Overcoming obstacles...outrunning diabetes


Dave Heitmann of Rocklin has always had a love for bicycles whether it be mountain or road. Originally a dedicated mountain biker, he would enjoy a leisurely bike ride with friends as his hobby of choice and source for exercise followed up with the customary food and drinks. Whether it be pounding the dirt or pavement on tires, Dave would put in miles on the saddle, but after awhile he realized it wasn’t enough. Dave was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his late thirties. He soon learned that cycling wasn't a big enough weapon to battle the disease. He needed to find another tool for weight loss and set out to change his habits. He traded a diet of comfort foods and drinks for a healthier way of living and increased his exercise regimen to manage his diabetes without medication. This health scare led Dave to running.

Q: You were overweight when you started your new exercise regimen. How did you get motivated?

A: After being diagnosed with diabetes, I quickly learned I needed to make some drastic changes and gear up my exercise routine by educating myself on the art of balancing diet and exercise (both cardio and strength training) to lose weight and control my diabetes. I educated myself about diabetes, the side effects and complications that can arise. My biggest fear was I didn't want to be overweight and 40 or "fat and 40" as I like to phrase it. I also wanted to minimize the complications that come with living with diabetes, as much as possible.

I joined a local gym with one-on-one training and weight loss programs to help me kick start a workout plan and keep me accountable for my workouts. This gym required us to run a mile and a half. Might I remind you that I'm a biker and the word “running” wasn't in my vocabulary at that time? The strength training was easy, but the running was going to take a little more motivation. I started by signing up for a local 5k. At the time, I figured if I had to pay to run then I was more inclined to do it. I completed my first 5k and shortly after heard about these so called "trail races.” I thought how hard could it be and what better way to mix my love for dirt with the need to run. I signed up for a trail 5k shortly after to keep up my motivation and maintain the 3 miles I had worked so hard to accomplish.

While continuing the boot camp routine and going to the gym regularly, I came across a flyer for a local running group, gO! Running in Roseville and thought I would check it out. I figured it's got to be better than running by yourself and it was much cheaper than signing up for race after race. Joining this running group was one of the best decisions I ever made. Most of the members were new to running and were training for the same distances. As motivation would have it, we all successfully completed a 5k, which quickly led to setting more lofty goals. Support and persuasion by friends led to training for a half marathon, followed by marathons years later, and eventually being coerced into the world of ultras.

I’ve found that when you work out with others who share the same interest and goals, that can be motivation in itself. I get ready for my workouts knowing that other members are counting on me to be there and that I’m not going be the only one. I look forward to our weekly workouts and seeing my friends . I have gained so much from this group. I have lost the weight and managed to control the diabetes without the use of prescription medicine and I’ve established lifelong friendships as an added bonus. I must emphasis that it hasn’t been a cakewalk. There have been ups and downs but the running group has always been there to provide support.

Q: What led you to try endurance running?

A: Funny question, with a funny answer! It’s all thanks Salmon Falls 50K race director, Tim Casagrande. I first met Tim through the running group. He was an avid trail runner, always trying to strike up interest in gathering a group to go for a trail run. Tim would share these stories of these mysterious “ultra runners” and their crazy races with crazy distances. It intrigued me, especially since I enjoyed trails and the terrain while mountain biking. I had also come to prefer running trails over pavement. What also peaked my curiosity was the training and fueling that went into these types of races. I would read about the total mileage they would run in a week, month, etc. and that they would use real food to replenish their bodies as opposed to sports nutrition products like gels. This fascinated me since being diabetic I need to find that perfect balance of fuel for running.

Most people don’t think twice about the amount of carbs/sugar they consume in the performance sports products, but when you throw diabetes into the mix, it becomes a whole other ball game. I’m constantly monitoring blood sugar levels. Fueling has probably been one of my biggest challenges since taking up running because I never know how my body is going to react.

My friend Tim had signed up for a 12 hour night race in Cool called Cool Moons. This race was different than any of the other races I had read about. It was 12 hours, on a +9 mile loop and there was no specified distance, it was just how many loops could you complete in 12 hours. The more I thought about it, the more it interested me. I didn’t have to commit to a distance, I was familiar with the course, and you were only running 9 miles at a time. It was the perfect starter race for me as a “newbie” to endurance running. I could run as far or as little distance as I wanted and at whatever pace I wanted. The darkness also added that element of surprise.

I asked Tim if he thought this was something I could do. Tim’s response was, “Of course!” He told me I would just have to work harder on the nutrition than others because I’m balancing the diabetes as well. So I signed up for the 12-hour night race and persuaded some friends to join me. We made a pact that we would stay together, run together, and finish together. We finished that first year with 41 miles under our belt and I was sold and ready for the next adventure.

Since then I have completed 3 50ks , 2 40-milers, 2 50-milers, and have ran the Reno Tahoe Odyssey several times, once as part of an ultra team.

There is something about the challenge of the distance and the vibe of endurance races that really interests me. I find that in these races, although they are about finishing and doing your personal best, the time and speed is not really the driver. It’s the sense of accomplishment that I just ran 50 MILES-- I ran from Folsom to Auburn. When you put it into that perspective it is really gratifying and mind blowing that someone can do it, again, and again.

Q: What is the difference for you between pavement running and trail running?

A: Pavement running and trail running to me are completely different. I enjoy the trails because of the challenge and the scenery. No run is ever the same. You don’t encounter the same scenery on every run, even if you’re running the same path. The time of day, time of year, and the company is what makes a trail run so unique. I also really enjoy the challenge that comes along with trail running. You have to constantly be on alert looking at what lies ahead like bridges, tree roots, branches and rocks. It’s very similar to mountain biking, since you’re always strategizing on what “line” of path you are going to pursue. Trail running includes my passion for the outdoors and dirt. I will always be a cyclist at heart, but if I can’t ride, then I will run on trails.

Q: Living with diabetes, are there certain things you need to do or be aware of before you go for a run?

A: Fueling for long distance runs takes the most preparation. Eating and hydrating properly is key to any runner's success, but I am limited on what I can and cannot use to maintain that balance. You want to make sure your tank is full when you start a run/race. Make sure that the tank doesn’t fall below the halfway mark or become empty. The diabetes makes it complicated. I’ve fueled up for races bringing my blood sugar really high with the intention of burning it off in a race. This has backfired on me sometimes and other times, it has worked well.

Ideally, I plan out my breakfast by taking into consideration the exercise I am about to do. The plan is to take in enough food knowing that I’m going to use it as fuel to burn off by the end of the run. I’ve also experimented with using real food as fueling instead of the highly concentrated sugar products that you would purchase in sports shops. I’ve also found products that are meant to be used in endurance sports, but are low in sugar. For example, Skratch products are all natural with no additives and used as an electrolyte supplement and are low sugar, but replenish the fluids and electrolytes needed to fuel your working muscles. I first heard about it through cycling and reading about what the professionals were using for fuel. In the past few years, Skratch products have made it into the running world. As a general word of advice, not every product will work for everyone, you need to experiment and see what works best for you. I have been fortunate enough to use real food, sweet potato cakes, and Skratch to maintain the protein and electrolytes I need.

Safety measures are always important. I carry glucose tablets for emergencies. When I first started, I would routinely check my blood levels and use that as a gauge for how I would fuel.

Q: Tell us about the head of your “pit crew” and how you met?

A: My wife is my “pit crew” or as our running group calls it “#1 Fan”. We met through our shared interest for running all thanks to her college friend and roommate at the time, who was also a member of the running group I belong to in Roseville. Back in 2009, my wife’s friend kept telling her about this upbeat, lighthearted, and friendly running group she belonged to called "gO! Running" and mentioned they were advertising a Couch to 5k program, with the end goal to run the No Excuses 5k. At the time, my wife was not a runner nor had any desire to be but, she decided to give it a try. With her cousin in tow, she joined the Couch to 5k program, thinking it would be a short lived adventure.

I had been with the running group for about a year at this point and was training for my first marathon and coincidentally was one of the coaches for the "newbies". It was shortly after she completed her first 5k I introduced myself to her and the rest is history! We got married in October and were fortunate enough to have our running friends by our sides.

She is my #1 Fan, making food for me to take out on training runs, crewing at every aid station with my supplies in hand. I’ve done the same on her longer runs. We’ve run several races together, mainly for fun, and support each other in our individual training and races. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the races I’ve done. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it takes a village to aid a runner. That village for me would be my wife and the support of our running group.

Q: You had another health scare this year?

A: Being diabetic comes with its complications, one being high blood pressure. I’ve always had high blood pressure, but my doctors have never been too concerned due to the level of exercise and cardio I do weekly. Earlier this year, my blood pressure started to rise while I was running and the doctors said I needed to take some time off. Being that I run 3-4 times a week, bike whenever I get a chance, and go to the gym regularly, I took it hard when I was told not to exercise. It’s difficult going from doing the things you love most to not being able to do them at all. I’d look at my bikes and watch my friends run wishing I was out there with them, also thinking how hard I’ve worked at running and how hard it will be to get it back.

In August, I was cleared to run again. My blood pressure is under control and I’m back at it. I have some catching up to do but I’m glad to be back and so are my bikes and running shoes. As with any training, it will take time, but running will always be a part of me.

Q: Now that you are starting to run again, do you have a running goal for 2016?

A: This past year has been full of many surprises, wonderful moments, and accomplishments. With all that has happened, I don’t have one specific running goal in mind for 2016. My overall goal is to run at a comfortable pace and base mileage for the purpose of health, fitness, and convincing my wife to do her first endurance race (hehehe).

Long-term running goals, I would really like to run the Chicago Marathon and Rome Marathon. Rome interests me since the race takes place in a country I’ve never been and the race is all on cobblestone streets. I’ve watched the Spirit of the Marathon which showcases both these races and would really like to take in it all in.

If I had to pick one bucket list item, I would like to try my hand at a 100k… someday.

#dave #heitmann #diabetes

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