Hive athlete Stephen England runs marathons and ultras, all while managing type 1 diabetes. Here’s his story of how he went from thinking his dreams were crushed to crushing ultra marathons:
I have been a runner all of my life. At age 14, I became very ill. I lost my appetite, weight and all my energy. I went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The news shook me so hard, that I passed out on the floor.
The next few days were a blur. I learned how to inject myself with insulin, prick my fingers to do blood tests and a whole lot more. I told the doctor enthusiastically about my love for running and asked when I could get back to it. The response was that I could run, but a limited amount. This news broke my heart and crushed my dreams.
I was desperate for a role model but struggled to find anyone who inspired me to believe a different reality was possible. Thus, my early years of living with diabetes were tough. On the tenth year of being diagnosed, I ran my first marathon in London. Although this was a huge milestone, it was not the dream race I envisioned both physically and with managing my diabetes. But I was determined, I run diabetes, diabetes does not run me.
My mentality as a runner had to change. Insulin, blood glucose levels and carbohydrate intake were just as important factors as the weather, pace and heart rate. If my blood glucose went too low, I would be in danger of collapsing and too high, at risk for long-term organ damage. Diabetes is a game of keeping glucose levels in the middle. Too far outside of the range and I wouldn’t be able to compete. Being different was a test but I never wanted my diabetes to be an excuse.
Honey Stinger gels became a literal life-saver as I competed in more marathons; New York, Chicago and Boston. I learned how many gels I needed and when. Not just for 26.2 miles, but for weeks and weeks of training leading up to a big race. Honey Stinger is my go-to gel for not only keep my energy levels up, but to keep my blood glucose within a good range.
As I became more confident, I dove into the world of ultramarathons. 50k became 50 miles and then 100 miles! I chose the Leadville 100 in Colorado as my first. It’s one of the hardest races in the world with an average elevation of 11,000 ft. and less than half finish. With odds against me, it sounded perfect!
It was at Leadville where I linked up with Team Type 1, a team of elite athletes all living with type 1 diabetes. After 28 hours of running, I finished and was welcomed to the team. I thought to myself, ‘who needs a role model when you can become one?’ The support of the team has been incredible. To meet so many T1D athletes who are Olympic trial runners, Kona Ironman athletes and pro cyclists is truly priceless.
I have gone on to run another 10 races that are 100 miles or longer around the world such as Western States 100, UTMB and a Himalayan stage race. Nothing was a harder test however than tackling the Tahoe 200. So many people said I would not make it, it was too far. But they didn’t factor in my secret weapon. I had diabetes. I can’t quit diabetes so why would I ever quit a race? After 3 days and only 3 hours of sleep, I circumnavigated the lake and finished my biggest audacious challenge.
Living with diabetes and running has taught me that there are no limitations to what we can achieve in life, and that being different can become your greatest strength.