Around 2500 participants from all over the world took part in this year's Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Among them was our colleague Alexander Pope, who took on the 171-kilometre route. The special thing about him: Alexander has type 1 diabetes (T1D) and therefore had to keep a constant eye on his glucose levels during the run. In this interview, the software developer from South Africa talks about his experience.
Alexander, how did you experience the Mont Blanc Trail?
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is an extreme but very special experience. Trail runners from all over the world come together in Chamonix, it is very international. I had the privilege of taking part. The race runs around Mont Blanc through three countries – Switzerland, France and Italy. You start on Friday evening just before dark and run all night. The fastest runners finish on Saturday afternoon, but most of us run into the second night and day. That’s two nights without sleep for me. When the sun came up on Sunday, I was at the finish line.
That sounds tough. Did you have any support?
I had an amazing support crew – my girlfriend and a friend provided me with food, clothing and moral support along the route. I took a few short breaks along the way, adding up to an hour and a half at the aid stations. I didn't sleep because I was feeling awake enough to push on.
I now have a lot of experience and control my therapy manually via the mylife YpsoPump during such long runs.
What did you have to consider because of your diabetes?
When exercising with diabetes, you always have to keep an eye on your glucose and usually avoid insulin. If you do very long runs it gets interesting. Then the body needs insulin to absorb carbohydrates to fuel the running. I now have a lot of experience and control my therapy manually via the mylife YpsoPump during such long runs. In everyday life, I use mylife Loop and am very happy with it: I sleep better and my glucose levels stay in range longer.
Did you meet other people with diabetes on the trail?
Yes, I met another runner with T1D. It was nice to talk to someone in a similar situation. We both noticed that the adrenaline at the start made our blood sugars go high, and we were both trying to get them back into a good range. People are generally very focused, but if I have the possibility to talk, it’s a welcome distraction from the many hours of talking to myself.
What impressed you the most?
On the first night, it was beautiful crossing the Col de la Seigne from France into Italy at 2am and at 2500m. It was very quiet that night, even though there were a lot of people. The sky was clear and there was a cold wind. The Mont Blanc Massif was beautiful.
How did you hold out?
The run is so long that you shouldn’t think about how far you are from the finish. You have to break it up into small sections, such as how far it is until I see the support team again. I had a low point on Saturday afternoon - my blood sugar was high and I was very tired. It is good to focus on the basics then: eat, drink and keep moving forward. That’s a moral for life. I was rewarded: when I completed the loop and got to the finish after 36 hours, it was amazing. A huge sense of achievement.
Of course, I have to plan and be more careful than people without diabetes.
How long have you had type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed 18 years ago, so I've been living with diabetes for half my life. At first, I was nervous about doing sport, and I started cautiously. I've experimented and learnt a lot over the years. Now I can do almost anything I want to. Of course, I have to plan and be more careful than people without diabetes. For example, I always need to carry some sweets, or have a backup plan if my infusion set comes out. Over the years, I've run further and longer. In South Africa, I took part in the 90km Comrades Marathon five times. I’m not the most talented runner, but I enjoy trying to maximize my own potential.
What brought you to Ypsomed?
I came to Switzerland from Johannesburg in 2020 with my two dogs in search of an adventure. I first worked in Lausanne. I've been interested in diabetes technology for a long time, and I'm delighted that I now work on projects like the further development of our insulin pump that will make a big difference to the life of people with diabetes.
I have been using mylife Loop for around a year and have experienced many improvements.
What do you think of the modern treatment options for diabetes?
It’s exciting to think about how far it’s come. I have been using mylife Loop for around a year and have experienced many improvements. Before that I had an insulin pump without closed loop control and before that I used insulin pens. It is amazing that diabetes technology makes it safe and possible to do things like running for 36 hours with no sleep. 30 years ago it would have been unthinkable, and even ten years ago it would have been much harder. With access to technology, diabetes no longer holds you back - you can do a lot of different things. It's also motivating to think about how much more we at Ypsomed can do for people with diabetes in future.