In honor of World Diabetes Day on November 14, 10 athletes with type 1 diabetes have completed a 3,000-mile relay run across the United States. The group arrived in New York City with a caravan of support vehicles on November 14, after 2 weeks of running approximately 200 miles a day, the equivalent of a little more than 11 marathons per person.
The men are members of Team Type 1-SANOFI (TT1), a sports and nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the growing diabetes crisis in the United States, and to promoting better health through diabetes management and exercise.
"This was on a completely different level from anything I've ever done both mentally and physically," said TT1 captain Tom Kingery, a four-time Ironman finisher and member of the cycling relay team Race Across America, which won the 8-man team races in 2009 and 2010.
The 10 TT1 runners traversed the country in two teams of five. They set out on their journey from Oceanside, CA, with a plan for the teams to alternate out on the road for 6 to 8 hour shifts, with each runner covering about 3 miles at a stretch. When one person was running, his teammates would follow in a van until he'd done his mileage and the next runner would jump out and tag in for the next leg of the race. The team that was off its shift would sleep, eat and recover in the team RV.
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In addition to the extreme mileage, the team had to persevere across variable terrain and through unpredictable weather. Just days into the trip, Kingery and his teammates were asleep in the RV when a blizzard kicked up. Casey Boren and the other half of the relay team were out on the road in the middle of the night, doing their shift and pounding out the miles.
"We started running at 2 a.m. near Taos, NM, and it started snowing lightly. It was cold, but manageable, and we still had one last mountain pass to go over," said Boren. "As we got closer to the top we saw a bunch of trucks stopped and at this point the snow was falling hard."
Boren and his teammates decided to keep moving despite the conditions and pushed past the trucks pulled over along the road. But the highway ahead was slick, and the van lost traction and slid into a small ravine on the side of the road.
"We knew we had to keep moving forward," said Boren, a triathlete and resident of Boise, ID, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 34. "It's kind of like having diabetes. You can't just do nothing."
So the team sent a runner up the road to keep the odyssey going while the rest stayed behind to try to push the van back onto the road. By the time Kingery awoke and the team got back on track the next morning, the damage was done. The original plan had called for each runner to average 8:15-minute miles the whole way. But they had lost precious time overnight getting the van unstuck during the snowstorm.
"We had to pick up the pace," said Kingery when we spoke to him just outside of Terre Haute, IN, last week. "Instead of [each runner] covering 3 to 5 miles, we started doing shorter, faster pulls and we were able to make up a lot of time." Kingery also changed up his two-team format to have seven faster guys running together during the days and three endurance specialists running longer and slower together through the evening hours.
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Accomplishing this enormous feat meant logging more miles per day at a faster pace, resulting in more punishment on the athletes' already banged-up bodies. The injuries began to mount and some team members were forced to skip turns and even take small bits of time off. But they had no doubts about reaching the finish.
"None of these guys gave up and there was zero negativity along the way," said Kingery. "Casey had an Achilles injury that caused his ankle to swell to twice its size. Brian Foster was constantly jumping in and out of the RV to wrap and rewrap his ankle. Kevin Powell could barely bend one knee. I was running hunched over like an old man from my back pain. But we all just kept on going."