Diabetes Training Camp: A Coach's Perspective, Part III - The First Run

Everyone is nervous for the first run or ride or swim of camp. Here’s why:

The campers are concerned that they will be the slow ones, the huffers and puffers holding back the fit and the fast. The fact that nobody is concerned that they will be the fit the fast says something about human nature and how we all have a tendency to underestimate our abilities.

The coaches aren’t concerned about having huffers and puffers along with the fit and the fast. That’s how things always are. And as for me, I know that where you are in the pack often says more about the genetic stuff your parents gave you than what you’ve done with it. But myself and the other coaches are concerned that the gap between the two groups is small enough that we can provide coaching, support or guidance at any point, and that everyone feels safe and accomplished throughout the workout.

The med staff on the workouts also walk a fine line. They want the campers to feel safe but also want to encourage them to experiment. After all, the lectures contain workout and fueling strategies for diabetics that some of the campers have never tried. What better environment to test them out in than one where you’re surrounded by diabetics with meters and sugar?

Based on feedback from last year’s camp, this was also the first year we officially added a walking program, with shorter routes but over similar terrain, so not to cheat the campers out of the best sights along the way. The walking program proved popular during the week for those either beginning an exercise routine or rehabilitating injuries.

To address the large number of runners and walkers, DTC utilizes a very high staff to camper ratio, and each coach tries to spread their team out among the field.

As for me, I try to hold the pack of runners together as long as possible and ensure that the moment a camper wants to drop off the pace, a staff member is nearby and can continue the workout with the camper. Periodically, we also regroup for blood sugar checks, sugar recharges, etc. And more than anything, I want to talk to them about running, with a little diabetes filled in, because that’s real life. I try to promote a lifestyle where diabetes is the condiment and not the meat, not the other way around, and I aim to make my workouts the same way.

Inevitably, it becomes a bit of give and take. The faster runners get more consultation about training during the workout, while the slower ones get a sense of accomplishment from going further or faster than they imagined they would. The greatest sense of satisfaction for me often comes when someone finishes a few minutes behind the main pack, but is grinning from ear to ear while the people at the front of the pack are continuing to ask questions about their training. That’s what success looks like and what I aim for on every run. I make a note of what I talked about with each of them, so that I can address other aspects of training or diabetes after the run, either during meals or during time allotted for conversations with the coaches.

For the faster runners, we try to focus on what an easy aerobic pace feels like, either by heartrate or effort. It’s a key component to training, and when the campers watch their BG plummet when running easy, it’s a major A-Ha moment and one of the times where – for the moment at least – the disease behaves exactly as it’s supposed to.

And, of course, I also relish the conversations that are going on all around me that don’t even include me. Some of these involve diabetes, but many of them don’t, and again, that’s kind of the point – to feel like a runner with opinions about a lot of things besides blood sugar.

I took two groups of runners out on the first day of camp, a simple 5k loop with a little trail thrown in to see how they’d react. They responded with smiles, aside from when some of the westerners learned first-hand what burn hazel was. But then again, what’s a good trail run without a little surprise?


  1. Marcus even though I was nervous about doing the first run that first day; you are right we all stay in our groups and we are always with someone. I have started to run and I now believe Runners Run and Walkers walk and I have used that as my mantra to set my thoughts about the walk/run. I do what I can do and learn to know that moving is better than staying still.


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