With more than 50,000 people running the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Kirsten Myers isn’t likely to stand out from the crowd during the race, but the Vancouver woman’s accomplishment of running all 26.2 miles with Type 1 diabetes will distinguish her from the pack.
Myers, 26, is running her first-ever marathon with Beyond Type 1, an official charity partner of the NYC Marathon. She’ll join 20 other runners from a total of six countries, ages 19 to 66, all of whom have Type 1 diabetes.
“I love being part of a team,” Myers said, before explaining that she’s running the race, in part, “to advocate and empower other people with Type 1 diabetes to challenge themselves.”
Type 1 diabetes causes the pancreas to produce little to no insulin, which effects blood sugar levels. Symptoms include increased thirst, hunger, fatigue and blurred vision. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 1.25 million Americans live with Type 1, and another 40,000 people receive a Type 1 diagnosis each year in the U.S.
Myers’ diagnosis came when she was a 17-year-old junior at Westview High School in Beaverton, Ore. Within weeks of being diagnosed, Myers returned to running for Westview’s track and cross country teams. Then she went on to row at the University of Pennsylvania. Back then, Myers would keep her blood sugar higher, “and just eat some snacks on the way and hope that everything would be fine.”
Athletics came with risks, but Myers wasn’t going to let that stop her.
“Sports and team sports were my outlet for being like, ‘Oh, this disease isn’t ruling my life. I can accomplish these things and still be the person I want to be despite it,’ ” she explained.
Myers has been preparing for the marathon since July. Her longest run was 20 miles, which she conquered on a work trip in Vienna, Austria, for her company, mySugr, which has created an app by the same name for people with diabetes. The company is based out of Austria, and Myers works in customer support.
Her goal is to complete the marathon in about three-and-a-half hours. Myers has done a handful of half-marathons before and also some 10Ks. Running with Type 1 means her race will be much more complicated than it is for most.
She has an app on her phone to track her blood sugar, and she’ll check that each mile to see if she needs to alter anything. She also has a continuous glucose monitoring system and an insulin pump — she carries these things daily and doesn’t have to do finger pricks.
On race day, Myers will have to take a bus to Staten Island at 5 a.m. and wait for her start time at 10:15 a.m. Myers admits she likes to have her blood sugar in an optimal range for competing.
She’ll reduce the amount of insulin she’s receiving for the whole race and carry glucose fruit snacks. If her blood sugar gets too high or low, she could be spending the race trying to level it out.
“It’ll be challenging,” she said. “With the diabetes part, you have to eat breakfast like everyone, but you also have to take a certain amount of medication so your blood sugar is not too high or too low before the race, and that’s always a difficult balance because if you’re too high, you’re not in athletically the best condition to perform well, and if it’s too low, you just don’t feel well.”
Myers isn’t planning on listening to music during the marathon, unless there’s a dull spot in the race. She’s hoping the large, energetic crowds will carry her, but even that comes with risk.
“The cool thing about the New York City Marathon is that there’s people just cheering all around. I’m really hoping to just feed off and enjoy that,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll be some adrenaline. But that’s also the challenging thing with diabetes. When there’s adrenaline, your blood sugar spikes.”
Some of Myers’ inspiration comes from her maternal grandfather Charlie Helenius, who lived in New York City most of his life and died in May. Helenius helped build the original World Trade Center Twin Towers, and he loved New York City, Myers said. He also lived with Type 1 diabetes and served as a mentor to her. Helenius lived much of his life without the diabetes technology that Myers has today, which meant he was dedicated to actively fighting it.
He wanted Myers to be cautious when it came to sports and rowing in college. She said this race is “important to show people that living with a disease is not the end of the world,” and that “you can do other things with your life besides just taking care of your diabetes.”
“I’m kind of running the race in honor of my grandfather,” Myers said, “and I’m hoping in those hard moments I just really reflect on my grandfather, and how he also lived with the same disease I did, and how important New York was to him.”