My sister convinced me to sign up for a 24-hour relay swim to raise awareness for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Swimming I like, raising awareness for charity I enjoy, and a new challenge beckoned. Doing this 24-hours after flying back from a Boston marathon trip – this would be fun.
To be totally honest, I didn’t know much about MS prior to signing up to this event. I had heard of it before but didn’t know it was also an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes. That gave me a connection to the cause and the people affected by the disease. Taking on this challenge was something new to me. The longest I had swam was 4,400 yards, swimming this would be further.
Swimming has a different effect on my BGs than running. Still cardio, it doesn’t drop me as fast or as low over the same duration of time. The low intensity and impact really makes a difference. What swimming does though, is make me hungry, super hungry.
Juggling jumping in and out of the pool, eating, and trying to keep stable blood sugar levels was going to be a new athletic and diabetic experience for me. There were nine of us on the team and we split up the 24-hours between us. I had two shifts with my cousin Ben and we rotated our time in the pool. We kicked off the relay, swimming from 12 – 4pm on Saturday. We swam 45-60 minute rotations.
I was successfully keeping my BGLs at around 120-160 mg/dL the whole time, leaving my waterproof pump on in the pool with my usual basal rate and about 1 unit of bolus on board at all times, so I could eat as soon as I jumped out of the pool.
Pre-bolusing while exercising is a tricky skill. It takes a lot of trial and error to know when to pre-bolus during exercise and how much to take, so always err on the conservative side while you figure this out and what works for you. My go-to fuelling snacks was a mix of fresh fruit such as bananas, mandarins & medjool dates. I had lots of water with electrolytes and a Clif bar or two.
Our 2nd shift was going to be the bigger challenge: 10pm – 3am. 5 hours of swimming when my body wanted to be sleeping. I find adrenaline really helps me in these kinds of situations. Again I didn’t change my basal and had some insulin on board from my bean and quinoa salad I gobbled down during the break. Our swims were shorter this shift but more frequent. This didn’t seem to affect my BGLs too much. I didn’t plan on eating unless my sugars where heading down.
What I like about swimming (and don’t like) is the inability to know your BGLs while in the pool. Unless I stop and test my BGL on the side, I don’t know my sugar level. When in the water the CGM sensor also disconnects. The freedom of constantly looking at my pump to see the trend of my BGLs is nice, in comparison to running. I have to trust the feel of my body and my energy levels – which can be challenging when you have swam 8,000 yards. Your body is tired and each lap wants to jump out of the pool. But having to focus on my body, its sensations, and the smallest signs that my BGL may be low or high, is an enjoyable challenge. Each time I jumped out of the pool the first thing I did was dry off my hands and prick my finger.
As we etched towards 2am I told myself I want to swim 10,000 yards; well beyond what I thought I could swim prior to starting the challenge. I jumped back in the pool and pushed through a final 40 minutes, edging so close to the 10K mark, managing a 9,800-yard total overall. My cousin finished off the final 20 minutes while I dreamt about bed as I cheered him on. When our team finished the full 24 hours we reached a total of 33.5 miles of swimming. It was an impressive feat and effort by all.
As I reflect on the swim and my part in particular, I smile, realizing I proved to myself that anything is possible with type 1 diabetes. As I take on new athletic challenges there is always a moment of doubt or second guessing that pops into my head. Maybe I can’t do it, maybe I will have a severe low BG that will stop me half way through, maybe I will get my fueling and insulin wrong.
There are always those moments, but the moments that always win are the ones that say “Yes, I can do it and I will.” Thank you again type 1 for letting me have fun, kick ass and add another challenge to my list. Let’s keep doing awesome things together.