Greg Weintraub, marathon runner and captain of the Joslin Team (Joslin Center for Diabetes), will be running in the 2016 Boston Marathon in order to raise awareness and funds for diabetes research and care at the center. He also hopes to show others with Type 1 that they can train and successfully complete what is just over 26 grueling miles.
Begun in 1897, it’s the oldest annual marathon in the world, held every year on Patriot’s Day, (the third Monday of April). For both professionals and amateurs, locals and internationals, this race draws over 30,000 runners and half a million spectators each year. It’s the most popular sporting event in New England and considered to be one of the more difficult races with the Newton hills and unpredictable weather. To qualify to run, you must complete the course under 3-5 hours, depending on your age and gender. Time qualifications do not apply to the fifth of entrants, though, who run for charities and other sponsors.
Type 1 diabetes doesn’t prevent Greg from running; in fact it is the impetus that propels him forward, the thing that inspires him to finish alongside other Joslin team members. He finished in 4 hours and 43 minutes last year and plans to better that time by nearly an hour this year. Well-liked and well-known in his community, Greg is creating his own playbook for how to train and run marathons, something that very few people with his condition ever consider because of the extreme physical demands. Enthusiastic and thoughtful, I was immediately taken in by Greg who was happy to share his story and where he hoped it would lead — beyond the finish line.
BT1: How did you team up with Joslin?
GW: Joslin is very much my home base, having gone to camp and having been a patient there. I was diagnosed on September 18, 2001 at age 8. That summer, I heard for the first time the word “Joslin” and ended up signing up for their camp. I remember sitting around camp fires and talking to other kids with Type 1 and doctors who were all really helpful and supportive. A year and a half ago, I transitioned from Boston Children’s to the Joslin Diabetes Center. It’s entirely different to be a patient at Joslin as opposed to a camper — you walk into the center with its huge atrium and it’s stunning, awe inspiring. The doctors, along with the facility, are incredible.
BT1: The role of captain is a big honor. How did you take that on?
GW: I’ve had Type 1 for nearly fifteen years, and know there’s no playbook for how to run and manage your diabetes. Over the past year, four or five people have reached out to me and asked how I do it. The role came from a place where we wanted to make the precedent that people with Type 1 diabetes can absolutely do this and crush it.
Running the marathon and running for Joslin starts the conversation. I tend to play down the fundraising but it’s deeply important to me too. As of now, we’ve raised $40,000 this year; by the end of the month, we anticipate it to be $45,000. I say, let’s use this marathon as a platform. Diversity like adversity breeds excellence. We can use the marathon to tell the story and raise money at the same time.
BT1: This is your third Boston Marathon. Did you run in 2013, the year of the bombing that killed three and injured hundreds?
GW: My first Boston marathon was 2014. During the 2013 race, I was packing for a trip to DC and at 2:59 p.m. I got a text from my mom that there had been a bombing. From 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. that night, I don’t think I moved a muscle. Having grown up in this town and watched the marathon every year, the attack was very personal. I decided to run it then. I’d always run races for a diabetes charity and others for Joslin, but I knew the next year, I wanted to do the Boston Marathon and for Joslin.
After the event, I had my first marathon, the Vermont City Marathon in May. I was only a couple miles in and struggling when a woman said to me, “Boston strong.” I lost it. I spent the next 22 miles running harder than ever. I had tears running done my cheeks; we were running for something bigger than us.
BT1: To train for a marathon is to complete a tremendous endeavor, one that requires nothing short of hard work over the course of many months. How long and often do you train?
GW: I’m trying to figure out how to train and work full-time, commuting a couple hours a day. I spend most of my time running on the weekends. Four weeks ago, was 22 miles and that was the peek of our training. That day felt great, I was on the course, and a mile in, I tested my blood sugar, then again at mile 6, 11, and 20. Each time, the group stopped and waited for me while I checked. The community is just astounding. The following week I started to slow things down — less distance. This last week isn’t physical training; it shifts to emotional management.
BT1: How do you “emotionally manage” and cope with the stress that comes with such a big event?
GW: I’ve learned through experience that I’ll preform my best if the week leading up is a lot of fun. I try to spend time with friends and people who are important to me, having positive conversations that put me in the right mindset. Running is first and foremost an emotional sport, so I look to the people around me, like my family, friends and team who have supported me every step of my training. The thing that gets me to the end are these people and the spectators. What mitigates my anxiety is the community.
BT1: You mentioned in your article Training for the Boston Marathon with Type 1 Diabetes that hydration can play a major role in keeping your blood sugars in safe range. Can you tell us why?
GW: It’s really interesting. My first Boston Marathon I didn’t know what to expect. You have to make it up as you go and learn. It was 80 degrees and humid. It’s much easier to become dehydrated when it’s that warm out, of course, but my blood sugars were high — unreasonably high. I was doing everything I was supposed to do in terms of eating, testing and giving insulin. Looking back we tried to figure it out, and I realized I’d never run in heat like that before. Dehydration along with stress can keep your numbers high. And you stay high until you’re able to rehydrate properly.
BT1: So what about this playbook — a guide that helps others with Type 1 who are thinking of running these distances?
GW: That’s something I’m really wanting to execute on. I think that my family and doctors and friends have figured out enough for a standard playbook. I will start to think about that after the marathon — call me 5 p.m. on Monday. [He laughs.] I think the conversations are happening though. People are asking me more and more frequently, and I feel like something needs to be done in the realm of creating an actual resource that’s structured and standardized in a way that would be beneficial. How do you do it? How do you do it well? And what’s most effective for the most people possible?
The number of people who have Type 1 and run marathons is very, very small, and Iron Man events — I think I’ve met everyone in the US who has done it, (5-6 people). On the flip side, if there were more resources, there’s no doubt in my mind that the number would increase exponentially. The more we tell this story of my running, the more awareness we bring, and the more people will raise their hands and say, I want to do this too.