Sébastien Sasseville

He arrived amid cheers, high-fives, and shouts of “Go, Seb, Go!” and “We love you, Seb!” On a brilliant but chilly Friday morning, Sébastien Sasseville celebrated the completion of his 7,500 km solo run across Canada at Second Beach in Vancouver, B.C. on November 14, World Diabetes Day.

As school children, admirers, friends and family greeted him enthusiastically, Sébastien ran into the Pacific Ocean, marking the end of his epic Outrun Diabetes mission. Hugging his best friend, travel partner and photographer, Patrick St. Martin, Sébastien’s eyes filled with tears as a huge circle formed around him on the shore. Sébastien’s historic journey began on February 2, 2014 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His goal? To inspire people to live their lives to the fullest, regardless of the challenges they face, and to raise awareness about diabetes, a disease that affects more than 3 million Canadians today.

Sébastien shared his thoughts and emotions, and the ups, downs and challenges he faced as he ran for nine months across Canada.

How does it feel to have run across Canada and to have completed this amazing journey?

The morning I arrived in Vancouver was magical. It is what I had been dreaming about for over two years. It was a celebration of everyone’s work, a celebration of the cause, and of the people and the message. From day one, that was always the most important thing. It was the best day of my life.

Are you a little surprised that you actually made it the whole way? There must have been some doubt when you first started the run.

Yes! But I’m mostly amazed at how quickly it went by. I had no idea what I was getting into, but trusted that I would find a way. That’s a very important point: to accept that we don’t have all the answers and still be willing to dive into something.

How did you feel that first day? Did you feel prepared?

Nervous! I felt prepared but there was so much that was unknown. We knew we had lots of time to adapt and figure out a way to make it work. I was mostly fearful of injuries.

How many pairs of runners did you go through?

Eight, but it should have been nine. I kept the first pair way too long!

How did you organize and keep track of your running routine?

The running routine had to be fine-tuned. I started with running about 30 km per day, all in one go. Then I realized that it would be easier if I took a break in the middle, but still did about 30 km per day. We then slowly increased mileage. By the third month, I was able to do three days on at 40 km per day (two runs of 20 km), one day off. I did go to four days on, one day off, for about a month, but quickly realized it was too much.Events and weather also had an impact on days on and off. We had to be flexible. We also planned less running in the densely populated areas since we knew there would be more events. The RV was typically based in the same spot for about a week. From there, we drove to the starting point every morning—anywhere from several kilometres to 100 km away—and I would run 40 km. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. We would sometimes stop at a landmark, an intersection or a place we would remember. The next day, we drove back to exactly where I finished the previous day. I literally ran one continuous line across Canada. We did not skip an inch. A day “off” simply meant no running. Every single day off was packed with emails, media interviews, events, video shoots, etc. We quickly started to call the running “the easy part” or “the first shift.” From the start, we ran and worked 12-15 hours a day. We were a team of two, with big expectations both from our sponsors and from ourselves. We really wanted to make an impact and deliver something exceptional to the world that was more than “just a guy running,” so we did what we had to do. We’re very tired, but very proud!

How many events did you do while travelling across the country?

About 50. That’s what I loved to do the most: meeting with people in the diabetes community and healthcare professionals.

There must have been many mornings when you didn’t feel like getting out of bed and facing another day of cold or rain or hills or pain. What did you tell yourself?

Many mornings were exactly like that thanks to the Canadian weather! I had two signs in my bedroom in the RV. They were made by kids I met along the road. One says “Go Seb Go!” The other says “You are our hero.” I just looked at those signs in the morning when I didn’t feel like running and thought about what the run means to people.

Were there any times you wanted to quit?

I can honestly say never. I had very, very hard days, but I never wanted to quit. When we have dreams, I think if the reason WHY is bigger than the obstacle, we will always end up on top and be successful.

Approximately how many calories did you consume a day when you were running?

It changed a lot. At first, a ton—3, 4, sometimes 5,000 calories. Then my body adapted and it was surprising how little I ate. The body learns to be efficient and produces energy with less fuel.

How has your body changed from February until now? How much weight did you lose?

My body changed so much. I went from a muscular, long-distance-like physique to a skinny runner! My upper legs lost about 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) in girth, just to give you an idea of how drastic the change was. My upper body has lost a lot of muscle too. In all, I probably lost a good 20 pounds.

Did you have any injuries or illnesses?

No major injuries, which is a miracle. Nothing major, but a constant state of discomfort. Leg pain was the norm. I was often fighting colds as my immune system was so low.

How did your diabetes regimen change and evolve?

Diabetes wasn’t easy to manage. Running every day was new to me, so I needed a new approach. My previous athletic accomplishments did help me improve my knowledge of diabetes, but I learned early that I would need to be humble and go back to the drawing board to make this one work. I got good at managing long runs, but still had days where nothing worked. I went through different phases as my body changed. The challenge was to be flexible and always look for what was going to work on that day.

How do you feel your Animas® Vibe® insulin pump and CGM system made a difference for you on this journey?

It made a huge difference. The CGM system made managing diabetes a lot easier before, during and after the run. It also helped me to learn a lot about my diabetes, and to see things I had never seen before in the 12 years I’ve had diabetes

What was your favourite snack for a low blood sugar?

Gatorade® or PowerGel®. Anything that worked quickly!

What are some of the personal stories and moments that have inspired you and touched your heart?

I met a couple who did not have diabetes but who had decided to quit smoking together after hearing about the run. Kids showing up with cookies at our RV, with the carbs count for them! A kid donating his savings. Meeting an 81-year-old who was cycling across Canada.

Has this challenge changed you in any way? Can you imagine a greater challenge?

One can’t do this and be unchanged. I learned so much about myself and others. Spending five hours running almost every day was a very powerful experience, and a gift. I learned to focus on today, not tomorrow. For months, I never thought of the finish line. We tried to focus on doing today well, and trusted that if we did that, tomorrow would be easier and would come faster. It’s amazing how far you can go when you do a little bit every day. I’m sure I will think of something else to do! But for now, no big project next year. I want to reflect on the run and keep building its legacy. The finish line is the start of many things.

What do you say to people who want to set their own goals and overcome a challenge?

You need patience, discipline, ardour and humility. Break it down into small pieces and attack those pieces one at a time. Persevere and always look for an opportunity to learn with each obstacle.