Marathon Training During COVID-19

Elisha-Rio Apilado, Team LUNGevity Runner
Patch worn by Elisha-Rio to honor her father
Patch worn by Elisha-Rio to honor her father

A public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is not the ideal time to be training for a marathon. These days, it can be difficult to motivate myself to go outside, let alone run mile after mile required for my training.  

Still, running has been an important part of my routine during the pandemic. Most days, I still try to get a couple of miles in.  It’s an excuse to get outside and enjoy some time away from my home. However, some days, I know it’s better for my mental health to take a rest. It has been a form of self-care, in addition to walking my dogs and meditation, that helps me stay grounded during the crisis. 

I started running in 2017. At the time, I was going through a lot, and I knew I was in need of a major lifestyle change. I wanted to exercise more, eat a cleaner diet, and just be healthier in general. I set a goal for myself that I would run a charity 5k for every month of the year. By the end of the year, I had run 12 races, lost 30 pounds, and become addicted to running. 

In 2018, I ran a 10k every quarter. In 2019, I knew it was time to make the final leap to the marathon. 

LUNGevity was one of the organizations I ran for in 2017.  When I was deciding which marathon to run in 2019, I remembered LUNGevity and their mission. Lung cancer has always been close to my heart; my dad was diagnosed 15 years ago.  I felt understood at LUNGevity. I loved the sense of community at the Foundation; it felt like a close family, warm and welcoming, and never like a corporation talking to me.  I decided to run the  Bank of America Chicago Marathon as part of Team LUNGevity. 

The Chicago Marathon was absolutely an incredible experience. The year prior to running the race, I volunteered as a “water girl” on the sidelines, passing out cups of Gatorade and water to participants. I was so moved by how supportive everyone was and the tremendous amount of cheering that went on. It was the same, if not better, to experience the community of Chicago coming together for you as a runner.

During the race, I had friends who came out to cheer with signs at the most opportune moments. It was like fate that they knew which mile to be at when I started feeling fatigued or wanting to give in. I had other friends who were constantly sending me messages of support; they told me my dad would be proud and was with me while running.

The best moments were at mile 13 when I saw my very best friend, who ran in to give me the biggest hug. Around mile 20, I did have to stop by the medical tent as my IT band on my knee was acting up and slowing me down. I felt like giving up, but kept pushing forward, encouraged by my friends, who were continuing to send me messages of hope. When I got to mile 23, I saw my mother and my two nephews, smiling, cheering, and holding up huge signs. It was a very emotional experience for me knowing that I was doing this for my father. 

I run because it’s important to me to raise awareness about lung cancer and to support lung cancer research. My father battled lung cancer for 15 years. He went through various forms of treatments:  chemo, radiation, and the newest, immunotherapy. If it wasn't for the monetary donations that support lung cancer medical research, we wouldn't have been able to try immunotherapy, and I wouldn't have had an extra 3 months with him before he passed away February 2019. I'm so proud of him for always putting up a fight. All people deserve these opportunities to try more treatments.

I’ve worked with LUNGevity on other fundraisers as well. I partnered with Title Boxing in Lincoln Park of Chicago to create a community boxing event to spread awareness. During the event, the entire gym was so full, some people had to share punching bags. I also partnered up with The Martin Chicago and a few classmates of mine to host a self-care with art as therapy event to raise funds and spread awareness of mental health. Recently, I created a fundraiser to support the COVID-19 frontline workers and lung cancer simultaneously; for every $50 donated to support my Team LUNGevity race, I donated $25 to a COVID-19 relief fund. I think finding ways to connect with others where they are comfortable, like at the gym, or while supporting issues that are important to them, like the relief fund, are a way to reach more people and make a bigger impact. It’s important to give people the opportunity to hear your story, but also to hear theirs.

After my father passed away, I found out that one of my runner friends had been running her races wearing a piece of fabric that said “Papa Apilado #ApiladoStrong” to honor my father; I was touched. I wore that piece of fabric during the Chicago Marathon in 2019, and I plan to wear it at every marathon I run in the future. 

This year, I will be competing in the Abbott World Marathon Majors. This is a series of races consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. It’s daunting, but it helps that I’m doing it for an important cause close to my heart; plus, I wouldn’t mind have six medals and bragging rights. 

Even though the marathon is coming up in a couple of months, I’m not sticking to strict running scheduling. I am doing what I can each day and trying to be kind to myself that way. It’s okay to sometimes take an extra day or even a week off, particularly in this climate. Taking care of your mental health is such an important aspect of marathon training. Something people who aren’t runners don’t understand is how mental marathon training is. In addition to its obvious physical demands, there are mental hurdles you have to jump in order to push yourself to those physical limits.

Due to the public health crisis, these events might have to go virtual this year. While this wouldn’t be as fun as traveling the world to  run marathons, I think it’s essential that we do whatever is necessary to keep people safe and healthy; this is our top priority. If these events do become virtual events, I will still train, I will still run, and I will still support lung cancer awareness and support. 


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Elisha-Rio at start lineElisha-Rio P. Apilado is a graduate student at Adler University in Chicago where she will be obtaining her Master’s in Counseling: Art Therapy in Fall 2021. For the last 10 years, she worked in advertising/marketing as an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator prior to switching careers to counseling. Elisha continues to take on freelance design projects while staying active in advocating how the expressive arts, specifically art and dance, are beneficial for one’s mental and emotional well-being. 

Elisha has been involved in numerous speaking opportunities with Ignite Chicago to reframe the stigmas related to mental health and has hosted art therapy workshops with the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and Creative Women’s Co. When she’s not volunteering at Lurie's Children Hospital or Crisis Textline, Elisha is training at the dance studio or traveling to complete her personal art bucket list: see each city's art museum at least once.   

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