Doing it Despite Diabetes


Hello, I am the 49-years-old who was attempting the Comrades this year for the first time, as published in the Letters section of the June edition of Modern Athlete, and this is my follow-up Comrades story. – BY VAL OPPERMAN

I have had Type 1 Diabetes for 30 years, and I know that my nearest known relative with T1D died in 1921, before injectable Insulin was freely available. I therefore have to be careful with training and racing, monitoring my blood sugar levels regularly.

So it was now ‘Tapering Time’ ahead of the Comrades, time to dramatically reduce training and to check blood sugar three times a day versus just diet monitoring. During this period I dramatically reduced my mileage and to eat correctly to begin to store essential fat as well as glycogen in my muscles and liver. The glycogen is essential for ultra-distance running, and even more essential for a Type 1 Diabetic, and the fat would also be important on race day – and would be depleted in 12 hours along with all my liver’s Glycogen. My Doctor estimated that I would lose about 5kg of body weight during the race.

So, at 2.30am on the 1st of June, I awoke my dearest little ‘Comrades Bug,’ the one that bit me three years ago, had breakfast, got my running gear on, had photos taken with my husband, daughter and best friend, let them write goodwill messages on my hands and arms, and then I started the short walk to the start. Those 45 minutes of being in my seeding pen from 4:45am were surreal with excitement. I checked my blood sugar again and awaited the famous cockcrow before the boom of the gun signalling the start, and joined 18,000 fellow Comrades joyfully singing along to Shosholoza, the South African National Anthem and the tear-jerking Chariots of Fire traditional Comrades song.

The gun sounded and a human surge of anxious bodies slowly moved forward underneath a huge arc of fireworks and deafening shouts of ‘Good luck’ & ‘See you in Durban.’ Back home in Durban, the TV was not switched on at my house this year on Comrades Day, and my dog missed all of us, because all my family were with me along the route, cheering Comrades Bug and I both on – and Comrades Bug sat there right next to my heart every step of the 89.28km to Durban.

I checked my blood sugar six times along the route, ate and carefully hydrated, and finished in 11 hours 56 minutes and 17 seconds to the deafening roar of the thousands of spectators at Kingsmead Sahara Cricket Stadium in Durban. Then I cried my eyes out in indescribable euphoria at the finishing line. After I got my medal and badge, I went to the medical tent to check my blood sugar again, which was perfect.

So that was it… a long, hard, hot day, but very exciting, and I made it after three years and 2500km of running as a Type 1 Diabetic.