Journey to Marathon


Editor’s Note: Mary was a member of Beyond Type Run‘s 2017 TCS New York City Marathon Team sponsored by Medtronic Diabetes. Learn more about the 2019 Beyond Type Run team here.

My name is Mary. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7. I’m currently 26 years old, and until April 2017, I had never run a mile in my entire life. So why am I running the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon? Well, it all started last November.

Beyond Type 1 announced Bike Beyond, a cross country bike ride for 79 days and 4300 miles, from NYC to SF. I excitedly exclaimed to my boyfriend that “OMG there is going to be a team of type 1’s riding across the country this summer and isn’t that so cool I’m totally going to do it!”

He smiled at me and responded, “What about Lola?” (My beloved Frenchie.)

“I’ll bike with her in a backpack!” I said as we laughed, fully aware of the ridiculousness of it all.

I knew I couldn’t do it. Not because I’m not strong willed or focused enough. I just didn’t bike. It wasn’t my thing. I haven’t owned a bike since high school. I didn’t really care that much about biking or athletics at that time, to be honest. I enjoyed more watching people play sports and compete. Nevertheless, this made me care, and it put a bug in me.

So when I found out Beyond Type 1 would have a team for the New York City Marathon I thought YES! This I can do. This I can totally do. Never mind that I wasn’t a runner. Never mind that I hated running. Never mind that I’d literally never run a mile. I was going to do it. No way in hell I wasn’t. I was determined. And this was something my boyfriend (and French bulldog) fully supported and encouraged me to do.

I started slowly … like … really slowly. I downloaded a running app and tried to find a marathon training plan. I quickly found out that marathon plans require you to already be running a lot, and had starting distances of 3-4 miles. Umm … no. For someone who had never run, that was way intimidating. So I found a 5K plan and reasoned that to work my way up to a marathon, I need to take it step-by-step, I thought. 5K, then 10K, then a half marathon. I signed up for San Francisco Half Marathon in July, because it would fit well with my training plan and would be a good gauge for if I could actually run a marathon. And then, on February 5, 2017, at 10:01 am, I started my marathon training.

Okay, so I walked a lot at first. Like … most of the time. I diligently followed my run-walk interval plan. Let me state for the record that I had tried to do these before. There have been one or two times in my life when I decided to try and be a runner, and I got a Couch to 5K app and tried to do it. Every time though, I’d give up after a week or so because I hated it. Not this time. This time I kept going, because I had something to keep going for. I began to love it just a little bit, and I began to discover new things, like that my blood sugar would rise around 20 minutes into a run/walk consistently. I found this curious, because most other runners with type 1 diabetes I had talked to went low during their runs. Usually aerobic activity like jogging lowers blood sugars, while anaerobic exercises raise them. So why was I going high?

After some research, I realized it was my “liver dump.” Because I was running fast intervals, my adrenaline was spiking, and as a result my liver dumped out all my glycogen when I started working out. I found a way to combat this by dosing a small amount at the start of my run. That way about 20 minutes in, when I usually started rising, I would stay steady.

After a few months, on April 3, 2017, I ran my first mile. My first mile EVER! I ran it in less than 10 minutes, and when I did I jumped up and pumped my fist in the air, right there on the sidewalk next to the park where kids and parents stared weirdly at me. I didn’t care, I was SO frickin’ excited! I felt like I was on top of the world, like I could do anything! I think that is when I finally really felt that “runner’s high” people talk about—that elusive feeling you chase and chase and hold on to the belief that it will happen but don’t really believe it will happen to you because running suuucckssss (at first). And then all of a sudden, running doesn’t suck. All of a sudden, your world changes and you fall in love. All of a sudden, you get a feeling like one you’ve never had before. Sure, I may have accomplished some cool things and stuff I’m proud of, but this feeling was unlike any other I’ve ever had. I was ecstatic, inspired, motivated and proud. I felt invincible. I felt free. I felt like I could fly.

My next big milestone came in June, in New York City. At this point, I had switched to a different running app that gave me more metrics. I had gotten fitted for proper shoes. I had discovered compression socks and how to properly apply KT Tape. I was experimenting with different foods and products to fuel my runs. I had fixed my plantar fasciitis (one of my many injuries) for the time being. I had a fab running belt to store all my diabetes gear in. I was running longer and faster. I arrived in New York for work with the goal of running the Brooklyn Bridge while there, and I was determined to stick to it.

I lived in New York for four years, and I am ashamed to say I never once even visited the Brooklyn Bridge. Upon return I knew I wanted to run it, I had to run it. On June 1, at 6:26 p.m., I set out to run that bridge, and run it I did! It was my first time running in a really urban setting, my first time running in New York, my first time running without knowing exactly what the route was like and my first time running a bridge. And HOLY HELL let me tell you, Bridges are HARD!! I was actually shocked at the elevation changes in my run and how tough it was. I had to stop and pause multiple times! But I ran that bridge and I ran it fast. And then I ran it the next day! Running over that iconic bridge, in a city I used to call my own and still hold near and dear to my heart, was really magical for me. It made me that much more excited to keep training for the marathon.

Training continued through June and July at a slower rate; I was traveling a lot for work and didn’t have as much time to dedicate to my runs. I had a few bad diabetes days that prevented me from running, and I felt a little behind. Mid-July, I ripped off part of a toenail. How? No idea. I was helping pack up the Bike Beyond team and looked down to find my toe all bloody, I still don’t know how it happened. But the result was that I couldn’t even wear closed-toed shoes for a week, let alone run. I took 14 days off and I was pissed every. single. day. I tried to cross-train, but it’s just not as fun as running. I hadn’t fallen in love with working out, I had fallen in love with running, and that is what I wanted to get back to. Because of this dumb toenail injury, I had to pull out of the San Francisco Half Marathon. I was upset at first, but I told myself that it was better to not run this one on an injured foot than to miss the NYC marathon because I had gotten hurt even worse.

But I was behind. It was now August and I felt behind and slow. I hadn’t even run a half marathon yet, how could I possibly run a full one?! The anxiety was setting in. I was having a lot of hip pain from an overuse injury, my shin splints flared up sometimes without any warning, and my right ankle had been injured a little bit. I felt a little sad, but I never thought about giving up. Running was what got me out of bed every day, and I was going to keep going no matter what.

I slowed down my runs and ramped up the distance. I found that by doing this, I could go longer with less pain and exhaustion. On September 3, I went 12 miles. The 9, I went 15! Then 17 the next Saturday! My body hurt, but I was doing it … I was proving to myself I could do it! My birthday was coming up, and for a really long time I had wanted to get to either 26 (because I was turning 26), 23 (because it’s my lucky number/ birth date) or 20 miles (just because 20 is just a lot) on my birthday. I decided to go for 20. And I GOT IT! I didn’t think I would, but the encouragement from friends via text and social media was what got me through. I got so many amazing messages since I had posted about it the day before. I was almost going to quit at mile 10, but thanks to the inspiration from the community I found the strength to push through! The encouraging text messages from my boyfriend helped too. 🙂

That was an incredible run and I didn’t think I could beat it. But then I went for 22 miles on my next long run, and I got it. It was slow and it was tough, but I got it.

And then … I got injured again. Despite the fact that I was now seeing a sports doctor/chiropractor, I strained my calf on my second treadmill run of this entire training cycle. At first I could run through it, but after I went to my doctor I realized I needed to rest it. So now here I am, a week left before the marathon and I haven’t run for almost a week. I’ve skipped my long runs because the pain was causing me to alter my form. I’m taking it easy and resting, consulting with my sports doctor, and hopefully I should be good to go. I have to just be patient.

Patience is one of the things running has taught me. You can’t rush things, no matter how much you want to. It is extremely frustrating to not be able to run because of an injury, but if you are patient and wait to heal, it will be better in the long run than trying to rush anything and get injured in a worse way.

Running taught me to be less scared of lows. Once I found a bunch of snacks meant for athletes that actually worked quickly to bring my blood glucose (BG) up, I was stoked. I didn’t worry as much about going low because I had food I knew would bring me up quickly. At least, that’s the best way I can explain it, it was definitely a mental shirt.

Running taught me to check my feet more. Runners have to check their feet all the time —check for blisters, toenail situations, heel cracks, or any number of injuries. You need to keep your toenails short to avoid black toenails. You need to take care of blisters because you can’t run, let alone walk, with bad blisters. As people with type 1 diabetes (T1Ds) we also have to make sure our feet are in good shape, but I never really paid that much attention to them before (sorry doctors). Now I’m happy to say I check my feet every day.

Running taught me to eat right. I looked in my fridge recently and my boyfriend pointed out how, at this time last year, the fridge was full of soda and what was now the running drawer used to be the candy drawer, and how amazing was that switch?! He was right. I gave up soda, both diet and regular for lows. I had better low snacks with more natural ingredients, not just candy with high fructose corn syrup or other disgusting additives and preservatives. I had replaced things with healthier snacks, bars, Kombucha and water. I also eat better meals and food in general. I eat healthier and more than I ever have, because in order for my body to perform, it needs to have the right fuel.

Running taught me to fuel right. Before I started running, I rarely ate before or after a workout. I always thought it was silly to do that, or to have something like a “recovery shake.” I was trying to workout and be fit, why would I want to consume all those calories back afterward? But I soon found that I couldn’t run without eating before, and without eating something substantial. Oatmeal and peanut butter became my best breakfast friends. I started having a Generation UCAN shake before each run. It keeps my blood sugars crazy steady for hours, and provides good energy. I always bring HoneyStinger or Huma Gels on runs, to have for lows and to use when I need them. I’ve discovered my BG starts lowering around miles 5-6, so I have a gel and don’t give insulin. I repeat this at miles 12, 18, etc. In addition, I carry ClifBloks just in case I need anything extra. I also know how much my body needs electrolytes, something I never thought of before. Everyone always tells you sodium (salt) is bad. But for runners and athletes, you need to replenish the sodium you’re losing via sweat every hour. If I’m out there for five hours, sweating the whole time, my body needs extra salt and other electrolytes to help keep it going. I use different products for this, UCAN Hydrate, Tailwind and EmergenC with electrolytes. Gatorade is also a great option if you don’t want to mix your own drink.

Running taught me mental strength and showed me I was capable of so much more that I thought I ever would be. I have had so many tough runs mentally, runs where I’ve thought of calling it quits and going home to a nice bath and some wine. I’ve had times I’ve cried because I didn’t think I could get through, or cried because I did push through and was so frickin’ proud. I’ve run happy, I’ve run sad and I’ve run mad. I’ve run to work out problems in my head, to reflect on the day or to just escape. I’ve been proud of runs and disappointed in them. I’ve learned to continue to train my mind to be strong, because I know I can do more now, even if I don’t think I can at first.

Somewhere along the way, I realized running isn’t about how fast you go, or what place you come in. Running is for you. Running is whatever you want to make it. For me, running is like a meditation and a big stress reliever. It makes me happy, even if I have a bad run. It has taught me so many lessons and made me a better person. For me, as long as I finish, I am happy. I don’t need to run a sub two-and-a-half-hour marathon, I don’t need to compare myself to others and wonder if they are faster or better. Because it doesn’t matter. Running is for you and you only. It is whatever you want to make it—whether you run to compete, push yourself, inspire others, deal with stress, be healthy, finish, or to prove something to yourself. And that is the most valuable lesson I have learned in this journey.

Read Mary’s 2017 Marathon Recap here.

Read more about Beyond Type Run in the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.

To learn more about the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon Beyond Type Run team here.

WRITTEN BY Mary Lucas , POSTED 11/01/17, UPDATED 10/18/22

Mary was diagnosed with type 1 in 1998 at the age of 7, and despite having the disease for nearly 20 years, she still approaches each day with a smile and a sunny outlook. She attended Parsons the New School for Design in New York where she studied fashion design with a focus in childrenswear. Now in her role leading influencer engagement, Mary loves connecting our ambassadors to our programs and efforts. She grew up around philanthropy and is passionate about living well with type 1 diabetes (T1D), finding a cure, growing Beyond Type 1, and her French Bulldog Lola! Check out more from Mary on her website and find her on instagram @MaryAlessandraa