The ‘Ultra’ Role Model: One Mom’s Path to Distance Running
A seasoned veteran
For many runners getting ready to tackle the TCS New York City Marathon this coming November, it will be their first race, and quite possibly the most difficult athletic endeavor that they will ever take on.
This is true for some people—but it is certainly not the case for Jody LeVos, PhD.
Jody, who will be joining the Beyond Type Run team for the TCS New York City Marathon this year, lives with type 1 diabetes, and is a mother of two—ages eight and eleven. She has already completed approximately twelve half marathons, ten 5Ks, six 10Ks, three Olympic distance triathlons, two marathons, one sprint triathlon and one Half-Ironman.
“I basically started running half-marathons when my first son was 1,” Jody says. “So just after his first birthday, I ran my first half-marathon, and this is kind of corny, but my drive at that time was really about showing him that women can do anything and can be strong. And it was about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.”
Jody recently decided to up the ante on her marathon game, and in May of this year, she completed her first ultra-marathon, running a total of 50K (31 miles), and she has got her eye on a full Iron Man race very soon.
“I did my first Half Iron Man last summer, and this year I decided that I would love to do a full Iron Man, but I was going to use 2019 as a table setting year to get the pieces ready,” Jody says. “So I bought a tri-bike, and I’m going to be taking another swim course this summer, and because I wasn’t focused so solely on Iron Man this year, I decided to try an ultra-distance. So, I did my first 50k at Bryce Canyon in Utah.”
Her T1D story
Diagnosed in her early thirties, Jody, now 39, resides in Oakland, California and is thriving with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Her journey with diabetes actually began almost two years before she was officially diagnosed.
“I had my second baby and he weighed 10 pounds, despite being two weeks early,” Jody recalls. Afterwards, she suffered what she now knows to be hypoglycemic instances. A physical therapist asked Jody to keep a water diary about a year after her son was born and was shocked by how much water she drank every day, suggesting that Jody get checked for diabetes.
After an elevated blood glucose reading at her company’s health fair, Jody’s general practitioner suggested checking her A1C, the results of which came back in the prediabetic range.
“And so, she said, ‘you know, let’s cut back on carbs and exercise more because it looks like you’re developing type 2,’ which I thought was really strange because I was super active and fit, and I ate very healthy.”
Jody did as she was directed, but her diet changes did nothing to correct her high A1C. Her doctor continued to tell her that she was developing type 2. “It just wasn’t sitting right,” Jody says, “So I asked to see a nutritionist and as soon as she saw my numbers, and what I was eating, she was like, ‘This is not type 2. This looks exactly like type 1 patterns.’”
Following her consults with a nutritionist, Jody found an endocrinologist and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes: “What was really interesting about the whole situation was learning how important it is to advocate for yourself,” Jody says. “I definitely learned that if you have a feeling that something’s not right, you should get other opinions and speak up.”
Jody is now looking forward to joining her fellow T1Ds on the Beyond Type Run team in November. She recognizes that the training process for a marathon versus her recent experience training for an ultra-marathon is a bit different.
“For an ultra, it was really about training the mind to run for incredible lengths of time and just reminding yourself to go slow and go easy,” she says. “When I train for a road marathon, it’s a lot more road and treadmill and working for speed-work. And for an ultra it was a lot more trail and just running for longer periods of time at a much slower pace.”
Jody has also developed a keen understanding of her nutritional requirements during training, especially with the help of her continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
“The CGM is helpful, because you get feedback so quickly in real time as to how your nutrition plan is working,” she says. “One of the things that I’ve learned that was absolutely critical for me, which may not work for everybody, is that I have to take my first dose of carbs after roughly a mile of running, even though my mind says, ‘What are you doing?! It’s way too early!’ But I’ve learned that if I don’t take that dose of carbohydrates, I’m basically chasing lows for hours.”
She has learned that mixing in carbohydrates during training in general is crucial for her, with added protein to avoid those spikes and crashes. A candy bar with caramel and peanuts, like a PayDay, has become a go-to snack! Another lesson that Jody has learned is how to deal with injuries and how to avoid them during training, both mentally and physically.
Jody’s advice to potential marathoners: “As you’re building up towards marathon training, don’t build up too fast, whether it’s speed, distance, or time —you don’t want to risk injury. So, I would just say build up slowly. The other thing I would say is if you’re encountering an injury or even something that feels like it’s becoming an injury, go to a physical therapist and get second opinions if you need it.”
Jody works in Oakland as the vice president of Learning at a kids’ tech startup, often a high-pressure job which, in addition to having a family, she equates to her journey with endurance running.
“I’ve learned that there’s just a very strong correlation between people who kind of put themselves out there for endurance sports and people who put themselves out there with their careers or their family or all the other millions of things they’re juggling. It’s like we’re choosing to live the most we possibly can out of our lives, and this is how we’re expressing it.”
Although her original motivation for running—to be a role model for her children—holds true, it has evolved over time and after being diagnosed with T1D: “It has transformed particularly through my diagnosis and is now something much more about giving thanks—appreciating what my body still can do, because it’s something that I can’t control. But there’s so much that I have to give thanks for, so staying fit is that form of active gratitude and appreciating what the body can do,” she says.
“This journey is so much more about mental strength training than I ever really realized,” Jody added, “I mean, obviously your body has to be strong, but the mental component, particularly for long distances, is just so important, and that you remain positive and pick yourself up is absolutely critical to getting through big hurdles in life.”
Jody LeVos 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.