A diabetes diagnosis couldn’t even disrupt Warren Epsey’s sporting lifestyle. With honest acceptance, immense planning and the support of his wife, he is set to take on Ironman.
Warren Espey (37) lives in Lakeside, Cape Town with his wife and twin daughters (8).
Ever since I was a child, I always enjoyed being active and playing all sorts of sports. I started surfing at a young age and then through school I enjoyed rugby, cricket, golf and tennis. After school found my passion for cycling and running, with golf as a social sport. Four years ago, I found a new passion in triathlons.
All in all, I have done three marathons, eight half marathons, three half ironman distance triathlons, and many small triathlons. I also did the Knysna Extreme Triathlon 0.5 (2km swim/100km bike and 30km trail run), 100miler MTB race and many road races.
Diagnosed as an adult
I took part in the 2019 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and was feeling really good. Then at 30km I hit the wall as runners call it. For the last 12km I struggled but managed to finish. I then headed off to China for business and whilst away I was extremely thirsty, drinking up to eight litres of water a day. I thought I may have been dehydrated from the marathon and then travelling.
Once I returned I contacted my GP as I was still extremely thirsty. He did tests and confirmed it was diabetes. He explained that the wall I hit was a sugar low and not knowing this was a great learning lesson for me going forward.
I was initially put onto tablets and treated as a Type 2. That, however, was short-lived as my blood tests came back and I was put into contact with a specialist physician. He diagnosed me as a Type 1 and admitted me into hospital for a few nights to get my glucose under control and to get my insulin dosage correct.
Ever since then I’ve been on insulin (short-acting and long-acting) and only my dosages have changed. This constantly depends on many factors, such as sports and training to eating patterns, etc. Currently, I use insulin glulisine (short-acting) and insulin glargine (long-acting).
Managing diabetes while doing sports
Honestly, managing diabetes and endurance sports is very difficult and I’m still learning. Whilst the training is nothing short of hectic, it becomes challenging to manage my blood glucose.
Different run sessions, for example, will all effect my blood glucose differently. The weather also has an impact on blood glucose together with diet and what has been eaten in the past 12 hours.
As said, I’m still learning how to manage this. I’ve recently been using the FreeStyle Libre to help understand what happens to my blood glucose levels whilst being active and also to help understand what happens after meals.
It’s a constant learning curve and I feel having diabetes and enjoying endurance sports, this will continue as there is no exact science as to how the body will cope with the session, the heat, the intensity, etc.
Becoming a DSA member
Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to learn more about diabetes so signed up to become a DSA member. Once I’m educated enough I want to help others as there is not much info and support in SA. I believe we are very uneducated, and we need to help one another.
I would like to attend one of the DSA Support meetings that they host so I can meet and learn from other people living with diabetes.
Family adjusting to diagnosis
My wife and I decided to keep our girls involved in everything like shopping, why I can’t eat certain things, carb counting, how I take insulin. They are very knowledgeable about diabetes for their age.
With that said, for eight-year-olds, they understand as much as they can without striking fear into them. As parents we have taught them as much as we can without making them fear the diagnosis.
Eyes set on Ironman
A goal of mine has always been to test myself and see who the real Warren Espey is. It may sound cliché, but I really find that sport and especially endurance sport isn’t so much about talent, but more to do with mental toughness and true reflection of an individual.
The commitment to the training over a year (three years thanks to COVID) will really uncover the cracks in an individual. The learning you get, and self-reflection will only bode well for what life can and will throw whether it’s work, family, friends, or the normal life pressure one deals with.
I believe Ironman will help in so many personal areas, not just the medal you get at the finish line.
Delayed, delayed and delayed
The plan was to do my first full Ironman in March 2020. However, with the pandemic this was delayed to November 2020 which then became March 2021 which became November 2021.
I had trained from February 2019 for this but, in August 2021, we found out our one daughter had to undergo some brain surgery in October with no secure timeline on hospital time to full recovery time. So, I stopped all my training and focused on my family.
Things have gone as best they could go all things considered. So, I’ve deferred my entry until March/April 2023. The date is still to be confirmed.
My new goal for this year now is to do The Comrades Marathon and three half Ironman distance races this year as this is more plausible with the timeframe of what has transpired recently.
A general week of training eight months before a competition is:
Monday – 50 min gym session; 3,8km swim
Tuesday – 1h40 indoor bike session; 12km run
Wednesday – 3km swim; 50 min gym session
Thursday – 2-hour indoor bike session; 12km run
Friday – Interval running: warm up 2km, 16x300m sprints with 100m jog in between, 2km cool down
Saturday – 4-hour ride onto 20 min run off the bike
Sunday – 21 km run
Maintaining balance in work, family, diabetes management and everything else is the most important thing to achieve. I’m very lucky in that I have the most supportive family and friends around me. My wife is very special and not only supports me but encourages me.
Having the support, I do makes life a lot easier. She is so involved with my eating and diabetes and tries to help whenever she can.
Planning is vital, and sacrifices have to be made to achieve a goal. Early morning sessions. Work unfortunately is work and pays the bills. Evenings vary depending on the block of training I’m in, when its serious then it’s tough. I try train as much as I can at home on the indoor bike or treadmill, so my presence is still there, but it’s hard either way.
Diabetes is always there and managing that is a constant thing that needs to be accepted and made a part of your life. Acceptance of the disease is so important.