60 kilometers. 6 hours & 4 minutes.
I woke up at 4am for breakfast. Snuck out of my shared room to the country B&B communal kitchen to cook up some oats 3 hours before my race.
I needed to ensure I had no insulin in my system when I would be at the start line.
This is one of my key tactics to avoid having low blood sugar levels during a race.
I lay in bed for the next 2 hours, restless with lots of nerves, a little excitement, but mostly nerves as my sugar level rose then unexpectedly deciding to drop as I started to get ready.
A few dates and a banana set me straight and bounced back my sugar levels.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect out on the course this morning. I was running the 60K event at the Carcoar Cup. A small race in a series set in country NSW. A 4-hour drive from Sydney, the race starts in the town of Carcoar which has a population of less than 200, but 3 different denomination churches and a toy museum.
My friend Tom, who was running the marathon distance event, took some pre-race photos of me as we made our way the 200m from the our accommodation to the start line.
I looked at the other athletes around me and listened to their whispers that this event was a “training run” for a few of them. Feeling a little bit out of my league, the women where older than me and looked considerably more experienced and most likely strategically faster.
“Pace yourself Amy”, I told myself.
With less than a minute to start, I checked my BGL (blood glucose level) and I was sitting around 10 mmol/L (180 mg/dL) – perfect.
My hydration pack was filled with energy gels and Clif bars – more than I thought I would need, but the thought of running low on supplies in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception was more daunting than a slightly heavy pack.
The race was started with the tradition of a crack of a whip to replace the usual race start gun.
One runner Brendan Davies when out like a cheetah followed by a few of the women – running fast and strong.
It looked like they all had a fast race in mind.
The first km was straight up before the rolling hills began on the wide dirt road that took us along the first 20km of the course.
I had my basal rate set on 20% of my usual dose – keeping it low with the strategy to give micro doses of insulin when I needed to fuel with food. Ideally my BGL would sit around 8mmol/L (160 mg/dL) for most of the race.
For 80g of carbs I was giving 0.2-0.3 units of insulin through my insulin pump for most of the race.
About 5K in, I started to run at the same pace as a group of guys, squeezing my way into their conversation and finding joy in the distraction of learning about other runners.
We ran as a group for about 15K.
One of the runners politely asked “what is that on your arm?”, referring to my continuous glucose monitor device on my left upper arm. I explained that I had type 1 diabetes and it was technology that allowed me to know my BGL without having to prick my finger.
He reminded me the challenges faced by anyone running an ultramarathon, without having to include type 1 diabetes management into the mix.
I often forget that it is generally only me out on the course having to check my BGLs, reach for my insulin pump to change the settings mid-race. It has become the norm, and being reminded that it isn’t the norm for most makes me realise I sometimes need to give myself some more credit.
When we hit the 20K mark, I tell myself we were a third of the way through. That had its pros and cons mentally. We still had 40K to go, almost a marathon. 20K in, my legs felt good, but I knew I had to eat more.
For the first time in a race I was eating food not on my race plan – jelly snakes. Did they have some magic ingredient in them?! They were working a treat and I could eat 1-2 without a spike in my sugar level.
I added a few of them to my hydration pack each time we passed an aid station to eat along with my SiS energy gels and Clif bars.
By this stage our group started to spread out. Some of the guys ran ahead while I stayed within eyesight distance but wasn’t pushing to keep up.
We hit a long stretch of bitumen road, it was cool enough even though the sun was shining.
We had another 18K loop before we would be on the home stretch and the same route as the marathoners.
I caught up to a few of the guys again and we ran almost the whole loop together without many words.
As I hit the 42K mark, I was again running alone, but I felt good. My diabetes was a dream – sitting at around 9mmol/L (170 mg/dL) and causing me no trouble. When I wanted to eat, I would give myself a tiny, tiny dose of insulin, wait 15-20mins and suck down a gel or chew on a Clif bar.
18K to go, I knew I was going to reach the finish line and my legs were feeling good so I started to push the pace a little.
The scenery was stunning, so distracting and vibrantly green that I didn’t need any music. I just watched as I ran by nature, from rolling hills into a beautiful pine forest.
With 8K to go, the final steep climb started. I just wanted to get to the finish line and tried to keep a good hiking pace heading up without burning too much of the energy I had left.
The last 5K was downhill. I felt like I was flying on reasonably strong legs. They still had something left and at some points I was running a 4 min km.
I had another runner for this last section stay with me. Talking 100-mile races and pushing each other to keep a fast pace to the finish line was nice.
This is what I love about the ultra-running community – the support and encouragement rather than competition to leave others behind.
I sucked down one last gel and ate a few jelly snakes and I was ready to finish as close to 6 hours as possible.
60KM. 6hours, 4mins.
Looking back at those 6 hours, they were some of the most enjoyable hours I’ve had on my feet.
The scenery, the chit chat with fellow runners, great diabetes control & completing my first ultramarathon.
Now to have some rest for the remainder of 2017, with new challenges for 2018.