Prevention: How did you start running?
Julie Weiss: I started running back in 2007 when I was overweight and on antidepressants. I was on a family vacation in Hawaii and just started running every day—it connected me to my body, to my breath.
My dad was really excited that I was out there running. He wasn’t a runner, but he was very athletic and loved the competitive side of athletics. He helped me with some abdominal exercises and stretches—he was in support from the very beginning.
When I returned to Los Angeles, I found that I didn’t need my medication anymore. I lost about 20 to 25 pounds over the next three months. My friend said, “Hey, why don’t we train for a triathlon?” We did, and I did my first event in September 2007. I ran my first marathon in 2008.
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Any advice for new runners?
I always say the number one rule is to have fun; I think people don’t always have fun at the beginning because they go too fast. They think they have to really start running fast, but it’s quite the opposite. Take it slow, and keep a very, very low heart rate so that you can build yourself a base. After two or three months, you can start speed work, but it’s really important not to burn yourself out.
Or get a dog! Mine was my first running partner. It’s great for your soul and good for them too.
It’s really fun to run with other people. You socialize, you make new friends. And these friendships last forever. You’re out there for hours sometimes running with these people, and you end up telling them more than you would tell your spouse! When you’re out there running with other people, you’re all share this common bond. It’s such a beautiful thing.
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When did the idea strike you to run 52 marathons in a year?
I qualified for the Boston Marathon one week after my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. I ran Boston the following year, in April 2011, but I knew there had to be something more I could do. I found the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and thought I need to do something big, something dramatic to create awareness.
How did you raise money?
Everywhere I went, I’d tell people what I was doing and for whom. Even on the plane! I’d talk to people and tell them about my journey—then get home to find that they’d donated $300. It really had a snowball effect. I was also very lucky with a few foundations, my employer was very generous, I had an anonymous donor, and I had my running group, the LA Roadrunners. My goal is $1 million dollars. We’re at about $180,000. It’s not over yet.
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You ran each marathon in honor of someone who died from cancer, is that right?
It really motivates me. I’d look at their picture and imagine their spirit with me when I was pushing through some of the hard moments of the marathon. I thought about these people and what they had to go through fighting this cancer, fighting for their lives. It made me think that what I was doing was not nearly as hard. I’ve also had a few survivors run the last part of the marathon with me, which was pretty incredible.
Physically, are marathons easy for you now?
I wouldn’t say easy, but it’s really amazing what the body can work up to. I take my marathons about an hour slower than what I’m capable of running to reduce injury. My marathons aren’t about speed; they’re about spirit. I wanted to make sure that I finish every one of them—and finish strong.
It wasn’t easy, but I got to a point where I wouldn’t be sore the next day. That has a lot to do with the recovery I do during the week: putting on compression tights right after the marathon, eating well, getting enough protein, foam rolling. My weeks are all about recovery and rest.
What do you eat to fuel up for these races?
Being a vegetarian and 90% vegan, it’s not easy to get enough protein, so I eat protein shakes, nuts, fruits and veggies, tofu, and beans. I just find I feel the best when I’m mostly vegan and dairy-free, with minimal amounts of sugar.
I think I did something right, because I really did not get injured. I had a few aches and pains along the way, but nothing that stopped me. I’d go out slow, even if I had to walk the first mile just to warm up. My body responded very well, my spirit and all the people I was running for took over, and pretty soon, I was fine.
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How did you mentally prepare for this?
Running a marathon every week, your emotions are up and down. You get so tired—it was exhausting. I really try hard to surround myself with positive people and positive things: flowers, quotes, whatever I can to keep my spirits up. I do Transcendental Meditation twice a day to keep me balanced, and it’s been working very well. I couldn’t let any distractions take me out of where I was headed.
What does the future hold? Are you ever going to do this again?
The goal of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is to double their survival rate by 2020. I thought I’d run alongside that goal by running another 52 marathons by 2020. This way, it’s not a countdown to the last marathon. We’re counting up: the number of survivors, the number of marathons, the number of dollars we’re raising. I think we’re just getting started.
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