A DI­A­BETIC SU­PER­HERO

Society Magazine - - Motivation - By Les­lie Barker

Don Mu­chow’s doc­tor calls him a ‘di­a­betic su­per­hero’ and af­ter run­ning 223 miles, it’s easy to see why

Don Mu­chow’s doc­tor calls him a “mu­tant di­a­betic su­per­hero.” It’s no won­der, be­cause in the last 12 months, the 56-year-old Plano, Texas ath­lete has com­pleted feats that even the most healthy per­son would hardly think to at­tempt: Four marathons four days in a row. A full Iron­man (2.4-mile swim, 118mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run). A 100-mile ul­tra marathon. And, mid-Oc­to­ber, the 223-mile Cap­i­tal to Coast Re­lay, which he ran solo.

“I’m do­ing what oth­ers do,” Mu­chow said, “but with one hand tied be­hind my back check­ing my blood su­gar.”

He’s only the third per­son in the race’s eight-year his­tory to run all 223 miles him­self, and the first Type 1 di­a­betic to do so. That’s awe-in­spir­ing, be­cause the lo­gis­tics and plan­ning are al­most in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.

Add to that test­ing his blood su­gar, check­ing his ever-present con­tin­u­ous glu­cose mon­i­tor, mak­ing sure he rests enough and eats enough, and you have a jaw-drop­ping bal­anc­ing act, a tightrope of ex­er­cise, in­sulin and diet. One slip, one stum­ble, and he could die.

Mu­chow was di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes at age 10. Gym teach­ers dis­cour­aged him from ex­er­cis­ing, so he

didn’t. But in 2004, 50 pounds over­weight and not manag­ing his di­a­betes well, he de­vel­oped cir­cu­la­tion prob­lems. Blood was leak­ing into his eye, a con­di­tion called retinopa­thy, and he un­der­went a treat­ment to cau­ter­ize the leak­ing ves­sels and pre­vent retina de­tach­ment. It was a wake-up call, lead­ing to his deter­mi­na­tion to start tak­ing care of him­self.

His first race was a 5K his wife, Les­lie Nolen, had signed up for. It took him about an hour to go those 3.1 miles. He com­pleted a half marathon in 2009, a full in 2011, a 50K in 2013. So what else for a di­a­betic su­per­hero to do but an Iron­man, quadru­ple marathon, the 100-mile ul­tra and then Cap­i­tal to Coast? Three years ago, he com­pleted the 223-mile race from Austin, Texas to Cor­pus Christi, Texas as part of a re­lay team whose run­ners all have di­a­betes.

Last year though, it was his alone. His and, he has­tens to add, his crew’s: Nolen, his crew chief; Angie Wagner, nav­i­ga­tor and driver; and Josh Fabian, a fel­low Type 1 who has run 300-mile events by him­self and was Mu­chow’s pacer for half the event.

His race strat­egy be­gan as jot­tings on an in­dex card with the names of the towns he’d go through. It ended up as a “mas­sive spread­sheet,” he says. “Ev­ery minute was planned.”

Fig­ured in were rest breaks (ev­ery

3 to 4 miles un­til Nolen de­ter­mined they needed to be less of­ten to en­sure Mu­chow would fin­ish the race be­fore the cut­off time); sleep breaks (some­times 10 min­utes, some­times 90; never more than three hours); how of­ten he’d mon­i­tor his blood su­gar. He does this two ways: view­ing the read­ings of his con­tin­u­ous glu­cose mon­i­tor or man­u­ally test­ing with a glu­cose meter (i.e. a fin­ger prick). If he needs more in­sulin, he delivers it from his in­sulin pump through an in­fu­sion port in his ab­domen.

And then there’s the mat­ter of eat­ing: “Nor­mally, with an ac­tive Type 1 work­ing out an hour or more, you’re sen­si­tive to in­sulin. All you get goes to­ward stor­ing en­ergy from food and mak­ing it avail­able to the mus­cles. That means I need to eat more to re­place what I’m burn­ing, and ev­ery lit­tle bit of in­sulin I take is mul­ti­plied in its ef­fect. ”Such stres­sors as heat, blis­ters, ex­haus­tion, he says, can have “a tremen­dous ef­fect on blood su­gar in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. More in­sulin won’t help be­cause your body tries to use it to store en­ergy, and that same body is scream­ing for more en­ergy to be un-stored.”

Fuel breaks were, by ne­ces­sity, ev­ery 3 miles. Dur­ing 88 hours on the road, he lost seven pounds, burned 20,000 calo­ries, drank 20 gal­lons of wa­ter or Ga­torade and downed 35 cups of ei­ther pud­ding, yo­gurt, man­darin or­anges or peaches.

He stopped once at a Dairy Queen, once at Whataburger for the ju­nior cheese­burger combo with onion rings, ranch dress­ing, ketchup. Ac­cord­ing to one of his lists, he thought about both fast-food restau­rants an es­ti­mated 70 times. (Did we men­tion he keeps metic­u­lous records?)

The long­est, most dif­fi­cult time pe­ri­ods were the 10:30pm till dawn seg­ments, when roads are iffy and dark. He wore a lighted vest and a head­lamp. At times he

was so ex­hausted that if he stood still, he’d fall asleep on his feet. Predawn on Day 3, he was weary, limp­ing, needing some pud­ding and Ga­torade. “I saw a guardrail and de­cided to go sit on it,” he says. “Then it turned into ply­wood boxes. Then it turned into a fire ant bed. I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing.”

At one point, an­other re­lay team van drove by and of­fered two of its run­ners, who had fin­ished their re­lay seg­ments, to pace him. They were mem­bers of Team Di­abadass, a team of di­a­betic re­lay run­ners Mu­chow had put to­gether a few years ago.

“One kept me awake; an­other made me think about some­thing be­sides the heat,” Mu­chow says. “Ev­ery time I leaned to one side” (from ex­haus­tion), “they’d push me back.” He could tell when his blood su­gar lev­els were low by his stride, which would get “floppy.” He’d trained so long and so hard, he rec­og­nized the signs. But, as he ex­plains, he had an “al­most pri­mal urge to com­plete what I started.”

Dur­ing those three-plus days, Mu­chow may have ques­tioned whether he’d reach the fin­ish line by the des­ig­nated time. But, he says, “there was never a time phys­i­cally I didn’t think I’d make it.”

His first food af­ter cross­ing the fin­ish line was fried fish. Then it was meat: “I ate a lot of beef, eggs, chicken, bar­be­cue.” He also slept 12 to 14 hours at a time, of­ten dream­ing he didn’t fin­ish the race. But then he’d see his medal, his four pairs of worn-tread shoes, his broad-brimmed hat, his sun­glasses, that beau­ti­ful fin­isher’s sign.

“Look­ing over my shoul­der,” he said, “I ac­knowl­edge this is an ac­com­plish­ment.”

So, as ev­ery­one else has been ask­ing him, what’s next? His plan is to be the first Type 1 to run the Vol State 500, a race di­ag­o­nally across Ten­nessee. If that goes well, next up would be run­ning across the United States in 2020, the year he turns 60.

“Ev­ery step of the way,” he writes in an email, “I’ve learned more. About what I didn’t know about run­ning. About what only a few dozen Type 1 ul­tra en­durance run­ners know about the in­ter­ac­tion of Type 1 di­a­betes and stress. And about the amaz­ing elas­tic­ity of the hu­man spirit.”

Don Mu­chow used mul­ti­ple pairs of shoes to com­plete the 8th An­nual Cap­i­tal to Coast Re­lay.

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