True Grit


Nine years living with diabetes ... I’m committing to watching this movie this evening, True Grit. It is an old favorite of a good friend. I think the last time we watched it I fell asleep. I tend to do that, fall asleep watching movies. My kids know to qualify my involvement with the movie selection process. The questions might fall like this:

Kids, “Did you run this morning?”
Me, “Yep!”
Kids, “Did you run with your girlfriends in the dark by headlamp?”
Me, “Yep”
Kids, “Hmm, are you gonna watch, like stay-awake-watch this movie OR are you gonna lay between us again and fall asleep like you usually do?”
I reply with a smile, “I’ll get the snacks; you two decide!”

Grit was a buzz word that surfaced a handful of years ago in my parenting circles. Parents paused rewards and punishments and got curious about perseverance and pain. Especially after Angela Duckworth, the psychologist, and researcher most closely associated with the concept, states grit is a better predictor of success than intelligence or talent.

Wwwhhhaaattt - it was a mind blow for parents, though not really because we all, well, know this. There just wasn’t an instruction manual created yet to tell parents how.

Grit: courage and resolve; strength of character.
Courage: strength in the face of pain or grief.
Resolve: decide firmly on a course of action.

When I think back to 1999 and review my year of experiences to share in this blog, many stories come to the surface.

My boyfriend took a break from design school to come live with me while developing a passion project. I did support him, and he didn’t do the dishes. I could explore cohabitation & diabetes.

I took a trip to Mulegé for a 7-day adventure camping along the Sea of Cortez with loads of snorkeling, kayaking, beer-drinking, and diving. I could explore diving and diabetes.

I took a trip back up to Banff for more ice climbing at the turn of the century. Leashless ice tools are very different! I could explore the impact of long car rides on insulin requirements.

Before I move into my next decade of living with diabetes and the stories surrounding those next 20 years, I wanted to share a story to capture perhaps an opportunity or benefit of this disease. And to say, parents, if you wish to have a sure way to develop grit in your children, get them diabetes.

Even if you are the type of parent of a child living with diabetes that feels sorry for them and fights every day to keep the struggle away from them, it’s unavoidable. Any human living with diabetes develops grit compared to where they would be absent from that circumstance.

This experience reminds me of my strength.

1999...I had decided to train for another marathon. For those who missed 1995, this would be my second marathon. The first I trained for in 3 weeks. This time around, I was going to train properly. I signed up for the Big Sur Marathon and looked forward to “performing”. Honestly, I just expected to be able to walk the next day, unlike the last race. I was now living in Santa Barbara. I had moved here in 1998.

My training went well. I progressed through building a foundation for the longer mileage workouts to give me confidence in the distance. My boyfriend was a runner, and he signed up as well. He ran a 4:18 mile in high school and breathed endurance. He burnt out on racing after high school and didn’t desire to race himself, so he offered up support to me. As climbers, we were used to “dirt-bagging” it, and we opted to sleep in the car at the start line the night before. Big Sur is a point to point route, so there is a carpool involved at some point.

I slept well the night before the race. I woke up and adjusted my insulin for race protocol in the same manner I did in my training. Nothing different.
I ate the same breakfast as in training. Nothing different.
I was excited. I felt good. I felt strong. I was injury-free. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and 60, perfect for running.

Aid stations began at mile 3. I planned on my breakfast nutrition to get me through until the aide stations began.

The gun went off, and the race began. As mile 1 clicked on my watch, I noticed my pace was a bit fast, and therefore, I slowed a tad. I felt quite strong. As we approached mile two, I began to feel my glucose levels dropping. I had gotten rather good at checking my glucose while running and so I pulled out my meter, inserted a strip, pricked my finger, and added a drop of blood. My glucose was low, very low.

To this day, 21 years later, I can recall the sense of disappointment I felt. I rechecked my blood sugar, in full denial. After months and months of early morning mileage, after-work runs, water bottles hidden along training courses, my choreographed training and race plan was null and void. Less than 20 minutes into my race, all the opportunity for my goals dissolved in an instant.

To add insult to injury, I fully expected my glucose to remain in target until mile three; we weren’t even to mile two. I announced immediately to the runners surrounding me, I needed sugar. Several runners handed me their glucose. I consumed the sugar, moved to the edge, and continued to walk toward mile three.

At mile three, the race volunteers informed us it was a water station only, nothing else. I continued to check my glucose levels, but they remained quite low. I knew to keep moving, even at a walk, I would require a glucose source. So I did what I very much dislike doing, and I walked over to the ambulance, let them know my sitch. As expected, they whip out their glucose source. Any person with diabetes knows what I mean when I say “band-aid in a bottle.” Somehow the medical community has figured out how to make a glucose source taste ridiculously awful.

We walked to mile 4. My glucose levels were still quite low.

At mile 4, I consumed thousands and thousands of calories. I had been in a low blood sugar state, and I wanted to be out of that state ASAP.

Grapes, sandwiches, Gatorade, bananas, oranges ... I ate everything as quickly as possible and left the aid station with my hands full of snacks.

We walked, and we walked. I checked, and I checked. The sag wagon asked many times if I wanted to call it. I just didn’t. After being on a first name basis telling jokes back and forth, eventually, they trailed far enough behind me as a reminder; as long as I kept going, so would they.

At some point, as I began to feel the slightest bit better (mile 6-7), I decided I would drop at the piano player. Big Sur was famous for having a grand piano placed around mile 10. If I was going to make it to a place, this seemed like an adapted goal.

Around mile 7-8, I felt good enough to resume a jog. As we came down the hill around mile 10, I felt ok and was able to keep a decent pace. I decided to go past the piano player. Ok then, 13.1 I’ll drop. Another mile passed. I did some math and figured if I could keep picking it up a little each mile, I could finish by the cut off time. My body continued to feel better and better, and the second half of the marathon was a personal record half marathon for me. I finished the 1999 Big Sur Marathon. I was out there for almost 5 and 1/2 hours.

After the race, I sat on the bus on the ride back to our car and was looking at the gorgeous view along HWY 1. I asked myself what happened with my glucose that morning, again and again. None of it made sense to me, none of it. In my nine years of living with diabetes, I hadn’t experienced such sustained low blood sugars for such an extended period, especially while consuming tons of glucose. My mind kept raking over the morning insulin dose details, the carbs in the morning bagel, the effort at the start of the race. The only thing I can even imagine was I didn’t thoroughly mix my long-acting insulin in the vial before pulling it into the syringe. If this was accurate, it was as though I had taken a massive injection of faster-acting insulin. The part where I get confused is I had already taken that same morning injection over 3,280 times.

Diabetes management asks for hundreds of decisions to be made a day, committing firmly to a course of action. One might say resolve is our middle name. Strength in the face of pain becomes expected; even if asked more frequently from some more than others, it is inevitable.

The photo above is taken with an outside temperature of 21 degrees Fahrenheit.

True Grit