My Race Walking Experience

We had a lot of fun with Art-Sweet’s little twist on the “Tag” game flying around.

Rather than give us five straight up facts about herself, she shared four facts and one fiction. It was a hoot!

She recently spilled the truth (which, by the way, we were anxiously awaiting).

The one item that was not true had to do with being a competitive race walker.

Any time I hear or see “race walker”, I have a flashback to one of the most humiliating (in a funny way) times of my life.

Probably about five or six years ago I signed up for a handful of 10k races over the summer. I think it was three in all. Yeah, you know, jogging for 6.2 miles and all that.

What the hell was I thinking?!

I had been playing basketball, doing a little running (like 2 whole miles, once or twice a week), and some weight training. I felt like I could conquer the world.

My first race came and went – and it was not bad. Sure, I was one of the last to cross the finish line, but that wasn’t important to me. Simply CROSSING the finish line was my goal. All this time later, I can’t remember exactly what I did to manage my blood sugars, but it was Ok. I remember carrying a big plastic bottle of OJ for the whole race, just in case. I never needed it. Finished in a little over an hour.

Second race came and went – and it sucked. Lots of hills, really hot weather and high humidity. But again, my blood sugars were fine. This time I had a little belt pouch thing with some stuff in it, rather than carrying that bottle of juice. No issues, again finished in a bit over an hour – just a little slower than the first race.

My third (and last) race was total and complete suckage.

It was even hotter and more humid than race number 2, and this time I had some family from out of town with me. Some waiting at the finish line, and a cousin and aunt running with (ahead) of me. Now my cousin and aunt actually run – so they were lost beyond the horizon within minutes of starting the race. That’s fine – again, I’m just simply trying to reach the finish line.

At this point, I’m still new to this whole racing thing – and hadn’t figured much of a plan out. I had stuff with me to treat a low, but that’s it. I had good luck for the first two races and didn’t appreciate the need for more “tools” in hand for this race. Plus, it’s a race right? I didn’t want to be carrying a bunch of crap with me. I was all about traveling light. Bare essentials.

Not more than a mile into the race and I felt like crap. My legs were toast and were barely cooperating with my brains instructions to keep going one step at a time. I thought to myself “holy crap – what the hell is up?! I must be getting low!” – so I crammed a gu packet. These things have about 25 grams of carbs or so, and are a very small and compact little packet. Easy to carry, easy to use.

I’ve never touched the damn things since.

I have since reconsidered, on the sole recommendations of Sarah, but we’ll see…

My legs did not get any better. I just kept pushing on. Each step feeling like I was wearing cement blocks for shoes, with lead socks.

By this time I have watched what seemed like the entire population of Minneapolis truck right on by me.

There were big people, small people, tall people and short people. But the one thing they all had in common was that they were faster than me.

Again, the focus for me was not to WIN the race. Just to finish. And at this point, even that was questionable.

My cement block shoes and lead socks felt like they were gaining a pound for each and every step I took. Each step was a miracle. Every foot of ground gained brought me that much closer to the finish line. And the finish line is where I could stop this foolishness.

Every few minutes another faster race participant would jog on by me. I could not help but to wonder just how many damn people were in this race?! There simply could not be many more people behind me.

Another few steps, another few feet.

What? That can’t be yet another person coming up behind me!

Sure enough, out of the corner of my eye I see someone next to me, and of course, going faster than me.

As this little firecracker of a woman advances ahead of me, I can’t help but to notice that she’s not running.

She’s race walking.

And she’s race walking faster than I am running…

It was not more than about 5 minutes before I lost her over the horizon.

Gone – just like that.

Race. Walking.

elderly lady wearing a race walking medal around her neck.
“Eat my dust, kid!”

Not being one to throw in the towel, I somehow kept pushing on. Pushing my legs to carry my lackluster self on, eventually reaching the finish line. My family was there waiting, probably wondering if I’d ever show up.

I collapsed sat down on the grassy hill, guzzling whatever water I could get my hands on. After a few minutes of recovery, I made my way to my car and tested my blood sugar.

I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was in the mid to high 400’s.

Now it all made sense. My blood was thicker than molasses in a frigid Minnesota winter. Can you imagine your blood as thick as maple syrup, trying desperately to work it’s way into your muscles and cells? No wonder my body was struggling to cooperate with what my brain was begging it to do!!

I got a nice big dose of insulin in my system, and began my long and sleepy road to recovery. Recovery from the high blood sugar, recovery from the race itself and recovery from being lapped by a race walker.

I skipped the celebratory breakfast, which was pancakes and syrup by the way.

After that traumatic experience I put together a better game plan, to help avoid a repeat of this situation (at least the high blood sugar part – there’s really not much I can do about the race walker), but have never signed up for any more races.

Since then, I have learned so much more about how my body works during exercise. I don’t think I would go into the situation so ill-prepared again. But with that being said, every situation is different, and we can only do the best we can do.

And that folks, is my very own race walking experience. Thank you, Art-Sweet, for bringing that memory back into focus for me! I had tried very, very hard to forget. 🙂

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Scott K. Johnson

Patient voice, speaker, writer, and advocate. Living life with diabetes and telling my story. All opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of my employer.

Diagnosed in April of 1980, I recognize the incredible mental struggle of living with diabetes. Read more…