For people with Type 1 diabetes and those using insulin, hypos (or low blood glucose levels) are part of life. This week is Hypo Awareness Week and Fiona Pugh, one of the parkrun PROVE project Champions for Diabetes, tells us how she found that parkrun was a safe place to learn how to manage exercise and hypos.
Fiona was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was nine years old and manages her diabetes using an insulin pump. She is a keen runner and outdoor swimmer and can usually be found at Kingston parkrun on Saturdays or volunteering at Moormead juniors on Sundays.
The Champions for Diabetes first met up over coffee after Bushy parkrun earlier this year and we immediately agreed that we needed to find out more about the experiences of parkrunners living with diabetes and the wider diabetes community who hadn’t participated in parkrun. I’ve always been quite active so was shocked to discover that over half of the non-parkrunners we surveyed said a fear of experiencing low blood glucose levels while exercising was preventing them from exercising.
Diabetes can be a challenging condition to live with and I’d describe my diabetes as contrary! You might expect that exercise would lower your blood glucose levels but it had never affected me in that way. I had been exercising regularly, including doing parkrun, earning my 50 club t-shirt in November 2015 without having problems with my blood glucose levels.
But in early 2016 something changed. I started experiencing regular hypos while I was exercising, and that included many during parkrun.
Occasional hypos have been a part of my life since I was diagnosed, although I’m fortunate to be able to tell when my blood glucose levels are dropping and always carry glucose tablets with me to treat them. But it was frustrating to have to stop running half-way through a parkrun because of my diabetes. I came to realise that if I was being overtaken by ‘too many’ runners in the second half of parkrun that this was a good indicator that my blood glucose levels were too low and I needed to take some sugar on board quickly!
I spoke to my Diabetes Specialist Nurse about how I could manage my blood glucose levels better while I was exercising. I started to reduce how much insulin I was taking before exercising, and after lots of blood tests and a bit of trial and error I have found what works for me. I recorded some of my slowest parkrun times as I established how to manage my blood glucose levels but there was always next week for the PB. And if I was having a bad blood glucose day it was reassuring to know that there was a tail walker behind me and my Kingston parkrun friends at the finish line to check I was okay.
It took some time, but I’m back on top of managing my diabetes and this year as well as parkrun I’ve completed my first half marathon, run a 25k mountain race in Transylvania that started and finished at Dracula’s castle, and completed a four-day long-distance swimming trip in the Lithuanian lake district.
parkrun’s PROVE project has been set up to encourage more people with disabilities or long term health conditions to participate at parkrun. If you’re living with diabetes we’d love to have you join parkrun UK’s official Facebook group for parkrunners living with diabetes to share advice, tips, opinions and stories on all things related to parkrun.
If you’d like participate in parkrun but are worried about the effect it might have on your blood glucose levels, talk to your diabetes care team.
Hypo Awareness Week runs from 2-8 October. Click here to find out more.
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