If you would have asked me a year ago, I never would have believed I'd have two half marathon races under my belt.
At this time last year, I was a newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetic (a newbie at three months), and I was running a mile or two here and there because I heard exercise could help me control my blood sugar while decreasing the amount of insulin I needed. I don't even think I saw a 5K in my future.
After a few weeks, I was hooked! I ran my first 5K in June 2012 (you can read about that experience here) and decided I really liked to run.
Because I have a love/hate relationship with the sport, I decided I needed a longterm goal in order to stay motivated.
So when registration opened for the 5th annual Disney Princess Half Marathon, I was tempted to sign up. On my birthday, my twin sister handed me a birthday card with the registration form inside. I was all set! This was real.
Training was pretty intense. I bought a treadmill in August to ensure the cold temps during the winter didn't keep me from running. I followed a basic 10k plan for the Pittsburgh Great Race in September, and once that was over, I was on my own.
Because running with diabetes adds an extra challenge, I did what I could do when I could do it. Week by week, I experimented with pre-run meal ratios and once I hit 7 and 8 mile runs, it was time to incorporate during-run fuel to bring up my fast-dropping blood sugar levels.
It was never perfect. It was a process. I ran 9.1 miles one day in October--I feel I really could have made it to 10 (it would have been the first time and I was so ready), but my blood sugar was not going up and I ran out of sugar gels. That was that.
I got better with each long run, and I learned what I needed to do to keep everything as much in control as possible.
By November, I hit the 13.1 mile half marathon goal. I was ready! During Christmas, my sister surprised me with another gift. She signed me up for the NYC Half on St. Patrick's Day (just this past weekend).
Disney Princess Half Marathon
Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything and everything Disney. So, when Feb. 23 came around, I was so excited to be at the most magical place on Earth—and absolutely terrified at the same time. The race was the next day, Feb. 24, and it began at 5:30 a.m.
On race day, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. At 3, I got up to get ready. I dressed up as Princess Jasmine, one of my favorite Disney princesses. After heading to Epcot with the other 25,000 princes and princesses, I tested my blood sugar and ate a large bagel (lots of carbs!) at about 5 a.m. to ensure I had some sugar to burn once the race began. The start gun sounded at 5:30, and we were off.
It was a very warm day in Orlando. The temps were already in the 70s. Luckily, I had been running on my treadmill at home with the heater on to simulate warmer temps, since it's been so cold in Pittsburgh.
Most of the runners were dressed up—wearing tutus, sparkling outfits and crowns. The vibe was absolutely amazing and so, so positive. Disney characters lined the entire 13.1-mile course, and we were able to take photos with them and in front of Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom (this was in between the 5 and 6-mile mark). Everyone was so supportive throughout the whole race—I was feeling very happy!
At about mile 8, I tested my blood sugar. It was somewhat high, but I continued to take the sports drink offered at each water station because I knew I would eventually need the sugar it was giving me.
I was right. At mile 11, I hit a wall. I didn't know if I could finish, so I texted my mom and sister, who offered words of motivation. I kept going. As I approached Epcot at mile 12, I tested again. My sugar was rapidly dropping—I ate more Gatorade fruit chews to boost my levels and finish strong.
At 2 hours and 39 minutes, I crossed the finish line to my first half marathon with the Epcot ball behind me. Despite being sore in places I never thought would be possible, the entire experience was nothing short of magical!
So after the Princess race, I cursed myself for even thinking I could run another half marathon—much less in three weeks. What was I thinking?
That mind set was short-lived. After the muscle aches and fatigue went away, the runner's high kicked in. Half marathons are fun, they're awesome and I could totally do another one!
This race had its own challenges. I was in New York City where it was freezing, and I had Cuban food right at the tip of my fingers (it's so hard to find Cuban dishes in Pittsburgh, so when an opportunity to eat it arises, I must take it).
Needless to say, my blood sugar did not react well to the rice, plantains and Cuban bread included in my dish. In the process of trying to correct a huge spike in my sugar the night before the race, I ended up not sleeping very well. I wasn't feeling 100 percent and the anxiety really kicked in race morning—and, oh yeah, it was freezing!
It was a whopping 30 degrees (wind chill not included) at the start line in Central Park. Nonetheless, I put on my green outfit in honor of St. Patrick's Day, and we went on our way. I can honestly say waiting for the race to begin was the absolute worst part about this experience.
I had to be at my corral before 7 a.m., the race started at 7:30 and my corral didn't cross the start until 7:59 a.m. Luckily, my sister (she's a savior, really) stuck around and stood next to me until I crossed the starting line. I had sent her away so she could go to Times Square, but she saw me shivering uncontrollably in the bathroom line and decided to stay and give me my jacket until the last minute possible.
We completed a 10K in Central Park and then ran through Times Square (this event is one of only two events where Times Square is shut down—the other is New Year's Eve). I ran so fast through Times Square—it was magnificent!
At mile 8, I tried to test my blood sugar, but because it was so cold, my meter was not responding. This has happened to me at home, and while I normally let it go because I am always running close to my house, I couldn't do that this time. I had to keep my meter in one hand and a test strip in another to warm them up before I was able to try again.
My levels were mid-range, so I ate some Gatorade fruit chews and went on my way. Miles 9 through 11 were the hardest for me during this race. At one point, I caught sight of the Statue of Liberty and just focused on it until I couldn't see it anymore.
Heading into the financial district downtown, I was almost at the finish line. After 2 hours and 28 minutes (11 minutes faster than my princess time), I was done!
Why I Run
Both of these experience have really tested me. I've pushed my body and mind so hard, that sometimes I wonder why I do this. Then I remember: I run to BEAT diabetes.
Pittsburgh Half Marathon, see you on May 5.