Roddy Riddle - Extreme Endurance Athlete
Introducing our latest Champion, Roddy Riddle. Roddy is an inspiration, and has a great story to tell as well as he has completed some of the hardest endurance events in the world while and suffers from type 1 diabetes. Roddy's Champion profile is longer than usual as he has a unique story, and I wanted to capture this. Thanks Hamish
Tell us about yourself, Roddy, what do you do now? What’s your day job?
We opened a cycle shop in 1988 in Inverness, Scotland, so our shop is nearly 30 years old. And I opened the shop with my brother, Kenny, and another partner, Hamish Scott. We sell everything. We sell road bikes, we sell mountain bikes, we sell kids’ bikes. It’s just a family run shop, and it’s called Bikes of Inverness.
What is type 1 diabetes and how did you discover you had type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is something that comes on that you have got no control over. It’s not like type 2 diabetes where type 2 is generally obesity or bad living. Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas just decides to retire overnight, so your body produces no insulin whatsoever, so you have to get insulin from either injecting insulin via an insulin pen or via an insulin pump, which I went on an insulin pump in 2012 and the insulin pump, as far as I’m concerned, is a no-brainer for anyone doing sport because you’ve just got so much more control over what you can do with the insulin pump over injecting with the pens.
It’s not something that’s hereditary. It’s just one of these things, you’re just unlucky. And it’s a bit more rare to get it later in life. I didn’t get it till I was 40.
I lost nearly three stone in the space of eight weeks. My wife, Lynn, got very concerned with my severe weight loss. I had guys come in in the bike shop saying, “You’re looking really fit, you must be doing lots of training,” but it was the very opposite because I couldn’t train because I was lethargic, tired all the time.
My wife got a self-testing kit. Ordered a self-testing for type 1 diabetes. That arrived. Did the test. It came back positive. I had a dilemma, because that week I had a ticket for the UEFA European Cup Final, football, soccer, cup final, on the Wednesday, and I knew if I went to my doctor there’s no way he would have allowed me to go to the cup final, so I decided to wing it and make an appointment for the doctor the day after the cup final, went down to the cup final in Manchester, didn’t enjoy it – not because my team got bet – didn’t enjoy it just because I was tired and with the symptoms leading up to being diagnosed.
Went the doctor the next day. Doctor did some tests, sent me straight to Raigmore Hospital, which is my local hospital. They did lots of tests and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes that day. A person without type 1 diabetes blood glucose level is between four and seven. Their pancreas keeps it within that range no matter how much sugar or chocolate or Coca Cola or fizzy drinks or pop that you drink, your pancreas keeps it between four and seven. The day I was diagnosed I was 45.6.
The diabetic specialist doctor said to me that I was actually lucky that I walked into the hospital. I actually cycled to the hospital, but he says I was lucky that I walked in. He says, “We don’t see a reading like this very often,” he said, “that’s a very special reading”. So, I was lucky, actually, I’ve not gone into diabetic coma because my blood glucose was so high.
What was your first response on been diagnosed?
When I was diagnosed, I actually shook the doctors’ and nurses’ hands and said, “Thanks very much,” and they were quite taken aback by that because they said to me that most folk don’t accept being diagnosed and I’m just one of these people that just get on with life, just it’s … it’s just something you have to get over and I’ve not let it affect me, to be honest, it’s not changed my life whatsoever.
You are competitive in your sport. Have you always been competitive?
I represented Scotland at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, in Canada, where it was the first year it was open to professional riders. We were riding against Phil Anderson, guys that had just come out of the Tour de France, and I finished ninth in the road race.
I broke Graeme Obree’s Scottish one hour record. I’ve represented Great Britain. I’ve represented Scotland on many, many occasions. Twice I finished fourth overall in the Tour of Ireland stage race which is a 900 mile nine-day stage race in Ireland. Finished ninth in the second biggest amateur stage race in the world in France called the Ruban Granitier.
Photo credit: David Urquhart
What steps did you take to get yourself running again?
To start with I bought a treadmill. When I was diagnosed sport was sort of not to taboo, but it wasn’t really recommended to do sport with type 1 diabetes. I didn’t want to accept
I could learn about what happened to my blood glucose levels in a safe environment in the garage. If I went into hypo I could come off the treadmill and go into the house. I wasn’t miles away from anywhere, so I learnt what happened to my blood glucose levels in that safe environment and after a few months of getting confident, so what happened to my blood glucose levels, and I used to record everything as well. I write stuff in a diary. The glucose levels before training, during training and after training, what food I took, so that if I was doing a similar run in the future I could look back at the diary, see what I took, see what my blood glucose levels were, did it work, did it not work, and that’s how I built up a logbook – I basically a Hayes manual on what happens to my body when I’m out doing running.
That gave me the confidence that I could then go out into the hills on my own and there was no looking back. When I was diagnosed, I knew absolutely hee-haw about diabetes, I knew nothing about it. That embarrassed me because I was a man of the world, I’d raced all over the world with Great Britain and Scotland and I thought, “If I know nothing about type 1 diabetes, the chances are the majority of other folk know nothing about it”. So, the reason I do these events is to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes and what can be achieved with it as well.
In 2013 when I did the Marathon de Sables which is the run through the Moroccan Sahara Desert, I was allocated to send one email a day, but I could receive numerous emails, so I sent my one email to my brother, Kenny, he was putting it out on Twitter and Facebook, and because I raised £26,000 for two diabetes charities, JDRF and Diabetes UK, they were retweeting it and reposting it on Facebook, so it was going all over the world and I remember receiving one particular email at night at the race and it was from a family of a 13 year old girl in America saying that what I was doing running through the Sahara was changing their attitude and it was going to allow their daughter to have a sleepover, so it’s like when things were really tough during the race, you just had to think back to the emails and that particular email stuck in my mind – it always will, just thinking, “Wow, that’s unbelievable”.
Tell us about what happened at the Highland Fling What is this and what happened then psychologically. How did you manage this? What were you thinking as you continued the race?
Okay – the Highland Fling is a 53-mile race on the West Highland Way in Scotland from Milngavie to Tyndrum and I had a backpack on with a – a Camelbak bladder in it, and I also had a bum bag for my blood glucose monitor and things like that, and 18 miles into the race my cannula which is attached to my stomach which then is attached to my insulin pump, the cannula ripped off.
I didn’t have any spare cannulas with me. I had spare cannulas, but they were in my kit bag at the finish line, so I’ve still got 35 miles to go in this race, so I’m like, “Right, what do I do? Do I retire at the first checkpoint which is 23 miles in, or do I continue?”
Now, if I continue I can’t eat any food because I can’t eat food without getting insulin, so I ran the last 35 miles solely on water. And what I did was if I seen my blood glucose levels dropping I’d put in a short intense sprint and the adrenaline of a short intense sprint raises your blood glucose a wee bit. Then if I seen my blood glucose levels going up too much I took the foot off the gas and I ran the whole race within like a person without type 1 diabetes range by controlling it with the effort that I did. As soon as I stopped by blood glucose level rocketed up because I didn’t have insulin for the previous eight hours and I just had to get my old-school insulin pens out, inject some insulin, and once I had a shower reattach to a new cannula and got my blood glucose levels under control again.
Moving on to the 6633 Ultra. What is this?
The beast. It is the opposite of the one I did in the Sahara. It’s up in the Yukon in Canada and it’s a 350-mile race on the Dempster Highway from Eagle Plains to Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) in Northern Canada, and the last 120 miles of the race is on the frozen McKenzie River, the famous ice road
And it’s in temperatures minus 40 with wind-chill on top of that, so pretty cold.
You’ve got eight days to do it, and the first time I did it I got 270 miles into it and pulled out due to severe back pain from a two wheel pulk that you pull with all your kit. The second time I went back I had a four wheel pulk and I was better prepared. I wasn’t coming home a second time without finishing it.
Because when I pulled out I’d felt I let myself down, I let my family down, I let my friends down, but more importantly I let the whole world diabetes community down, so I didn’t want to do that again. I wanted to go back and finish unfinished business.
How did the race go the second time?
I did. I would have been happy just to finish first Roddy Riddle, and even if I did it one second under the eight days I would have been happy, but I did it in six days, 21 hours. It’s the sixth fastest time in the 10 year history of the race. It would have won last year’s race by eight hours and I finished second, so delighted.
Mentally, how do you – I get, in an event like that, how do you keep going?
A bit similar to the story I told you about the email from the girl. I knew that because I was putting stuff on Twitter and Facebook, I knew the world diabetes community were following me because I had a thing called a spot tracker, which was attached to me, so folk could go online and see my progress, so I knew that … I knew I couldn’t let folk down and I just had to think back to emails from folk and messages from folk before I left that – I basically couldn’t let them down. And when times were tough, I just had to think back to the emails and things like that.
Each day, how much on an event like that, how much do you sleep?
I had a total of 18 hours sleep in this – just under seven days. When you stop you’re getting like an hour and a half, but when I got to Inuvik which is 120 miles to go, it is a proper log cabin where you get a shower and you get a proper bed. I was so way up on schedule I decided to take advantage of this and had a proper good sleep in a bed in Inuvik and I had about seven hours sleep there, which was probably a good move because the next section was a 70 mile section which I decided to do without sleeping – I did that whole 70 mile section without stopping.
What about on the ice road, the trucks, how did you go on those?
The ice road trucks? These guys are brilliant. They would always stop, put their window down, ask how you are, some of them would say, “Where have you come from?” and you’d go, “Eagle Plains”. “Where are you going?” “And you say, “Tuk,” and they would go, and they’d call us fucking crazy.
Photo credit: Weronika Murray
Living in the UK, how do you train for an ice race?
You can’t acclimatise for the cold. I’m quite lucky living in Scotland because we’ve got the Cairngorms just 30 miles from where I live, so if I did want to train in snow and things it wasn’t far away.
Photo credit: Roddy Riddle
What was in the pack? What gear are you carrying?
The main stuff:
- Sleeping bag which has to be to minus 40 degrees
- Bivvy bag
- Roll mat
- Waterproof matches,
- Two big Stanley flasks because when you got to each checkpoint you were given hot water. You would put that in your flasks and fill your – three-litre bladder, Camelbak bladder in my backpack as well.
- Backup insulin which froze in pump, so when I needed to put new insulin in my insulin pump I had to defrost it in warm water.
- Backup insulin pens, so if my insulin pump decided it didn’t like the cold I would have to go back to old-school insulin pens.
- All my food for the race.
- Backup base layers, which obviously, I had Armadillo Merino base layers, backup glove liners, giraffe neck scarves, beanies, because the giraffe neck scarves you were changing constantly because the condensation from you breathing they would just freeze solid and go rock hard, so I was rotating them all the time and when I took one off, I would put it down under my armpit to defrost it and then when they defrosted and dried you would rotate it with the ones that had frozen again.
Three pairs of gloves you would wear all the time. Armadillo Merino base layer gloves then a mid-layer glove and then a down mitt which you needed because of the temperatures. I had a wee bit of frostbite from the first time I did it on my nose, whereas this year I didn’t take any chances, I had the giraffe covering my nose at all times. Either that or a balaclava.
- Backup clothes.
- Backup socks.
- All your compulsory safety equipment. I had a safety shelter,
- Food, energy bars and cereal bars. What you would have to do, when you knew you were going to eat one, or an hour before you were going to eat one, you’d put it down your front to make it just a week softer to reduce the chances of snapping your teeth.
This time I took porridge which every warm meal I had, I had porridge and just loved it. Just – it went down so much better.
Do you lose much weight?
I lost 10kg (22lbs) in 7 days. I was 86kg (13st 8lbs) and came 76kg (11st 10lbs). Your body is burning calories to stay warm, you’re doing just under 55 miles a day on your feet, any you’ve got hardly any sleep, so all these things in the melting pot is going to cause weight loss.
Would you say that’s the toughest event you’ve done?
It made the Marathon de Sables look like a park run. I would say there’s nothing tougher out there in the world, to be honest. It’s just – it’s a beast, it is just – it’s brutal. The first 210 miles are very hilly and you are pulling a 30kg puck. The last 120 miles are flat as it’s on the frozen river.
Photo credit: Weronika Murray
You inspire a lot of people. Who inspires you?
I’ve never been asked that. First answer that came into my head was my kids and my family.
Anyone in particular you’d like to thank?
I’m lucky to have backing people like Armadillo Merino. Andy contacted me and offered to help me, which was – to have the best base layer product in the world backing me was brilliant. Animas who is a Johnson & Johnson company, they make my insulin pump. Them and OneTouch, their sister companies under Johnson & Johnson, OneTouch make my blood glucose monitor. And the test strips for the blood glucose monitor are made in my home town, Inverness, so OneTouch and Animas, they paid my expenses to go to the race, so I’m very lucky to have backing from people like that.
What’s your favourite piece of Armadillo Merino?
I love the beanies but in the Arctic the Giraffe long neck tube. The Giraffe probably saved me more than anything just because you can’t have your face exposed to the extremities.
Is there anything you take with you for good luck?
One other thing I didn’t tell you that you might have read in my blog was the story about my team manager when I was with Scotland? Alan Hewitt? Alan Hewitt was like a brother to myself and my brother. My brother represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games the same year as I did. Well, Alan, who was our manager, was like a brother to us. Alan used to carry a Buddha about with him. Alan lost his fight with cancer a couple of years ago, so when Alan passed away I got this fetish for Buddhas now, so my wife bought a big brass Buddha, so I had this brass Buddha with me and I had my son’s blue Buddha with me as well, so I had two Buddhas – and every now and then during the race I would the Buddhas out, rub them and think of Alan looking down on me just looking after me during the race from above. I’m not a religious person in the slightest, by the way. Going up the finish straight, I did the worst thing. I took the Buddha out, rubbed its head, looked up the sky and thanked Big Alan for looking after me. Well, if I did that I cried the whole way up the finish straight. Mixed emotions … mixed emotions the fact that we’ve lost Alan but the fact that he’d helped me get through the race, mixed emotions of finishing the race, so I got just before the finish line and I managed to control the crying, get it under control.
Crossed the finish line, and then a Japanese film crew who filmed the whole race asked me what the relationship was with the Buddha. Well, if they asked me that, what happened next? I started crying again, so yeah, there’s a – as I say, I’m not a religious person in the slightest, but … that’s something else that helped me get through the race, knowing that Big Alan was looking after me.
He’s watching over you. I just like that – that symbolism through the – be able to feel and touch it when you’re down, I mean that can make a really big difference.
Yeah, definitely. Because, as I say, I had the two – I had my son’s Buddha in my right pocket and my wife’s big brass one – the thing weighs a ton as well. So, I’m carrying this thing about, but it meant so much to have it with me that it was worth carrying. So, yeah.
Every now and then I would just get it out and give it a rub.
Roddy and his well worn and tested Buddha. Photo credit: Weronika Murray
Last question. What advice would you have to somebody who’s just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
Don’t let it rule you. Rule type 1 diabetes, don’t let it rule you. It should not stop you achieving your goals and dreams in life. Whatever goals and dreams you had before being diagnosed, continue on that chapter and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get to where you want to be.
Learn more about Roddy on his website
Photo credit: Weronika Murray