Project 26.20 Featured Runner: Julia Becker Collins

Julia Becker Collins

Julia Becker Collins got into running about 5 years ago after a medical emergency landed her in the ICU. Running was a way for her to take back control of her life. Using a Couch-to-5k app, she slowly built up the stamina to run her first 5k 12 months later. After that, she decided to give Spartan Races a try. Her first one in Fenway Park left her bruised and battered, but hooked.

By 2019, Julia was ready for her next big challenge: The Tri-State New Jersey Spartan Ultra. She was 1 of only 89 women to finish the brutal 36 mile race, featuring 60+ obstacles, and 15,500 ft of elevation gain. This race proved life-changing for Julia; she got the elevation profile tattooed to her forearm to remind her that she can do hard things.

Julia, like many of us, had a massive roster of races planned for 2020. She was eager to test her limits in more ambitious 50 mile/24 hour runs. But everything changed for Julia when she was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer a week before COVID-19 locked down her state. She spent the next several months battling both an overwhelmed healthcare system and an insidious cancer. She had surgery, and later radiation treatment after the cancer spread.

Julia refused to play victim however, and was determined to continue training as much as her body allowed her to. She started exercising again 4 days after surgery, and is still running throughout her radiation treatment. It’s been tough. Pain and nausea are her constant companions, not to mention deep joint and bone pain, headaches, and a GI tract that has been burnt out by the radiation. As she gets back into training (3 days/week of run/walk intervals), Julia is still at war with cancer. Her scans most recently showed a new mass in her throat. “We have to wait and see; all I know is that I need to keep running,” Julia said.

Julia registered for the 2020 California International Marathon to have a goal, and to focus on something that’s not cancer, work, or the pandemic. Training for a marathon is something that she can control. Despite CIM 2020 being cancelled, Julia plans to run it as a part of Project 26.20 on the original date of the race (12/6). It will be her first marathon, and it will be entirely self-supported in the Boston, MA area.

It’s going to be hard. Julia estimates that she is at least 2 minutes per mile slower than she was before she started cancer treatments. She just works with whatever her body gives her each day. “Running still feels heavy since getting cancer; it’s like I’m running with a weight vest on. But that’s not a reason to stop—it’s just another obstacle I’m going to overcome.”

We will be rooting for you on every step of your journey, Julia. You can join Julia and the group of determined individuals who are committed to getting 26.2 out of 2020 by registering for Project 26.20 here.