Mullaloo: Take One
I was ready for the the Mulalloo 10km, the race I needed to do within 4h15min to qualify for the Rottnest Channel swim. It was scheduled for December 27. Christmas was strict – I was super careful with food, micromanaged my insulin more than usual, limited alcohol, drank a lot of water. I didn’t want to risk a big hypo or high blood sugar level, which can put me off my game for days. It felt strange not to let loose at Christmas and enjoy a few drinks and eat too much food, and equally strange to have a couple of days off swimming to taper – I was in limbo, supposed to rest when I had energy to burn, wanting to party but also enjoying feeling clear, energetic and light.
I packed my race bag the night before. Three water bottles, clearly labelled: water, glucose and rehydration salts. My glucose solution was a small bottle of Nipro TRUEplus Glucose Drink (a total of 16 grams of glucose) topped up with water. I intended to drink a quarter of it every 2.5km – about an hour of swimming. I used PowerBar Electrolytes Zero Sugar tablets in water for rehydration.
That evening, I briefed my paddler J to within an inch of his life, especially about low blood sugar which can get very dangerous very fast in the water. The briefing consisted of a description of how I will behave if I go low, that I am bloody-minded when low and will likely argue if he suggests I stop, which is precisely when he needs to force the point, and exactly how he needed to help me if things went very pear-shaped. He looked a little overwhelmed. I ended the conversation with the caveat ‘but the chance it will happen is very small so don’t worry too much.’ I’m not sure J was convinced.
Then I folded my towel neatly, laid my race suit out, put defogger on my goggles, took a cut down dose of my overnight long-acting insulin, and set my alarm. I was beyond ready…
Next day: a howling southerly and a race cancellation message on Facebook! Devastating!!! The taper, the Christmas restraint, the organisation, the two days of nerves in my tummy, for nothing!
I couldn’t let it go to waste. I had set myself two swimming goals for the Christmas break: the first, to qualify for Rottnest at Mullaloo, and the second to do 100 x 100ms in the pool. Knowing it would be the most boring pool set of my life, I threw my underwater headphones in my bag and rolled up to Beatty Park to grind out the century. With a lane to myself, I swam up and down on a relatively cruisy 2 minute interval, thankful for the beats and a lap counting watch, for two hundred laps. The lifeguards changed guard, and I swam. The pool went from dim morning light to bright sunshine, and still I swam. I steadily consumed my 4 grams of glucose an hour, my blood sugar line stayed blissfully stable, and I kept on swimming.
I acquired a bad cap tan, overthought a lot of stuff, and listened to far too much deep house before I could finally call the set a day. But I felt happy to have achieved something out of the disappointment of the morning.
Mullalloo: Take Two
The race was rescheduled for the following Saturday – New Years Eve. Somehow, I felt different. After the 100 x 100ms set, I was more confident in my nutrition and insulin strategies. I actually felt kind of excited.
The day dawned beautifully, with a tickle of a southerly and a blood glucose level of 5.2. I had half a unit of rapid acting insulin to offset the ‘Dawn Phenomenon’ I experience each morning, which is a sharp spike in blood glucose that happens when a person with diabetes wakes up and the body is flooded with stress hormones. I made a bulletproof coffee (coffee with coconut oil and butter blended into it) to help support the process of ketosis: the state of burning fat, rather than carbohydrate, for energy. I ate a couple of Amazeballs (recipe in a previous post) which had about 2 grams of carbohydrate each. I took half my usual morning dose of long-acting insulin, intending that the small amount of glucose I would drink each hour while swimming would be enough to balance it out and keep me stable. The rest of my energy would come from burning body fat; after years of eating a low-carbohydrate diet to manage my diabetes, I have adapted my body to utilise fats for energy in preference to carbohydrates.
We had to swim four laps of a 2.5km course, with paddlers joining us for 1.25km on the ocean side of the rectangle. The first two laps went without incident: I met J at the top corner who handed me my blood glucose monitor to measure my sugar, I drank my glucose solution and salts, we chatted briefly so he knew I was ok. The third lap was the hardest: the wind came up and the water got instantly choppy. Swimming into the wind for the final lap, I couldn’t get a clear breath or a rhythm, and I got frustrated. When J met me, I was wildly cranky, which he read as a low blood sugar. He made me test twice to prove my sugar level was ok, and then I took off on the last downwind leg determined to use my angry energy. Fuelled by a following sea and the thought of the finish line, I swam my fastest split!
Success. A 3h28min swim – a time that means I qualify for Rotto. Blood glucose levels that stayed stunningly stable between 5.2 and 7.8mmol with carefully controlled insulin and carbohydrate management. And, somehow, 5th in the Open Womens category. All round, a result I’m stoked about.
A big thank you to J, who had the patience of Job sitting out there for hours in the rolling ocean, cold wind and burning sun guarding my drink bottles, encouraging me towards the finish line, and keeping watch over my blood glucose levels for me.
So here we go – onwards and upwards, to Rottnest!