headed... so I cannot stop this in time for me to run with zero insulin on board.
There are many ways around this that are not perfect. One being I can set it to "activity mode" where it aims to get my blood sugar to 150. This is a little higher than where it should rest normally, but the goal is to avoid a low while working out. This doesn't ever work for me; I think due to the intensity I workout at. It immediately drops within 30 minutes. It's also due to having insulin on board before I get the change to set it to activity mode; then, I will still go low because it's already in me.
Another option is to disconnect the "communication" function between my pump and my continuous glucose monitor. This means that it now has no idea where my number is so it won't correct anything when it goes high. I can then manually set it to give me "50% less insulin" than what it would normally give me. This worked sometimes and other times I would still go low. This function also almost always caused a rebound high, because I was giving myself so little insulin for 2+ hours.
These are my only options while using the pump and running. Therefore, my entire training cycle was devoted to figuring out how I can complete a run without going low, chugging a juice and waiting 15 minutes (all while "low" symptoms of crying, snappiness, anxiousness, and brain fog fill my entire body). Many runs were left uncompleted and defeated.
My main goals every single morning were:
1) wake up in range (110-150) so zero insulin was "on board". This means to have zero carbs the night before, sleep 8 hours and avoid stress. All of these things tend to spike my blood sugar overnight if I don't take care of them. AKA LOTS OF PLANNING.
2) Immediately set my pod to "activity mode" so it knows to not give me insulin in case my number goes over 110. This needs to happen hours before my activity so I don't have "insulin on board" during my run.
2) have no more than 25 grams of carbs before the run, have 0 grams of fat, and 0 grams of protein. I avoided anything over 25 grams of carbs before running because that would involve bolus-ing for a lot more insulin than I should have before exercising. This meant cutting back my fuel even more.
3) start running soon after eating the <25 grams to avoid a blood sugar spike. If my number goes over 150, insulin will be given, then I have a problem because I'll start running and immediately drop!
This is my life as a runner with a pump. It didn't use to be like this. But with such great technology comes its' not-so-great side effects and this is one I have yet to master.
Now, my concerns are:
....How the eeffff do I carb-o load if I need to wake up with my number in range?
...How do I run over 60 minutes and only have 25 grams of carbs in me?
...Am I able to fuel during my runs or will it spike my blood sugar since insulin will be suspended?
...What happens if I wake up and my number is high, and insulin has been given to me all night?
I can't make this shit up. I had no answers for 16 weeks. No endocrinologist, nurse practitioner, dietician, diabetes educators, or diabetes influencers could tell me either.
My running plan was non-existent if one of my goals above didn't turn out, so my anxiety was a bit higher than normal before this race.
I began tapering a bit earlier than I had planned. My hip flexors started screaming at me after some long traveling weekends where I was sitting for hours after almost every run. After these trips, my legs were so incredibly tight and running was just enough uncomfortable that I'd rather just cut back then to keep going and deal with this during my race. About two weeks out, I ran every other day, 3-4 miles. Additionally, I took one week off after the trip out West, so my hip flexors would stop aching. They did, but just in time to continue tapering. I wasn't worried about my fitness, but I was sad I had to stop speed work so far away from my race day.
Due to the changes in my diabetes care, I didn't focus heavily on carb loading. In fact, I ate pretty similar to how I always eat; high protein, healthy fat, lower carbs, lots of fiber. I neverrrrrr teach my clients to eat this way during training. But for my phase of life and my diabetes care, I really had no choice but to focus more on my blood sugar numbers and less on storing glycogen.
Surprisingly, I did pretty well with this diet. Let's be honest, I always do. I pride myself on my best half marathon (shout out to Columbus!) where my pace was under the 9 minute mark the entire run and I felt like I was soaring... all while being almost carb free. I think I had a salad and salmon the night before. I woke up and had a small bowl of magic spoon cereal (all protein, low carbs) and didn't fuel once while running. My body performs well on low carbs and is fat-adapted. I am the minority, but I know my body. I have been running for over 15 years and I am confident in how I fuel.
The intensity of my strength training and yoga tapered too; I kept my schedule the same and program unchanged.
Off to Louisville!
I slept in til 8 am on Friday and had a pre-made waffle with low fat cream cheese. I headed to the gym and walked on the treadmill and did a small strength training session. In total, I was probably at the gym for an hour. I headed home and packed my bags, snacks, foam rollers and headed to Louisville. During the 3-1/2 hour drive, I almost fell asleep on the road due to not having any coffee. This was purposeful but to be honest, I think this contributed to some digestion problems the rest of the weekend. I will get there later on. I wanted coffee to be extra impactful Saturday morning, so I went without any on Thursday and Friday. I ended up pulling over and sleeping at a rest stop for 20 minutes. My husband was on calls so he was unable to drive, but was patient on waiting for me while I slept. During the drive, I snacked on tortilla chips and beef jerky.
Once we got into the city, we checked in to the Towneplace Suites in Downtown Louisville. This was a perfect distance to the starting line for the morning so I highly recommend staying here. The room was spacious, had a full kitchen and allowed us to set the room temperature to 62 degrees!
We drove to packet pickup at the Louisville Slugger field. The packet pickup was smaller but fulfilled its' purpose. They were handing out shots of bourbon too, in which my husband took part in.
We left packet pickup and ate at ROC restaurant. This Italian spot was located on the outskirts of Louisville, about 10 minute drive from our hotel. We started with drinks; I always have a glass of red wine the night before running (calms the nerves!). We ordered the calamari appetizer and enjoyed a slow start to dinner. I ended up getting two entrees because I wanted some carbs, but not enough to spike my blood sugar. I decided on the spaghetti pomodoro because it sounded very low fat and simple carb-wise. There was no fiber or sneaky ingredients that would leave me feeling bad. I also ordered the salad with a salmon on top. I opted for the house salad as there were no high fiber vegetables and was relatively simple. The food was awesome and I felt very, very full. I actually felt a bit bloated which was strange, because my fiber intake and fat was pretty low. My blood sugar stayed normal too.
We headed back to the hotel, I showered and attempted to go to bed. This is when things went a little crazy; my blood sugar dropped around 10pm, and stayed between 45-55 for about two hours. I did everything in my power to bring it up.. juice, applesauce, mango strips, Powerade, gummies, you name it. Around midnight, it started to rise to 90. This is when I knew things would be terrible when I woke up as I was going to have a "blood sugar rebound" and be high. This is not good due to having a pump; my pump will be suspending insulin all night to get my blood sugar down. Which means when it is time to run, I will have lots of insulin circulating in me.
To The Start Line We Go!
Lo and behold, my blood sugar was 260 when I woke up at 5 am. I immediately bolused for my tiny amount of oatmeal hoping that it would also correct my blood sugar in time for the race to start in three hours. I purposefully woke up that early to regulate my blood sugar far in advance. Unfortunately, after eating my oatmeal (19 grams of carbs) and hour later, my blood sugar started going up even more! It had to have been nerves and stress at this point. We headed out the door to move around and try to avoid a high (remember, high blood sugar means more insulin. more insulin + exercise= a dangerous blood sugar crash).
Outside of my blood sugar, it was pretty nice outside! Upper 50's and I was able to wear running shorts and a tank top. I used my arm band for my phone and gu, and the pockets of my shorts for extra gus'. I literally used gu as my fueling this entire training season. It's easy, smaller and I had a rough game plan when I'd take these to align with water stations. Of course, I didn't end up doing any of this as my blood sugar was now the one in charge.
Brooks Levitate GTS, Gu, Goodr OG sunglasses, Amphipod arm band
Just before the start, I made a last minute decision to cut off the communication of my pump and DEXcom so it wouldn't know my bloodsugar. This way, it would stop giving me insulin to try to bring my number down. My exercise was going to do this just fine. But I also didn't want to go high as I would be fueling during my run. The crazy decisions diabetics have to make is a headache!
Ready, Set, Go!
The first 3 miles were through downtown Louisville and relatively flat. I made a deal with myself to not check my number until mile 3. At mile 3, I saw my number was 170 with two arrows pointed down. This meant I was dropping fast. I decided to take my first gu right then to slow the drop. I had a water station at mile 4.25, so I waited until I could see the spot and took the vanilla bean flavored gel.
Miles 4-10 were through a gorgeous park downtown. Now, if you ask anyone else who ran this race, they will describe this as brutal. The hills were epic, but I attest my fitness to running these just fine. I am very proud of myself for holding up, I honestly lost count of how many hills we conquered. We also had many downhills, which was where I was able to pick up and gain speed. Around mile 7.5, I saw my blood sugar was at 80 slanted down. I took my next raspberry flavored gu and trudged on. Around mile 9, I was worried as my blood sugar said 77. Worried, but also impressed.. the gels were indeed preventing me from going low. That is just when I saw my husband cheering me on and I mouthed the word "juice". He tossed orange juice to my hand and I drank it, spilling half of it down my face. It helped. I ran on.
Miles 11-13.25 (YES WE RAN MORE THAN 13.1!!!!) went back the way we came, through the city on a relatively flat course. People were handing out bourbon shots and candy. I may have been the only adult running to the girl to load me up with sour patch kids, but about 6 of these and I was soaring to the finish line.
I successfully beat my Indiana(May 2023 race) time by 92 seconds. To be honest, this wasn't even a concern nor did I track my pace at all this race. I was so focused on avoiding low blood sugar that my pace was pretty solid the entire run. I did have a spark of energy and my watch says the last .25 miles I was going 7:45 pace?! That blew me away.
5 am: Purely Elizabeth oatmeal cup (19 grams carbs)
Mile 3: Vanilla Bean Gu (28 grams carbs)
Mile 7: Raspberry Gu (28 grams carbs)
Mile 9.5: 3 sips of juice (12 grams carbs?)
Mile 12: Sour Patch Kids (10 grams carbs?)
Post Race After Party
The after party was awesome. This was the highlight of the experience. In downtown Louisville, performers sang, bands played, food and drinks were flowing! I waited in line to get my rightfully deserved pizza and awarded it to my husband (I honestly couldn't think about carbs at the moment) and enjoyed the morning.
Running the states is not only fun because of racing, but also exploring new cities with my husband. If any of you are blessed to know Mike, you know he is the most caring and thoughtful, also goofy, person around. He has supported me and my love for running and lifting since day one! Therefore, I try to make these trips not always all about me (hehe). In Indiana, we got to check off a bucket list, Michelin star restaurant and in Nashville visit some of his best college friends. During this trip, I scoped out the best distilleries the town had to offer us along the bourbon trail. We were able to visit Buffalo Trace, which is one of Mikes all time favorite bourbons. It was a beautiful drive, awesome campus, and free tastings! We also spent time at Angel's Envy, which I learned was one of the nicest distilleries in Louisville. The bar was gorgeous and they made cocktails, so I joined in on one drink as I asked for the one that "didn't taste like bourbon". That night, we ate at Brendon's Catch 23. This restaurant is all about the seafood, and I wanted nothing more than protein and vegetables. I ordered the seafood platter, which came with salmon, shrimp, asparagus and potatoes.. my favorite!
We thought Louisville was super cute and a perfect place to run Kentucky! I recommend this half marathon if you're wanting to test your fitness with hills, looking for a scenic park run, want to avoid huge crowds of people and don't need spectators as your pure motivation (we were by ourselves 75% of this race). For my next half marathon, I have a better idea of what to do if my blood sugar creeps up as well as focus on avoiding a bedtime low. My next goal is to shave 4 minutes off this half marathon time and I have 4 months to do so!