MAIN STREET — On a typical day, Julie Weiss will wake up, walk out of the door of her Santa Monica apartment and go for a five mile run near the beach.
She claims it’s better for waking a person up than coffee, which she’s given up for Lent, but the runs hold another, more important purpose than jumpstarting the morning: training.
Every week for the next year, Weiss plans to run a full marathon as part of her “52 for You” campaign, an effort to raise $1 million to support research and programs for the Manhattan Beach-based nonprofit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
That’s 26.2 miles, an amount that many people would consider an accomplishment to complete once in their lives, every weekend.
“I’m determined,” Weiss said. “This is something that can be done.”
Weiss already has 24 marathons under her belt since she began doing the races in 2008, and a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon which she will run this year. The marathon goddess, as she is known in running circles, also has motivation that goes far beyond a desire for reputation, or even a love of the sport.
Weiss qualified for Boston in December 2010, a month after her father, Maurice Weiss, died from pancreatic cancer.
The loss was devastating, and caused her to look more deeply into the mysterious illness that had taken the vivacious 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, pancreatic cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, but is 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.
Despite its deadly stats, national research organizations put relatively few resources into investigating pancreatic cancer, said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
“There were no dollars available for it, so scientists weren’t going to study that disease,” Fleshman said. “As we’ve been able to increase both private dollars we fund and public dollars through the National Cancer Institute, more people are interested because there are dollars available to study it.”
In a chicken and egg type dilemma, the lack of funding for pancreatic cancer when compared to other diseases comes back to its low survival rate.
Unlike breast cancer, which has enjoyed huge success through its pink ribbon campaigns and vast survivor networks, pancreatic cancer doesn’t have a face because so few people have beaten it.
No early diagnosis tests yet exist for pancreatic cancer, leading people to find out they have it only after it’s progressed to deadly stages in the body.
The recent death of Apple founder Steve Jobs from a slow-growing version of the disease threw it back into the spotlight last year, and also revealed how little is actually known about it.
“Someone like him, with all the resources in the world, couldn’t fight it off,” Fleshman said.
And that is why efforts like Weiss’ “52 for You” campaign mean so much to the cause. Weiss has already raised a tenth of her million-dollar goal through contributions from her employer, a Brentwood real estate company, family and friends.
She hopes that her daring project will be the platform to attract other big sponsors from the sports world and private sector to bring both attention and cold hard cash to the cause.
“It’s totally uncharted territory,” Weiss said over a cup of tea at the Novel Café on Main Street. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Of course, amidst the proposal letters and the personal pleas to large organizations, a full-time job and commitments to local running groups, there’s still the task of preparing for, traveling to and then running 52 marathons.
Weiss is starting in a hole. She sprained her ankle (not a running-related injury, mind you) and hasn’t been able to run well for months. Running one marathon takes a toll on the body and most people would suggest taking a minimum of two weeks to recover. Weiss will have less than one each time.
But she’s got an ace up her sleeve.
“I’m a certified coach level two with track and field, and I co-wrote the book ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Marathon Training’ … I guess I know a thing or two about marathon training,” said David Levine, Weiss’ trainer, nutrition expert and fiancée.
Weiss won’t have the luxury to recover like most people would after a grueling 26.2 mile race. To keep her body intact and ready for the next week, she’ll follow a strict nutrition and training regimen during the race, immediately after she’s done running and then for the days leading up to her next attempt.
In this case, that means carrying enough mineral pills to keep her electrolyte levels high throughout the four hours she’s pounding pavement, stretching immediately after she finishes and getting on ice.
During the week, she’ll eat far more protein than normal, run in water to strengthen muscles and never exceed 40 minutes of training on shore.
Weiss has the fortitude to soldier on, despite the trying requirements, Levine said.
“She’s doing it for the right cause,” he said. “She’s not the first or doing the most, but she has the right reason.”
Motivation aside, Weiss is looking forward to the challenge. She loves to run, and with two dozen marathons already on her resume, she thinks she knows what to expect.
In fact, as though 52 marathons weren’t enough, she’s starting the marathon of marathons with one a bit off the beaten path. She and Levine will catch a red-eye to Rome, Italy in mid-March for a race associated with the documentary “Spirit of the Marathon 2,” which will feature Weiss.
“Fifty-two for you, but 53 for me!” she said, smiling.
If you would like to donate to Weiss’ cause or follow her progress through the races, visit her website at marathongoddess.com.