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Trends On Thames Challenge

From Thursday 29th February to Sunday 3rd March, DiAthlete & LOD founder Gavin Griffiths who lives with Type 1 diabetes returned to high intensity endurance, following the River Thames across England from its mouth in Kent to its head in the Cotswolds by running marathons, hiking and cycling. Gavin took on #TrendsOnThames to fundraise in support of our projects in 2024, while also sharing about the use of Hybrid Closed Loop in these various activities.

Since 2008 when Gavin first started fundraising and endurance challenges, he has been warmly supported by those most closest to him all the way - including his wife and our Trustee, and diabetes dietitian, Paula:

Going by previous endurance challenges on multiple daily injections, with Gavin's bodyweight being close to 80kg - while active on the marathons we were looking at an estimate of 40gs of carbs per hour as a guide of what he might need. Albeit, in the first hour or so with early morning starts, there would be active insulin in his system. This means more carbs required - in cases during training that initial amount was doubling to avoid a low. On a Hybrid Closed Loop we are reviewing how that compares to previous challenges on injections.

The Marathons

It had been 6 years since Gavin was last so active when he ran 25 marathons around the UK and Ireland in 1 month. He had just 1 month of training preparation coming into the #TrendsOnThames challenge... so this was always going to be hard hitting.

Gavin shared:

Personally after a few setbacks I was at a bit of a crossroads, and the work of this small charity has always been important to me, in how we connect and support people with Type 1 diabetes. I wanted to help kick-start opportunities ahead in a fundraiser - and throw myself back out there in taking on the distance of the river I have always lived on. Hopefully it can share a message to whoever needs to hear it, when times get tough keep going. With Type 1 diabetes, keep working with it and not against it, you'll learn along the way and accomplish anything you set your heart on."

The first route was a marathon from the interesting preservation project of the Slough Fort at Allhallows, heading on to Gravesend and then Erith Pier, Gavin's former hometown. In a cold-aired downpour of rain, after coming through the hilly Kent country lanes by Cooling Castle, Gavin faced an obstacle in the closure of London Road at Ebbsfleet due to a landslide. After passing the first bridge of the challenge, the Queen Elizabeth II Dartford Crossing, things turned muddy, with puddles and slopes into Joyce Green. There, Gavin was fighting off a hypo with his glucose trends stuck at 4.2 mmol/L having taken onboard a lot of carbs.

"I don't think I've consumed as many carbs at any one time," Gavin reflected. "Perhaps my lack of fitness in recent years started to catch up with me! I had been out there in the rain for so long it became a slog in the mud, so my body was working harder to keep warm and move through the terrain. In a short spell, I had glucose tabs, a few gels, raisins and a bar, and everything I consumed did not feel happy going down put it that way!"

In support, new Trustee and long term friend, Martin Ryan, drove his car to meet at checkpoints.

"In 2009 I did a similar job. Gavin was running around the Isle of Wight, and on this occasion he went low and there was no phone signal, we had lost track of him in the fog, but luckily we found him just as he dropped to the ground. I think that has been a motivation to him ever since."

On Day 2 of the challenge, Gavin started the 2nd marathon at Thamesmead. After an early shower, the rain eased off and the sun came out. Carley Heffernan, who is mother of Harry, a 15 year old living with Type 1, joined Gavin running until the Thames Barrier. Carley shared:

You've got to let your kid be a kid. If you start questioning everything that they eat, or allowing your worst fears to become the communication around diabetes management, then you'll only risk making them rebel more, or to see only negatives about life with the condition."

The route went through the heart of London, where Gavin found his stride in the sunlight and his body required less frequent carb boosts than the day before in the rain and mud. However, after a lunch stop at Buckingham Palace 18 miles in, with a lengthy pause for filming in a documentary project about life with Type 1 diabetes, the glucose levels drifted high, and the temperature began to drop.

Paula's sister Andrea, who lives with celiac, joined Gavin for the final 10 miles of the route through West London and over to Richmond. Andrea reflected: "in seeing Gav's levels go high in that section, where we had to find a few cafes and pubs to stop for him to go to the bathroom, was quite symbolic how unpredictable this condition can be. You can have a plan of where to go, but you need to adapt it in the moment too."

The Trek

Following the back-to-back marathons, it was on to the trekking for the morning of Day 3, totalling up 15km from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace.

In total 8 daring walkers participated in the heavy rainfall, with 3 living with Type 1 diabetes: Gavin and Paula joined by Rakhee Gohil. Rakhee took the 'fasting method' of trekking before a meal and therefore having 0 active units of insulin. This worked very well for her! Gavin on the other hand had his first hypo during activity on the challenge. This goes to show how easy it can be, with the two marathons he had a lot of attention to detail in combating the hypos while active, with walking, in addition to having active insulin from breakfast, he took his eye off the ball a little more and the levels dropped.

Despite the hard rainfall, it was a pleasant trekking route along the riverside. The key message from this part was in the role of friends in your everyday life with Type 1 diabetes. Rakhee was joined by Jhene and Roshni, and Gav, Pau and Andrea joined by Domi and Stephan. Rakhee shared at the end of the hike: "your mates are your mates, you trust them and they'll be there for you when it matters." While we know there is such a connection with others who share type 1 diabetes in common, in your average day to day it isn't too common that you will be around many others living with the condition. You have to learn to trust those around you and build confidence to share about your diabetes, on a sociable level. This can help it to not become a background issue or social discomfort, but something you get on with reduced ignorance and better support on hand should you ever need it.

The Cycle

After lunch Saturday afternoon consisted of getting on the bike. There had to be a last minute change in plan for the route: the Thames Path was in large chunks flooded. Fortunately, with local supporter Alex on the bike, it was possible to head out on the road via Virginia Water through Surrey into Berkshire and get back up onto the Thames at Mulberry.

Following a drop in glucose trends during the trek, the Temp Target setting on the 780G pump of 8.3mmol/L worked very well through the afternoon cycle, and the rain eased off.

For Day 4, it was a very long day of endurance on the bike, starting at Reading FC's stadium and heading up to Oxford, before turning west to Gloucestershire and Cirencester. This route featured a lot of country lanes and with it gradual inclines, in coming for the most part off from the Thames Path and on the road. It was the first time Gavin had done a challenge on the bike since 2015. He encountered a hypo towards the end of the 9.5 hour day - the fatigue of 4 days endurance showing signs of kicking in. Supported all the way by Gary Gunner, a family member who had previously joined Gavin's running efforts when he first started fundraising - cycling for 1 week along side him as he ran from John O'Groats to Land's End in 2013 - the sun had just gone down in the fading light when the two finally turned into the finish line at the Thames Head Inn. Gavin noted that it was a little harder to keep on top of glucose management while on a bike, as you have to physically stop and start more frequently. "I preferred using a gel or a longer swig of energy drink in one hit, and getting a more of a boost of carbs into my body at one time, as opposed to my running method of taking gradual sips of a drink as I go, as I'm not that skilled at multi-tasking while on the bike!"

Gav's parents Ange and Vince were the support car for the two cyclists on Day 4. As ever, they have been there to see their son reach finish lines since he started - firmly agreeing with the statement of Carley as a parent to a type 1. Ange sharing: "you need to ask yourself would I let my child do that if they did not have diabetes - if the answer is not no, then you can't let your own emotions become the reason for the no."

A big thanks to everyone who supported both in person throughout the challenge and online, with your donations being a great help towards the charity's projects for youth, caregivers and adults living with Type 1 diabetes throughout 2024. If you'd like to donate to support Gavin's efforts and the work of the charity, see this crowdfunder link. Thank you.



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