I may win and I may lose, but I will never be defeated. Emmitt Smith

When does being competitive become a negative force rather than a positive driving force? And can it ever be negative ? These are a couple of questions that have been playing on my mind recently.   I am a competitive person, but usually I confine the competition to my self or people in my age group, rather than trying to beat friends or people I know. If my age groups consists of my friends then I am more than pleased if I do place higher than them, because I respect them, but equally if they place higher than me, I am truly pleased for them.   Trying to improve my efforts is part of what drives me. I say partly because for me, enjoyment is the biggest factor. In the last few months I have noted that I haven’t been enjoying the thought of triathlon very much. I have enjoyed the training and even the race I did a few weeks ago, when I felt dreadful (Mallorca 70.3), but I began to feel that there was an edge of competitiveness being forced upon me. Or maybe it was that I was becoming more aware of the competitive nature others have toward me. Either way, it was off putting.   Then two significant things happened. I had a bike crash and my husband raced his first middle distance triathlon. What do these have to do with being competitive?   I came off my bike and haven’t been able to swim since, my preparation for IMUK had already been less than optimal but I had to accept that the path life had chosen for me was different to the one I was aiming for. My goal is now to get around and enjoy it rather than to race it and enjoy it. Its only a small shift and one that I’m confident will lead to greater rewards.   Then a week after my crash, my husband raced his first triathlon. A middle distance in Essex. Its hard for me to explain the effect that this had on me, but I will endeavor to try! Maybe its being immensely proud of him because he’s my husband and because he has type 1 diabetes or maybe its because he has type 1 diabetes and I know what that means, but either way when i watched him finish I knew that what he had achieved was far bigger and more significant then anything that I have ever done. And I knew that the only competition that you truly have is that with yourself.   Any one who has done endurance sport knows the challenges it can bring; the apprehension, the fear, aching limbs, the fatigue, the nausea, the stomach upsets, pacing difficulties and the mental battles that can plague the mind right from the start.   Most people have a vague but poor understanding of diabetes. A condition that is self inflicted due to poor eating, right? Wrong. Type 1 diabetes usually has an early onset in childhood (often pre teen) and the cause is as yet unknown. Sufferers require regular insulin injection’s throughout the day to help keep their blood glucose levels within an optimal range. Too much and they risk suffering a hypo but not enough and blood glucose kevels can raise to a dangerously high level.   Most of us know that when we exercise we need to fuel adequately so that we have enough energy to see us through the session. If we don’t eat enough we become fatigued but can usually struggle on. Even if we completely bonk, a few carbs and 20 minutes later we are sufficiently recovered to continue. Its important we get this right, but its not life threatening. Unless you have Diabetes.   Not only does having type 1 diabetes mean that balancing nutrition:insulin is paramount, it also requires regular monitoring. Prior to eating and often shortly after, a blood glucose reading is needed to determine whether the amount of insulin administered should be adjusted or whether more food is needed to counteract a slightly too large dose.   Further to this are the feelings of nausea, headaches and fatigue that can accompany a hypo or hyper. Trying to decipher if you are feeling unwell just because you are or because your body needs more food or more insulin cannot be easy when the symptoms are so similar.   So, imagine starting a 1900 m swim, you have lowered your insulin so that you don’t suffer a hypo and you eat shortly before you start. The swim is tidal and its hard work going against the tide, but you get out and head for T1 happy and a bit tired. Are you tired because you’re in a race and because of swimming hard against the tide or is your blood sugar level out? You can’t just get on to our bike and eat because you might need insulin or you might be so low that you’d fall off your bike. You watch everyone else grabbing their bikes and leaving T1 whilst you try and check your blood sugar.   And then, if, as was the case with my husband, it is so low that the monitor can’t register it, you have to eat. Immediately. More time ticks away. You are almost alone in T1. You get the picture now, I’m sure.   My husband, Eugene, has pretty good control of his Diabetes and has learnt what foods to avoid. When he set off on his bike I was happy and confident that he would be fine. So when he arrived back to T2 looking awful I knew something was very wrong. He had started to feel unwell, he had a headache and was tired. But it was hot he told himself and so he drank his bottle of fluid – and stopped to re measure his blood sugar level,only to discover that he had forgotten to out the finger lance (used to draw blood) in his pocket. He stopped to ask a Marshall for help- she offered him a a cocktail stick. In his state of confusion he relays how he was so desperate that he spent a minute or so trying to jam it in to his finger in the hope that it would draw blood. Back on his bike and without any choice but to continue, he rode onto a petrol station where he eventually managed to get a safety pin. Success! His suspicions were quickly confirmed – his blood sugar was so high that it was off the scale. Eating a cliff bar and drinking a bottle of energy drink – an easy mistake when your brain can’t figure out what’s going on, had resulted in a massive spike.   Back in T2 he slumped to the floor and was ready to quit. He looked awful, but I knew that if he gave up he would only berate himself afterwards. I persuaded him to start the run (it was 4 laps),to walk the first lap and to retest his sugar level and then decide if to do another. Gradually his blood sugar level stabilized and came down, after each lap he ran more, walked less and smiled more.   People who don’t have diabetes wrongly assume that managing it is a case of simply eating correctly, but there is much more to it than this. The complexities are too vast for this current post, but the point I am trying to convey is that with any disability diabetics are at a disadvantage before they even start.   He completed a middle distance and was so unconcerned about being competitive, other than against the finish time and had overcome such huge difficulties. I felt completely humbled. I considered this and i knew, that this is what endurance sport is all about- overcoming the challenge against yourself.   Lessons come in all sorts of unexpected forms, but they are always there. Whether you choose to learn from them is entirely up to you! image


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