IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Ran A Half-Marathon Unaware That I Have Type 2 Diabetes

After crossing the finish line, I sat on the ground, dead tired, in pain, completely depleted of energy. And then things got worse.
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Colleen Williams
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After crossing the finish line, I sat on the ground, dead tired, in pain, completely depleted of energy. And then things got worse.

November is diabetes awareness month. And I’m very aware. 

In April of this year, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It was mere months after running my first half-marathon. I was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life and type 2 took me down. 

At 34 years old, 5’11, and 135 pounds, I am an anomaly; yes, it is more common for someone older and overweight to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but genetic markers are hugely important in this disease. The basic rundown of type 2: your pancreas simply cannot produce enough insulin to support your cells, or the body is unable to recognize the insulin produced and use it properly, which is called insulin resistance. 

How did I “get” it? Diabetes type 1 and 2 run in my family, and I have a bum pancreas. Maybe you do, too. We’re human, and sometimes things don’t work.

Discussing the genetic component is so important because there are some ignorant people, oversaturated by a fat-shaming media, who have determined that you deserve type 2 diabetes. I’ve read countless comments from upset judgers, saying it’s the patient’s fault because they drank too many Cokes. I’ve read type 1 diabetics act like type 2 is the leper version -- “Oh no, no, we’re not that kind of diabetic.” 

Some people get it, some people don’t. This isn’t something any person deserves, and the lack of empathy is staggering, hateful and sizeist. This disease is not easy or fun, and the side effects can be rather abysmal. I’m pretty serious-business-time about this. And I’m rarely serious-business-time.

So, that out of the way, here’s my story.

In the summer of 2013, I was diligently training for an upcoming half-marathon at the end of October, even cutting out alcohol in order to really kick ass. About a month before the race date, I was running an eight-miler and I felt funny. I blamed it on the heat; it was one of those leftover summer days in New York City where the weather isn’t really working out. I crouched over, hands on my knees, panting, feeling extremely faint, balancing against a brick wall. I had to get home. I shuffled my sludgy body back to my apartment, feeling weak and defeated. I’ve had blood-sugar issues all my life; I always had to eat every four hours no matter what. So I had some juice and went about my business. 

I nailed the next week’s nine-miler, and before I knew it, it was time to run the half. I’d noticed I was slimming down, which, at first, I thought was a side effect of not drinking. Also, I was running 75 miles a month by the end, which contributed to my long list of excuses as to why I was dropping weight.

Race day came and I finished in 2:12, but I didn’t feel the expected endorphin rush. I was completely wiped out; I’d crossed the finish line and felt deflated and exhausted. Everyone else seemed to have finished with a sunny disposition, standing up and hugging friends and family. I sat on the ground, dead tired, in pain, completely depleted of energy. What was all that training for? Why did I feel so absolutely weak? I was confused, a bit disoriented. 

Crossing the finish line.

Crossing the finish line.

And then things got worse.

Over the course of November, I started shedding pounds extremely quickly. I set up an appointment with my doctor, but unfortunately lost my job and had to cancel it because money just got super tight. I soon had dropped almost 20 pounds. I thought it was the stress of losing my job, or not recovering correctly after the race, or maybe it was depression. 

But by January, my hair started falling out rather impressively. If I was losing at everything else, my hair was definitely winning the race on what can make Colleen look the worst. By the New Year, I was hovering around 120 pounds; by my March birthday, I had landed a new job and was 115 pounds.

Luckily, with the new job came insurance. I called my physician, citing my weight loss as a major worry. After some blood tests, they called me back within a few hours to let me know I might have diabetes and had to come back into the office. (Oh, the meltdowns I had that day!) I returned and he said, “Well, you have diabetes. Your blood sugar is 533. You have to go to the emergency room and get on insulin, right now. Who can you call?”

And I called Ghostbusters. The end.

No, just kidding. But seriously, don’t you always want to throw out a Ghostbusters joke? It will never be passé. 

So, I called my best friend Mikki, one of those magical friends who you call in tears and they say, “Where do I go, what do I do?” like a wonderful angel. She met me at the ER, where they set me up in a bed with an insulin IV, behind the wall of an extremely irate, racist man who kept exploding, for lack of a better term, in his bedpan. 

My boyfriend arrived; upon seeing his expression, I had another meltdown. We were there for hours, my bone-thin legs just sticking straight out, my feet looking clownishly big. The nurse would come by and change out my insulin and IV fluids; I was very dehydrated and went through three or four bags. She made a snide comment -- “I bet you liked being this skinny, huh” -- then told me to Google diabetes to figure out how to care for myself. Helpful, she was.

Clueless.

Clueless.

Over that first weekend, I lost my mind a bit. I was overwhelmed despite feeling physically better. I had no idea how terrible I’d felt before this diagnosis -- the other signs hadn’t been evident because it had been ages since I’d actually felt healthy -- but I had been peeing a thousand times a day and drinking a gallon or more of water. I’d been living with diabetes for about six months prior to that April diagnosis. I had run a half-marathon with the disease, and I had no idea. 

The beginning of recovery is an amazing moment, even if mine might seem small. It wasn’t an easy next few months; to this day it isn’t very easy emotionally or physically, and I wasn’t prepared to go through the grieving stages. I kept thinking it wasn’t a big enough deal to have all the sads about it, which I was incredibly wrong -- especially about that great little phase called anger -- and while I have ups and down, I think I’ve hit the acceptance phase. 

Now I feel as though it’s been a gift; diabetes has been the catalyst to rejuvenating some friendships that were flailing. I’ve also killed some friendships that were toxic. I feel like I’ve started living a more true me. Well, sans cupcakes.

My first month of “having” diabetes (April), I didn’t run much, I just walked. I had lost muscle mass due to my high blood sugar; my body had been burning muscle on all the runs over the prior months. I had to gain weight back. I couldn’t have any carbs. It actually has only been lately that I am enjoying bread and crackers again, but it’s still an uphill battle (and sometimes I sneak a bite of donut and it bites me back with foot cramps, rollercoaster blood sugar and mood swings). It’s like a science experiment every day; I tinker with what and when I eat so I can fuel my exercise appropriately, but lately my blood sugar has been tanking and I fail hard. 

I understand that it may be easier to try a different form of working out, but I also know that there are runners out there reading this thinking, Oh hell no, let’s figure out how to beat it and run further, longer. We’re a competitive bunch of nuts, but that spark keeps me going.

I have a solid support system, which I would hope anyone diagnosed with an illness could claim. One of my other best friends has type 2, and I hit her up for everything -- every question, every rocky moment (poor thing is probably over it). She’s been more valuable than my endocrinologist, simply because she knows me and has been through all the scary times. It’s been nice to have friends and family that have my back. 

If you know someone diagnosed with diabetes, or diagnosed with anything, remember they may need some space, and they didn’t do it to themselves. And for the love’a God, if they’re a diabetic, do not bring them sweets -- that is just cruel.