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.