Try Again: A Story of DKA, Marathon + Perseverance


Missy is a member of the 2019 Beyond Type Run team running the TCS New York City Marathon. Beyond Type Run is sponsored by Dexcom and Tandem Diabetes Care.

Some background

I was 5 years old and had experienced months of extreme mood swings, weight loss, frequent thirst and was constantly urinating. After many hospital and specialist visits, it was determined I had type 1 diabetes.  I remained in the hospital for a few days for monitoring and education while my family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. Our lives were forever changed and quickly became all about finger pricks, injections, carb counting and me arguing over snack time.

I have always been stubborn and determined and it really began to show when I was diagnosed. I did not want anyone to touch me, I wanted to do my own daily injections. My mom let me practice injecting her with saline until I was comfortable enough to give myself my own injections. (What a great mom, right?!) I was 5 years old, pricking my fingers to test my blood sugar and injecting myself with insulin—I was determined to take care of myself.

Though it’s important to note: diabetes affects everyone in my life. My family had to sacrifice a lot to help me manage my diabetes. It is a team effort shared by yourself, your family and your doctors. My parents helped me to live a “normal” life—I still went to sleepovers, attended birthday parties and played sports. The difference was that we had to constantly educate my friends and their parents to make sure I didn’t miss my nightly or morning injections, I wasn’t always allowed to eat at those birthday parties, and I was held back in sports due to diabetes (whether it was by coaches or myself). There were times it felt isolating, especially since diabetes can be an invisible disease. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know that I have an autoimmune disease, that I have diabetes on my mind 24/7, and am trying to constantly keep things in check.

I am so fortunate to live during a time where there’s been so much medical advancement in diabetes management. Growing up, it was all about timed meals and snacks, finger pricking up to 10 times a day, multiple daily injections and carb counting. There is still a lot of work that has to be put into diabetes management, but new devices give me much more freedom.  I now wear an insulin pump instead of daily injections and wear a continuous glucose monitor that checks my blood sugar every five minutes.

Why a marathon?

I have always had a love of running. Through junior high and high school, I would run as a way to deal with the anxiety I had during those crazy teenage years. I tried cross country, but didn’t love it at the time. I always enjoyed running long distances as a way to de-stress and not necessarily compete. Fast forward to my adult years and I still enjoyed running, but didn’t take it too seriously until about 2012. I signed up for my first half marathon and was a total mess with figuring out how to run with my diabetes gear and snacks. I left a trail of granola bars along the course as they fell out of my pockets. I finished that race and immediately wanted to try again and do better—this time with a running belt for my snacks and gear. The following year, I decided to sign up for a full marathon. At the time, I got some pushback from some people and doctors saying it seemed a little risky to train and run a marathon with type 1. But I was signed up to run the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.

During a failed training run, I ended up in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). I was severely dehydrated, vomiting and my blood sugar was extremely high. I didn’t really know what I was doing and the mistakes I was making with my training. I sat in the hospital thinking that those people that told me this was too risky were right, and I let diabetes win that year. As a result, I didn’t continue my training and didn’t follow through with running the race. I was mad at myself and at diabetes. I was bitter towards other people out there running marathons. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I started reaching out to different social media groups that I realized just how amazing the type 1 diabetes community is. I found people from all over the world who were sharing their stories and had running advice for me. Groups like Beyond Type 1 and Type One Run became my go-to’s when I needed some extra reassurance that running a marathon would be possible.

Once more

I decided to try to run a marathon again and signed up for the 2016 Pittsburgh Marathon—three years after my failed attempt.

It took a lot of trial and error. I would go out and fail and then try something different until it worked for my blood sugars. There were a few evenings that I did not adjust my insulin quite right or hydrate right and I would end up vomiting on the bathroom floor. I would leave for a run and cry during my entire run if my blood sugars weren’t cooperating. I wanted to give up again. I kept wondering how other people were out there killing it with these marathons. I continued to reach out for support and continued to get back out there until I figured out a system that worked for me. I figured out how to adjust my insulin correctly, how to hydrate and how to adjust insulin and fuel accordingly after finishing a long run. I finished my first marathon Spring 2016. I can’t say it went the best, but I felt inspired to learn from it and continue to move on and push harder the next time.

The following spring, I completed by second marathon, the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon. I set a goal to finish under five hours and I did it! It’s true when they say those last six miles are when the true race starts. I cursed as I chewed on my PB&J sandwich and told myself to keep pushing. I wouldn’t have succeeded without the support of my family, my husband and the type 1 diabetes community. I want to inspire other people to step out of their comfort zones; I want them to learn from their mistakes instead of getting angry over them. Keep pushing! There is nothing like crossing that finish line. Running has given me the confidence I never had and only continues to push me out of my comfort zone in so many different aspects in life. When I saw that Beyond Type Run had a team two years ago running with the NYC Marathon, I was so inspired by the team and was also super jealous! I immediately wanted to a part of this journey. Before discovering Beyond Type Run, I wanted to represent type 1 diabetes at races and help inspire others, so this opportunity is helping me live that out. Running for Beyond Type Run in the NYC Marathon will be my proudest moment and I am happy to be part of a team making a difference in educating, bringing awareness to, raising money and inspiring people from around the world!

Missy Donovan is raising money for Beyond Type 1 through Beyond Type Run—her fundraising will make a real difference in the lives of those living with T1D.

WRITTEN BY Missy Donovan, POSTED 08/05/19, UPDATED 11/12/22

Missy Donovan has lived with type 1 diabetes since she was 5 and is an avid runner. She currently resides in Pittsburgh with her husband, Tim. She is a member of the 2019 Beyond Type Run Marathon Team.