Focus on Diabetes: Running through adversity – Laura S

Run Wales will shortly be launching ‘Step into Action’, a social walk-to-run group in partnership with Diabetes UK Cymru, aimed at encouraging people with diabetes to get active. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from four runners with type 2 diabetes about what inspired them to start running and what impact it’s had on their diabetes.

Laura S

My diabetes journey started at the end of October 2013. It was a Sunday and I should have been running the Great South Run, a 10-mile race around Portsmouth. Instead, I had to stay at home with what we believed to be severe morning sickness (I had fallen pregnant just a few weeks earlier). When my mum and sister, Paula, got back from the race I knew something was really wrong and told them I desperately needed medical help. An out-of-hours doctor came out and immediately called for an ambulance.

The paramedic took my blood sugars and thought his machine was broken because the reading was so high. I was taken to my local hospital and admitted, initially to the gynaecology ward. I was moved during the night to another ward and then to an endocrinology ward on the Monday. I was informed that I had Type 1 diabetes, as well as severe morning sickness. I’ve since been told that they were having to pump huge doses of insulin into me just to stop my sugars rising any further.

After a few days in hospital I was sent home with everything I would need for treating Type 1 diabetes. I would have to learn to cope with injecting myself, even though I absolutely hate needles. I miscarried two days after getting home. It’s worth mentioning that at the time I became ill I was the fittest that I had ever been. I had been travelling the world for six months, completing a 10 km race around Sydney Harbour and able to do weight lifting with my 20 kg + rucksack. I had started running back in 2007 and in 2011 I had completed the Great South Run for the first time. I had never had a blood test in my life.

I had to learn so much in a short amount of time. I managed my diabetes relatively easily, but I was frustrated that my weight started creeping up for no apparent reason. Then, 30 months after diagnosis I was told that I actually had Type 2 diabetes, and the weight gain was in part due to unnecessarily injecting insulin on a daily basis.

Looking back, I could see that I’d been living with undiagnosed diabetes for at least two years before I was diagnosed. Unfortunately, I had other issues that hid my symptoms but as soon as I started treatment my symptoms disappeared or dramatically eased off.

After my diagnosis, Paula started running races for Diabetes UK and I soon got back into running, completing the Great South Run about a year to the day of my diagnosis. Nearly 3 years after my diagnosis I completed my first full marathon, in York. I raised £200 for Diabetes UK and supporters came up to me during the race to thank me for my endeavour and raising awareness of diabetes.

Since being diagnosed I found out that I had one large fibroid on my uterus. Initially it didn’t cause any issues but just 6 months after my marathon I was having major digestion issues. I struggled on, but was forced to stop running, and just a couple of months after starting a new job in the summer of 2017 I was re-referred to the hospital gynaecology department. It turned out that the fibroid had nearly doubled in size and was now about the size of a 5-month foetus.

Needless to say, while I was unable to run my diabetes got worse, despite a complicated treatment regimen of two metformin tablets twice-daily, a gliclazide tablet once-daily, and a liraglutide injection each morning. In addition, I take antidepressants.

Fast forward to late February 2019 and I had a hysterectomy. I will never carry my own child, but I will be able to start running again from mid-May. I had the operation just 5 weeks ago and I’m already more mobile than before surgery. I will be able to go back to running to improve both my physical and mental health and, given time, I hope to reverse the diabetes and come off the antidepressants. I will have to start right back at the beginning, taking baby steps, but I hope to one year run another marathon, and this September I’m taking part in the Great North Run again, having deferred from last year.

For anyone looking to start running to help with their diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes, just try it. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it and you could substantially reduce the medication you need to take. Even just walking quicker than usual could see you wanting to actually try running. Go for it, you have nothing to lose but so much to gain.

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Our thanks to author and established medical communicator, Philippa Cates, for speaking to Laura and writing this blog. Philippa Cates is no stranger to the mental and physical challenges of running and has written a book about this wonderfully exhausting pastime. The Marathon celebrates this fantastic achievement but also highlights in a comedic way the potential pitfalls of taking part. Her book is available to buy here.

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