Outpacing T1D in the Sahara Desert

Sébastien SassevilleOctober 28, 2012. First day of the seven-day race. A long, hard and humbling day! The heat was intense, over 36°C on the Sahara desert course. I kept my insulin cool with gel packs and thermal containers. Things went well, but my diabetes was a challenge. I was forced to walk the last 5 km. I will make a few adjustments to my strategy tomorrow.

That was one of my early journal entries during the Sahara race held from October 28 to November 3, 2012.  Today, I think back on why I first decided to enter the race. After all, why would someone with type 1 diabetes (T1D) put himself through a 250-km, 7-day footrace in the Sahara desert with temperatures rising to 40 degrees Celsius? Why would I want to live through what Time Magazine described as one of the ten most difficult endurance challenges in the world?

I was motivated by a desire to challenge myself, try something new and confront my fear of the unknown, like I did when I reached the summit of Mount Everest in 2008.  I also used the race as an opportunity to create awareness about T1D on behalf of JDRF during Diabetes Awareness Month, held each November. I wanted to let those like me know that T1D can be an enabler. It can be an ally. Inspiring us and helping us grow.

November 2, 2012. Last official day of the race. I ran the first 40 km with no major issues. My diabetes was well controlled as I responded to nutrition and exercise in line with my usual patterns. Later, the day was marked by two costly high blood sugars. The first happened at the worst possible time - the hottest point in the day with temperatures exceeding 40°C. After getting a full meal at the 50 km marker, I ran the fastest 20km of the week, impressive considering I already had 220 km in me! I was in 16th position, but around 80 km, I made a few blood glucose management mistakes that led to another high blood sugar episode, ultimately forcing me to slow my pace.  I crossed the finish line in 21st position out of 134 runners (18 had dropped out). Even if I could have finished on a stronger note, I was thrilled to complete the event’s toughest and longest stage.

The race was very demanding, both physically and mentally. I lost 14 pounds and drank 60 liters of water! Managing my diabetes was a constant challenge. Now that I have completed the race, I am more than ever convinced that diabetes, although it can be very serious, is not a barrier to living a full life. We can transform obstacles into catalysts, making our boldest dreams come true.


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Sébastien Sasseville is a 33-year-old Quebec City resident, diagnosed with T1D in 2002. In 2008, he became the first Canadian with T1D to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Lets turn type one into type none