500+ but no DNF – Ironman 70.3 Muskoka

Editor’s note: Somehow I managed not to post this almost a month and a half ago. Oops! I present it with minimal additional editing.

What can I tell you about Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 Muskoka in Ontario? [That's Sunday July 10th.] I almost DNFed for the first time in my life, but I didn’t. Why? It’s all about the ‘betes.

First the details. I finished 538th of 1314, which is respectable. I swam 1.2 miles in 37:16, biked 58.3 miles (instead of the official 56) in 3:20:22, and ran 13.1 miles in 2:02:40. My total time with transitions was 6:11:43. There were also tears during and after the race.

Lisa and I headed over to Ontario on Thursday for a little pre-race vacation. We missed Niagara Falls our first time through 13 years ago, so this was the time to see it. As long as you look toward the water, it’s a beautiful place. Look away, and it’s a touristy wasteland. We walked across the Rainbow Bridge from the Canadian side to the American and back. We got slightly lost in New York and ended up going much farther than we anticipated, which made us miss our chance to see Scully.

While we were sightseeing, someone tried to steal my bike off the car. Fortunately, they gave up when they saw the cable locking it to the bike rack. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that they had unbuckled two the three straps holding it to the rack. As we drove toward Toronto, we hit a bump and it came unmoored. I was very lucky that the bike didn’t hit the ground and was uninjured and that a nice driver pointed it out to me right afterward.

Not seeing Scully, having my bike almost stolen, suffering through Toronto’s awful traffic, and getting my bike rained on overnight before the race . . . all that had me in a less than excellent mood going into the event. Once we got to Deerhurst on Sunday morning, though, I felt pretty chill, excited actually.

The swim was awesome! I found feet to draft off. I sighted well and felt fast. One part of the lake had a definite taste of cucumbers. I must be swimming okay these days, because there were still a lot of bikes in transition when I arrived. It seems everyone in Canada rides Cervélo bikes—as do I—which made it extra difficult to find my ride.

Muskoka’s bike course is reputed to be one of the most difficult of the Ironman-brand events. I’ve done more difficult events by other organizers, but this was definitely hard. It started with lots of punchy little rollers for the first 30K or so, followed by a lot of long, gradual climbs and descents for 30K, culminating with a final 30K of wicked steep uphills and fast downhills. I witnessed a lot of ugly sounding shifts and dropped chains. I got passed by a good number of very fast people in the first 45K, while I also passed a lot of others during that time, too.

Halfway through the bike leg, the wheels fell off my day.

When I got into the water, my blood sugar was about 300 mg/dL (16.7 mmol/L), which is a lot higher than I wanted. It was frustrating because it was a beautiful 120 (6.7), or pretty damn close to perfect, when I went to bed. For whatever reason, it went up after I ate my midnight-before-a-race snack. So I dosed some extra insulin before I got in the water, ate a little bit less of my pre-race snack, and swam my heart out, knowing it would lower my BGs. And it did. I was in a good place and on a good trajectory when I exited the water. So I decided to eat like normal on the bike: 20g of carbs every 30 minutes.

Halfway through the 90km/56-ish mile ride I felt awful: lots of aches, no power. My continuous glucose monitor (CGM) showed my blood glucose going straight up, so I gave a little bit of insulin to try to bring it down. When I tested with 30K left to go, it was over 500 (28)! Everything hurt; even my hands were achy.

To give you an idea of how unusual this situation is, I’ve maybe seen it that high twice in the 18 years since I was diagnosed. Being over 400 (22) is unusual. This is vanishingly rare. I’ve tested almost 65,000 times, and this is only the third time it’s ever been over 500.

I gave a metric shit-tonne of insulin and contemplated dropping out. Since I was at an aid station, it would be easy enough: just tell a volunteer and SAG back to transition, possibly with a visit from the EMTs. I didn’t want to have a “DNF” as my result, but I also didn’t want to end up unconscious or in the hospital if it went higher. I decided to watch my CGM and drop out on the way back to transition if necessary.

My muscles were incredibly painful for the next half-hour. It was really awful. Turning the pedals made me wince, but pedaling continuously was better than stopping and starting, which caused everything to seize up. People were passing me right and left, but my only goal was to keep spinning my legs to help the insulin work and to move closer to the end of the route.

High BGs jack with my mood, and I was feeling a bit of despair. I was crying a little bit, and I was angry. At one point I said (out loud, of course), “I don’t want to DNF. I want to rock it. Yeah, I want a rocket.” Welcome to my brain. Eventually I could feel the insulin doing its job. Now my concern was making sure I didn’t go too far the other direction and end up hypoglycemic (which is actually worse than being high, since it’s much easier to lose consciousness).

When I got back to the resort where the event was held, I tested, saw a 300 (down from 500+) and decided to do the run, even if I had to walk the whole thing. I saw Lisa about a half-mile out. We walked and talked a little bit, and I could tell she was concerned. Me? I was certain I could handle it. I just wanted to finish, whether it took 2 hours or 4.

After walking about half of the first two miles, I started running and didn’t look back. Okay, okay . . . I did walk for about five minutes with 4 miles left to go. I was eating a lot to manage my blood glucose, but I find that food digests better when I’m not running, so it was a necessary evil. I decided to throw down for the last mile, because if I’m going to finish, I’m going to do it while passing people.

A short two hours after seeing Lisa on the way out, I saw her again on the way in. Soon enough I was done. And my blood sugar was a perfect 135 (7.5). Boom!

I saw Lisa after I finished, assured her I was okay, got my photo taken with my medal, and then had a bit of breakdown. I honestly wondered for an hour whether I would be able to finish, and I was so relieved to be able. I was angry at diabetes and happy for sticking with it. The feeling of accomplishment when it wasn’t guaranteed was a bit overwhelming and much more than I was able to keep under wraps after six-ish hours of swimming, biking, and running. I cried behind my sunglasses a little.


I have another race in about seven weeks. I plan to use that time to build a bit more fitness and practice my insulin and nutrition strategy. Wish me luck! [Last weekend I did Rev3 Maine. More about that very soon. Promise!]

This entry was posted in Canada, Cycling, Diabetes, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 500+ but no DNF – Ironman 70.3 Muskoka

  1. Nancy Patrick says:

    Re-read your blog posts today. Wondering how today’s Ironman in Houston went….I knew you had struggled with diabetes in this Ironman. Hope today’s Ironman the diabetes gods were with you.

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