The Diabetes Marathon

Life-is-Sweet-Cover-trim_300pxIn Shawn Shepheard’s new memoir, Life is Sweet, he details how he learned to embrace the challenge of late-in-life Type 1 diabetes. In Part 3 of our series of edited excerpts from his memoir, he chronicles training for a marathon after his diagnosis.

I am standing in a sea of fit people wearing spandex and Lululemon shorts.

I think, “How come my butt never looks that good in those pants?”

It’s minutes before the start of the Vancouver Marathon, a 42.2 km (26.1 mile) journey.

Am I on the wrong side of the barriers separating the spectators from runners? What I am doing? How did I get here? What was I thinking?

How I Got There

It’s been two years since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and I’m settling into the new “normal” of living with diabetes. I hesitate to use the word “normal” because the juggling act of taking insulin injections, testing blood sugar, and experiencing high and low blood sugars never really feels “normal” to me.

I began volunteering with the Canadian Diabetes Association six months after being diagnosed. While volunteering, I hear about this new program called Team Diabetes. You commit to running a marathon, raise funds, train, and then, presumably, run.

I think about jumping in and running one. I share this idea with my friends, and responses range from “Are you crazy?” to “Go for it!” The longest I have ever run is one mile…in high school.

I sign up for a local marathon. I’m all in.


So how do you go from never running to being ready for a marathon? There is an online marathon training program that gives you the daily recipe to prepare. I look at the schedule for Week 1:

Monday – walk 20 minutes
Tuesday – walk 25 minutes
Wednesday – Rest day

I can SO do this.

So I’m a few weeks into it and I’ve progressed to a slow jog for 20 minutes. Progress is a beautiful thing. The program is working. Sure I feel the aches and pains associated with muscles that haven’t been used in years, but I can handle it.

In the midst of this, my wife asks me, “Do you think it’s a good idea to play hockey while training for a marathon?”

“Absolutely,” I answer instantly. “It’ll be my cross-training day”

Seriously, did she think I was going to give up hockey for a year? That would be un-Canadian of me.

The Accident

It’s January, two months before I run my first marathon.

It’s time for our annual guy’s hockey weekend. It’s a tradition, and I don’t see any reason to not to go this year. On a cold Saturday afternoon in Ottawa, my friends and I head to the outdoor rink for a little pick-up game. What better way to celebrate our love of hockey?

The game begins and the competitive juices start flowing. It doesn’t matter if it’s an outdoor fun game or the last game of the playoffs, I love winning. I hit a rut in the ice at full speed and go down, hard. I extend my arm to absorb the fall, and my shoulder pops out, literally. It looks like I have two elbows.

Three months of extensive, expensive, and painful rehab follows. No running for at least two months.

When it’s done, I commit again, this time to a marathon in Vancouver in May. Eight weeks of running, in pain, and I get on the plane to Vancouver. I’m doing this.

Show Time

The horn sounds. It’s 7 a.m. and I now know what sheep must feel like when they are herded. There are over 5000 runners lined between the barriers. We cross the start line and the journey begins.

The first 10 km go very well. I see my wife and niece behind the barrier; they are smiling and so am I. I make it to the halfway point, and there is a band playing.

I turn the corner to the biggest hill I have ever run up. Cruel.

The rain starts, then hail. Yes, hail. I look up to the sky and laugh. “What else are you going to do?”

Nothing is stopping me today.

The Wall

There is a saying in the marathon community that somewhere between 30 km and 36 km you will “hit the wall”. Hitting the wall is the point where your body gets really pissed off with you, and you don’t think you can take another step.

I hit it somewhere around the 36 km mark. My whole body is in incredible pain; my recovering shoulder is on fire. I don’t think I can take another step.I stop and start to slowly walk. How am I going to finish the last 6 km?

I look at the left sleeve of my sweaty shirt. It has the initials of my mom, who is suffering from Huntington’s Disease. My mom would do anything for her kids. On the other sleeve of my shirt are the initials for my wife’s aunt, Barbara Chung. Aunt Barbara lived 9 years after her diagnosis of breast cancer. She was always smiling, always had a kind word for others, an amazing woman. I think of these two amazing, courageous women and how they dedicated their lives for others, and my heart fills with pride. The least I can do is finish the race strong. I inch forward and pick up steam again.

During the last 5 km I pass by people that passed me earlier in the race. Seeing the finish line is a powerful experience. Running the last 300 yards in front of huge crowds is electrifying. Seeing my wife and two of my nieces behind the barriers, and then having them jump in to join me, is priceless.

I cross the finish line, have my medal put around my neck, and head straight for the food tent. I immediately find the donut table and eat two. Go figure, after running 42.2 km my blood sugar is running low.

To order a copy of Shawn’s book, Life is Sweet, or to engage him as a speaker, go to

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Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1997, Shawn Shepheard has become a speaker, advocate, and champion for those who want to live happy and well with diabetes. He was awarded the National Advocacy Leadership Award and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to honor the significant contributions and achievements he has made to the field.

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