By Carl Scharwath
Julie Weiss, of Santa Monica, CA., ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2013. In the process, she ran 1,362 miles, and raised over $500,000 in the fight against pancreatic cancer through her website Marathongoddess.com. She generated considerable pancreatic cancer awareness through media attention on CNN, The Today Show, the Los Angeles Times, O Magazine and other outlets. She is one of seven featured runners in the inspiring documentary “Spirit of the Marathon II.” Following the death of her father—her biggest fan—from Pancreatic Cancer, she was determined to make a difference. She turned her passion for running into a purpose, raising hope, money, and awareness for Pancreatic Cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death in the US, and the lowest funded for research. Julie chose the name Marathon Goddess, but is quick to point out that it is not about her. It’s a name that allows her to encourage others to embrace their passion and let it shine. Julie has now run 106 marathons to date. In February 2019 she released her memoir, 52 Weeks, 52 Marathons: The Miles and Trials of a Marathon Goddess, available on Amazon.
CS: When did you first begin to run and how did the passion of running become part of you, not only as a runner but as a person?
I first started running when I was three, in fact, here is a quote from my book:
“I remember it now: being a kid in the Southern California hills, running through fields, my long legs flying over grass and my stringy blonde hair blowing behind me. That’s when I started running.”
But somewhere along the way I got lost, I forgot about my passion and didn’t pick it up again for 34 years. At the time I was a single mom of two teenage kids, overweight, depressed, and was facing a mid-life crisis. My father, my biggest critic (and later my biggest fan), showed love for us in strange ways. We had a rocky relationship and were barely on speaking terms. But in 2007 he took the family on a trip to Hawaii.
I felt stuck, with no purpose, no passion and when I started running on the beach that first day in Hawaii, something in me awakened. Even though I only ran one mile, I felt like I ran 10. I felt like I was going to die and collapse on the beach, but I also felt renewed and reinvigorated by the air, the ocean, and the sand. Of course, everything looks better when you are in the Aloha state. But I made a pact to keep running when I got home, with my dog, on the beach in Santa Monica,
CS: What is your approach to training?
When it comes to training I have an advantage but also a disadvantage. My husband is a coach, not just any coach, a USATF Level 2 certified Track and Field coach and also a Level 2 USA Triathlon coach and the nicest guy in the world. The only problem is, once I married him, I stopped listening to him. David is a genius when it comes to creating schedules for people who want to train for a marathon. He’s made me so many schedules that I’ve got them memorized in my head. Right now I’m training for the Marine Corps Marathon. So I am increasing my mileage by 10% each week. I’m currently running 55 miles this week and I will do two weeks of high mileage and then I’ll taper one. 80% of my runs are at aerobic pace and 20% speed work. The speed work is where I struggle. I’ve got all the endurance in the world. I could run forever. I just have to work on my speed. I can do that with some of my races. I am doing another 52 races in 52 weeks with my new campaign called 52 races for 52 faces to cure pancreatic cancer. So when I’m training and racing, I’m thinking about these people who I am dedicating my runs to and it does make my runs so much more meaningful. Thinking about these people and what they have to go through when faced with a diagnosis like pancreatic cancer, gives me purpose and I run harder and I run faster for them. It’s no longer about me I am running for the cure. And whether I run fast or slow, now honestly it really doesn’t matter. What we’re doing here is raising awareness and raising hope that we will one day have a cure.
CS: Explain what a typical marathon training week looks like to you?
I run in the morning before work, about four to eight miles. Sometimes I run to work. It’s six miles there and six miles back which makes for a 12 mile day. Great way to get it in. The only problem is there is no shower at work. So baby wipes and towels come in handy at work. I am currently on race #25 of #52 in my 52 races for 52 faces campaign. So my weekly races also serve as training, tempo runs or whatever is needed. It seems to be working great. I feel like I am getting a little stronger as we near the halfway point.
CS: I think all runners at some time in their lives have had an injury. What are your top two or three things that you do to prevent injury?
- I keep my runs slow. Since I am not out there crushing the pace every day, my endurance is strong and I’m doing less pounding on my joints. 80% slow and 20% fast, or at least I try.
- I wear good, supportive, cushioned shoes and rotate about three pair at a time.
- I have good genetics? I don’t know, I can’t explain how I run sooo much and don’t get injured. Born to run maybe?
CS: When you ran one marathon a week for 52 weeks, what was inside your heard during these long competitive races? Do you zone out? Listen to music? Or have thoughts of motivation? Or something else?
I think about the people that I’m running for. I learn about their stories and running for them gives me energy. I think about my Dad, I think about my friend, Lupe, who passed away recently from pancreatic cancer. I look up into the sun and I feel their spirit and it energizes me and motivates me to keep going. I do listen to music. It inspires me a lot. Running without music is hard for me. The music actually makes me go little faster. During my 52 marathons quest, I wouldn’t really start picking up the pace until I got to about mile 18. I would be handing out mineral pills and motivation as most people were hitting the wall, and I was just getting started.
CS: What advice do you have for someone who is a novice to running and someone who is interested in competing in their very first marathon?
I offer you this advice straight from my book, Chapter 22, “Straight Talk for Those Who Want to Kick Start Their Lives”:
Do what it takes to make running enjoyable.
Start with that moderate, aerobic pace often described is as a “conversational” pace. Meaning that you can carry on a conversation while you’re running. To some, that may come as a surprise. “Talk? Who talks when they run?” I do, if I’m running with a group. So do most runners. And most of us who have been involved in the sport for a while have learned how to make it enjoyable.
Run with your dog. (Like I did. I’ve been running with Jessie for almost 14 years.)
Find a scenic area to run (Like I did. Hawaii…yeah, I know, almost too scenic. But I’m sure there’s a nice park or safe neighborhood near you).
Listen to your music (although please, be careful with this. Better on the treadmill than alone, outside, when you can’t hear a car coming).
Or, if you’re on the treadmill, watch your favorite TV show, or listen to your favorite podcast.
Remember also that, contrary to the old myth of running as a solitary sport, many runners train today as part of groups, either informal or organized. It was my friends at the L.A. Road Runners who gave me the impetus and support to do my first marathon. We’d run on the Strand—the popular beach path that extends almost 20 miles from Santa Monica south to Torrance Beach. I still run along there with a group at least once a week as part of my training. It’s energizing to feed off of others; it’s also how you learn about the sport; and above all, when you’re out there engaged in pleasant conversation with a group of like-minded girls (and boys!), you’re almost going to forget you are running.
Bottom line: You should do whatever it takes to make it enjoyable. Some runners love this activity from the get-go. Based on my observations, an equal if not greater number don’t. But they do find ways to make it tolerable. Run alone, run with a group. Run in the park, run on a treadmill. Regardless, after a few weeks something happens—one day you go out, you run, the at-first-unfamiliar motion feels more natural and fluid, and…presto! It all changes. It’s like a sudden and unexpected re-appraisal of that guy in the elevator at work you’ve seen for months. One morning, you look at him with fresh eyes, and say “hey…he’s cute!”
That’s often how it is with running. It’s not always love at first step, but it’s a relationship worth building.
CS: Tell us a little about your 52 marathons in 52 weeks. How many states did you compete in, who was your support group, and how did you mentally and physically prepare yourself for this amazing feat?
I covered about 22 states. I had to keep the budget down, plus running and working full time. To get back to work Monday morning, sometimes the logistics were harder than the marathons. You can’t really prepare for something like this. I trained for one marathon and hoped for the best. My support group was really David. He is so dedicated and was there for me every step of the way. My Mom was amazing and so helpful. Also, the charity I was running for at the time, was so supportive and cheered me on every step of the way.
CS: Finally, we would love to know a little about your book and what the future holds for you?
My husband is currently writing a script, so maybe there will be “Marathon Goddess: The Movie” coming soon. I have a children’s book coming out called We Got This dedicated to my grandchildren and every kid in the world. I want every kid to know that they need to believe in the beauty of their dreams from very early on and not let anyone hold them back. I would also love to do more motivational speaking to help people of all ages know that they can transform their life at any age. If I can do it, so can you!
CS: Thank you again Julie for letting the readers of Runners Gazette learn a little more about you. I know your father is proud of you and he is with you for each and every step you have and will run.
You asked about why my hands are always over my head, The Marathon Goddess Pose. I explained it in my book:
“I was locked on my mission, ready to finish, the rest of the race was a blur. It was hard, sure. But that didn’t register as I made my way to the finish chute. I was overjoyed and with the final steps I felt my arms begin to raise up, over my head.
I don’t know if I thought that’s what you were supposed to do at the end of the race, or if it was just an automatic reaction to the joy I felt, but I took it all in with my outstretched arms. It was a beautiful posture, me taking up space, extending my power up to the sun! And that was where the Goddess pose was born. It felt good, crossing the line with my arms overhead, and I’ve done it in every race since.”
Categories: Athlete Profiles