“It feels like my body is packing up on me.”
That’s how I described it to my parents one Sunday morning in August 2015. This was after a few months of feeling strange, and regularly not being able to sleep due to a pounding head and feeling flushed. I took my blood pressure on my parents’ monitor and it read 185/118. Not good.
The following day my blood pressure was even higher, so I saw a doctor and was diagnosed with severe hypertension. I was signed off work for a week, given blood pressure tablets, and booked in for various tests later that week including blood, urine and an ECG.
I was subsequently diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic (T2). I was 47.
At that time I weighed 96 kilograms (15 stone) and had a 40” waistline. I had recently struggled to stop smoking, enjoyed a drink now and then, had high cholesterol, and my diet was full of saturated fat and contained almost no fruit and vegetables.
On top of that, I hadn’t done any physical activity for more than 20 years.
When I was diagnosed with T2, I recall thinking (very naïvely) that it literally meant that I would simply need to cut down on sweets and cakes. The reality however was far more distressing.
As I began to look into what T2 diabetes meant to me, it turned out to be pretty horrific reading. Everything I read made it abundantly clear that this can be a life threatening condition, and to overcome it would require a drastic change in lifestyle.
From this point and over the next month there were tears, fears, dark days as the stark realisation that my life would be changed forever started to sink in.
During this time it was food that became the main focus – not knowing what was ‘safe’ and what wasn’t. It felt as though I couldn’t eat anything. I remember saying ‘if it looks like a tree then it’s good, but if it looks nice, I can’t have it’.
I read so much on the condition during the next few weeks and months, but the one thing I overlooked was the fact that exercise was continually mentioned in online forums and articles on managing diabetes. Being a single parent with a lovely son, I knew I wanted to do as much as I possibly could to manage my diabetes for my longevity and for the sake of my son.
It is here that patients have to make choices. I was not prescribed Metformin (and don’t wish to be – I do think Metformin can be seen by some patients to manage the condition for them – so perhaps they carry on regardless and as long as they take the tablets, everything will be fine) as I wanted to try and bring my ‘numbers’ down myself, so I promised myself to change my lifestyle regime.
Diet and exercise became my mantra.
I initially began just walking around the block at a faster than normal rate and eating healthily. Cigarettes had been replaced by an e-cig and drinking was confined to social events.
Move on almost a year and although I knew my elder brother went jogging, I never really thought too much about it. He was due to run at one of the organised events in Southport in July, a half marathon. He also happened to mention ‘parkrun’ at Hesketh Park. Having dismissed the idea and joked that the only thing that can run in my house are my bath taps and my nose, a seed had been sewn. Secretly, I went to watch my brother finish the half marathon run and I choked up as I watched him cross the line – it was quite moving.
Thanks to my brother, the parkrun seed had been planted. I spent many hours looking at the parkrun website and of course, Southport parkrun’s website. I was intrigued and fascinated at the considerable numbers making their way around Hesketh Park every Saturday. I felt inspired and motivated.
I set myself a target that one day I would complete a parkrun. 5k seemed like a million miles to me at that time, but constantly reading the positive messages online provided the reassurance I needed – everyone is welcome, it’s a run not a race, walkers, joggers and runners take part, there’s a tail runner so nobody can come last.
So in September last year I started a Couch to 5k programme. One minute running and 90 seconds walking for 20 minutes was hell on earth! But at the back of my mind I remembered why I was doing this – my parkrun goal and my diabetes management. I even bought a diabetes wristband to wear to remind me of my goal, and I still wear it now.
In early November as I was closing in on completing the Couch to 5k, I went to Hesketh Park and watched the parkrun in Southport. One thing that instantly struck me was that I could sense the camaraderie and sense of real community spirit as the participants gathered near the start, excited smiling faces, runners chatting away – I really wanted to be a part of it.
Much to my amazement I successfully finished the couch to 5k programme, and finally plucked up the courage to try the parkrun. Nobody knew apart from my son that I was now ‘running’. As I drove to the park on a cold morning in late November, I was scared, and nervous, and worried. What I didn’t expect though was that the event had been cancelled due to ice! I wondered if it was fate – was somebody trying to tell me something? But no, it was exactly the opposite. The 10 minutes I spent talking to a few of the participants along with the Run Director made me realise I had done the right thing. The warmth, friendliness and encouragement to come again left me genuinely looking forward to the following Saturday.
The following week I finally did it. Lining up with all the other runners, joggers, walkers, dogs, children, and parents with buggies, all with their own very personal motivations and reasons for being there, and all happy to be there in this very special local community event. Volunteers giving their genuine encouragement, contributing their precious time so I could achieve a goal I never believed possible. It was all quite humbling and as I crossed the line I have rarely felt as proud as I did at that moment.
If there was no parkrun then it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t have embarked on this path and set myself this goal. I looked at my diabetes wristband and thanked it as I did the parkrun volunteers who made this possible. The goal to run parkrun and actively manage my diabetes had changed my life for the better because I chose to take that path.
Since then, I have only missed parkrun three times, due to work and family commitments.
I attended Christmas Day and New Years Day – again, if the volunteers didn’t give their own time then there are many people who would miss this terribly. I look forward to it every weekend and have incorporated it into my training programme. Last weekend I ran my first 10k race and I’m now aiming to complete another. Then who knows where it will take me.
Since my diagnosis I have lost more than 20 kilograms, have shrunk my waist size by 6”, I am in the ‘normal’ BMI range and my cholesterol is much improved. What’s more, I was applauded by my diabetes nurse when me latest results came in. Without my local parkrun to inspire and motivate, those numbers would certainly not be as good as they are, and I don’t believe I would even be running as a means to help manage my diabetes.
“I looked at my diabetes wristband and thanked it as I did the parkrun volunteers who made this possible.”
I firmly believe there is an epidemic of undiagnosed diabetes out there – and parkrun should be a valid prescription for pre-diabetics and those who just fall into the diabetic range. The encouragement and warmth from everybody involved is fantastic – it is genuinely an all-inclusive event with a genuine sense of community that is very rarely found these days. I have already met many friendly warm people who I now speak to each week as we catch up before and after the run, which is lovely. Newcomers are made welcome and Southport is rightly proud of our Visually Impaired runners and guides and a wheelchair participant.
But, as far as parkrun is concerned, there is more to my diabetes management than just my key ‘numbers’. I’m aware of the enormous benefits that running parkrun has on my blood sugars, but the ‘feel good’ and ‘well-being’ factors should never be overlooked – these are every bit as important. The knock-on effect of these benefits is that I am in a happier place – I have much more self confidence in my own ability and what I can do (not what I can’t do), have further goals to aim for, and I am obviously physically fitter – all beneficial to my diabetes control. It also means fewer trips to my GP too and hence saving money and not clogging up GP appointments that are difficult enough to get at the moment.
Additionally, the psychological wellbeing I feel from doing parkrun is significant. I’m sure that would benefit not only diabetics but people who suffer from many different types of mental illness as it gives you such a sense of self-worth and feeling part of a community and a belonging.
I can’t emphasise enough how much parkrun has helped me. I praise it to work colleagues and I’m aware of some having turned up and participated too. Why would anybody not want to feel as positive and as good as I do every Saturday morning after completing parkrun? I only wish I’d known about it sooner!
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