Ironman Training and Diabetes, The First 10 Weeks

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