For years, Don Muchow had a fear of exercise. As a type 1 diabetic, he was nervous that his blood sugar would either run too high, which can cause long-term damage to the body, or drop to dangerously low levels, which requires immediate action.
But on April 7, the 59-year-old Texan achieved a goal that has been years in the making (and one that he has actively been working toward for the last 14 months)—running across the country, while making stops at both Disneyland and Disney World.
His goal? To inspire diabetics like him that they, too, can do hard things.
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“I wanted to prove myself as a type 1 diabetic that I am capable of doing things like this, and so are all diabetics,” Muchow told Runner’s World. “It just takes a little extra work and planning to be able to do ultras and runs like this.”
Muchow was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1972, and it wasn’t until 2004 that he worked up the courage to regularly exercise. When he started running, it took time to get a routine down for checking his blood sugar and finding ways to keep it controlled as he upped his mileage into ultras. Through trial and error, he wanted to document what he learned as a teaching point for diabetics interested in doing similar adventures.
“Even if one person walked away a little less afraid of doing a 5K or laps in the pool, then it was a good run,” he said.
Muchow thought of the idea to run across the country in 2018, after a season of 100-and 200-mile races. Initially, like many, he hoped to follow Pete Kostelnick’s record-breaking 2016 route. But being based in Texas, he wanted to run through his home state, so he planned a more southern path from California to Florida—or as one friend put it, Disneyland to Disney World.
While running, Muchow had to pay close attention to his blood sugar, as he balanced high mileage, stress from running, and lots of food intake. His diet focused on protein and fat—he ate mostly hummus, yogurt, chicken salad, string cheese, powdered milk, and shakes, and he avoided unnecessary carbs.
“For anyone who is type 1, I want you to know that there are thousands out there like me, but if you don’t know of anyone, know there is one person out there trying to figure this out the right way and facing down the real, and justified, fear of managing blood sugar during exercise,” Muchow said.
He had planned to take about 100 days to cover over 2,800 miles. Unfortunately, about a month into his run that originally started in February 2020, the pandemic shut everything down, and he paused his run on March 22 because they were unable to resupply because grocery stores were empty.
After returning to Texas, he picked up his run on September 24, but stopped again on October 18 when COVID-19 cases started spiking. Finally, on March 2 of this year, Muchow, who is now vaccinated, started on the final leg of his run.
One thing keeping him motivated was his stop at Disney World. He wasn’t planning on staying there long—he mostly wanted a picture and to be on his way, with two days of running left after that. But Disney park employees read about his story in the news, and prepared a big surprise for Muchow when he reached the front gate.
“Some people shared my story on the Run Disney Facebook page, and many of the members had friends who were cast members at the park,” Muchow said. “When we got to the gates of the Magic Kingdom, there was security guard who asked, ‘Are you the runner?’ He took me inside and there were maybe to 300 cast members cheering and applauding. They handed me a Disney mouse hat and took me to the front of the line of my favorite ride, It’s a Small World. They treated us like royalty.”
Unfortunately Muchow couldn’t stay long because he still had to finish 15 more miles for the day, ahead of a 62-mile push on the final two days, split between 37 and 25 miles.
Finally, he entered Melbourne, Florida, where Muchow was welcomed with a police escort to the beach. More than a year after he started his journey, he finally dipped his toe in the Atlantic Ocean, completing his run at 2,845 miles on April 7. Finishing the run was also a way to honor his father who died a year ago when he first started his run.
“It had emotional significance, and I cried,” he said. “During my run, I carried a metal object, a token, with gears that my sister asked me to bring with me to the Atlantic ocean. Dropping it there, it was a sense of relief, lifting something of my shoulders, and keeping a promise. Combing with the exhaustion and buzzed from Red Bull, it’s hard to describe. It was a unique moment.”
His biggest hope is to continue inspiring fellow diabetics.
“My wife, [Leslie], and I got to see backyard America face-to-face, person-to-person, and managed to come in contact with type 1 people and unique stories from the ground level,” Muchow said. “That, aside from personal transformation from the run itself, was the most rewarding part.”
Drew covers a variety of subjects for Runner’s World and Bicycling, and he specializes in writing and editing human interest pieces while also covering health, wellness, gear, and fitness for the brand. His work has previously been published in Men’s Health.