I Swam. I Biked. I-Ron
I did it: 5 hours 57 mins. Quite happy with that for a 1.9km swim, 84km bike and 21km run. My first half-Ironman triathlon 🙂
This article is about my half ironman triathlon and diabetes, the Wild Boar, the race, the troubles I faced and the whole experience.
I reckon my diabetes added maybe 30 minutes on to my overall time: testing my blood sugar level in transitions, on the bike and during the run added time as it would normally do, but the meter also kept giving error messages as I’d not filled the test strips sufficiently so I had to keep retesting until I got a reading. Also I generally felt a bit sick from persistently high sugar levels during the first half of the bike and middle of the run which slowed me down. So testing probably added 15 minutes on to my time and a slow second half of the run added perhaps another 20 minutes.
Picture gallery here. Race report below.
Got down to the event late Saturday afternoon and pitched tent. Rhodri was also racing (well, he was ‘racing’, I was just ‘entering’) and arrived at the same time; had a coffee and went for dinner. Continued my carbo-loading with a good burger, chips and cheesecake. Early-ish bed.
Awoke at 07:30 with blood sugar level 11.8 (212.4) which was high for a normal day but I wasn’t intending having breakfast until 10 minutes before race briefing at 09:00. Kick off 09:30. Had breakfast of Sugar Puffs and a banana. No insulin. Despite giving ourselves lots of time I was still scrambling to attach my race numbers and sort myself out as the competitors were called to the briefing. Not a great idea as it just built up the nerves. Then a Zipvit gel immediately prior to plunging in the lake. I was absolutely loaded!
I’d heard there were HUGE fish in the lake, and the night before we’d been down and seen just how big they were. Fully grown carp! Scary. Was hoping not to meet any during the swim.
A sign directed swimmers into the lake for a 150m swim to the start! Should have just walked around the edge of the lake instead like the sensible folk.
And GOOOOOO …
Got caught up in the mêlée so I hung back a bit not wanting to get booted in the face, but from early on I was feeling sick. I’d not tested my sugar level since waking up but still eaten my race day breakfast as planned followed by the gel a little later just before the start – a bit more than usual as I’m always fearful of going low on the swim. Thought about swimming for the gaps but only to see that a few lengths ahead was another competitor and had to decide whether it was good to go, or not.
Once I got into a gap I was overtaking them (amazing) but finding that gap, not getting into a scrap and putting on a burst at this early stage in the race was hard as I felt full of energy but didn’t want to tire out so early on. There were a few clashes of arms and bumping of shoulders but nothing on purpose and no one really batted an eye lid. Just got on with the swim.
It took until about a quarter of the swim to get into a position I could swim at my own pace without clashing too much. The weeds were often at less than an arm’s length from the surface of the water and a few times I got a faceful – but at least I didn’t get attacked by the fish. In fact I didn’t see any at all.
Thankfully the swim was relatively uneventful and I completed it in 36 mins 23 secs.
I entered the transition area surprised to see loads of bikes still there. Just loads. I’d refrained from looking behind me during the swim in case I was right at the back and got demoralised, but what a great surprise this was 😮
Transitions aren’t a part of the race I’d practised though I’d run through them several times in my head and separated my kit into different bags. The important thing I felt was to be comfortable and have good sugar levels. An extra 30-60 seconds putting on tri shorts, cycling top and watch etc wasn’t going to make much difference to my time.
When testing your blood sugar level it’s good to get a nice, small conical drop of blood on the end of your finger to be soaked up by the test strip. If this doesn’t happen you get an error and have to try again. However two problems I’ve found about taking sugar levels during exercise are:
- Wet or sweaty hands: your blood ends up running down your finger or into your nail and isn’t a sufficient amount to fill the test strip. You end up only getting a tiny sample which gives the meter an error reading and you need to continue testing until you get enough blood to fill it properly; and
- Failure of the lance to draw enough blood in the first place: you can always lengthen the lance depth but this can be painful, so it means having to keep pricking your fingers until you do draw enough blood. Grrrr! 😡
Having wet hands I ended up taking three tests during this transition. Blood sugar level 16.1 (289.8). Huh? This was way too high. No wonder I’d been feeling a bit sick on the swim. I’d thought it was just nerves! Maybe a bit of both.
Weather was cloudy and it didn’t look like rain; reasonably warm. While most people headed out in just a tri suit I put on my cycling and long-sleeved tops. Ended up with a transition time of 5 mins 26 secs (of course without a watch on or clock it’s difficult to know how long the swim and transitions take at the time, but it didn’t seem really long).
With a high sugar level I thought it wouldn’t be long before I’d bike it off. I’d been down to recce the course three weeks before so I had a mental picture of it (a rectangular course with food stop near the start) and I knew a speed I could keep to.
My plan was to test at the food stop after laps one and two then pretty much play it by ear after that. However this went out the window at my first test. My readings were, after laps:
- 19.7 (354.6), 24kms – how can it go up after 24kms on the bike?
- 19.2 (345.6), 45kms – it’s not really gone down!
- 16.1 (289.8), 66kms – better, the right direction
On the first lap I was feeling a bit sick again. Not surprising! How could my sugar level keep going up? During training I’m constantly taking gels and Dextro tablets. I’d not taken anything to eat or drink since the gel before the very start. On lap two I had a few sips of drink (Zipvit) so I changed this to water at the food station. Seemed to do the trick. Third test was 16.1 and the marshal said I looked better 😮
Didn’t have aero bars on but passed people with them – mind you, folks with aero bars also passed me. One lady complained I was drafting her. Pathetic! We were overtaking each other at various stages on hills and flats. It came to one place where I thought I could overtake her but it didn’t happen and I stayed for a moment a few bike lengths back to her right. On another occasion I was overtaking her on a hill. I caught up and we maintained the same pace. ‘Drafting!’ she called out and put her foot down. I suppose you get some …
Could hear the racers creeping up from behind whooshing past with their aero wheels. Sounded like a helicopter approaching. I think they were on a mission.
Not a bad course at all. Just felt a bit sick on the first two laps but better thereafter. Took on no food during this time due to high sugar levels. Amazing, no food for almost four hours. Usually I’d have taken two or three gels and tablets by this stage.
Bike time 3 hours 2 mins.
Much the same as T1. Tested myself two to three times before getting a good sample. Changed into running vest, bum bag. Sugar level 8.6 (154.8) – perfect 🙂
Transition time 4 mins 4 secs.
With a great sugar level I strode out onto the run, quite happy with my time so far. Took a Zipvit gel a minute out of transition. It must have taken me 2-3kms to find my legs but my pace was really quite OK. Passed Rhodri coming on the in-leg in the other direction which was no surprise.
The run was two laps, out and back, of an undulating course – far flatter than what I train on in the Peak District. Was starting to feel a stitch coming on after the first quarter and couldn’t decide if I was hungry, tired or my sugar level was playing up so I tested about three-quarters through the first lap: blood sugar level 15.2 (273.6). Huh, again? I never run for 35 mins and my sugar level goes up so high even after a gel. I thought with all the exercise over the past four hours I’d be lower than this. No wonder I was feeling sick and ill again.
Entered the 10km turnaround point and my time was pretty good at about 53 mins. If I could keep this up I’d be getting a PB. The only other timed half-marathon I’d done was in Abu Dhabi in 2003 and I did 1 hour 52 mins. However I was feeling quite rough and really slowed down and sometimes walked. Sun had come out which didn’t help but at the turnaround point / 15km mark of lap two I tested again and my blood sugar level was now 17.1 (307.8). It had actually gone up after an hour and a half without taking any more food!!!
Kept plodding on and walking and after maybe 15 minutes I began to feel better with my sugar level evetually dropping and had a steady jog back to the finish with a blood sugar level at the end of 9.1 (163.8). Perfect 🙂
My time for the run was 2 hours 8 minutes. Not great but all things considered not a disaster either. My total time was 5 hours 57 minutes. I came 105th out of 124. This, for me, was fine. I did it in under six hours and I really just wanted to see if I could do it despite my condition.
A good event. Woke up with stiff knees this morning and have taken a day off work.
Was happy with the swim, bike and first half of the run but the second half was poor and I really put that down to high sugar levels and feeling ill. Would have been great to get a PB on the run and I reckon I could have done it at least 20 minutes faster if I’d felt better.
I think I’d been high throughout the race due to all the carbo-loading I’d done in the previous week so my glycogen levels were sufficiently high already and I probably didn’t need either so much breakfast or the gel before the race. Saying that, I would have still expected it to come down quicker, especially during the bike and run as during training I am always taking gels, Dextro tablets and drink. Always!
I didn’t take any insulin during the event – I never have during training. Perhaps I should do in the future but I didn’t think I should try anything new during the actual event.
Had a triathlete’s lunch the next day: the new M-meal from McDonald’s, chips, filet-o-fish and chicken nuggets 😉 (oh, and a Diet Coke).
My next challenge? I’m taking part in a clinical trial of insulin pumps next week so will be wearing one for the next two years; maybe some more triathlons; maybe learn a new language or learn the guitar.
Anyway I have some holiday to take soon 😉
By Robin Eyre