December 2nd, 2009
Race nerves have a dramatic effect on blood-sugar. As anxiety rises during race preparation a small amount of adrenaline is released in the body which triggers the liver to dump sugar into the bloodstream. This is the fight or flight response. If someone was walking through the woods and knew they were being stalked by wolves the body would prepare itself for an escape by mobilizing sugar. The islet cells on the pancreas would compensate for the increase in glucose by releasing insulin. The insulin would then bond with the sugar and be taken into the muscles so that it could be used as extra fuel to escape the wolf pack with.
As a diabetic I have to balance the “fight or flight response” on my own. I get nervous before a race and release sugar just like everyone else. Unfortunately my regulatory system is broken and I have to give myself the appropriate amount of insulin. This is where things get tricky. How nervous I am affects how much sugar I release into my body: more Nerves equals more glucose . The difficult part is there is no real way to monitor how nervous I am.
For the Norwegian Cups I skied in a few weeks ago I made my usual adjustments to my insulin before the race and my blood-sugar remained constant. I followed the same insulin protocol for the World Cup the following weekend. But lying in bed three hours before the start, my sugar went from 150 to 260 over the course of an hour. This rise in blood-sugar created even more anxiety because I had to get my glucose level back under 150 while testing skis and warming up prior to the race. During this process I took too much insulin and dropped down to a glucose level of 56 only 20 minutes before the race. I was able to raise the sugar to 70 by the start and finished with a glucose of 149. This is great control but the stress of the balancing act certainly did not aid my race and compromised my warm-up
The lesson I learned here was that I obviously care more about World Cup races than Norwegian Cups. I always try to approach every race with the same preparation and routine. Part of the routine is to stay calm calm and relaxed which is easier said than done. I like to listen to music or read prior to races to keep my mind from fixating on the race. My girlfriend thinks that my pre-race music is too heavy and says I should listen to Mozart to calm myself down. She may be right but I was listening to Alice in Chains which I think is pretty mellow already.
This past weekend in Kuusamo I used the lesson I learned in Beitostolen and raised my basal insulin rate by 50% three hours before my race. My bloodsugar remained constant as I lay in bed waiting fo the race start and reading “The Cider House Rules.” Without any highs or lows to correct before the race I was able to focus more energy on my warm-up than on the previous weekend.
This is not the first or last time I will learn lessons about my blood-sugar. I have known for years that various levels of competition affect my nerves and glucose differently. I once came home from the World Cup and competed in a NENSA race the following weekend. I used the same insulin dosing that had been working in Europe only to feel my glucose plunge before the race in Vermont. I had to drink a quart of Gatorade (60g of Carb) to get my glucose high enough to race. Obviously I don’t get nervous for New England Cups anymore. Apparently I don’t get nervous for Norwegian cups either. In the future I hope that my subconscious will get used to World Cup caliber races as well. In the meantime I will continue to search for calming psychological techniques and document the accompanying glucose fluctuations.