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Turbo training

Ironman Triathlon Training and Diabetes: the Third 10 Weeks

Ironman and diabetes

Turbo training in front of TV

It’s about time I wrote my third and final instalment on my Ironman and diabetes considering I completed it a few weeks ago 🙂

I’d chosen a 30 week plan by Don Fink and stuck to the Competitive programme as best I could. I went down with an awful cough in week 18, the second week in April. Up to that point I felt I’d really been making progress but had to take a week off training. Getting up and running again after it was slow and I reckon it put me back three weeks. My sugar levels were considerably higher than usual and I followed the DAFNE guidelines by turning up my basal insulin and occasionally giving myself a bolus every now and then.

The plan is divided into base, build and peak phases each lasting 10 weeks so having this terrible cough in the middle of the build phase was not cool.

On 10-12 May I participated in the Animas Sports Weekend: a weekend of education and sports for Type 1 diabetics. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and thanks to Animas for organising it: endocrinologists, guest speakers who’d done Ironmen, a GB rower, video from Roddy Riddle who’d completed the Marathon des Sables – all Type 1 diabetics.

Bedford Priory Half Ironman

With seven weeks to go I entered the Bedford Priory Half Ironman, 19th May, as a training session, and I’m glad I did! The training plan suggested one around now but a) there really aren’t that many around this time of year, and b) I only entered three days before so it’s not as if I’d built up to it like the Wild Boar Half Ironman last year. I have to say it was a poor event. Poorly organised and I performed poorly.

I’d only done one outdoor swim to date this year. I’ve always found it difficult: swimming in a wetsuit in an open lake is completely different from a pool. With Type 1 diabetes there’s also more to think about. You have to be prepared as you don’t want your sugar level to go low in the middle of the lake!

I had a bad swim and panicked a bit, so it was slow. My ride was so-so; a little slower than expected but THERE WERE NO WATER STOPS. I couldn’t believe it! None at all! The weather was warm so I got off the bike completely dehydrated. My run was appalling and was more of a walk. I’d stayed with some friends the night before and they’d come down to watch but left after a while as most people had finished. I was so disappointed with the whole event and did an awful, awful time.

On the other hand I’d done this as a training exercise and I’m so pleased I did. From then on I ditched my training plan. I honestly don’t think I looked at it again. What did I learn from the event? I needed to:

  • Concentrate on outdoor swimming – never went back in the pool again
  • Get outdoors and run – long runs
  • Get in the gym and strength train – everybody else looked so fit and strong. I was a real weakling in comparison
  • Keep hydrated! I couldn’t believe there’d been no water stops on the bike ride!!! On the Wild Boar Half Ironman last year it’d been a circular route passing the pit stop three times!

My training therefore changed to MY plan:

  • Mondays: rest days
  • Tuesdays: either another rest day (I was sometimes shattered from a hard weekend’s training) or an outdoor run and / or gym session
  • Wednesdays: outdoor, lake swimming with Derby Tri Club, minimum of 2k, ideally more
  • Thursdays: bike ride, usually on turbo trainer
  • Fridays: outdoor run, 10-15km and 1 hour gym
  • Saturdays: early morning swim with Derby Tri Club building up to 3k+ then a long bike ride setting off from the lake or home, e.g. around 130-145kms.
  • Sundays: long run, 20-30 kms


A major concern was my blood sugar going low in the swim. I addressed this by keeping a couple of gels under my swim cap and taking one after about 2 / 2.5k. I was swimming just over 3km in an hour which I was quite happy with.

It was a little parky sometimes in the lake but you soon got used to it.


I’d started long rides during the second 10 weeks and found them hard work. I remember sometimes starting from my sister’s gaff in Nottingham with the ride taking in some of the Outlaw route. I remember returning back feeling absolutely exhausted. I’d only done 120 kms.

The wind had been strong. I think I was also trying to keep too high a pace. I’d been doing shorter rides or turbo training at a cadence of 90 rpm and a heart rate 140-145 bpm. This maybe wasn’t sustainable so I learnt to reduce it to 90 rpm and 130-140 bpm. I knew I wasn’t going to break any land speed records so this was fine.

I’d eventually put some tri bars on my bike as well and to my surprise quite quickly got used to them. I tended to go out straight from the swim in the lake on a Saturday. I didn’t practice my transitions at all but it was good to go from one to the other. Rides were usually around the 140km / 85 mile mark. They were quite manageable. I would have a sandwich before I set off and maybe a Mars bar on the way round along with a couple of gels but I was finding that I was now able to manage them better having sussed out my cadence and heart rate zones. This is an example of a ride.

I drove the Outlaw route one day which was a great idea, then biked much of it another time.


I generally ran long distances along the High Peak and Tissington Trails. Lovely area. One of the first runs I did I ended up getting dehydrated again so henceforth placed water bottles strategically around the route before setting off, and carried another in my bum bag.

My pace was nothing to write home about but I needed to get those miles in. One thing I wish I’d done though in retrospect is more running training – I know for the future. However training in the winter in these ‘ere ‘ills is pretty chilly to say the least.

I would always run with a bum bag with water bottle, 3-4 gels, sweets (you can never have too much!), a BG meter and small iPod and probably check my sugar level every 45 mins to an hour.

Ironman and Diabetes

I stopped filling in my training plan once I’d changed to MY plan.

Having felt dreadful 10 weeks prior to the event and quite concerned, I ended this period feeling far much more confident: my first aim was to finish; my second was 14 hours. While I’d never done a 100 mile bike ride or a marathon (!), I’d done several 3k swims and 120-145 km bike rides one after the other and my running had improved. I felt in far better shape 🙂

I was still turning down my background / basal insulin on my pump prior to exercise to 20% and I wasn’t going so low in my sleep now as I was remembering to turn down my basal to 50% so my sleeping had improved.

I don’t think I could have put in many more hours. If I was to do one again I’d make my own plan based, now, on my experience. I’d continue strength training throughout and personally do more running.

Zipvit gel

Ironman Triathlon Training and Diabetes, The Second 10 Weeks

(Background: I’ve entered a long-distance (Ironman) triathlon, the Outlaw, in Nottingham, July 7th. A post on my first 10 weeks of Ironman training and diabetes is here.)

The second 10 weeks of my Ironman training were marred by a terrible cough I developed in week eight which continued for three weeks. I got some antibiotics but all I could manage was a one hour turbo session on the bike that week and I took the decision to just take the week off.

This was, needless to say, a bit of a disaster. I couldn’t do a 100 mile bike ride I’d entered in the Peak District with my fellow Outlaw wannabe, Rhodri, who’d come up from the Big Smoke to do it as well (though he’d had a similar cough the week before) and I also took a day off work that week.

For the next two weeks I continued to feel rough but restarted training. Tried a couple of longer bike rides (120km) and just felt dreadful to the extent that I started to worry that my training wasn’t going to plan and question whether I was going to complete it. (I’m writing this a week before the event so I still have to do it …!)

The upshot was that I felt this cough put me back at least two weeks, quite possibly three. I lost a lot of strength and fitness. Back in the pool, on the bike or out running I just wasn’t at my pre-illness levels. Hmmmm.

The weather meant I also couldn’t get out on occasions when I’d have liked in which case I did say 2 x 2.5 hours on the turbo trainer instead. Was also away for work on a couple of occasions but otherwise I was now regularly doing the plan. Ok, I might not have done a run after a long bike or my third swim session of the week but other than that I was doing ok-ish.

The plan said to do an Olympic distance tri in week eight but I didn’t. There weren’t that many around mid-April and to be honest I felt continuing getting some training in (had I not been ill) would have been a better option at that point.

The total number of hours training was still more than in the first 10 weeks and I was still trying to follow Don Fink’s Competitive Programme. I was starting to get the feeling though that it’s really meant for people starting at a higher level as, while I was improving, I felt when it was suggested I do a bike ride or run for X hours I should be covering more ground.


My blood glucose levels were raging high during my cough so I followed the DAFNE guidelines and checked my sugar levels regularly giving myself an extra dose of insulin every now and then.

My sleep was still being hampered by low sugar levels during the night as a result of doing lots of exercise and not turning down my insulin pump before going to bed. I’ve since learnt the hard way.

So, by the end of the 10 weeks, having recovered from my cough, I felt weaker and a bit worried if I’m honest.


By Robin Eyre


Me after a very cold run

Ironman Training and Diabetes, The First 10 Weeks

(Eeek! Apologies to anyone who received this in draft form earlier. I pressed the wrong button. This is the proper, new and improved final version.)

I’ve entered an Ironman triathlon, the Outlaw in Nottingham, on 7th July this year. Woo hoooo! I did the Wild Boar half-Ironman last September and had a couple of months afterwards of not doing a deal of exercise. The first batch of tickets sold out within a week so I was glad I got in early as it’s easy to umm-and-ahh about these things. Rhodri, with whom I did the half, and already two-time Ironman, is also doing it with me. (I’d actually entered an Ironman back in 2001 but broke my ankle during training so that put paid to that.)

So I’ll now be blogging on Ironman triathlon training and diabetes as, well, that’s what this site is really all about 😉

Once entered I was itching to get training. I bought a couple of training plans: Be Iron Fit by Don Fink and Ironman Start to Finish by Huddle, Frey and Murphy; 30 and 24 week plans respectively. I chose to do the former because I was keen to get started and I felt a longer training plan might suit me better. In addition Don Fink’s book has three plans: Competitive, Intermediate and Just Finish. I’ve taken on the Competitive plan with the idea that if it gets too tough I can drop down to one of the others. It starts with a minimum of six hours / week and builds to a maximum of 20. Yeah, on top of a job. FYI the Just Finish programme starts with three hours and builds to ten.

So, how have I coped with a) the training, and b) my diabetes?


Me after a very cold run

A very cold run

My 30 week plan should have started mid-December. It kind of did as I bought a turbo trainer, set up my computer and peddled away in front of YouTube but it was early-Jan by the time I got my act together, started swimming more regularly and followed the plan. Having a plan takes soooo much guess work out of training and I try and stick to it as closely as possible. Sometimes I feel like doing a time trial bike ride or testing my 10 km run time to see if I’m improving but no, I stick to the plan. At other times I’m thinking ‘Wow, will I be able to complete this huge event? It’s only four months away.’ But then think, ‘Well, I’m following the plan so I should be able to’ …?!

If anyone’s interested here’s a spread sheet of Be Iron Fit Intermediate Plan by Don Fink.

Out of the first 10 weeks then I’ve completed four full weeks properly. The first three weeks were before Christmas and getting back on the bike mainly. Another week I was away for work for a couple of days and didn’t fancy paying £12 to use the local gym or going for a run in downtown London, dodging traffic and getting lost. Another week I had a hangover from hell and missed a long run! Another week I was just being a bit lazy if I’m honest. I also did more strength training in the gym in the initial weeks which I don’t tend to do now (though the plan recommends it) as I don’t have time and don’t want to over-train.

So I’m currently doing roughly 10-11 hours per week. To get this all in I often do a session before work which means getting up at 5:30.

The plan takes missed days into account: miss one day, no problem, just carry on; miss two to three, scale back on the first day back, carry on thereafter; miss more than three days, scale back for the first couple of days etc.

The book trains you using heart rates which I find very useful. It doesn’t say you must run at 15 kmh or bike at 40. It says run in heart rate zone two for 45 mins; do intervals in zone four for five minutes; bike in zone two for two hours etc. I’ve used my Garmin 410 watch considerably and although there are a couple of faults in the software it is an awesome piece of kit. I can highly recommend getting one.

I’m seeing small improvements as well which is really satisfying. When I started the plan I was perhaps trotting along on the treadmill in zone two at 10+ kmh, I’m now doing 12 kmh! On my turbo trainer I started by putting out say 100-140 watts in zone two for however long I was on there (the most I’ve done on the turbo is 2 hours 45 mins which is a bit much really but the weather’s not been so great here in the Peak District in Derbyshire). I suppose that equates to about 18-19 kmh. On the half-Ironman I averaged about 30 kmh but that was flat / undulating road, not the constant, relentlessness of a turbo trainer so I don’t compare one with the other too much. It is hard work I can assure you. Remember, there’s no downhill on a turbo trainer. Now I’m putting out 140-175 watts or about 22-24 kmh.

I really, really hope this lasts as with such a big event I think you need these little pick ups along the way and it keeps you motivated as I do sometimes think four months is a long time away.

How’s my swimming going? Well, it’s going. I do it. I really try and focus on technique but recognise soon I’ll need to get some long swims in to get my confidence up. Worried about going low on a long swim so will have to sort that one out.

Over the winter I’ve been using the turbo trainer mostly. Just started to go out into the big wide world now the weather’s a bit better. Also tended to train on the treadmill apart from the one hour-plus runs. With both of these it’s a lot easier to control your heart rate rather than running up and down them there ‘ills. However I also realise there’s no substitute for the real thing and I need to get out there.

I’m also looking a little trimmer 🙂 I’ve not lost much weight. Still around the 80 kg mark but I am a little trimmer.


How have I managed with my diabetes? I’m now on an insulin pump as part of a clinical trial called REPOSE which has been really interesting. Daily management has been much easier. Giving myself a bolus is a touch of a button rather than an injection. I used to be put off by having a snack as I didn’t want to shoot myself but now I just beep, beep, beep and it’s done.

Saying that my HbA1c (long-term blood glucose measurement) was slightly higher in Jan than it had been before. I put that down to doing irregular exercise towards the end of last year and perhaps not taking care of myself.

Zipvit gel

Zipvit gel

I always test myself before exercise. If running or biking I also test every 45 mins or so. If I feel grotty I will also test for safety. I tend to use a lot of ZipVit gels. Caffeine ones are the best. I find they’re big enough in size, 60 ml, and pack a good punch of carbs, 85 g per 100 ml. I then top up with Dextro tabs.

My sensitivity to insulin has gone up, i.e. I regularly reduce the amount I take, as a result of doing so much exercise. But I’ve not been sleeping well as I’ve been going low during the night. This is not good. Living alone this is dangerous as you don’t want to conk out during your sleep with no one around to help (single ladies take note, entries on a postcard, LOL) but when you’re not sufficiently awake, or you’re just plain too tired to do anything about it you might not cotton on. However you then think ‘I have to do something about this’ and test yourself.

This has happened on a few occasions and I just feel exhausted the next day. It happened recently on a Sunday and Tuesday night so on Wednesday I didn’t train I was so tired. I was in bed by 8:30 pm that night and felt so much better the next day.

Down time, LOL

Down time, LOL

I try and eat better but I don’t follow a high carb or high protein diet etc. I have on the odd occasion drunken too much whisky (ahem …) which doesn’t help. I think I might just cut it out soon. Sometimes when I’m feeling tired it’s not so much because of the amount of training I do that makes me feel so, it’s either I’ve had a crappy sleep or feel the effects of the night before – usually on a Saturday or Sunday and I kick myself for it as these are the two days I can get the most training in.

The Plan suggests getting most of your calories in by midday which I have tried, and not having a big meal after 6 pm. I think this is the reason I go low in my sleep as I’ve not had a meal that night – and didn’t turn down my background insulin! So now I make sure I have something in the evening before bed.

Accu-Chek Mobile blood glucose meter

Accu-Chek Mobile blood glucose meter

I’ve also bought a new blood glucose meter, an Accu-Chek Mobile, which I use solely when exercising. I found testing myself during exercise was very time consuming: digging around in my bum bag for my meter, lance and vial of test strips, inserting a strip into the meter, there was a good chance it would read an error as I got insufficient blood into the sample so I had to test again etc etc. The Accu-Chek Mobile is an all-in-one meter with a cartridge of 50 strips. Just flick open the latch, prick your finger and Bob’s your uncle. It’s a bit big. I’m sure they could have made it smaller, but it’s far easier to test while on the go.

Saying that, I was on a run today and it was ever so, ever so cold: 1° and starting to snow. Half way round I wanted to test but it was so cold the meter didn’t work. I then panicked a little. Didn’t want to go low and collapse on the High Peak trail where I didn’t see a soul at all so I took a ZipVit gel. I was at the furthest point from home. Carried on for a while and hid the meter under my arm for a few minutes to warm it up. Tested: 6.7 mmol/l (120 mg/dl). Perfectio! However, it had really knocked my nerves as I don’t like to be far from a functioning meter, and I slowed down for the final few kms back home. It was so cold I could barely feel my face and my legs were starting the freeze up. Even the tunes on my iPod didn’t cheer me up. Grrr.

By Robin Eyre



I went spinning at the gym last Sunday. What fun. Not done it for years. Glucose levels, fine.

I cycled a different route to work on Tuesday and took in part of the course for the duathlon. It’s a lovely route. Very pretty. As I pounded the pedals I remembered the class, getting out of the saddle, trying to pedal as fast as I could on the straight.

Felt a bit tired on the journey back home. Perhaps I’d tried too hard on the ride into work?

My bike

Trying some variations

My bike

My bike

I sometimes cycle to work – a 40km trip – and back. It’s a nice ride. However I still find it difficult to keep my sugar levels high on the return journey.

The morning ride is generally fine. Have a bowl of cereal about an hour before I set off and 1/2 the amount of usual insulin, i.e. maybe 2 units. Arrive at work and, to date, I’m below 10 (180).

Going back home I set off with a reasonably good level (I like to be between 11-13 (198-234) before any strenuous exercise) yet always find myself low (very low) after about 20km – there’s a petrol station where I can refuel. How low? About 2-4 (36-72). So I stock up on a flapjack and chocy etc. I figured this might be because I didn’t have a meal before setting off.

So this week I had a big sandwich before leaving work and half the amount of insulin I’d normally take with that amount of food … and lo and behold I still came crashing down to 3.6 (65) by the 20km mark. I was 11.3 (203) before the sandwich. This was disappointing as I felt fine. If I’d not stopped I feel I could have been in trouble so there’s a lesson here …!

So I had a Maxi Fuel gel and half a flap jack and set off again hoping it would last me the other 20km back home. Errm, sort of. Checked 1/2 an hour later: 7 (126) so had a Power Gel – ooohhhhh, they’re good, strawberry and banana. Suppose it was going in the right direction though.

Still trying to plan my strategy for this week’s event: Ashbourne Duathlon. I think my plan will be:

  1. During run: Viper Active drink
  2. Transition 1: test + gel + flapjack
  3. Bike ride: more drink, test half way, gel (+ flapjack if necessary)
  4. Transition 2: test + gel

Sounds like a plan 🙂