Reaching the Finish Line

As an Ironman triathlete with type 1, I get asked a lot of questions.

How do you control your blood sugar during a race?
What foods do you eat?
What products do you use?
How do you balance work, family, training, and diabetes?

Sometimes, people simply ask me if I am nuts. 

In the coming issues of Diabetes Health, I hope to answer these questions (no, I am not nuts) and give you some insights to get you healthy and help you achieve new goals in your life.

One question I am often asked is, “How do you stay motivated?” Like diabetes, the Ironman triathlon requires a lot of discipline-hours of grueling physical training, careful attention to nutrition, lots of equipment for biking, swimming, and running. But most of all, they both require that relentless mental toughness to do it over and over, every day, when it seems like you will never reach the finish line.  How can you keep going, or even attempt something new?

I did not race triathlons or marathons or swim or cycle competitively before I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991.  A few years after that diagnosis, I attempted my first marathon, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association-just to see if I could do it.  It was 26.2 painful, wonderful miles of stomping on diabetes.  At that finish line, someone mentioned that Ironman triathletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and THEN run a marathon.  I leaned over to that guy. . .and threw up.  What kind of freak of fitness can do that?  And who can do that with diabetes?!  But right then, I had a goal.  I was going to do the Ironman.  I was going to do the Ironman with diabetes. 

After ten years, 14 Ironman triathlons, and 3 World Championships as a member of the U.S. National Team for Long Distance Triathlon, I am still racing for that finish line.  I do not know what it is like to race the Ironman without diabetes, so to me it is just a part of the race.  It is the cards I was dealt, so I am going to play them.  In a race for 10 hours, I will push myself to my absolute limits of pain and determination, using every cell and fiber in my body to get to that finish line, to crawl if I have to (and I have), but I always have just enough strength to turn and step on the neck of diabetes at that finish line and say “you are messing with the wrong guy.”

Finish Line Vision

I see the finish line of the Ironman with every mile I swim, bike, and run in training and the race.  I have been to that finish line, and it is a drug for my soul.  It gets me up early in the morning, out in the cold or heat to train, and it keeps me juggling all of the things we must: work, school, family, friends, and faith.  I am motivated by my vision of the finish line, that feeling, that emotion, that satisfaction.  Don’t strive for a number-a weight, a grade point average, or an income-that is no fun!  Visualize yourself achieving your goal: you in an outfit three sizes smaller at a special event; you walking across the graduation stage; you vacationing with your family.  Think about your vision, your finish line vision.  That will motivate you.

Make Diabetes the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You

Diabetes is a bad thing, and it is not going anywhere.  You can let it abuse you, or you can use it as motivation.  Lance Armstrong said that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him, shaping his life and motivating him to win his first and all of his seven Tour de France titles.  I would not be racing the Ironman if I did not have diabetes.  It motivates me to exercise, eat healthy, and be more fit than before I was diagnosed.  Use diabetes (or any other obstacle) to prove that it will not stop you.

Failure Potential 

Set goals with “failure potential.”   Do not be afraid to fail.  In fact, risk failing.  If you have never failed, you are not trying hard enough.  Mark Twain said, “twenty years from now, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than by the things we did.”  It feels so much better when you achieve something that once seemed so difficult.  The Ironman seemed pretty impossible to me once, and I have had plenty of failures, losses, and bad races along the way.  That’s what makes the finish line so rewarding.

Remember, you are stronger than diabetes.  So get to the starting line, and you will get to your finish line.  You may not be the fastest, but you are faster than those who never started.

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