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Alex Martin - Obstacle course racing with type 1 diabetes

Alex Martin was diagnosed at 10 years old in October 2009. She’s an amateur obstacle course racer and founder of the College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter at Mercyhurst University. We caught up with her at the 2018 CDN Retreat in Bridgton, Maine, about her racing.

Q. Why Spartan Racing? How did you get into it?

Spartan Racing is a relatively new thing for me. I was first introduced to the world of obstacle course racing during my sophomore year of high school. I wanted to get back in shape for soccer season because I had gained some weight over the winter. I told my dad that I wanted to do one, so we got gym memberships and worked out. I would do a decent amount of running and lifting while my dad did some walking and machines. I loved the fact that he went to the gym with me (mostly because he was my ride) and was invested in what I wanted to accomplish. 

As the race day got closer, I asked my dad if he had gotten us signed up for the race and he responded, “Oh, I was actually hoping that you forgot.” But, to his word, he signed us up and the rest is history. 

Q. How did the race go?!

It was a dream come true. I proved to myself (150 burpees later) that no matter what obstacle, physical or mental, that I had the ability to do it and complete it. After the first one, I was addicted. I got more into the community and realized that each of the races have so many ways to challenge yourself.

Q. How was racing with your dad?

At the starting line I was nervous, but he was there by my side and that was all that mattered. He even offered to carry all my diabetes supplies. We started off the race and I was going to stay next to him and we were going to finish it as a team, but that went out the window when I saw how slow he was. Hehe. 

When I crossed the finish line covered in mud, I felt low, but my dad had all of my supplies! Lesson learned. I relied on a woman giving out free protein drinks. I drank two while I waited for my dad to come back. He crossed the finish line about ten or so minutes later and immediately asked how I was feeling. I showed him the protein drink and said, “Great!” He told me how I scared him when I ran off and how he skipped a bunch of obstacles just so that he could stay kind of close to me. 

Q. Have you always used an insulin pump? If not, what aspects of pump therapy were appealing to you when you made the switch? 

I started using an insulin pump about a year after I was diagnosed because that was the earliest that my doctor would allow me to switch from the pens. I’ve always loved the “freedom” you have with the pump. Yes, you are attached to some tubing that is approximately a foot or so long, but the fact that I didn’t have to take a shot in front of my friends or walk all the way to the nurse’s office in middle school just to correct a high blood sugar was awesome. 

In 2015, I was working at the Walk to Cure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and dad told me that it was time for a new pump. Tandem Diabetes Care was one of the companies with reps at the walk, and I loved how the pump was touchscreen and how you could link your Dexcom sensor with it (I didn’t have one at the time, but at the walk I had also talked to the Dexcom rep about starting one of those). Overall, it just seemed like an amazing pump!

Having this disease already makes you feel different and awkward at times, but this pump helped eliminate some of the weird looks you get from people.

Q. Are there any insulin pump features you use on race day or in training, to help with your diabetes management? 

Race day management is always tricky. Trying to find the happy medium between a little elevated and high is difficult. I like the Temp Basal feature to elevate my BGs a little bit, but hopefully stay within a comfortable range so that I don’t have a headache or any high symptoms. I generally start it about half an hour to an hour before I race.

Q. Where do you put your pump when you race through the mud and ice water and fire!? 

For short races, I don’t need much insulin during the race, so I take my pump completely off. I will take a Quick Bolus of about 1 or 2 units depending what my BG is pre-race and the temperature outside, then I put my pump in a cooler with my snacks and backup insulin. Often my infusion site isn’t usable after the race because of the dirt. I will bring an insulin pen with me, and use that for an hour or so until I can get cleaned up enough to put a new site in. Being agile is key on race day.

Q. Do you have any diabetes gear you’d like to recommend?

I suggest a personal item belt with pockets. You can keep a lot of stuff like your CGM receiver, pump, and low snacks in there all at once. Then you don’t have to rely on your slower-racing partner 😉.

Q. If you met someone newly diagnosed with diabetes, what would be your advice to them? 

This disease is constantly a work in progress. Don’t get caught up on a bad day; it takes some getting used to your “new body.” Everything is going to feel weird at first as you experience what a low feels like and what a high feels like, but you will adjust. Take things slow, and you will gain confidence over time. I suggest reading different books on how to adjust to this new lifestyle. If you like to work out daily, there are plenty of books on that. If you are struggling to adjust to school or work, there are books on that. Educating yourself and learning why certain things happen can be the most beneficial when it comes to taking control of your diabetes. There are also plenty of free sites like Beyond Type 1 and CDN that have wonderful articles and resources to help you get through anything! I also suggest getting involved with JDRF and going to diabetes camp, if you are young enough. If you are older, I suggest CDN retreats or Connected in Motion. CDN is geared toward college students and Connected in Motion is more for adults who want to connect with others with type 1 diabetes. There is an amazing support system out there for anyone who wants it!

Q. If you could be on the cover of any magazine next month, which magazine would you want it to be, and what would the caption be?

Fitness Magazine, “Crushing the course and diabetes.”

Q. If you could have a song written about you, who would compose it and what would the song be called?

The song would be composed by Nick Jonas (duh) featuring Metallica, and the song would be called “Bring it on.”

Q. What’s happened since your first race and what's next?
In October, I got my revenge on the course I did in Pittsburgh to prove that not even an injury can stop me! I demolished my original time getting 1:44.41 on a slightly longer course. I was able to get higher on the rope climb and I did better on the obstacles overall.

Diabetes is very much like a Spartan Race, because you never know what obstacles you will face, but rough terrain is guaranteed. The only thing you can do is adapt to what is thrown at you. Sometimes you surprise yourself and do well, and others, you must take the thirty burpees. Either way you are constantly learning and doing your best, no matter how tired you are. I am planning on doing another Spartan next year, along with some other road and obstacle course races. I always want to improve and show others that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you love. Don’t be afraid to try something new because you don’t know how your diabetes is going to react to it. You will end up regretting it for the rest of your life. Figure out how to manage your diabetes in conjunction with your dream not the other way around.

From time to time, we may pass along: suggestions, tips, or information about other Tandem Insulin Pump user experiences or approaches to the management of diabetes. However, please note individual symptoms, situations, circumstances and results may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified health care provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. Please read the Important Safety Information linked below before using a Tandem Diabetes Care product.

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