Dexcom G5 Vs. Freestyle Libre

What are they?

The Dexcom G5 is a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) – which means that BG readings get transmitted directly to your phone or reader.

The Freestyle Libre is a Flash Glucose Monitoring System  – which means that the information is not automatically sent to the Reader – you have to swipe to see. If you don’t scan within 8 hours of the last scan (like when you’re sleeping!)..you lose the data between the previous scan and the time over the previous 8 hours. The Freestyle Libre is not a CGM.

So who wins…

The insertion? Libre

Libre wins this one for ease of application. You can’t really go wrong with it. Dexcom, on the other hand, requires a little more effort.

The sensor start up? Dexcom

Libres warm up in 1 hour. But in the US, Libres now take a shocking 12 hours to warm up. 12 hours!

Dexcom takes 2, regardless of location.

The sensor life? Dexcom

Libres live for 14 days with an automatic cut off. In the US, sensors cut off after 10 days.

Dexcom G5 sensors are able to be restarted every 7 days..indefinitely. (Though you change when the numbers go ‘off’. or you keep getting the dreaded ‘???’ instead of a reading. Before I had Dexcom I wondered how I’d ‘know’ when the numbers go off, and believe me when I say that you will know! 

Calibration? Dexcom

You cannot calibrate with the Libre…which means that if you get a sensor which is a bit ‘off’ on the readings, it’s off for the duration of it’s life. Some people see no calibration as a good thing, but I like to have a little more control. Dexcom requires 2 readings immediately after warm-up, then every 12 hours. You can calibrate more if desired.

Alarms? Dexcom

The Libre has no alarms.

I have a love-hate relationship with Dexcom alarms. I hate that they can often wake me up during the night – and more often than not this is for a ‘false’ low – but that’s the whole point! You can set your own ‘High’ and ‘Low’ alerts as well, and you can just have Vibrate only (except for ‘Urgent Low’ Alarms – below 3.1). You can also set alarms for rapid Rise or Fall rates and Signal Loss if you wish!

Comfort? Dexcom

Despite the larger size, I find Dexcom to be more comfortable – generally. I would find the Libre to be sore port-insertion, whereas Dexcom tends to be pain-free from the start. However – hit a bad spot with the Dexcom and you might find yourself with a very sore arm for a while!

Overnight readings? Tie

I found both devices to read lower overnight – even when I wasn’t necessarily as low as they said.

Data & Graphs? Dexcom

The Libre graphs are cool..but feel rather rudimentary after switching to Dexcom. There’s so. much. data.

Accuracy? Dexcom

No explanation needed.

Adhesive? Dexcom

Despite the larger size of the Dexcom, I found the Libre more prone to being knocked off. I knocked the Libre off once. I’ve pulled Dexcom off twice (once in my sleep into the third week of sensor life – no tegarderm, and once pulling my sports bra off – no tegarderm again!)

I’ve found that the Libre struggled to stay attached for its two weeks, whereas I’m confident Dexcom will sit tight for longer.

Ordering? Dexcom

Dexcom allows you to order 4 sensors and a transmitter at a time, which can keep you going for 3.5 months.

Abbott allows you to order 2 Libre sensors at a time, which will keep you going for 1 month.

Delivery time? Dexcom

Every Dexcom order I’ve placed or replacement I’ve received has arrived within 2 days of me being in contact with Dexcom.

Abbott aim to deliver in 5-7 days, but is often longer.

Customer Service? Dexcom

I’ve heard negative things about Abbott’s customer service – though I’ve had no interactions with them personally. However, I’ve contacted Dexcom twice about dodgy sensors and once prior to the introductory offer and their customer service has been second to none.

Viewing Readings? Dexcom

With both Libre and Dexcom, readings are viewable via a phone app. However, the Libre has to be scanned whereas Dexcom doesn’t.

Watch compatibility? Dexcom

Dexcom is compatible with a bunch of devices, but I view my data on my Apple Watch.

For parents of type 1 kids? Dexcom!

Dexcom has the option for other people to ‘Follow’ readings – and also receive alarms. This means a parent can be woken up when their kid has high or low blood sugar, and of course be able to view their BG at any other time of day!

Dexcom G5…cheaper than Freestyle Libre?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often say that Dexcom works out at a similar price to the Freestyle Libre – especially with the introductory offer that Dexcom have, which is (in the UK):

  • £275 for:
    • 1 x transmitter (no extension*) and;
    • 4 x sensors (7 days life with easy re-starts)

With the transmitter life and re-using sensors, I got 15 weeks out of my introductory offer.. that’s £18.33/week – and I had a sensor left over.

With my current transmitter due to expire shortly, I thought I’d do the maths on what I’ve spent and what my usage has been during my 44+ weeks of using the Dexcom G5.

In all, I’ve been through 3 transmitters and 10 sensors**. That’s an average sensor life of just over 1 month. The transmitters are said to last 3 months (that’s the warranty coverage legnth), but their actual length of life is up to 112 days, with a 22 day ‘grace period’…that’s almost a whole month extra!

So, my costings:

Introductory Transmitter & 4 Sensors = £275

Transmitter x 2 = £400

Sensors x 8 = £205

Total cost: £1085

I still have 2 sensors untouched, so I’ll deduct the value of these and call the current total cost £985.

I’m into my 45th week with Dexcom, which means an average weekly spend of £21.88. 

With the Freestyle Libre, each sensor lasts 14 days, with no option to extend. They retail at £48.29 – so a weekly spend of £24.15 excl. VAT if you’re a diabetic and exempt. However, because of the demand now they’re available in some places on the NHS, they’ve capped the ordering allowance at 2 sensors per order. They also aim to deliver in 5-7 days.

Note: If you’re just starting out with the Freestyle Libre you also need a ‘reader’ – a Starter Pack (Reader + 2 Sensors) retails at £133.29 excl. VAT. The Dexcom G5 doesn’t require a reader as it runs through an app on your phone! 

Obviously, there’s not a great deal in it. But even if Dexcom worked out marginally more expensive, I’d stick with it because there are several reasons I prefer it to the Libre (next blog post?) And of course, the calculations are based on average figures across the time I’ve used the G5. Some sensors work longer than others (and I 100% attribute mine lasting so long by covering with Tegaderm***!)

 

 

*There are videos of some people managing to sand down the transmitter and replace the batteries for longer use.. it just looks a bit tricky to me and requires a couple of tools! 

**I’ve had 2 sensors replaced by Dexcom in that time – one because the sensor failed to start up and the other because there was a lot of blood filling the sensor, so I haven’t counted these.

***I use the 3M Tegaderm Transparent Film Dressing (10 x 12 cm)

It’s just a little crussh…

My friend and I were strolling through Bloomsbury the other day when I saw my first Crussh. I saw that they sold ‘Fit Food’ and rather than being all ‘sure’ and carrying on, we stopped. We were just after a coffee anyway, so I could’ve just gone for a black coffee if all else failed.

We walked in and my decisive friend ordered her coffee, while I gawped at the ‘Smart Coffee’ options on the board and exclaimed that ‘they do bulletproof coffee!’ My excitement grew, and my friend nonchalantly concluded her order – getting me a BPC. I was still gawping at the menu and picking up the snacks by the till to scan the Nutritional Value lists on the back when my friend said she was gonna take a seat and leave me to do my thing. I often look on the back of food packets – but after 3.5 years of living with type 1, I know better than to expect, or even hope, to find anything truly Low Carb or Keto friendly. But I’m always curious about what’s out there.

And then I saw the Adonis Low Sugar Nut Bar. Right… Vegan, Gluten Free, Paleo and NO Added Sugar made from 100% Natural Ingredients. My initial reaction was ‘Yeah, right, sure’, so I picked it up and flipped it over. 5.2g carbs per bar. Okay..that’s good..very good.. And then I saw that 2.8g of that are due to erythritol – making the whole bar a total of 2.4g net carbs. I flipped back to the front which is when I noticed the ‘2g Net Carbs’ claim and the ‘2g Natural Sugar’ label and took a photo..obviously. Being a complete nerd, I also really appreciated the texture and look of the packets themselves (Matte > Gloss any day of the week)! To top it off, crucially, the flavours were also right up my street and both get a big approval from me (Red > Blue).

Even though the information was right there, I was skeptical. I mean… if things seem too good be be true, the rule of thumb is that they usually are… especially when it comes to the nutritional content of food and their effects on blood sugar. So I let my Dexcom graph be the judge – this was the result with no insulin on board and no injection for the bar itself:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diabetics, you’ll appreciate the rarity of not having to inject for something you consume. Non-diabetics, imagine having to inject for every food item (and possibly drinks) you consume. Every single thing. No matter where you are, who you’re with or how cold it is and how many layers of clothes you’re wearing. Then imagine walking into a shop and being able to buy a snack bar that you can eat like a normal human being with a functioning pancreas. You don’t have to think about the content, injecting, or how it’s going to make you feel, because it’s effect is negligible. That’s the Adonis Nut Bar for you. Another thing I tested on my fourth visit was how well the bars would hold up in my bag. This may sound odd, but I appreciate that getting products like this to stick together and hold their form is more difficult without the sugar and high carb ingredients.. so I bought another one, chucked it in my backpack and strolled the 2.5 mile walk from Westminster to The Shard. When I arrived at my lecture, I pulled the bar out and it had only broken into 2 clean pieces, rather than a crummy or mangled mess. I consider this a victory.

Moving on from the Miracle Bar… I saw that they also sold Broths with Zero Noodles, which is when I took my Smart Coffee to the corner, pulled out my laptop and clicked through the nutritional information of every item in store that had the potential to be low carb (made easier by the fact that they have nutritional information per serve rather than per 100g!). However there was no large downloadable spreadsheet/table of all items, which would’ve been even more straightforward, and despite there being a whole range of filterable specifics to narrow down the search, none of them filtered by carbohydrate count or low sugar. Enough rambling now, here’s a detailed list of what you can buy from Crussh without having to worry about spikes in blood sugar…

Coffee

Every single coffee on their menu is keto friendly.

Those of you with a keen eye might shout ‘what about the Agave in the Turmeric Latte?’ But you can request this to be omitted, and the staff will happily oblige (Though with the sweetness coming from fructose rather than glucose, those of you who aren’t keto/diabetic might find your metabolism and BG can handle it better than mine). The ginger they use is fresh, not a syrup (I checked) and the Almond Mylk is Unsweetened Alpro (I also checked) which makes this a decent caffeine free hot drink alternative! (In my opinion, they could go a little stronger on the turmeric, but perhaps that’s because mine lacked the little sweetness and I prefer my turmeric lattes to pack a little punch. However, a staff member in the 4th Crussh I visited (yes, 4th, I’d like to say this was purely for research purposes..but that would be a lie) shared my view, though, and said he adds extra to his)

Smart Coffee 

The fact that they even offer bulletproof coffee (BPC) is amazing in itself – and there’s the option between having MCT oil or Brain Octane MCT oil. Both are good, and while there’s no difference in taste (that I noted), there are a whole post of reasons (more to follow..) on why the Brain Octane MCT is worth the extra dollar. From a financial  and non-keto point of view though, I appreciate that they’ve kept BPC accessible by having the regular MCT option – and I’d recommend it.

Ginger Shot Latte

Like the Turmeric Latte, the Ginger Shot uses fresh ginger – so having it with Soya or Almond will keep it low in both carbs and sugar, but steer clear of the Coconut Milk option (which is sweetened). I love ginger…and I love coffee. The two together are an interesting match…and one worth trying. I’m not converted, though, and the BPC will remain my absolute go to!

All other coffees can be made with almond, soya or coconut milk for NO EXTRA CHARGE. This is the first time I’ve seen this and as a non-dairy mylk drinker as a type 1 diabetic also conscious of the environmental impact of dairy milk, I appreciate this so much.

Tofu, miso & greens Zero Noodle broth pot

Here we have a low Carb, Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free, High Protein broth pot. I mean… I’m not sure there are any boxes left to tick?! The tofu pieces are big and have decent texture, the beans have a crunch and the noodle are Zero Carb (there could be a few more of them and it needs a good stir to separate them out before you tuck in). And they get filled at the counter so you have the option of purchasing on in the morning, carrying around a lighter, safe load and topping it up with hot water at lunch time. This one has 11.9g carbs/serve – of which 2.6g are sugars (leave the edamame beans for a reduction of both).

They serve two more broths… the Prawn Tom Yum and Chicken Laksa. However, they both contain almost 14g carbs/serve.. of which 8g are sugars. I know…it hurts.

Soup

I think it’s also worth mentioning that they offer a Super Green Side Soup (which I think should just be called the The Souper Green..) which contains peas, leaks, broccoli, edamame, broccoli and spinach – racking in at 8.6g carbs/serve of which 4.2g are sugars. I’d just like them to omit the peas from this one, and maybe even the edamame, to drastically (ratio wise) reduce that carb count.

Salads

Pictured is the Protein Boost Box which contains only 3g carbs/serve and are delicious! They each containing smoked salmon, 1.5 hard boiled eggs, chicken, half an avocado and spinach (with a wedge of lemon). Nutrient dense, flavour dense, high in protein and low in carbs.

(I was having lunch and coffee with a fellow ketogenic type 1 diabetic – hence the matching Protein Boxes, BPCs, Freestyle Libre and Diabetic Kit! Both our BGs remained completely stable throughout and after our two BPCs (each) and Protein Boxes)

Healthpots

They have a bunch of these which all look amazing but just one is Keto friendly and it’s the Chicken Healthpot which contains chilli marinated chicken with spinach, toasted nuts & seeds. I failed at getting a photo of this one, but I did buy one to take away and it was really tasty.

Bone broth

They sell bone broth! However, when I went to buy some it was unavailable…  It’s 2.4g carbs/serve of which all of them are sugars which isn’t ideal but it’s made with slowly simmered beef bones, chicken bones, onions, carrots, salt, cider vinegar, cracked black pepper & bay leaves. It’s next on my list to try.

Snacks

Unfortunately these almost all appear to be a little high on the carb/sugar scale for me, but the lowest one – Red Pepper & Smoked Paprika Energy Balls sounds interesting with cannellini beans, almonds, mango chutney, gluten free oats, pumpkin seeds, coriander & turmeric rolled in golden linseeds and a serve contains 11.1g carbs (of which 2.2g sugars) so I would like to try them. There’s another ‘however’ – I tried getting my hands on them in the last Crush I visited and they were unavailable… apparently not very popular and not great in taste so I was told it was looking like they won’t be returning.

So there you have it.

More places now have more low and lower carb options (and vegan if you go with the turmeric/ginger/normal latte and the miso broth!) – you just have to look for them. I’m definitely gonna keep my eyes peeled for other places and options around, and I will be racking up a list of go-tos on here.

The Truth About Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Imagine you’re a tightrope walker, and you have one hand stretched out, gripping a single teaspoon of sugar. This little teaspoon represents the amount of sugar that is dissolved in the blood in the body at any one time. Now imagine that grains of sugar are falling from the sky – and the aim of the game is to keep the amount of sugar on that teaspoon as close to level as possible. Any decision to consume carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, root vegetables (beetroot, parsnips, carrots, potatoes) cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, crisps, chips, sauce, milk, yoghurt, fruit, fruit juice, soft drinks, etc) has the effect of hailstorms of sugar cubes falling from the sky and crashing into your spoon. Your spoon is overflowing but the amount of sugar on that spoon can only be reduced with an injection of insulin, which you must calculate with a ratio that depends on your initial blood sugar level, body weight, sensitivity to insulin and sensitivity to carbohydrates. Every injection enables you to shake that teaspoon a little, but only slightly after 20 minutes after injecting, and not fully until 2 hours after. By then, your teaspoon may still be overflowing, or maybe now you’ve miscalculated and there are only a few granules left on your spoon. You begin to shake and wobble your spoon under the grains that continue to fall from the sky, trying desperately to replenish your spoon to its correct level. While all of this is happening, the audience at the circus are throwing inflatable balloons at you. To the audience, they’re balls of air. But to you, they’re full of stress, adrenaline, caffeine, alcohol, dehydration, illness, weather, insulin, medicine, exercise, sleep, heat and hormones; they’re full of all the things that effect sugar levels. To the audience, the balls are harmless. But to you, every single one knocks you and causes you to either lose some of the granules from your spoon or to catch more and overspill. Every step you take affects your immediate or long term survival. Every single moment of every single day.

That’s the core of what Type 1 Diabetes is. Sure, it’s about living with a pancreas that doesn’t work – but it’s about so much more than that. We prick our fingers over 8 times a day and inject ourselves several more times, but you couldn’t pick us out of a line up because we don’t look sick. Having an auto-immune condition means that we live in a body that waged a war against itself, and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. This is why Type 1 Diabetes is less about what you can see and more about what you can’t.

Living with Type 1 is about living with the burden of trying to manage a disease which is so insidious and so unrelenting that it makes hard work out of staying alive. No two days are the same with diabetes. Hell, no two meals are the same with diabetes. We can do the same thing every single day but we will always get different results. We’re always guessing, always fighting – and there is the constant feeling like nobody notices. But why would you? How would you know that the words I’m mumbling are jumbled because my brain is starved of the glucose it needs to function properly? How could you know that the little orange box I keep in my hand bag contains an injection that could save my life? This isn’t a ‘poor me’ story. It’s the reality of living life with an illness that could turn any day into a medical emergency, and raising awareness of that.

Living with Type 1 diabetes gives you two choices: insulin or death. That’s it. No amount of exercise, healthy eating, or pills will ever make it go away. Can you think of any illness that allows the affected (or ‘sufferer’ as they like to say) to choose their own amount of medication? Sounds crazy, right? But that’s what Type 1 Diabetics do several times a day. We are our own drug givers – we self-medicate – we decide how much and when… and we do this with an injection of a hormone that, whilst essential in keeping us alive, also has the potential to kill us every time we inject. Every. Single. Time.

Living with Type 1 is about not being able to remember what it’s like to wake up in the morning and not immediately reach for my testing kit. It’s about not remembering what it’s like to eat without calculating the number of units I need to inject for my meal or snack.

Living with Type 1 is about enduring the feeling of having hypoglycemic (hypo) symptoms. Me saying ‘I’m low’ means there is a deficiency of glucose in my bloodstream. It means my brain is being starved of the glucose it needs to function, which I need to replace, fast. Without glucose, hypoglycemia may become severe and result in accidents, injuries, coma or death… and by ‘may’ I mean, all it takes is a few extra clicks on my insulin pen – incorrectly estimating a dosage for a meal and then missing the hypo symptoms. It’s about the way a hypo hits differently each time. It’s the feeling of the shakiness when I’m unable to carry out normal tasks, the feeling of nervousness and anxiety, the sweats that wash over and through me and my work clothes. It’s the feeling of irritability, impatience, anger, stubbornness, sadness and confusion, without wanting to be any of those things. It’s the feeling of the rapid heart beat through my chest, lightheadedness and dizziness that makes me question my ability to even stand. It’s the feeling of sleepiness, hunger, nausea and blurred vision. It’s the weird tingling and numbness at the end of my tongue. It’s the headaches, the fatigue and the weakness. It’s the lack of co-ordination. It’s the feeling of frustration at sensing any number of these symptoms at any one time and being physically impaired by my own damn body. It’s the feeling that I am inadequate. It’s the feeling of humiliation as my testing kit falls to the floor because my hands are shaking too hard to hold it still enough to get a reading. And then it’s about the aftermath: the cold and clammy skin from the remnants of sweat, the feeling of exhaustion.

Living with Type 1 is about living a life that is reliant on medication from a pharmacy, just to stay alive. One time at work, I was hungry and my self-control faltered. I had a bunch of carbs and injected my insulin, but it wasn’t enough. Not only did my blood sugar skyrocket, but I’d ran out of insulin. Fortunately for me, the pharmacy that held my prescription was a 5 minute walk up a hill. I stood at the desk while they filled my prescription, biting my nails and blinking hard trying not to cry.

Living with Type 1 is about the occasions I’ve been at work – convinced my shift is going to end in an ambulance because I’m struggling to keep my levels in a safe range, despite consuming sugar. It’s about the multiple occasions I’ve calmly reminded my co-workers where my emergency Glucogen pen is and continued to work, not telling them I’m scared I might drop to the floor at any second, because I don’t look sick, remember?

It’s about the time I lagged behind others during the jog back from interval sessions, 2 miles away off campus, in the cold, dark evening on my own, with my blood sugar plummeting and my thoughts racing – was I visible to traffic if I collapsed? Should I run closer to the road? Would they realise I was diabetic? Would they save me?

It’s about the immediate horror and agitation when I realise I don’t have my blood sugar kit with me. What if I’m high and damaging my organs? What if I’m low and don’t feel it? What if I pass out?

It’s about the terrifying lows. Like the time I started to black out at the coffee machine, just as the sugar I’d consumed kicked in. Or the time I woke up in the night and went to the bathroom before I fell to my knees because I was so low that I couldn’t walk.

It’s about the occasions I seem rude because I’m struggling to string words together, standing there quietly confused and appearing to ignore you because my blood sugar is low and my brain can’t get the glucose it needs to function properly. 

It’s about the times I eat dinner in a restaurant and realise I don’t have enough insulin for the meal I just ordered, or ate, and have to return home as soon as possible.

It’s about the time I was admitted to hospital and hooked up to a Glucose IV drip because I needed fluids but the nurse didn’t understand that this could send me into a coma.

It’s about the nights I prop myself up in bed with the light on to stop myself from falling asleep, because my levels have been unstable and if I sleep, I might not wake up.

It’s about all the times I set alarms at hourly intervals during the night to check I’m still alive.

It’s about the nights I go to sleep feeling fine, but waking up drenched in sweat after suffering a hypo.

It’s about the mornings after the nights like those when I wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus, and having to go to work anyway.

It’s about the bad days when the only time I leave my bed is to go to the bathroom.

It’s about hearing all the natural remedies and friendly suggestions people believe will help cure you, whilst trying to explain that my illness has no cure.

It’s about the grief suffered shortly after diagnosis, of being faced with a life long, chronic illness, but getting on with living anyway.

It’s about living with the thoughts of what might happen to me in the form of complications in the future, without losing the hope that they won’t.

It’s about living in a body that is a little more fragile than it used to be, but also stronger in ways I never knew possible.

Living with Type 1 Diabetes is about fighting for my health every moment of every day. It’s about making it to the end of that tight rope at the end of the day – teaspoon in hand. It’s about closing my eyes and falling asleep, only to wake up in the morning and having the strength to do it all over again.

Running The Routeburn

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Pausing at the lookout during my favourite running route around Mount Crichton, Queenstown – New Zealand (and holding my Freestyle Libre!)

I’d been back in New Zealand for just a few weeks, when my friend ran up behind me as I was rekindling my relationship with running and Queenstown’s mountains. I’d missed them both, and had recently discovered a new favourite track from the recommendation of a customer at work – a steep 7km loop through a Scenic Reserve, which sits 10km out of town (and phone coverage!). ‘Hi Stranger!’ a voice called out from behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see my old Gym Trainer bounding up the trail behind me. I was walking by this point (it was steep…), but spent the next 10 minutes attempting to run alongside her while we chatted, before she left me in the dust and I spent a further 10 minutes walking and gasping with one hand on my hip whilst I got my breath back. During the conversation, Nat had asked me if I was running the Routeburn in a couple of weeks time. I wasn’t, but when I got home I had a Google of it anyway.

The Routeburn Track itself is an epic alpine ‘walk’ traditionally covered over 3 days, and passes through two national parks – Fiordland and Mount Aspiring. It is also part of a World Heritage Area and has been rated number 7 in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Hikes of the World. The easiest way to describe the scenery in this part of the world is to say imagine Lord of the Rings – as Isengard was filmed just north of Glenorchy. The only issue with the Routeburn Track is the logistics of getting to and from each end – the Routeburn Shelter is about an hours drive north west of Queenstown, while The Divide is about 3.5/4 hours south west of Queenstown (see the map below – there really is no quicker way of driving to the Divide!)

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The Routeburn Classic
, however, takes The Routeburn Track and, well, runs with it. The race is also limited to 350 athletes because the number of people on the track at any one time is restricted by the Department Of Conservation. The website says that if you ‘like a challenge, feeling of isolation and running through areas and landscapes straight from a postcard or fantasy novel’ then you are in the right place. My eyes were wide and I was grinning at my laptop screen by this point. The Routeburn Classic sounded right up my street, and so I signed up (being fortunate enough to do so because of other athlete’s misfortunes – dropping out through injury, or other – as the event fills up pretty soon after opening!) The terms and conditions of the race included statements such as ‘Participation in The Routeburn Classic is a test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries the potential for death and serious personal injury’ which only heightened my enthusiasm. I also had to agree that I had no ‘pre-existing medical condition’ and had ‘sufficiently trained’ to participate in The Routeburn Classic… Ahem…

Because the race takes place in the Fiordland, which is known for its extreme elements, there is a list of compulsory gear which has to be carried at all times, and was checked upon registration the day before. If caught running without the items (one thermal bottom, two thermal tops, a hat, gloves, a seam sealed stitched wind/waterproof jacket, a survival blanket and a whistle), the participant would be not be allowed to proceed to the Alpine environment.
On Friday morning, the day before Race Day, I was counting down the hours at work. I had decided that a 5:30am-midday shift would be completely fine, but I found myself excitedly counting down the hours before running around in a frenzy to make sure I had myself ready, fed, watered, packed up and good to walk back into town to meet The Girls and register at Outside Sports by 1:30pm. Somehow I did all of this and still found myself time to buy a new pair of Lululemon tights to run the race in…completely necessary, of course (in my defence, they’re water resistant…something all my other running tights lack!).

I’m going to skip the next 36 hours spent in Te Anau/Knobs Flat and jump straight in to the start of the race – because it ended up being postponed for the first year ever because of the weather and the helicopters being unable to fly in if required).

Routeburn-Profile-Map-LRG-

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The race

The race began 500m before the Divide, which is to have the effect of ‘spreading the field’ before you reach the single track of the divide. I think I barely reached 50 of those cold, early, uphill metres before wanting to go home. I hated it. All I could think was ‘why the hell am I doing this?’...And then we reached the track – the ‘well-graded’ track – which basically means unless you’re super fit then you’re walking that mofo for a good 3.5kms – gaining an elevation of 400m. These were a tough few kilometres. It always takes me a few kilometres to get into the rhythm of a run, and because the track was so narrow and so steep, I found myself walking in single file behind many other people. If there was ever a chance to overtake, I struggled to find the motivation when everyone else around me was walking. But we were progressing, nonetheless. Up, and up, and up. It was somewhere along this uphill slog that I started to chuckle to myself as we hiked up the hill in single file, fully equipped with backpacks and a few of us with fly swatters sticking out of our packs, as this image popped into my head:

Because I was still in high spirits, and enjoying the atmosphere of the run, I couldn’t help but burst into a little ‘Hi Hoooooooo!’ which, to my embarrassment, was met with complete silence (!!!)

From here, there was a nice little descent into Howden Hut, where I managed to sly ahead of a few people, but I still really struggled to get past them. I enjoyed the downhill, and as this whole section of the track was covered by woodland, I felt confident in my step and did some good speed. From Howden Hut,  however, the ascent began again through a lush silver beech forest. At 7.2km and 1000m above sea level, we rounded a corner to see the incredible Earland Falls – a magnificent 174 metre high waterfall cascading down the mountain and spraying onto the track. At this point, I was glad to be sharing the moment with a fellow Routeburn Virgin – who’s exclamation at the sight of the waterfall added to the grin that was already spread across my face. I stared for a moment to take it in. I tried stepping forward, but couldn’t resist looking back up… and stumbled. Lesson learnt. The terrain of much of the track is far too undulating to try running whilst simultaneously giving the view the time of admiration it deserved.

Earland Falls

A little further up from the Falls and though the woods, we came into an area called The Orchard – a bizarrely located, small, open, grassy area filled with ribbon wood trees – before re-entering the woods. After 12km, I reached Lake Mackenzie before the 10:30am cut off time (anyone reaching this Hut beyond that time would have to return to the Divide with the marshals) and I falsely believed that much of the climb was done and dusted.Unfortunately for me, I was very wrong. We immediately began to climb through ancient forest, our runs becoming jogs, before becoming slogs. We climbed through moss and lichen, and I occasionally had to use my hands to clamber up rocks. Eventually, we broke out into the alpine world of daisies, buttercups, gentians and elderweiss where we had a cracking view of the Darren Mountains across the Hollyford Valley. This is where the views went from incredible to even more stunning as we climbed the open face. Think iced carved valleys. Think majestic snow covered peaks of the Southern Alps. Think mirror lakes. Think clouds beneath you. I looked up the mountain and saw we were climbing in a zig zag formation – not from the path in front of me, but by the tens of runners ahead of me, winding their way up. This was one of the occasions where I swore to myself. A lot. I kept having those moments where you can see what’s ahead of you, and you’re not sure that you like it. I persisted anyway, and then the snow started to fall and I broke into another grin. I loved it. And then a lady from Sydney who was following me up the trail was exclaiming her delight at the snow; ‘I’ve never ran in snow before!’ she said, and I could only smile and concur that it was flipping brilliant. There I was, a good chunk of the way through the Routeburn Track, running up an open mountain face in a singlet with a view too beautiful for words and snowflakes falling on my shoulders.

It was at the top of this section of the track where I remembered a piece of advice from someone at the race briefing: ‘layer up when you reach the bluff on the right, after the zig zig because you’re going to be exposed around the corner and lose all the heat you created on the way up’. So I pulled my thermal top over my head right before the bend around the bluff, and was instantly glad of it. The temperature had dropped to about -6 with the wind chill factor on the way to Harris Saddle. It was also around this point that my luck finally ran out on the rocks, and I slipped straight onto my bum. Luckily for me, though, this part of my body is naturally well padded and I was glad that this and my wrist took on most of the weight. I could finish the run with an injured wrist, but I did not want to injure my legs. I was fine and jumped right up – grateful to the man in front of me who stopped to check I was okay.

Somewhere along the last push past Oceans Peak, a loud orange figure stood on the horizon, before the path took a turn beyond her to the right. The figure was calling out to every single person. She high fived all participants, urging us all on. She was so full of enthusiasm, and I was amazed at her energy, especially this far into the race. As we approached her, the marshall told us we were half way, and I told her she deserved a medal, too. I was thrilled with the news of being half way (I ran with no watch or device that would tell me how far we’d ran, or how long we’d been running), and was especially thankful for her presence on that mountain.

19.5km from the start and we’d made it to Harris Saddle – the highest point of the course, sitting approximately 1300m above sea level. ‘It’s downhill from here!’ they said; ‘gravity will take you now!‘. I thanked the marshall’s for the information, and grinned as I pushed on. I turned a corner just past the Saddle, and it’s there that I saw the beautiful Lake Harris – and a large lens pointing towards me from down the track.

Routeburn

From here, we were blessed with more views of the mountains towering above the Routeburn River before we descended towards the Routeburn Falls Hut. It was here that I saw the remaining distance on a sign, and said ‘9kms to go!’ out loud, which was met with a silence from the marshals. I realised they may have thought that I saw this as a bad thing, so I added ‘awesome!’  to my comment which was met with more welcoming smiles. The landscape around the falls remained as dramatic as along the mountain face and the Saddle, until we descended into the alpine pastures of the Routeburn Flats. The track began to shadow the river which roared through a gorge. On more than one occasion during this segment of the track I found myself gripping the handrail fairly tightly and cautiously stepping my way down the path! Not much of the track had handrails, but on the parts it did, I didn’t hesitate to keep within arms distance of them.

‘Save something for the last 7km’ were words that I’d heard from multiple Routeburn Classic returners..and I can see why. Although the final 7km looks good on paper (just look at the elevation profile…it looks pretty flat, right?)… the reality is somewhat different. If you walk or run the Routeburn Track from the Divide expecting to find yourself cruising along down the final quarter of the track, then I think you’d be slightly taken aback. Although it is generally a gentle descent through columns of red beech trees, the wood also hides a few substantial ascents amongst its trunks, and they’re the reason you’ve got to keep something in the tank. I’ll admit to walking a few times during this section of the race. Not because I didn’t have anything left to give, but partly because my knee had been giving me grief since the descent from the saddle- and the field was so spread out by this point that I was often completely alone amongst the trees. I didn’t feel the need to give it my all – I just wanted to finish, and at this stage of the race, that was a given. The scenery was somewhat unstimulating compared to the surprises that the Routeburn Track had sprung upon me – I was no longer running along pristine lakes or above clouds along open mountain faces. Instead, I was back in my comfort zone of serene woodland. Don’t get me wrong – this part of the Routeburn is still beautiful – it was just a familliar kind of beautiful setting that I was used to.

It’s also during this stage of the race that I kept feeling myself well up. I’d have to slow to a walk just to calm my breathing. Someone overtook me and said ‘well done’ as I just about squeaked a ‘you too!’ back before choking up again. It happened on both of my marathons. The first marathon would always be a special event, after all – only 1% of the world’s population can say that this is something they’ve accomplished – and I completed it 2 months after my Type 1 Diagnosis, proud of my determination despite my body’s apparent retaliation against being well. With the second marathon, I struggled monumentally with my blood sugars during the second half of the race, and was left feeling incredibly frustrated at my body’s inability to run a marathon without having to fight death.

With the Routeburn, things were different. I cut my consumption of carbs to a minimum to ensure that my body was burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates – a state called Ketosis (to enter Ketosis, you generally need to consume around 20g of carbs or less per day – a single bagel contains 50g!) I eat low carb anyway , but taking it a step further to enter ketosis meant that I could run without the fear that I would to battle hypoglycemia at the same time – which is what happened during my marathons. Being in ketosis meant that my blood sugar levels had remained stable throughout the race (apart from an initial massive spike due to the intensity of the incline – but I came back down on my own to a perfect level). It also meant that I was able to complete a 32km run without consuming any food or glucose. I couldn’t have cared less about the pain in my knee at this stage, or the speed it took away from me. I didn’t care about how many people over took me, or how many times I had to slow, or walk. I wasn’t breaking any records. A long time ago I realised the best way to control this chronic illness was to eat low carb, and in doing so I found an alternative way to fuel my body to enable me to run the 32kms of the Routeburn safely. I didn’t have to eat a big carby breakfast, or carry lots of food with me. I didn’t have to test my sugar levels constantly, or keep topping up my sugar levels. I didn’t have to worry that my emergency Glucagon Kit was out of date, because there was no fear that my levels would plummet. I was safe in ketosis. I was just like the people around me, only I was running with Type 1 Diabetes, and crying with gratitude at still being able to run one of the most beautiful treks on our planet.

Routeburn

When Big D gets you down.

Nope.

I think that one of the worst parts of having a chronic illness is that sometimes, it breaks you. Maybe you have several bad days in a row. Maybe you just have one really bad day. Whichever it is, you realise you’ve gone on for so long being fine and that today, you’re not. You’re so far from fine that you’re struggling to even move. You don’t know how you made it through work, and you don’t remember how you made it home. You hide in your bed under your blanket all afternoon as the sky darkens outside. But even then, even in the depths of your grief, your illness is haunting you. You can’t sleep easy with the thought that maybe you won’t wake up. You can’t even nap without checking your blood sugar to ensure you’re not going to die. You’re pissed off that you ate some fish you thought was ‘safe’, but in actual fact has sky rocketed your blood sugar. You’re pissed off that an hour later your correction injection has plummeted your blood sugar despite still having an hour left until its peak effect and with an already potentially dangerous level…and dropping. You eat, despite not being hungry. You eat to keep your levels up. You eat to stay alive. You feel like you’re trying to survive in a body that wants to destroy you. You check you blood sugar. Still low. You check again. Still low. And again. Coming up. You’re dosing in and out of your slumber, wondering if this is happening, or if you’re even awake. You’re exhausted. You skip your run. You skip the gym. You skip meeting friends at the pub. You curl up and cry in a ball in your bed instead because your illness has had you today. It’s got its grubby claws around you and its squeezed away your sparkle. And then you grieve. You grieve over the stupid little fish that you ate. You grieve over the simple foods you can no longer eat without your body reacting terribly to it. You grieve over the realisation that you have an illness that will never leave you. You grieve over not being able to eat whatever you want, without it having consequences. You grieve over the life you lost and the life you’re forced to live. You cry until your eyes are puffy and then you tell yourself to pull yourself together. Today is a bad day. It happens. But you will pick yourself up and you will remind yourself that tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow, you will be bigger than your illness.

5 reasons you should treat a hypo with glucose tabs (and nothing else)

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 3.36.17 PMWe’ve all been there: you’re going about your day when a hypo smashes through your body like a lead balloon falling through the sky. You need sugar and you need it now. If you’re at home, there might be a variety of high sugar ‘treats’ on offer, and it’s all to tempting to go for it. And perhaps sometimes, you do; You unwrap the chocolate, scoff it down and before you know it you’ve had 2 or 3 or more with almost no acknowledgment of consuming any of them. You sit and you wait…has your blood sugar risen yet? Have you had enough sugar? Have you had too much? Do you still feel low? You panic at still feeling low and have a whole chocolate bar. That’ll do the trick. But 5 or 10 minutes later the panic you felt about dying has been replaced with guilt as you’re blood sugars are fast heading the other way. You’ve had too much and you now need to counteract the excess sugar with more insulin. And then you struggle with estimating how much insulin you need to bring you down the right amount without still being too high or going too low once again and riding the diabetes rollercoaster. Maybe you level off after a few hours. Maybe you don’t. But either way, you feel like shit. Shit about the high. Shit about the low. Shit about your poor control.

Here’s a different scenario:

We’ve all been there: you’re going about your day when a hypo smashes through your body like a lead balloon falling through the sky. You need sugar and you need it now. You test your blood sugar. Through your murky brain, you work out how much and when you last injected to estimate how much further you’re going to drop. You take the appropriate amount of glucose tabs to bring your blood sugar back up to range. You wait. The symptoms swiftly subside and you’re back to a stable level. You feel okay. A little drained from the low, but you didn’t over correct. You’re back to being you.

I’m a fan of bullet points, so here are 5 reasons why you should treat a hypo with glucose tabs (and nothing else):

1. Glucose tabs are accurate…

You can work out exactly how many mmol/L a single glucose tab will raise your blood sugar, and take the exact amount without having to worry if you’ve eaten enough – or too much.

2. …and fast acting.

Other sugared carbohydrates like chocolate take too long to bring your blood sugars up and within range. This can be dangerous if your insulin is still having an effect on your blood sugars (and thus likely to bring you down to a dangerous level), but also it may increase your hypo-unawareness.

3. They’re not particularly enjoyable.

And they shouldn’t be. If you see hypo-s as an excuse to have a ‘treat’, then you risk using them as an opportunity to be ‘naughty’ rather than deal with the problem in hand.

4. It sets you up for a good day

By avoiding sugared carbohydrates, you avoid triggering cravings for more of them. It also means you won’t have the mentality of ‘well I’ve already had such and such now, I might as well have more!’

5. You were offered a ticket on board the diabetes rollercoaster, and you turned it down.

Stable blood sugars are yours for the taking, congratulations!