Gareth, 39, rebelled against his diabetes diagnosis as a teenager, but since the birth of his son 10 years ago, he’s put his health first and has gone on to run two marathons for Diabetes UK.
Type 1 diabetes
“Running helps me clear my mind of everything, including my diabetes.”
Gareth’s journey with diabetes:
- Diagnosed aged 17
- Went into denial and didn’t manage his diabetes properly
- When his son was born, decided to take control of his health
- Started running age 34 and has completed two marathons
I was diagnosed with Type 1 when I was 17. It was a big shock as nobody in my family has had diabetes at all, not even type 2.
I came back from a holiday and I was thirsty, peeing all the time and tired. My mum in those days had a massive grey text book where you could self-diagnose. She looked it up and sent me straight to the doctor. I was in hospital within an hour.
I was stuck in the hospital for a few days as they wanted to check that I could do the injections. I rebelled and didn’t do anything for my diabetes for about six years. I’d do my morning injection and think: ‘That’ll have to do. I’m not doing anything else or changing my life.’
I dropped in weight down to nearly 7 stone from 11 stone. I looked quite sickly at the time – because at 5’8” I was really skinny. But I wouldn’t take anybody’s advice and had to go through that first.
"I was in my late-20s when my son William was born, I knew I needed to do something and be around for him, so I sorted myself out."
I was lucky – I knew nothing about carb counting and then I got offered a place on DAPHNE and I started eating properly and measuring the carbohydrate in the right ratios.
It’s about taking each day as it comes. Diabetes is one of those things you take your eyes off for a second thinking you’re doing really well and then you see how badly you can be dealing with it. It’s the people around you who say, don’t worry - it’s one day just get yourself back on track.
It gets me down every now and again, but it never really affects my mood that much. I can forget anything about diabetes while I’m running, even when I’m checking my glucose levels every mile, that just becomes a natural part of what you do when you go out running. As much as putting your right foot in front of your left. You can turn off and forget about a lot of things when you’re out on the road especially when you’ve got to do 19/20 miles.
Friends and Family
My girlfriend Emily and my best friend Simon are my two biggest supporters, along with my family, and the legends from previous marathons.
I met the legends first on the Diabetes UK Facebook marathon page, but because I’ve known them all a while now we meet up and go and do some races together for Diabetes UK.
William, my son, is 10. I don’t think he got my diabetes a couple of years back but now he’s got a kid in his class who’s Type 1 and he’s able to talk to him about it a little bit. So, I think he understands more what it means now.
He’s recently started coming to the finish line of my races and cheering me along. It’s nice and motivational knowing you’re going to see him.
In the summer he’ll go out on his mountain bike and we’ll go around some parks and he’ll ride, and I run – but he does tend to ride off into the distance.
I’m a software developer and my work are very understanding. They give me all the time I need to go to the diabetes centres, the doctor, my eye appointments, my foot appointments. All of that sort of thing. Whether they actually really understand what diabetes really is, I’m not sure. Unless you are living daily with Diabetes, with someone with it, or working in diabetes I don’t think you really comprehend what diabetes is.
I’ve had a couple of hypos at work, but I know what to do. I’m lucky enough that I get quite a good sense of them coming so I can correct them before they get too bad.
Diet, Nutrition and Exercise
I started running when I was 34. My best friend at the time, Stephen, died of heart failure so I started running as a way of being a bit more fit and also to train with another friend who was going to sail across the Atlantic as a challenge to himself.
I had no goals, I was just going to train with him, but I started doing a few half marathons and got a bit hooked. Then I was lucky enough to get into the London Marathon in 2017 and that’s where the marathon running really started. It was a ballot place, but I ran for Diabetes UK.
I’ve now run two marathons for Diabetes UK, and a fair few half marathons as well.
It’s not the easiest but having the flash glucose monitors makes such a big difference. I don’t think I’d even attempt it without them. It allows me to have control over my body as I’m running and know whether I need to take on more carbohydrates when I’m running or stop if I’m having a hypo.
One of things I recommend is that everyone knows what a hypo when your running feels like because the symptoms of a hypo are very similar to how you feel when you’re running – sweaty, shaky and things like that.
On one of my runs I had to sit down in the middle of a field for nearly an hour with a pack of fruit pastels before I felt well enough to go home, it’s not just about correcting the hypo when you are running, it’s about making sure you won’t hypo again straight away.
I check every single mile before I take on any glucose. I take jelly babies in order to keep my blood sugars up, but before I take those I scan. These days, you can use your mobile phone so there’s a little bit less to carry.
I have a Flipbelt to put all my supplies in. It’s a stretchy band that goes around your waist with holes in for you to stuff in your supplies. It’s not got enough to hold a marathon’s worth – at least not for me as I need 52 Jelly Babies, but it’s got enough space for your glucose monitor and test strips and all that. I need someone on course to give me the extra fuel I need to get around the distance.
If it’s a busy marathon like London or Brighton, there’s so much support it’s hard to spot your family. Try to have the person you’re meeting at one of the Diabetes UK stands because you can spot them so much easier.
I’ve done two marathons – one of them I started with my blood sugar levels incredibly high, but I managed to get it under control. The second one my sugars just continued to go up, and I had to and get them stable before I could continue, I should have known better but Diabetes is different every day. The day itself is so unique you can’t say what your diabetes is going to do. There are some people who are well controlled, but for me with adrenalin my sugar levels spike immediately.
I’m much better with my diet leading up to races. I tend to eat carbohydrate-based stuff, pasta things like that. I always have pasta in my training as it’s nice and easy to calculate the injection for and I understand how my body will process it. Then after racing it’s whatever I want to eat, but usually burger and a beer! I don’t watch my weight as I’m one of those lucky people who seems to burn whatever they eat.
Diabetes UK and Me
I think I’ve raised over 5k for Diabetes UK since I started running. There’s a Diabetes UK marathon Facebook page which for anybody running a marathon with diabetes is the number one place to go.
"Ignore what the doctors tell you when they say you can’t, or you shouldn’t. Get out there and do it. Diabetes doesn’t stop you doing anything in life – you’ve just got to be a bit more controlled and look after yourself."