Runners: Amy Koontz

World Diabetes Day is Sunday. And on Nov. 14, 2017, Bermuda Run's Amy Koontz learned she was a type 1 diabetic. She is the subject of today's Runners profile.

Runners: Amy Koontz
Amy Koontz, now a resident of Bermuda Run, at the Boston Marathon in 2018.

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World Diabetes Day is Sunday. And on Nov. 14, 2017, Bermuda Run's Amy Koontz learned she was a type 1 diabetic. Amy is the subject of today's Runners profile.

The Warmup




Bermuda Run


Husband, John, also a runner; sons, Oliver, 18, and Silas, 14.

Day job

"I homeschool. Oliver just graduated, and now he's in college. Silas is in ninth grade.  That's all I'm doing right now. I was coaching middle school track (North Davie), but that was two years ago. And then pandemic hit and not doing that."

Why I run

Amy Koontz, with husband, John, ringing the bell after qualifying for Boston at the Illinois Marathon in 2017.

"That answer has changed over the years. I just love it. Literally, I just love it. I feel better when I do. I love it. I also use it as a way to manage my health, because when I run my sugar goes down. So I would rather exercise than pump a whole bunch of insulin in me. I use it to manage my health, but I also just absolutely love it. I met my husband running. We met at a charity running group. We all ran the Pittsburgh Marathon together and raised money for childhood cancer."

'Something's really off'

"Nov. 6 of that year, I ran the Marshall University Marathon. I had qualified for Boston. So I was running fairly well; I was in really great shape. But I hadn't been feeling perfect, hadn't been feeling great. But I went into the marathon hopeful, and my husband knows me and my running really well. I was running sub-fours; I had just run like a 3:40.

"So when it was getting close to four hours, he started freaking out. He's at the medical tent going, 'I don't know where my wife is; she shouldn't be taking this long.' And of course they don't have a tracker on you. Well, meanwhile, me. I'm at mile 13 going, 'Something's not right.' So I started walking, run-walking, at mile 13. Something wasn't right. My shins – not my calves, but the front of my shins – really, really hurt. I was thinking it must be dehydration. It was a really warm day for that marathon, 75 degrees. And then the tops of my feet were hurting, almost like my shoes were laced too tight. But this was like my 13th marathon; it wasn't new to me. I knew what I was doing, but it just didn't feel right. Everything was all goofy. Then my chest started hurting; my chest kept tightening up. I'm like, 'OK, I'm gonna die of a heart attack, so I better stop and walk.' So I kept stopping and walking. I didn't know what was going on. I get to the end – I ran like a 4:28 or something – my husband was like, 'What's wrong?' And I'm like, 'I don't know. I don't feel good. Something's really off.' I made it through the rest of the day; I made it through the weekend.

"Monday morning, I called my doctor, and that's when he ran some more bloodwork. I actually have an endocrinologist already, or had one, because I'm hypothyroid, which is why we believe this came on, from another autoimmune disease. He ran the bloodwork. ... I called him three days later, because I bent down to put something in the recycling bin, and I almost passed out. I was really, really, tired. I was losing weight, like 8 or 9 pounds in two weeks. I was super nauseous. ... 'Are you sure? There's nothing wrong with my bloodwork?' He looked at it again. 'Oh my gosh, yeah, I don't know how I missed that.' He happened to be a runner, too, and we got along really great. So I went in on World Diabetes Day – I didn't even know it was World Diabetes Day, but it was November 14.

"I'm crying. One of my first questions was, 'Am I still gonna be able to run?' And he's like, 'Yeah, you'll be able to run.' And I said, 'Fast?' He was like, 'I don't know.' They got me on some meds, and three days later, I was cleared to go ahead and run again. I went out and did 212 half miles at a 10-minute pace or something just ridiculously not like me. But it's just the journey after that, to get back because I was like, this is November and I just qualified the first time to get into Boston in April. So, I jogged my way back."

Why I'm telling my story

"I always have taken pretty good care of myself. And type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It's not something you cause. It gets aggravating to me, and it's difficult, when people make jokes, like, 'Oh, you're going to get diabetes; you ate too much sugar.' That's not what diabetes is, for some of us at least. ... With type 1, your immune system attacks the cells that create insulin in your pancreas. And after a while your body's like, 'If you're going to keep attacking and killing them, I'm not going to make any more.' So you just stop producing insulin completely. The only way for me to get it is to inject it.

"I can go from high to low, or low to high, in an hour, if I'm not careful. That's why I tend to eat really low-carb. So I'm super-strict and super-cautious. I just cried and wanted to be around for my kids. And I'm doing everything I can, and everything says I will be. ...

Amy Koontz at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

"This is an invisible disease. You don't know I have it. You don't know when I pass you on the track I have it. You don't know if I'm running a race I have it. But it's one of those things that affects every single minute of every day. I have asthma; that happens sometimes. But I can't go run a lap now without my sugar being affected. It's an all-the-time thing. It's a ton of decisions I make every single day about how much insulin to take for this particular meal or whatever. And whether or not my sugar is high enough to go for a run, or it's going to crash out, and how much to eat during a run and all of those things.

"So I guess that's it. You don't see it. I didn't tell a lot of people. I don't tell a lot of people necessarily, but it kind of gets hard to keep up with sometimes when people don't know. My friends know, my close family knows. But it's kind of easy to forget that other people are dealing with stuff."

Type 1 diabetes and family

Amy Koontz with Silas, left, and Oliver after the 2020 Myrtle Beach Marathon, where she qualified to run in the New York City Marathon.

"I was me first, I was a runner first. So for me, I'm fitting it into my lifestyle. Especially four years ago, when I was diagnosed, I didn't want the kids to be scared, like their mom's gonna die or something, because I am really healthy. And I should be fine; everything's going really well with my health. When my sugar goes low, I don't want them to have to go get me something.

"So I try to keep it away from them. But at the same time, it's kind of obvious. I have a CGM, which is a continuous glucose monitor. It goes to my phone and then it beeps at me whenever my sugar is high or low. Every five minutes, it usually tells my watch."

The middle miles

What I'm doing when I'm not running

"We like a lot of outdoor stuff. We hike, we bike, kayak a little bit, so we're always outdoors. We travel a lot."

My running tribe

"I'm real adamant about family time. And I'm really adamant about cooking meals for my family every night that are healthy. So I don't want to interrupt dinner. So basically, John and I. Even if we don't run the same pace, we'll usually be in the same park. I have a couple of girls in the neighborhood that run with me occasionally."


Amy Koontz running through what she calls the 'monsoon' at the 2018 Boston Marathon.

"Probably 2018, requalifying at Boston. That was not a year very many people did that. If you think about Des Linden winning, she did it like 15 minutes behind her usual time. It was 38 degrees and raining, and the wind was a horrible headwind at like 30 mph. And breaking 3:30 in Rehoboth was good, too."

Amy Koontz at the Rehoboth Beath Seashore Marathon.

A workout I hate

"Hill repeats. You always feel good after you do them, but I hate them. When I was really training hard for Boston, I was good about following a schedule really well, and that was hill repeats."

A workout I like

"Sometimes I'll just have John pace me out, like for a fun little 5K in the neighborhood. A full-on speed workout. And he's really good at holding whatever pace I tell him."

What we're streaming

"We just started 'Big Sky.' It's about these two bad guys who  kidnapped these two girls in Montana."

Pre-race meal

"The morning of, believe it or not, a lot of people with diabetes will run fasted, because your sugar does not move as much. So a lot of times before a 5K, I won't have anything. I will have a cup of coffee. The night before a marathon, it's usually either grilled chicken salad or sometimes a steak dinner. And vegetables on the sides. ... Everything for me is different. It's funny how people say, 'You have to do this.' No, I have to do when my watch tells me what my sugar is. I don't do anything the normal way anymore."

Post-race indulgence

"A beer. And depending on my sugar, Mic Ultra now. I moved to low-carb beer. Me and Shalane."

Not a Mic Ultra, but the fruits of victory at the Childress Vineyards 5K in November 2019.

A favorite race

"The Niagara Falls Marathon, from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, which was really, really great. You cross the Peace Bridge."

My last race

"The virtual New York City on Saturday, which I did on the Virginia Creeper Trail. I am sort of just getting back; in June and July, I didn't run because of plantar fasciitis. I probably had no business training to get in a marathon.  (John) ran with me, so that was super-special, that he was willing to do it for me because I did qualify for New York City. He supported me and helped me because I really did struggle at some point. It's different. It really was just like a run with my husband."

Next race

Turkey Strut 5K, Thanksgiving Day, Winston-Salem

The cooldown

Buzz off

"People sometimes think I'm really rude. I had a cashier yell at me once because while I was checking out, I glanced at my watch. She's like, 'I'm sorry, am I taking too long?' And I'm like, 'Wow, no, my watch just buzzed at me.' I don't need to explain to everyone that I have diabetes, and I just glanced at my watch because it vibrates whenever my sugar goes weird. And so she got mad."

My runner's high

"Runs either really feel well, or they don't feel good. And it just depends. Most of the time, if my sugar is stable, I'm good, but if it's going down, I mean, I have to quit runs before I'm done with them. When I have a good run where I've done negative splits or a nice progressive run and really feel good the whole time and can keep my sugar where it's supposed to be, which doesn't happen quite as much as it should, that's when I feel really good. That's my runner's high. It's changed a little bit, just because now it's just a success of completing what I set out to do."

What I've learned about myself through running

Amy Koontz during a run in Alaska in 2019. 'A gorgeous place to run,' she says. 'We saw a moose that morning, causing me to pick up the pace.'

"In the beginning, I would get frustrated. I've had to learn just to be patient. Not everybody is out there running, diabetes or not. And when I can go out and run, I'm just grateful that I can still do this. It was something that I loved, it's something that I've always done. I'm just so grateful that I can still get out there and do it. ... And I really have learned to just try to embrace the moment and not expect everything to always go perfectly, but just to be happy with what I can still do. Because, you know, we're doing what we can do."

Words to the wise

"Just give it all you have. People underestimate themselves. They think they're too tired to go on. I'm not asking people to hurt themselves. But I'm just saying to push, because you'll be happy you did. ... If you want it, you've got to go for it. It took me 12 marathons to qualify for Boston. I was not a natural runner. I just pushed and pushed and pushed and trained and trained. So if you want it, go do it. Have fun. My motto was 'impossible is nothing.' And that was before this all happened. ... You have to want it. You have to have grit."

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