7 Not A Charm: Running the Milano City Marathon with Diabetes


I have all the excuses possible for running a bad marathon  – diabetes, a cold, allergies and a screwed up training schedule thanks to the twice postponed Tel Aviv marathon – but all of that doesn’t make me feel much better about myself. The only thing that makes the disappointment of not running my personal best bearable is that fact that I completed my seventh marathon and that my disappointing time is my second best. Not bad for anyone, especially for someone with all of my baggage.

I was very optimistic the morning of the Milan City Marathon. The weather was perfect, 50 – 55 degrees, and at 5:00 a.m., when I woke up, my blood sugar was 92. Between being nervous and checking my blood sugar all night, I had very few hours of sleep. But I felt good and I felt like I had gotten the better of my blood sugar after the previous day’s highs and lows. There was just one problem: the battle wasn’t really over since, according to my pump, I still had 0.1 units of active insulin from my last bolus at 1:30 a.m. 

Two hours before I had to leave for the race I was showered, shaved, and. ready to go, packing all the things I needed for the race. My BG was 135. I thought it was a little strange that it had gone up that much, since all I’d had were a few cups of black coffee, but didn’t think about it too much, since 135 was a good place to be at the start of the race. 

At 7:00, I kissed Jessica and headed towards the subway station, a 3 minute walk from the hotel. There were four other runners waiting at the station when I arrived. They were easy to spot with their running shoes, sweat shirts and and numbered marathon bags, given to us so we could give in our things before the race.

The train arrived a few minutes later full of runners. We collected more and more at every stop so by the time we made it to the last stop the train was packed with hundreds of runners.

At the starting area I met up with the rest of my friends who’d come to run the race. There were eight of us. We took off our extra layers, handed in our bags and headed out for a warm up.

Before we warmed up my BG was 185. I attributed it to nerves and thought it would go down after a mile warm up. But it didn’t. We went in to the gates and I checked again – 245.

Now I was worried but there nothing to do about it.  I couldn’t risk a bolus at the starting line.  I decided that instead of taking my first gel at the beginning of the run or after 3 miles, I would wait for the fifth mile.

After a brass band played the Italian anthem (I think) and someone said a few words in Italian, the race started. 4,500 marathon runners and a few hundred relay runners took off. The crowded feeling gave way quickly and I found myself at my target pace after only a couple of minutes. Although I wasn’t feeling the best, I ran the first five miles well at a pace that was a little faster than I had planned. I waited another mile and then, thinking my blood sugar was surely down, I took my first gel.

I kept running enjoying the cheers of the small number of Italian spectators. I didn’t feel well for the first 10 miles, but then suddenly, I felt great. I held my pace, a little faster than I had planned, as we got into the city. When I reached the halfway mark, I was certain I was going to set a new personal best. I kept going, trying to keep my pace from getting the best of me, but finding it hard to control.

Everything was great up until the 17th mile, when I felt a pain under my ribs a little to the right of center. It was a pain I didn’t remember ever having. I tried to straighten up and make it go away.  It didn’t. I slowed down a bit but kept myself at a good pace (my original plan).

We turned onto Corsa Venezia. I wasn’t feeling well again and new it was too early in the race to feel this way, but I still kept my pace up hoping things would get better. We circled the Duomo, the one I’d caught a glimpse of the day before.  It was so magnificent that even in my state of agony, I admired its beauty. 

We ran up to La Scala, the famous Milanese opera house, where Jess was supposed to be waiting for me. I didn’t see or hear her cheering, but she’s got the pictures of me to prove she was there.  It was the point in the marathon when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end.  I didn’t notice anything around me.  I was just feeling the pain.  

Not Seeing Jessica at La Scala
Not Seeing Jessica at La Scala

I continued to run, suffering but still keeping my pace up.

At around the 20-mile mark I started to really question my ability to finish the race. I new I could save it if I was smart and slowed down a bit. I decided to drop to an 8:00 minute mile (from a 7:45). I kept that up for about 3 miles but found myself slowing down. Every time I tried to pick up my pace my legs cramped. I knew there was no way I was going to set a new personal record, but I decided I wasn’t going to stop running until I crossed the finish line no matter what. My pace kept on dropping until I found myself running the last mile at around a 9:00 minute pace.

The last half mile of the race was marked with signs every 50 Meters. I tried to speed up towards the end but my legs were so cramped, it was difficult to move them at all.  When I saw the  150m sign I heard a man behind me shout something in Italian. I don’t know if I was afraid he would gain on me or maybe it was just a feeling of a military charge, but I started to sprint. My legs cramped with every step I took. I can’t imagine how bad I must have looked.  It was just as I began my sprint that I heard Jess shouting for me.  She’d managed to squeeze her way in to the front of the fence by the 50 meter mark and climbed up a bit to be visible.

Jess was cheering, and I was so happy to see her, but I was also about to throw up. 

I crossed the finish line (3:32:43).

I walked a few feet after the finish, sure I was about to throw up. I didn’t. I received my medal and went to see my friends. We took a few pictures and then, feeling terrible, I told the guys I was leaving and joined Jess. Before taking off I checked my blood sugar. Although I had only had three gels during the race (actually 2.5) my blood sugar was 220.

With the guys after the Milano CIty Marathon
With the guys after the Milano CIty Marathon


We walked back to our hotel passing by the Doumo where we stopped to take some pictures. When we got back I took a shower and got into bed. I slept a little and rested. At about 7:00 we went out to dinner. We walked slowly enjoying the beautiful city. We went to a great trattoria that has been around since 1909.  The food was great and the wine was superb.  I was happy to be there, after my 7th marathon, and with the best person in the world.


After the Milano City Marathon - at the Duomo
at the Duomo

Note: The marathon  organizers did a fantastic job from start to finish (I wish I could say the same for myself). I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a not too big international marathon.

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maxine winer
maxine winer
10 years ago

Great to hear about your marathon.  You look wonderful in the pictures!

Catherine Price
10 years ago

Thanks Scott. 
The great thing about a marathon is that no matter how fast or slow you go and how you feel it is always a good feeling to finish. I feel good.
Now I need to decide where I run next :) 

Scott K. Johnson
10 years ago

Michael! May I remind you of something? You had a lot of unplanned things as you were training for this, you had a day of highs followed by that bad low yesterday which couldn’t have helped your glycogen stores and probably wore you out a bit too, AND you didn’t sleep through the night because you had to micromanage your blood sugars.  With all of that in mind, you completed your SEVENTH marathon and got your SECOND BEST time?! Dude! Wake up! You should be very proud of yourself! That, good sir, was a very hard fought victory! Congratulations, Michael! Now pick… Read more »

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