FINISH LINE — Come the afternoon of March 17, tens of thousands of people will be finishing a 26.2 mile race, the culmination of months of hard preparation.
Others will be drunk, celebrating the Irish heritage they may or may not have.
Santa Monican Julie Weiss expects to be rejoicing for a different reason altogether.
The L.A. Marathon, held on St. Patrick’s Day, marks the final push in a year-long journey in which Weiss will have conquered 52 marathons to raise awareness of and money for pancreatic cancer research.
She began her campaign, called “52 for You,” on March 18, 2012 in a marathon in Rome, but Weiss said that she always wanted to finish it off back home in Los Angeles.
“The L.A. Marathon is one of my favorite marathons in the world, which is why I chose it to be my last one,” Weiss said. “It defines fun.”
Weiss runs in honor of her father, Maurice Weiss, who died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer one month before she qualified to run the Boston Marathon, a highly competitive race.
The loss devastated her, and caused her to take a deeper look at the mysterious illness that had taken the man who went through the world each day with a pocket trumpet and the humor to use it.
She didn’t like what she found.
According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the disease is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, but the fourth leading cause of cancer death.
It’s the only cancer that has a five-year survival rate in the single digits, which means fewer than 10 percent of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are expected to live another five years. Many, like Weiss’ father, die within months of diagnosis.
Unlike breast cancer’s viral marketing, with even manly professional football players dressing in pink trim for the month of October, pancreatic cancer’s purple ribbon remains relatively unknown and consequently unfunded.
Weiss strove to change that with her campaign, committing to raise $1 million in a year for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and creating a violet-toned website dubbed “Marathon Goddess” after her nickname in running circles to keep track of her progress through the project.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing.
After Rome, Weiss was taken out of the game by a non-running related injury and had to play catch-up. Many would find accomplishment in completing one such race in a year. To make up for her time off, Weiss tackled two in a weekend in an effort to make her goal.
It’s also been a struggle to meet the fundraising goal, and despite the network’s support for travel, other expenses come straight out of Weiss’ pocket. One pair of shoes only lasts four marathons, for instance, although she’s recently had help from ASICS, the sponsor of the L.A. Marathon.
The year has made an impact, however, both for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s donations and for Weiss herself.
She used to challenge herself to go faster, but when your next marathon is less than a week away, you develop a more Zen approach.
“I actually got rid of my Garmin [GPS device], and I stopped wearing my watch and timing my pace,” Weiss said. “It’s not about that. They are about spirit, not about speed.”
With that in mind, she dedicates each marathon to a pancreatic cancer victim, some living, some dead, and tells their story on her blog.
“This is about so much more than me. It’s about all of these people that are suffering, and affected by the disease. It’s about all of the people that I’ve touched. It’s been an amazing experience,” she said.
Weiss says she will take a break after the L.A. Marathon to let her body and mind recover from a year on the road balancing work, life and motherhood. She’s not done working for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, however.
The group hopes to double the rate of pancreatic cancer survivors by 2020, and Weiss has committed to running another 52 marathons by the same date.
It’s a little easier on her body than “52 for You,” but keeps her in the game and the disease front and center.
Running 104 marathons in eight years sounds like a Herculean task, but so is living with a deadly disease. She hopes that her efforts will inspire others to get involved and believe that a cure is possible.
“That’s what it’s all about. Creating hope,” Weiss said. “That’s my job, to raise hope and awareness. I believe we can beat it. I can’t stop.”