Running a Marathon for Diabetes


Last Thursday I ran the Tiberias Marathon (again).

The weather forecast predicted a storm for marathon day. On the drive up to Tiberias the day before the marathon the sky was gray and it looked as if a big storm was coming in. When I arrived at the hotel it was raining hard and it rained the whole night before the marathon. (Nervous, I woke up a few times during the night, checked my blood sugar, and checked the rain.)

When I woke up at 6:00 a.m., three hours before the race, it looked like the forecast was right and that instead of a good fast race I had more of a survival run ahead of me. My waking blood sugar was 111, but an hour later, before reducing my basal rate, it was 165. Since I didn’t eat anything, I assume the rise was stress related.

At 8:10 I headed out to the start area where I met up with some friends for a warm-up run. It was raining hard so we kept on putting off the warm-up and hid in the expo tent, waiting and hoping…

At 8:40, 20 minutes before the race, the rain stopped.  It felt like a bit of a miracle. We went out for a short warm up run of a mile and headed toward the starting line. I checked my blood sugar again. It was 156 – perfect.  I took off my thin rain jacket and handed it to a friend (who wasn’t running). I put my hand on my infusion set.  Yes, it was there.  I was about to run my first marathon with an insulin pump.  I had a feeling it was going to be okay, but still, I had concerns.  The morning before I left for the race I asked Jess if she thought I should stick an extra infusion set in, just in case the one I was connected to fell off during the run.

“Nope,” she said.  “Don’t worry about it.”

So there I was at the marathon starting line with good blood sugar, my pump clipped to my pack, my infusion set in place, and my pump tubing visible to anyone who cared to look at my waist. When the signal went off I ran quickly, trying to free myself from the crowd of 1,800 runners. I realized that I had started too fast. I tried to slow down but kept finding myself back at the quicker pace. At five-mile mark I started to worry that I had made a big mistake, and tried to slow down again, but I just couldn’t. I wondered what my blood sugar was, but had decided that – short of feeling like I was about to pass out – I was not stopping during the race to check. I wondered if I was the only person running that day who thought of blood sugar levels.  

As I ran, I tried to make sure I kept to an 8:00-8:10 minute/mile pace, which was what I had planned for most of the race. At the 18th mile I realized I was going to be fine, so I picked the pace up to a 7:45 minute/mile.  Believe it or not, I hadn’t thought of diabetes, since the fifth mile.  I was doing it… running a marathon without diabetes complicating things. I started to run faster, feeling stronger, I had a feeling like I was running for diabetes, like I was on a mission. I felt proud.

At the 22 mile mark I realized I could actually break 3:30 hours. I was completely in the zone when suddenly, after the course turned north and opened up, a head wind started. I struggled to keep the pace up. My coach, who was pedaling along the course (and taking pictures), came up to me. I told him I wanted to break 3:30. He looked at me and said, “You can do it.  Just stay under 7:46.”

I kept going, struggling. The closer I got to the finish line the harder it became. I looked at my watch every few seconds to make sure I wasn’t slowing down. All thoughts disappeared, even diabetes thoughts.  All that existed was pain, and pace.

As I crossed the finish line couldn’t believe it. I had hoped to break my previous record and maybe even run a 3:35 but to actually break 3:30 was incredible. I finished the race in 3:29:51.

This is where I might have ended this post but I have to share one more thing that happened to me on marathon morning in the hotel lobby before the race. I was talking to one of the guys from my group, saying something about blood sugar, when a runner I don’t know asked me if I had a sensor. I told him I did not and that I had trained checking my blood sugar often, but didn’t plan to check during the race. I asked him if he had diabetes too.

“No,” he said.  “ My  11-year-old son does and we run together and I check his blood sugar along the way.” 

We spoke for a few minutes as we left the hotel and I could tell that it had meant something to that type 1 diabetes dad to see a type 1 running a marathon. To me it meant a lot, too.  If my running can inspire or give hope to others dealing with disease, that means even more to me than a new personal record.  

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9 years ago

Thank you for your sharing your achievements. I stumbled upon your blog while trying to find information on Type 1 diabetes. My 14 year old son was diagnosed 12/10/12. It has been a roller coaster of emotions. It is good to hear that other people are doing so well. 

10 years ago

Great article Michael. I’ve wanted to do a marathon for a while. Did a 1/2 marathon before I was diagnosed with diabetes … so I now know it is possible. Would be interesting to know what food / drink you took with you or had along the way to keep your sugar levels up.

10 years ago

Yeah, this is a great achievement. I know just how hard it is going through strenuous physical activity with this disease, especially endurance-based. Can’t imagine how great it will feel when we can finally do this without the disease, after we find a cure.
But when all is said, it makes you appreciate it that much more.

Esther S.
Esther S.
10 years ago

Wow! As someone without diabetes (though maybe I can honorarily join the club on the back of my dad who has Type 2) I am truly impressed. Even warming up in the rain would have done me in…Congrats again!

Jeff Nobles
Jeff N.
10 years ago

Thanks for the inspiration, Michael!

Margo Sugarman
Margo Sugarman
10 years ago

This is inspirational! Well done, Mikey!

10 years ago

Congrats!  Well done!

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