Greg Weintraub was 17 when he went for his first run.
His jaunt was just a mile, it only lasted a few minutes, but it was one of the most meaningful moments of his young life.
Diagnosed at age 8 as a type 1 diabetic, the Sudbury teen had lived a life of caution. He would prick his finger six to eight times per day, check his blood sugar, and administer insulin when needed.
At age 10, an insulin pump was attached to his body via a catheter site on the left side of his midsection. It remained attached at all hours of the day, except when he showered.
But now it was time to disconnect and let loose.
When he returned from that run, Weintraub recalled recently, “I realized I had just run a mile away from the most tangible part of the diabetes. Disconnecting the pump allows me to disconnect myself from the burden of diabetes.”
Soon he was hooked on long-distance running, which provided him “a time where I can keep myself unattached.”
On Monday, Weintraub, 22, will run his second Boston Marathon, this time as a member of the Joslin Diabetes Center team. He completed his first marathon in Burlington, Vt., in 2013.
His running experience is unlike the average participant; he must approach it with special attention to detail.
“The main concern is that the glucose could go very low because they’re burning up glucose from the exercise,’’ Dr. Howard Wolpert, Weintraub’s physician at the diabetes facility in Boston, said. “If the glucose levels drop very low,” he said, “that can have an effect on a person’s cognitive function because glucose is the main fuel for the brain as well.”
So every 5 or 6 miles, Weintraub stops running to check his blood glucose level. If it is too low, he will eat a snack or some energy gel.
His sugar level can also be high as a result of dehydration, stress, or an adrenaline rush. If that is the case, he drinks fluids, and, if the level is high enough, administers insulin .
“The diabetes adds 10-plus minutes to my marathon, but it also allows me to approach running in a far more informed way than most people,” said the 5-foot-5, 134-pound Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High graduate, now a senior at the New School in New York City.
“I know exactly when I need to refuel, when I need to eat, when I need to drink.”
His family, which has attended the Boston Marathon for close to two decades, plays an immense role in the process. Parents Michael and Leslie, and 16-year-old triplet siblings Connor, Lauren, and Ryan, split up into two cars, and meet Weintraub at miles 11, 16, 21, and at the finish line to assist with the diabetic care and provide mental support.
“If you were to watch us on race day, it’s like a car in a car race pulling in and out of a pit stop,” Greg Weintraub said, noting the challenges of traveling on Marathon Monday. “It’s the most well-choreographed ballet.”
The diabetes management has hardly been the most challenging aspect of Weintraub’s running experience.
He didn’t train properly for his first marathon, and suffered a knee injury halfway through, though he managed to finish the Vermont course in just over five hours.
At last year’s Boston Marathon, he went out too fast and injured his other knee, this time only 3 miles into the race.
“I just remember sitting on the sidewalk with my head in my hands like, ‘Oh my God, now what?’ said Weintraub’s mother, Leslie. “I thought he was going to pull out because that’s what most normal people would do.”
But he kept going, and finished in about 5½ hours, thanks to incredible support around him, Weintraub said.
“I think that having so many people, having so many runners there together made it a bit less worse than it was,” said Weintraub, who trained extensively this winter with the goal of running injury-free this time, and finishing under four hours.
“It’s one of the most amazing experiences to connect with strangers, whether they’re supporting you by giving you food and water or just a stranger who’s also running the Marathon and helps you to get to the finish.”
Last year, the Weintraub family raised just over $50,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the team Greg was running for.
Their goal is to hit that number again this year, in support of Joslin.
Michael Weintraub said the experience is not only physically beneficial to Greg, “I think psychologically and emotionally it’s also good because it lets him attack the issue with a cause.”
And of course, his son embraces that ability to disconnect from his insulin pump for a while and experience the thrill of running.
“I think that we all have to find a way to manage our stress with type 1 diabetes in a way that allows for a healthy relationship with the disease,” Greg Weintraub said.
“For me being able to disconnect for a while, even though I have to keep managing the diabetes,” he said, allows him to do that.Taylor Snow can be reached at email@example.com.