Living Healthy with Diabetes Is Like Mountain Biking

I’ve learned a lot about living a healthy life with type-1 diabetes on my mountain bike.

Mike after fallNow, let me be clear. I’m not writing as an expert professional cyclist or an expert endocrinologist. (I’m not a doctor, although my wife does sometimes call me “Dr. Love.” Actually, that’s not true at all, but I wish it was.) I’m just an ordinary guy who has lived with diabetes nearly 43 years and is somewhat obsessed with riding my bike. Let’s put it this way: the guys in my mountain biking group used to call me “Crash.” (I had to earn my way out of that nickname by riding crash-free for exactly two years. I received a certificate and everything.)

I do know one thing: a vital skill in mountain biking is to look down the trail, past what’s right in front of you. When you look five to twenty-five feet down the trail (depending on the type of trail), you can identify potential hazards and challenges and create a plan of action before you reach them. Take it from me, constantly looking just ahead of your front tire results in a jerky, stumbling ride and some painful blunders.

It’s the same for caring for my diabetes. I can live either by default or design; in reactive or proactive mode. It seems to me that most people live most of their lives by default. In other words, life happens to them.They’re looking, figuratively speaking, just ahead of their front tire.

When I am struggling to keep my blood sugars under good control, I’ve learned that’s often a sign I am not being as proactive as I need to be with my health. I may not be getting enough exercise or I’m not testing my blood as I should or it’s been a while since I’ve seen my endo. (By the way, an “endo” is not a good thing in mountain biking. It usually ends in a “face plant.” And no, tulips are not a part of a face plant.) Or I’ve eaten an entire gallon of dark-chocolate-chip raspberry ice cream (because, after all, raspberries and dark chocolate are good for you), not that I’ve actually ever done that.

In mountain biking as well as in caring for diabetes (or anything, for that matter), we want to make decisions before we actually get there (wherever “there” is at the time). It helps to know where you are going, not just where you are at this moment. I talk to people with diabetes all the time, and many of them live in reactive mode. Their longest range plan is what they are having for lunch.

You’ve probably heard the old expression, but it’s true: A failure to plan is a plan for failure. And for those of us who live with diabetes, that plan for failure can be deadly.

When I’m mountain biking and I start thinking I might crash, guess what often happens? Yup . . . Wham! (Face plant … right into the tulips.) But when I am looking down the trail with positive expectations, the ride flows and is fun.

I see a lot of negativity among my diabetic friends. Some call this “realism,” but the truth is you can make your realism either positive or negative; it all comes down to how you think. When I am thinking negatively on my bike, I’m most likely to have a bad fall. When I’m thinking positively, the ride is fun.

mikebike2My life with diabetes is fun. It’s exciting, thrilling, adventurous. Yeah, I crash sometimes. Yes, sometimes I have “mechanical failures.” But as I do on my bike, I make the necessary changes, get back in the saddle, and keep pedaling!

I encourage you, whether you are dealing with diabetes or anything else in life, to take time regularly to “look down the trail.” Here are some questions to help you do just that:

  • What’s your long-term goal? (One of mine is to see my children get married and dance at the receptions.)
  • What are some mid-range goals? (One of mine is to ride a “century” [100 miles] on my road bike. I have a chance to do that this September in the Bike to Beat Cancer.)
  • What short-range goals do you have? (For instance, get my A1C below 7.)
  • What will you do to get there? What are your strategies and plans? (Ride at least 50 miles/week; test my blood at least 5x/day and send readings to endo; and so forth.)
  • Who is keeping you accountable for all this and who is your support system? (My wife, my friends, my cycling group buddies.)

All this helps me be prepared, so I don’t freak out at little challenges or even big obstacles along the trail. In other words, no more endos.

How are you doing? Are you being proactive with your diabetes care? Are you looking down the trail? What are some of your goals, strategies, and plans?


  • Tom gohl July 3, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Mike- This is just plain awesome! Love your perspective, and will go back to these words after my next “crash moment”!
    Thanks a ton for posting,
    -Tom Gohl (Type-1 for 20 years and Road Biking nut for 35!)

    • Michael C. Mack July 3, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Tom. On my way out now for a road spin. Beautiful day here in Louisville.

  • Ed Nelson (@ENelson) July 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Excellent post, Mike. Enjoyable read.

    • Michael C. Mack July 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks, Ed! I’m sure you already knew about these mountain bike skills!

  • How to Look Past the Obstacles: Use this mountain biking skill to live healthy with diabetes (or any life circumstance) | Life's Highs & Lows July 8, 2014 at 11:34 am

    […] In my previous mountain biking illustration for diabetes care, I said it’s wise to keep your eyes on the path ahead of you and not become distracted with things that are not on the trail ahead. It’s easy to do what I did on my bike and get fixated on a feature off the path and end up hitting it. Other people’s misunderstandings about diabetes, fake cures, and diabetes-related Internet scams can all be large trees that are not on the trail. Don’t even look at them. […]

  • The Cyclist in “Stop Diabetes” Lycra | Life's Highs & Lows August 4, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    […] Living Healthy with Diabetes Is Like Mountain Biking […]


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