Marathon Training Guide for T1Ds
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
In January 2020, I committed to run the Chicago Marathon in October. A marathon had always been on my bucket list, and after completing 10 half-marathons and 1 failed marathon attempt I decided that this was my year to be bold and get after it!
Well, we all know that 2020 did not pan out the way it was expected to. But I knew for certain that this was the year that I would complete my first marathon. So I did! Despite the race being cancelled/moved virtually half-way though the training, I stuck with it and saw it through to the end.
In this blog, I'll go through training logistics, including t1d precautions, nutrition, injury, dealing with boredom on long runs, cross-training, and how I stayed motivated to the end even without an "official" race to keep me going. Everything in this blog, especially the t1d mentions, are simply my experiences and should not be substituted for medical advice!
choosing a race and training plan
The reason that I chose Chicago was simply because my friend had signed up for the race already and so I decided to join her! Also Chicago marathon is a very flat course, which is something that I wanted for my first time running 26.2. There are some amazing races with beautiful courses out there, but keep in mind there are some that are easier and more fun than others due to elevation, terrain, and the crowd atmosphere.
I followed a training plan by fellow t1d Robin Arzon from her book Shut up and Run. Yes, I am such a fan girl of hers!! But Hal Higdon also has some great free training plans that I have used for half-marathons before. When choosing a training plan, here's a few things to keep in mind:
Be sure that you can run the mileage for the first week of the training plan easily before you start training. You may want do a pre-plan to build up to that initial mileage otherwise.
I prefer training plans with slightly less running and more strength/cross-training. Others may want more running. Either way, you will be running a lot.
Speed work is important. So are rest days.
Robin's training plan was 14 weeks, and I added an 8 week pre-plan to build up to that. Overall it was 22 weeks and in my opinion the perfect amount of training!
getting t1d run ready
Before you start training, have confidence that you can run a 5 mile run with steady blood sugars. Here is my blog about establishing a pre-run routine which can help with everything to do with running and blood sugars. As you increase in weekly mileage and individual run mileage, you may have to incorporate changes as insulin sensitivity increases. More on that below. Logistically, there are a few things I do for t1d and running:
I use an omnipod and I like to take my PDM with me on runs that are one hour or longer. In order to keep it dry from sweat, I keep it in a plastic sandwich bag in my pocket.
If I'm running in a loop and have a place to leave it, I love using coconut water for lows (see pic!). Hydration AND quick-acting carbs! If not, I run with glucose SOS or gomacro bars in my pocket.
Speaking of pockets, find good running shorts/pants with pockets. I like these pants and these shorts, but you gotta find what works for you!
I don't have problems with my adhesive while I'm running on most runs, but on those 20 mile+ runs the adhesive can get quite gnarly. I like to use Not Just a Patch after the run to secure it. (I don't like running with the adhesive because my skin is super sensitive).
eating for running
I'm currently getting my master's to become a registered dietitian, so I hope that in a few years I have WAY more information to put here, but for now I will keep it simple. When you're training for a marathon, you must fuel your body. I'm sure that there are people who could eat junk and complete a marathon (in fact, I know a few). But during my training I found that the weeks that I was "off" with what I put into my body, I really struggled on the runs and recovery time. I worked with a dietitian before I started training to help me ensure I was eating enough and the right foods, especially being plant-based. Here are some of the tips that I incorporated from our session:
Eating more whole foods is always a good idea. Fruits, veggies, grains-- load 'em up!
Antioxidants (found in colorful foods, like berries!) are so important. Your body goes through a lot of stress with training. Antioxidants can help with recovery.
You will be eating more. Let it happen.
I ate all the carbs, but made a focus to get them from whole foods. Bananas, potatoes, oats, rice, and all the fruit.
Especially because I eat plant-based and tend to have lower (but still acceptable) protein intake, I made an effort to increase that protein intake on the days that I had longer runs.
Especially on 2+ hour runs, digestion can suffer. Your body is focused on moving forward rather than processing what's inside. Things that are tough to digest (like fiber) are not ideal before a long run. Trial and error for pre-run fuel is key to find what works for you.
You may not be incredibly hungry right after you run. That's normal, but especially after long runs you want to be putting something into your body, even if it's just sipping on electrolytes or a shake.
Hydration is important for type 1 diabetics. It's also really important for marathon training. In other words, you should always have a water with you throughout the day! I like to drink nuun during and after runs for the electrolytes.
Of course, the age-old test for dehydration is checking the color of your pee. Especially if you are a morning runner, know that your body dehydrates overnight (naturally), and so if I'm going on a run in the morning I always have at least 8oz of water before I start.
If you're looking for a healthier alternative to gatorade, let me recommend my favorite: 1 cup water, 1-2 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tbsp lemon, and a pinch of salt! You can add 1 tbsp of chia seeds too. Shake it up and enjoy! Makes a great low drink too.
adjusting for insulin sensitivity
My insulin sensitivity drastically increased during weeks 8-18. And the 48 hours after a long run greater than 15 miles, I felt like I couldn't stop dropping low. for the first 24 hours after those long runs I would have my basal decreased all day by 30-50%! This is so normal according to my endo. You're body is becoming more efficient at metabolizing glucose!
I recommend working with your endo or an educator to develop a plan of action. I conveniently had an endo appointment right around week 9 so was able to discuss it with her. Basically, I decreased by basal rates 3-4 hours before I was noticing the drops. For example, I was dropping a lot overnight at 2am, so decreased the basal about 3 hours before that time. It did take quite a bit of fine tuning (and I went on a lot of runs during this period that ended in lows), but by re-establishing my pre-run routine I was able to figure our what my body needed to keep sugars stable during the run and for the rest of the day/night.
And I'd just like to make a point here about perspective. I could have very easily thrown in my towel and become so frustrated with the lows that I walked away. But I changed my perspective and instead got curious to why this was happening. In that way, I was able to work with my body, instead of against it!
Unfortunately, there was a period towards the end of my training (starting after my 18 mile long run, about 7 weeks out) where I got terrible terrible pain in my right knee. Instead of pushing through, I backed off training for a few weeks. This made me equally as nervous-- how was my body going to be ready for the marathon if i didn't train!? But in the end, 2 weeks of taking-it-easy is probably the only reason that I was able to make it to the finish line! That, and a LOT of foam rolling.
In other words, it's better to under-train than to overtrain. I learned this the hard way during my sophomore year in college when I was training for my first full marathon (where I didn't even make it to the starting line).
Also, it's never a bad idea to see a professional.
A few more tips:
A lot of people are going to tell you advice. You don't have to listen to everything.
Invest in shoes. Go to a local running shop that will actually evaluate your gait and get you fitted properly.
There's no need to buy fancy anything. I did my training and race with $10 amazon headphones, my phone to track my distance, and an outfit and socks that I've probably worn for every week for the past 5 years. If you do want to splurge on gear and marathon-related things, go for it. But you definitely don't have to.
Tell everyone you know. It's really awesome to have people to celebrate you. Also accountability.
Practice running without music/audio. I like to use music when I need extra motivation, but it's not a part of every run. Get used to the sound of your breath, the rhythm of your feet, and take in what's around you.
Have fun! (duh)
If you have any specific questions, I'd love to help you out!! Send me a DM on instagram (@beetsandbetes), send me and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or drop a comment below!!
And if you are interested in running a marathon but don't think you're ready, let me with 100% certainty say that if you want to run a marathon, you can. Trust me.