I recently spent 8 days cycling in Tasmania from Launceston to Hobart experiencing the amazing landscapes, the great cycling routes, and also the impact of 8 days cycling on my diabetes. This was my first time to Tasmania and it was truly a great experience, I will be back to experience more!
This was an organised cycling trip with my father and our partners which had been in the planning for some time. It aligned perfectly with my JDRF One Ride training and I was looking forward to cycling heaps of kilometres while is Tasmania. The trip including 8 days of cycling from Launceston to Hobart around the east coast, with one rest day and covering between 50km and 100km per day. This was going to be a great challenge for my partner (she rode he first 100km ride during the trip) and with the extra time I was planning on clocking up over 1,000km for the trip (which I did).
Big days in the saddle are not foreign to me and I cope with these pretty well. Cycling back to back days though introduces new challenges being physical, mental and with managing my diabetes. I learnt a lot on this trip and this is especially important as I will be riding 6 days straight and nearly 200km per day when I ride to Adelaide for the JDRF One Ride at the start of May. So what were these new challenges I experienced over the 8 days:
- Physical toll: an obvious one but every day’s effort has a cumulative effect and without spending 4-6hrs in the saddle regularly this will be a very new experience for your body. Physical condition, recovery and diabetes plays a big role in how you feel each day.
- Mental condition: just cycling day after day, keeping your mind occupied trying not to think about the aches and pains, and trying not to think about the kilometres ahead becomes strangely more difficult each day. The joy of cycling can be lost quite easily over many days.
- Getting recovery each day: without being able to take a day off it only takes a bit of dehydration, poor nutrition or minor niggle to turn your next day into a disaster. It’s easy to miss one of these for any number of reasons but as soon as you get on the bike the next day you’ll realise the issue and once behind the eight ball, it’s difficult to get your body back in check.
- Changing responses to insulin (insulin requirements): specifically relating to type 1 diabetes, I experience a significant drop in my insulin requirements from day 1 to day 8. As an example, my morning insulin went from 2 bolus units and a basal rate of 0.600 on day 1 to zero bolus units and a basal rate of 0.400 on day 4. Impossible to predict these changes which then required constant BGL checking, eating and insulin adjusting along the way. There is then the reverse problem when the riding stops.
- BGL instability: with the cycling, the changing insulin requirements and the variable carbohydrate consumption is can be expected that your BGLs might be more unstable than normal (more of a roller coaster pattern). This instability has a big impact on how you feel, how you recover, what you can eat and how you sleep. Coupled with the other challenges this can take a pretty significant toll on you.
- Variable days, meal times and activities: I am a big advocate for consistency for good diabetes management and a group cycling trip doesn’t provide the most consistent environment with activities, times, meals, etc. changing every day. This is a real challenge for a type 1 diabetic.
- Food and drink: on a normal long training ride, you can consume just about any food and drink you like and your body will be able to cope with it (within reason) and then you can go back to your normal meals after the ride. When you are out on the bike for 8hrs each day to can’t just east anything and it is tempting to do so as you would on a normal training ride. Energy bars, coffee and high carb foods eventually wreak havoc with your stomach and then your overall feeling of well-being.
So having experienced the above to varying degrees on the trip, what will I be doing on future multi-day cycling trips to avoid them happening again. My biggest challenge was balancing my food and recovery with the changes and instability of my BGLs. With each day that passed my fatigue built and the challenge to eat the right foods and get a good night’s sleep (both impacted by up and down BGLs) took its toll. By the last day of the tip, day 8, I was tired and struggling. Next time I will be working on the following:
- Plan: goes without saying, plan for everything as a cyclist, a traveller and most importantly as a type 1 diabetic. This is both preparation and execution during the trip. I would highlight insulin requirements, food and hydration, and your means of achieving daily recovery as the most important.
- Regular checking BGLs: no excuses here, check your levels every 30 minutes to make sure that you know where your BGLs are. You can then adjust before they rise or fall too much. There was nothing worse than thinking about how good lunch was going to be for the last hour only to arrive and find my BGLs had gone through the roof and then I wasn’t able to eat!
- Conservative approach to insulin doses: it’s better to be a little high than a little low so I will reduce my insulin doses from what I learnt on this trip and also use a combo bolus (staggered bolus) if I need to make adjustments whilst riding. Avoiding big bolus doses and high carb intakes will help avoid big BGL spikes and falls.
- Try to maintain regular meals: that is breakfast, lunch and dinner, and make these meals similar to the healthy diet that you normal eat (low GI carbs, protein, fats and fibre). This consistency will help with BGL stability, stomach health and recovery which will all overall benefit you. My days’ meals would include: porridge, salad sandwiches and then a larger dinner, all meals having the carbs, protein, fats and fibres I need.
- Eat real food: don’t get stuck eating muesli and sports bars, gels and snacks from the bakery along with coffees as your daily ride nutrition. This will not only be detrimental to your recovery but also cause stomach issues after a couple of days. Sticking with a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with snacks like fruit, nuts and anything unprocessed which will generally have a higher nutritional value and be better for your stomach. For my snacks I like bananas, trail mix, dried fruits, vegemite/peanut butter/jam sandwiches or homemade bars/biscuits/cakes.
- Ensure you are well hydrated: it’s easy to not drink enough on the bike and then drink too much coffee at the café, making sure that you are drinking around 500mls an hour whilst riding is important and has a big effect on your performance and recovery. A recovery hydration formula is also beneficial for a little top up at the end of each day (I use Endura no-carb, NUUN and hydralyte).
- Communication: as a type 1 diabetic there is a good chance that you’re not going to be feeling 100% at some point on the ride, there’s no need to worry about this (you can still be the strongest cyclist and have a T1D issue) and it’s best to let others know how you are feeling so that they can help you out, even if this is just moral support.
There’s clearly a lot to plan and think about for a multi day cycling trip and being a type 1 diabetic just adds to the important items which you must stay on top of. Things don’t have to go perfectly to plan and as we know they generally don’t, but being well prepared and sticking to some of this simple steps will mean that you’ll go a long way to minimise the physical, mental and diabetes stresses from a multi-day cycling trip.