After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the 1970s, Don Muchow was told exercise was too dangerous. His fear led to an inactive lifestyle and a host of other health issues that stemmed from the diabetes.
Eventually, after more than 30 years of avoiding it, he figured out a way to overcome his fear and safely start exercising.
On Saturday, he’ll stand on the sand in Newport Beach and touch the water in the Pacific Ocean. He’ll start jogging east before the sun even rises. He plans on running 2,830 miles in less than 100 days, arriving in Florida in early May.
The 57-year-old, now an ultramarathoner and Ironman, is gearing up for the ambitious cross-country run, kicking off in Newport Beach this weekend and topping off years of hard work.
His 2020 Run Across America starts at the beach and 47th Street in West Newport at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Well-wishers are asked to arrive about a half hour before the start time if they would like to chat or cheer him on.
His crew consists solely of his wife, Leslie Nolen. During previous runs, they had more on the team but found it to be more efficient with just Nolen. And she has a lot of hats: Driving the van, checking in with Muchow, organizing meals and hotels, social media and marketing, and more.
The van is easy to spot. Covered in stickers promoting the run and featuring his sponsors, including Dexcom and Tandem. He uses products from both companies that help him manage his diabetes.
The van is filled to the brim with food, equipment, and all the necessary items for a three-month trek. Enough to last both of them the entire trip. There is also a pop-up tent shelter on the roof of the vehicle for the nights away from a hotel. There are two coolers installed for his insulin and fresh food.
“There’s not as much room as you think when you jam all that food in there,” he joked.
The extra food and backup equipment (including several pairs of shoes as he goes through about one pair every 300 miles) is just part of the territory of being type 1, he said.
“You don’t like little hiccups because hiccups can turn into disasters,” Muchow said.
It’s more challenging than a marathon, where a runner can slam down sugar then crash at the end of the race and eat a steak. In this type of long-distance running, by the time he’d be crashing from the sugar and slicing up his ribeye he would have to be getting ready for the next day.
An instrumental piece of Muchow’s mission is his Dexcom G6, a continuous glucose monitoring device which monitors his blood glucose levels in real-time, sending constant alerts directly to his smartphone if his levels are too low or too high, an incident which can be life-threatening. In addition to his Dexcom, he uses a Tandem t:slim X2 with Control-IQ, an insulin pump with advanced hybrid closed-loop technology that adjusts insulin delivery to help prevent highs and lows – another key piece of his running gear.
There are a few things that he’s concerned about on his upcoming trek across the country, like the more humid states (“moisture is an enemy”) and running at night (although he plans his days around local sunrise and sunset times).
But he’s more excited about the monumental accomplishment of crossing that goal line, possible setting a few records at the same time.
Muchow was 12 when he was diagnosed. He was told exercise was too dangerous and that his blood sugar would drop to unsafe levels, so he avoided it all together.
“I wasn’t feeling horrible, but I wasn’t feeling great,” he said.
But after 32 years of dealing with it, it was time to change. He had retinopathy and was facing possible blindness. The doctor told him if he didn’t do something to improve his health his vision would get worse and other issues would likely arise.
“I was scared what would happen if I didn’t exercise,” Muchow recalled. “It’s too dangerous in the long term to not be active at all.”
Fear is a great motivator, he added.
He began a daily routine of using an elliptical for just five minutes.
“If I made it to the end of the day, that was a victory,” he said.
Friends Julie Kuehn, Carol Ezell, and Donna Doherty were big inspirations for him to get active. Kuehn and Ezell, both type 1 runners, shared tips and advice on running.
“I cheated off their papers,” Muchow joked.
Doherty would constantly “poke holes” in his excuses, he said, and helped him conquer his fear. She would help him address his issues, starting slowing and working slowly through any problems that came up.
So he forged ahead with support from the other type 1 runners. To his surprise, running made him feel better than ever.
Soon he completed his first 5k, which led to half marathons, then full marathons and Ironman competitions. That morphed into long distance running, participating in rallies across Texas and Iowa. A few years ago he wanted to try a solo run with an even loftier goal, from Disneyland to Disneyworld, or from Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.
So on Saturday, he’ll start his Run Across America.
Yes, balancing exercise, food and insulin is hard, Muchow admitted, but it gets easier with practice. Confidence and know-how replace fear.
He chose Newport Beach because it was due west of Disneyland, but he’s quickly becoming fond of the city.
His mission is to inspire other type 1 diabetics to not wait 30-plus years to find out that they are more capable than they think.
“You’re not alone, you’re not incapable, and somewhere out there is your safe way of being active that you can benefit from,” Muchow said. “You can’t run away in fear…It’s important to acknowledge it, it’s justifiable, but you have to figure out a way to get past it.”
For more information, visit t1determined.org.