Diabetes, Tough Mudder, and Resilience

Since today is World Diabetes Day and I’m diabetic, I thought I would share some of my story. We’ll return to the regular schedule tomorrow.

Tough Mudder: Are You Tough Enough?I don’t talk about diabetes very often, even though I am diabetic. Before I’m asked what type, I’ll say it: I have type one diabetes, which used to be known as juvenile diabetes until adults started to be diagnosed with it (hence “juvenile-onset” and other terms). I like to be clear about which type I have. Mine can’t be controlled through a strict diet and exercise. Those things help me to manage it and to be a healthy person, but they don’t have any bearing on my ability to break down glucose and to transmit that glucose throughout my body. I have to rely on an external source for that. It used to be insulin injections, then insulin pens. These days, I use an insulin pump, and it looks like a pager.

My insulin pump makes for some interesting conversations and scenarios. For instance, I’ve signed up for a Tough Mudder in April. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my insulin pump. It’s water resistant, but it isn’t waterproof. I also don’t know what to expect if I get hit with one of the electric volts. I don’t think electricity will hurt the pump, but I don’t know that for certain. These are questions I will have to ask my insulin pump trainer. I hope she will have some answers for me.

I also said interesting conversations, and I meant it. An acquaintance, who knows I’m diabetic, heard me talking about the Tough Mudder. She asked, “Can you do that when you’re diabetic?” I’ve been on the receiving end of similar questions, usually when I’m eating a cupcake or something similar. I can eat sugar, and I can run a Tough Mudder. I just have to remember I’m diabetic. I can’t eat three cupcakes in one sitting – no one should – but I can have a cupcake. I also can run a Tough Mudder, but I’m going to have to prepare for low blood sugars. I’ll probably have to carry some glucagon with me. I have no intention of passing out on the course, and I will do my best to prevent that from occurring.

I suppose people are surprised when I choose to do something that is seemingly atypical of diabetics. They really shouldn’t be. My mom raised me to think I could do and be anything, diabetes or no diabetes. Thus, I sometimes take on projects or activities just to prove that I can do them, even if it’s only to prove it to myself. My mom taught me about moderation because, as a parent with three kids under the age of five, she didn’t have time to prepare fancy meals or to worry about meal exchanges (A relic from the ‘eighties. The new treatment plan is counting carbs.). She used the exchange system when I was first diagnosed, but she deviated once she understood what did and didn’t work. She also taught me to recover quickly, although I probably had to learn much of that on my own. We dealt with a number of low blood sugars when I was a kid, the kind that sometimes left migraines and weariness in their wake. Despite feeling awful, I still had to go to school. I had to write book reports. I had to finish a science board. Did I produce my best work when I was feeling out of sorts? Probably not, but I learned to keep pushing forward even when all I wanted to do was sleep or cry. I learned to be resilient. I learned to adapt. I learned to fall and get back up again.

Feel free to share your stories or to ask questions in the comments. Today’s a day to increase awareness about and understanding of diabetes.

Image: Glenn Harper (CC BY SA 2.0)


  1. Excellent post! I have two friends whose daughters have diabetes and use the pump. They say it’s the best thing that’s happened for them, and they live full, rich and active lives.
    And your mom’s so right: You can do and be anything you want! And you’re clearly proving you’re up to the challenge. Thanks for sharing, and for shedding more light on diabetes. Cheer! Kaarina

    • KDillabough The pump makes managing my diabetes easier, but it’s harder to be an incognito diabetic. 😉
      My mom was adamant about me being responsible for my diabetes. I think I managed most of it by the time I was twelve.

      • magriebler says:

        Erin F. KDillabough But we don’t want you to be an incognito diabetic. We want you to share your story … just like you did. And take out that pump when you need it, not when it’s convenient, so that the rest of us get a little education at the same time. People with chronic illnesses are people too! (And your mom rocks, BTW.)

        • magriebler KDillabough My pump usually is on display since it’s hooked to my belt. It really does look like a pager. I’ve had people ask if I was a doctor. 
          My blogging story actually ties into my diabetes. I started blogging consistently because of the American Diabetes Association’s challenge to blog every day in the month of November.
          I’ll have to pass your compliment of my mom to her. She only reads my blog via email.

        • magriebler says:

          Erin F.  KDillabough  Tell her she’s done good. 🙂

        • magriebler says:

          Erin F. KDillabough And — please post photos of you after your Tough Mudder. Those are always a delight.

        • magriebler KDillabough I’m planning on before and after photos even if I have to ask a complete stranger to take them. 😀
          I also want to get a Princess Bride shirt because I’ve named my team “Prepare to Die.” I’d wear it for the race, but I don’t want to have to throw it away after the race.

        • magriebler says:

          Erin F. KDillabough Are you a fan of the book or the movie? This is a very important question.

        • magriebler KDillabough I, unfortunately, am the awful person who has not read the book. It’s on my reading list. Promise, promise.

        • magriebler says:

          Erin F. KDillabough You MUST! The movie does not compare.

        • magriebler KDillabough Maybe I can find a used copy at Half Price Books the next time I venture there. 🙂

        • Erin F. magriebler KDillabough  Hi Erin, good luck on the race!  I am looking into running one of these in Dallas next year when they come to town.  On Nov. 3rd my wife and I (I’m type 1 for 40 years now) ran a 5K Foam/Mud run.  Not as challenging as the tough mudder, but had I think 17 obstacles and was pretty fun!  I took a disposable waterproof camera along and took pictures during the race.  You could sorta tell as the race wore on, the lens got a little dirtier, LOL,  Hard to clean it when you are covered in mud!  I did wear my Onmipod insulin pump, on the inside of my arm and used that Vet Wrap to hold it securely in place.  Worked out great for me.  Started the race at about 180, ate a few crackers (about 15 carbs)  took a small bolus and extended it for an hour, finished at 135.  Had an absolute blast!

        • RobWalter magriebler KDillabough Thank you for all the information! Is the Onmipod a brand? I have the Medtronic insulin pump. I need to look on the Medtronic site to see if something like the Vet Wrap is available. 
          My other concern is the live wire obstacle. I’m not sure our pumps are designed for electrical shocks.
          Forty years? You, sir, are amazing. I’m going on twenty-seven.

        • Erin F. RobWalter magriebler KDillabough 
           Erin F. RobWalter magriebler KDillabough 
          Omnipod is the brand, by Insulet. it is a tubeless insulin pump, sticks
          to you like an egg cut in half and has a separate (wireless) PDM to
          control it.  I like the freedom of not having the controller connected, I
          was afraid I’d get it all tangled up at night if I used a tubed
          system.  The Vet Wrap is just like an old Ace Bandage, but sticks to
          itself.  You can get it dirt cheap on Amazon, in some cool colors too. 
          Pharmacies carry it, for like $6 – $8 a roll, Amazon is like $2 a
          Yeah, that electrical shock is what I was searching
          for and found this place.  I did have a small shock on my mud run (doing
          the mud crawl with the wires overhead), no harm done to the pump, but I
          think tough mudder has a little more “jolt” to it.  I have read a lot
          of people just take Lantus for the day and unhook the pump for either 12
          or 24 hours, and take shots when needed.  Omnipod is disposable, so if
          the shock does mess it up, at least it is the end of the race and I can
          just put on a new one!  Each pump lasts 72 hours.27 years is a
          long time too!  It’s great to stay in shape, eat right and take your
          med’s so we CAN do anything we want!  Diabetes isn’t an excuse to not do
          something (except eat high carb’d meals!)

        • RobWalter magriebler KDillabough Hmm. Maybe I’ll have to do some digging into Omnipod. I also can ask my doctor about it when I see him. My guess is that I’ll have to go back to pen needles for the day, but we’ll see.

  2. Lovely and personal post, Erin! Thank you for sharing. You clearly have a strong work ethic which serves you well to this day.

  3. Wow, you are a bad ass running this with diabetes! Plenty of folks with disabilities run the mudder, so you should be OK.  Really proud of you for sharing openly, and keep up the good work.

    • geoffliving Thanks!
      Part of the reason I want to have a team is that I’m diabetic. My teammates would watch out for me. 🙂 That, and I really will need help over some of those tall walls…

  4. Hey, you are one tough mudder. And that’s cool. Cheers!

  5. Tough Mudders look fun, but I’m horribly out of shape. I had a month, a few months ago, when I was running and walking about 45 miles per week. I started to get into shape and then had a bit of a knee issue. It is better now and I’ve bought new shoes, but I’ve not been running.
    It seems that when I’m writing a bunch, running seems to bring it all crumbling to a halt. At least, that is what happened last time. That is excuse one. Excuse two is that it is getting chilly.  Neither one is very good and one would think that a writer would be able to do better.
    I’m amazed by anyone doing a Tough Mudder. Good for you!

    • ExtremelyAvg I had a year where I was plagued with various injuries. I started riding a bike, but bicycling doesn’t have the same effect on me that running does. 
      Odd that running brings your writing to a halt. Running helps me think through lines or ideas. I also prefer the cooler weather, but “cooler” in Texas is fifty or sixty degrees, not twenty or thirty.
      Thanks! I’m not sure what insanity prompted the Tough Mudder adventure, but it’s too late to turn back now.

      • Erin F. ExtremelyAvg It may have been a coincidence that I had writers block when I started running, but I felt like all my creativity was gone. Again, one sample is not a statistically significant amount and once I get the next 3 Henry Wood’s out and the 2 (Secret Project) done, I’ll probably give running another go, because I loved being out on the road.

        • ExtremelyAvg I’ve sometimes gone on a run when I’m trying to work through some angst. It rarely works, but that might be because running time is thinking time. I have to think about what’s filling my head.

        • Erin F. ExtremelyAvg I find that when running I do a bunch of thinking. It is great, but I’ve not been able to run and think about the stories I’m working on. Still, I one day hope to be able to run and write in my head. That would be awesome!

        • ExtremelyAvg I don’t know that I write in my head per say. It’s more part of the editing phase or if I’m worrying line breaks. I also focus on one or two ideas while I’m running. They usually are ideas I’ve been mulling for a while. Running for an hour or so lets me sharpen focus and develop a game plan.

  6. Hi, Erin. I came to your site after reading your guest post on BetterMess.com, and having recently been to a Tough Mudder, I couldn’t resist this post.
    My first Tough Mudder was in September, but I was still nursing a metatarsal stress fracture from the Disneyland Half Marathon, so I didn’t run it with my team. But I did get to see a lot of the course, and I can say that having a team is great, but even if you end up going solo, you’ll still be part of the overall team. There’s so much camaraderie and support from strangers…it’s amazing. I’m already registered for Lake Tahoe 2013.
    The other thing I wanted to offer is connection with a community of primal/paleo lifestyle people over at Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple website and blog. Specifically, I think you might enjoy reading a success story by a young man with T1D: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/type-1-diabetes-no-match-for-primal-lifestyle/
    I hope this supports you. All the best,

    • eullman Oh, mschechter . I probably could blame him for the fact that I seem to jump into the deeper waters much more frequently these days. 🙂 I can’t really blame him for the Tough Mudder. I got myself into it all on my lonesome.
      That’s an awesome story! Thank you for sharing it with me and for visiting Write Right.
      Tough Mudder does seem to draw a certain crowd. Good luck with your upcoming one at Lake Tahoe.

  7. Both my parents are diabetic and they keep telling me to go for regular check ups and I understand. My siblings and I are always aware of this and keep track. On World Diabetic Day I was volunteering at an awareness campaign and it was surprising how many people were diagnosed as diabetic. Maybe it is due to the lifestyle we are leading now. 
    Coming from a family history of diabetics, I was surprised to be diagnosed as borderline hypoglycemic (on the World Diabetic Day). I need to take care they said and I am trying.

    • Hajra  Hypoglycemia may not be all that surprising. It pops up in people who have a family history of diabetes. I can’t recall if my younger brother was diagnosed with it, but he tends to struggle with maintaining a normal blood glucose – usually because he gets busy and forgets to eat. Suddenly, he turns into an evil, evil person. Give him some food, and he returns to normal. I can be that way, too, when my blood sugar goes low. I try to contain it better, but I’ve had a long time to learn the signs and to say, “Excuse me, I need to take care of my blood sugar.” 🙂
      I think more cases are diagnosed – generally Type 2, not Type 1 – because of lifestyle choices. People have the option to be sedentary and to eat unhealthy. Many times – I’m thinking of certain demographics – people are unaware of the effect of their eating habits. They’ve grown up eating x, y, z. They’re surprised to learn that their food choices may be to blame for their health risks.

      • Erin F. Hajra  Ya I get the evil person thing too. Mainly I feel a little dizzy and I snap a lot. When I snap, the first thing my mom asks me this “Your sugar levels are dipping again?”. Not always true… but yes, the only thing I am struggling with is keeping track of what and when I eat.

        • Hajra Perhaps because you’re a busy, busy girl? I’m horrible about not stopping for a break when I’m in the middle of a project. I lose track of time.

        • Erin F. Hajra  Ya, the irregular eating patterns are probably the key to whats wrong. And maybe we need to be taking care of that.

        • Hajra That’s part of it. Also learning what foods keep you stable and energized for a length of time may help, too.

  8. Understanding diabetes and the difference between Type I and Type II and the treatment options have come a very long way since I was a nurse in the late 70’s ( I was 5 at the time)   You are a role model, Erin F. , for how to live a fulfilling, successful and active life with diabetes Type I.  With the benefit of glucometers and understanding the results of the HgbA1c test and really paying attention to what your body is telling you has really allowed diabetics to live amazing lives.  You have ALWAYS impressed me with your calm and rational approach to your diabetes.  You combine common sense with science and the result is…well…your spectacular life.  Once you talk to your insulin pump trainer, I am sure that you will feel confident about facing that Tough Mudder head on!  I know you don’t usually talk about your diabetes Erin, but, tuck this idea in the back of your mind for future reference.  There are many, many (was I supposed to put a comma between those two words?) Type I diabetics out there that could sure use an amazing role model such as yourself.  You are brilliant, articulate and…you understand.  Maybe, just maybe, someday you can show them what can be…
    You are awesome!!

    • SocialMediaDDS I have talked with my trainer. She told me not to worry about the voltage in relation to the pump and to buy an Aquapac (She used one at Schlitterbahn and said her pump did fine.) for it. That way, I don’t have to deal with going off the pump for a few days or anything like that.
      And, perhaps not ironic, I’ve had a similar thought. It’s one reason I was able to move past the anger when I was a kid – recognizing that my own experiences could allow me to help someone else. I’m making headway with that thought; I’ll be working with the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association as a volunteer writer. The association focuses more on Type 2 diabetics, but, who knows. Something could come of it. I also have hopes it could lead to more breaks for Write Right.

  9. I have a question because i found this searching for Diabeties and tough mudder.  I will be running it in May this year and I too wear a pump.  I am curious since you wrote this article many years ago how did you handle it and your pump.  I am worried with out my pump I will be very high (this happended on a smaller 3 mile mud run and thought i could do it with out my pump).  But the Mudder is longer and much more physically demanding.  So please share if you can how you did on the run and how you handled it with your pump.
    Thank you so much and the rest of the article was very well written! 
    Norm Benz

  10. nrbenz You’re a brave soul! I’ve decided one Tough Mudder is enough for me.

    I actually wore my pump and had it in a waterproof Aquapac: http://usstore.aquapac.net/insulin-pump-case-uss158a.html. It straps around your waist and can be worn underneath clothing–something I recommend with the water, mud, fire, and electricity. The medical stations don’t have meters to check your blood sugar, so have someone follow you along the course. I ran high for much of the race, but I’m not sure if that was the adrenaline from the race or the Aquapac interfering with the tubing (one of the hazards noted with wearing it). I promptly tanked after the race, so take advantage of the nutrition bar they give you and have your person ready with snacks.

  11. Lyndon Ploss 946 says:

    nrbenz  Hi Erin, good on you for taking on the challenge!  I have never really looked at diabetes as being a life hindering disease. I was diagnosed with juvenille diabetes at the age of 2. I will be 52 in April. It just a lifestyle.  Physically I’m in great shape and have always participated in sports all my life.I however still take injections. Fast acting insulin 3-4 times daily and a dose of lantus insulin before bed.  I to have dealt with both low and high sugar levels.                                                              My girlfriend did tough mudder last june on Whistler mtn. She is very much into training for the next one. I have never attempted tough mudder but I would like to attempt it.  Both her and myself are a bit apprehensive about me joining up because of my diabetes.  I’ve never said no to any sport.  I’m willing to try.  Yes it would be optimal to have a couple of snack stations set up for diabetics just in case.  But that probably wont happen.                                                                                               I know my body and know when my levels are low.  Besides taking a very minimal dosage of insulin and bringing glucagon and quite a few energy bars on a day like that, I’m not sure what else I could do for approximately 5hrs to help me through it.  If you have any additional tips, please let me know.

  12. Lyndon Ploss 946 nrbenz They do have snack and hydration stations throughout the course but not any paramedics with meters or things of that nature. I had my brother come along as a spectator, and I’d periodically check in with him to check my blood sugar.
    If you do take glucagon and energy bars with you, I’d suggest the Aquapac to keep them dry.
    I’ve never seen diabetes as a life-hindering disease, either. I have my mom to thank for that. 🙂
    Good luck with the Tough Mudder! I’m sure you and your girlfriend will do great.

  13. Clarissa942 says:

    Hi I am participating in a Tough Mudder this year in June. I am also a type 1 diabetic. Can you give any tips that you found for glucose as well as what to do with your pump? They are much appreciated!! 🙂

  14. Clarissa942 Good for you! They have break stations throughout the course where you can get snacks–bananas and energy bars from what I remember. I also had my brother come as a spectator. He carried glucose tablets and my meter. I kept my pump in an Aquapac. It kept my pump dry.


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