Blog 4: Mind Matters Athlete Luke Zweers Conquers Type1 Diabetes and the epic Crocodile Trophy MTB race
Last October Mind Matters Athlete Luke Zweers competed in arguably the worlds most difficult MTB race the iconic ‘Crocodile Trophy’. Hailing from Mackay in Queensland, Luke brought with him an added challenge to this brutal race Luke lives with the autoimmune disease Type1 Diabetes. This means his body can no longer regulate the amount of sugar in it’s blood, it has to be managed manually through injections and multiple daily blood tests. Luke took this challenge in his stride and rode to victory in his Masters category at the 2018 Crocodile Trophy. He wrote a blog on his experiences racing below:
Multi day stage race events don't exactly seem like the type of races a type 1 diabetic should really be looking to compete in let alone race, however with the right attitude and correct people in your corner these big endurance events should no longer feel out of reach just because you have type 1 diabetes. Fuelling the body both pre, during and post for recovery can really only be done by eating such foods (heavily loaded carbohydrate sources) that most specialists and educators would tell you to stick well clear of because of this condition.
I am by no means a professional in either the diabetic area or from an athletic physician point of view but want to share my thoughts and take away points from finishing the Crocodile Trophy mountain bike race. There isn't a great deal of information I could find pre race on this topic so I felt I should share my story on how I went about it and what I learnt along the way so others can conquer and live there dreams and not feel or be held back by having type 1 diabetes. There is a lot of new technology out there and other great developments currently happening that mean completing events like this are now achievable just like everyone else that live without T1d. There are a few more obstacles and hurdles that you need to be aware of but hey races like these aren't meant to be easy and the satisfaction you feel at the end of the journey by both finishing the event and beating people without T1d know the additional work required by yourself is one of the biggest and best feeling you will ever come across. The journey for not only you but your close family and friends that see and understand what you have had to endure to conquer such a feat is something special for you all to share at the end.
Of course there is a lot of premeditated planning and preparation that needs to take place well before your 'main' race so you know what to expect to some degree whilst racing. Every race and training session is different so come race day/s there will always be something out of ordinary that you will need to deal with. Whilst this can be challenging and mentally frustrating, it can also allow you to develop the necessary tools and knowledge to tackle what this disease may throw up at you both on the bike and in everyday life.
I was diagnosed 3 years ago with type 1 diabetes so this is still a BIG learning curve for myself. When I was diagnosed, many experts didn't tell me that I would have to stop competing in these longer sporting events. Although, at the same time I wasn't provided with any helpful information on how I could continue with my cycling and set myself goals/races for my future. I'd had the 'Crocodile Trophy' on my bucket list before I was diagnosed, and whilst I had moments of thinking it wasn't achievable (thanks to my new life as a diabetic) I was determined to get there, race and compete at the event in 2018.
Below are some of the keys points I took away from racing The Crocodile Trophy with type 1 diabetes and how I managed to conquer this event and not let this disease stop me from living the life I want to live.
First step into this journey was to align and work with a coach that has also been through what I was about to endure. I found Justin Morris of 'Mind Matters Athlete Coaching', working closely with him for the months leading into the race. Not only had Justin previously competed at Crocodile Trophy, he is of similar age, male and also a type 1 diabetic athlete who has competed at an elite level internationally on an all diabetic cycling team. Looking back now at the nine month journey I doubt I could have aligned myself with a better coach and mentor to achieve what I set out to do. I would speak with Justin weekly about training but more importantly how my BSL levels were behaving during key sessions each week. They say 'knowledge is power' and having people in your corner that you can learn from and speak with regarding BSL levels, nutrition and racing can give you that piece of mind that you aren't alone on this journey. What I learnt is that theres a whole community out there that want you to succeed and the impossible is possible. Having a knowledgeable coach in both areas was definitely the key component of my race and preparation.
I had to keep constant awareness of my BSL's at all time of the days. If this is compromised at all it can affect sleep, mood and just in general how your body feels. With BSL's too high a constant lingering headache which can also be also due to dehydration but as most diabetics would be aware this also can indicate high blood sugars. Not something you want over the course of a week long race is either of these so it’s essential to know the difference between the two and to keep BSL at optimum levels means you can focus on hydration. I also noticed that over night as my dinner digested over a period of 8 to 10 hours my BSL's would increase as food digested and insulin effect would decrease. Always be aware of this and test throughout the night. This is a small amount of time required to test using the Libre but can have a big effect on feel the next day if controlled properly.
Storing and access to your fast and slow acting insulin is critical. Most of the stage race events have transfers from start to finish each day so your luggage is stored and transported in the heat of the day which isn't ideal for insulin. Justin's advice was to always have a fast acting insulin in my luggage for use straight after the finish. For this I would store in the middle of my luggage bag (last place to see heat of the day) and in an insulated cooler bag. I simply used a cooler bag from the chemist that your insulin comes in from the pharmacy. I had three of these bags with 2 pens of insulins inside and at no time did any of my insulin go off because of the heat. I did also have a spare set of fast and slow insulin left with the race doctor who stored in a fridge with other medications as a just I case any of the insulin I was carrying in my luggage was compromised. Better to be extra safe than without insulin for days on end.
During each stage the feed zones had foods such as muesli bars, watermelon, pineapple and banana's as well as cans of RedBull. I found that I could ingest pretty much as much as I felt required (even multiple cans of RedBull) at each feed zone and whilst racing my body would regulate BSL levels to remain with in 5-9mmols. A lot of these stages I would be racing at around 80-90% of max heart rate for anywhere between 4hours-7hours each stage so the energy expenditure was quite excessive. You will need to keep in mind that everyone's bodies work differently and as people with diabetes know what works for one diabetic won't work for another. My big take away message from this was I didn't expect my body to be able to process these amounts of sugars/carbs and remain within the correct levels. I think that without these amounts of ingested sugar/carbs I wouldn't have been able to race as long and as hard as I did which shows you need to train and race experimenting to see what works for you. Be prepared to go outside your "comfort" zone with food sources and quantities as you will be surprised how well the body responds when asked to perform in these areas.
In summary I ended up with a great result at the Crocodile Trophy. I finished position 1 in the Amateur Men 2 category, walked away with 6 from 8 stage wins and finished the event with zero hypo events and managed to complete the race without any issues due to my diabetes. Being a diabetic you will always have to be doing more work then your competitors off the bike due to monitoring and planning nutrition etc when compared to other people you are racing because of your diabetes diagnosis, but as mentioned above the feeling you have at the end of the event knowing what you went through just to be there trumps everything. It makes the whole process from training, lead in races and your main goal race that much more satisfying to know what you did throughout the race and also made the months and months of training leading in even more special as people with T1d only a few years ago wouldn’t have thought this was achievable yet you did it and achieved the unthinkable.