Exploring the Trails with Type 1 Diabetes by Amy McKinnon

  When we are about to head out for our Sunday long run on some beautiful mountain trails, we normally double check we have the…



When we are about to head out for our Sunday long run on some beautiful mountain trails, we normally double check we have the essentials – enough water, a couple of gels and energy bars, maybe sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

We have everything and we are ready to go.

For me it is a little bit different.

As a type 1 diabetic* my list of essentials for a trail run is a little bit longer. There are a few extra things I have to consider before I can safely head into the wilderness.

* Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease where the pancreas stops producing insulin. Type 1 diabetics have to take a minimum of 4 daily insulin injections with multiple blood glucose checks through finger pricks, and constantly manage food intake to do our best to stay as healthy as possible and avoid long-term health complications.

Even with type 1 diabetes, there is nothing to prevent me from enjoying long runs, runs in the mountains or remote trails like anyone else. Being prepared is key.

As I put on my running shoes each weekend, here are some of the thoughts that run through my mind.

Okay Amy…

Will you have phone reception where you are running in case of an emergency? If not, add a few extra gels and bars and maybe some dates in your hydration pack… yes, I know it looks like you’re camping for three days but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Maybe I should bring my glucagon injection? (this is an intramuscular injection that activates your muscles to release glycogen into the blood stream if your blood glucose levels drop dangerously low. It prevents type 1 diabetics from falling into a coma).

Am I being over dramatic? Probably.

What else do I need…? Do you have your back-up insulin pen and blood glucose monitor in case something happens to your insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor?

Do you have identification and your credit card?

Are you wearing your type 1 diabetic identification bracelet?

Does someone know where you are heading and for how long? (This is one area I need to improve).

Check, check, check.

Okay Amy, I think you are set. Let’s go run.

I haven’t done a lot of trail running over the past 5 years since I’ve started running. I have always steered towards road marathons and the trails are newer to me, but I thoroughly enjoy them.

A few times I have been caught in some sticky situations in the middle of nowhere on a beautiful trail in a slight panic that things could go very wrong any minute now.

Thankfully those situations have had positive outcomes instead of negative ones.

Many times, thanks to my partner who is the logical thinker when I’m trying to treat a low blood sugar level and strategizing the quickest route back to the car.

A few times I’ve had to put my ego aside to get to safety – asking strangers for a ride down to the bottom of the mountain to catch an Uber back to our car to get more sugar, raiding a grocery store’s candy isle mid-run and having to shamefully walk out without paying because I didn’t bring my credit card with me, eating all the snacks we bought for a 3-hour run in the first hour.

I’ve learnt from these lessons.

Although this sounds like a lot to consider, which it is, most of the time my brain is on autopilot and will cover everything off the list and I can head out and enjoy my long runs in nature.

I have days where I will be running, my blood glucose levels are stable and I can forget even for a few miles that I have type 1 diabetes. These are the days I dream of, and often experience.

Running for me is enjoying the challenges of running with type 1, the freedom it gives me when I am in the zone and forget about everything apart from moving my feet forward.

Running has been a life changer for me and I am excited to see what I can bring to it in 2018.

Let’s keep running trails and enjoying what mother earth has given us.

Amy McKinnon is a type 1 diabetic of 17 years. She grew up in Sydney, Australia and has lived in New York City, spent almost a year in Latin America and currently resides in her hometown. Amy enjoys running trails although the marathon is her favorite distance. She has run several marathons and one ultramarathon including Sydney, Melbourne, NY & Boston. She ran Ultra Trail Australia in 2017 which was her first official trail race. You can find Amy on Instagram @AmyLMck.