Running Through Crossroads

Backed by the insurmountable support of her family and friends, Julie ran her third world major marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2019.

Mark Twain once said, "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why." For Negros-born marathoner Julie Uychiat, finding her purpose a bit later in life somehow led her to prepare for seven races on seven continents in seven days in this year's World Marathon Challenge, a path meant for a chosen few. And while we can't wait to see her cross those finish lines, join us in taking a few steps back to the starting point of her journey.

Since moving to Anthem, Arizona, in 1993, Julie has worked with Ensign Services as a registered nurse. Even though racing competitively wasn't her thing yet, life's cadence was already at break-neck speeds.

"Prior to discovering running in 2017, life was mostly all about my job and my professional responsibilities. I was traveling for work almost every week as I was the clinical leader assigned to support 65-plus operations in seven different states. I am one of those lucky enough to say that I love my job, and while it pretty much consumed my life, I didn't mind giving it my all," Julie shares with us.

And as she tediously put in the hours in a career which she loved, to build on dreams with her husband Jim Guschl, little did she know that the plot twist to her story would be coming from something which she hated.

"I hated running," Julie recalls from a few years back. "In late 2015, my sister started running with my best friend. I remember asking her how she is able to do that when I can't even run from my house to the next stop sign without getting short of breath. She told me to just slow down my pace and keep going, further saying, 'You won't die.' Her words stuck with me as I attempted to give running one more shot that afternoon."

And run, she did. After going two and a half miles on her first try, the vigorous rush spiked her heart rate, somewhat awakening the spirit of a dormant warrior hidden within. The exact second that her impressions about running changed marked the starting line to a new leg in Julie's life.

"In March 2017, I ran my first individual race, which was a half marathon, with my sister. We decided to follow the 2:30 pacer. I wasn't serious about it at first, conversing with her while running and answering texts during the race, until around mile nine when I saw how serious and competitive other runners were. Then I thought maybe I should take it more seriously, too. I started giving it my best and finished ahead of the 2:15 pacer. That race gave me a glimpse of the possibilities, although a full marathon was still out of the picture at that time."

But with momentum comes velocity. And as Julie gained mileage, fate eventually nudged her toward her destiny.

Julie Uychiat after finishing the famed Boston Marathon in April 2019.

"In May of that year, I was at the Ensign Service Center for a meeting. There were about seven or eight of us in the conference room. Jess Dalton had his laptop open and told me that he wouldn't be starting the meeting until I signed up for the St. George Marathon with him that October. I quickly refused and told him to give me at least a year, but he insisted. I made a deal and told him that if there was another person in the room who would sign up with us, then I would commit to doing it. The first person I asked was Rebecca Higbee, who, to my surprise, said yes without hesitation. I didn't know then that she was a runner, so I was committed."

At that time, 44-year-old Julie was unraveling an entirely new side of herself that she never knew existed. Feeding off this newfound flame, she crossed the finish line at St. George Marathon way ahead of anybody's expectations, with an ending time that clinched her a spot for the longest-running major marathon in the world. "I Boston-qualified my first race that year, which opened a whole new exciting world for me."

Now embracing a new perspective on her life's path, Julie sprinted through the learning curve and set her sights on completing the six major marathons in the world – Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Tokyo.

Two thousand eighteen saw her flying across to Berlin for her first major marathon. She also had the privilege to run alongside running legend Eliud Kipchoge, an Olympic marathon winner who happened to set the standing record for the fastest finish in this same race. Aside from the enormity of the event, what really made this memorable for Julie was the effort of some high school friends who flew in just to support her. A mere two weeks later, running on nothing but adrenaline and positivity, she participated in the Chicago Marathon, where she posted a then-personal best of 3:30:05, eight seconds faster than her time in Berlin.

Julie during the New York City Marathon in 2019 which she describes as “the most energetic race of all the majors.”

Two thousand nineteen was the year Julie looked to conquer. She recalls starting the racing year in Boston armed with more experience, "This is the race where we came prepared. My friends, family, and I all wore customized Team Julie U jackets made by Mighty Sports in the Philippines. There were about 14 of us there. This was when I told myself, 'I may not be the fastest runner in Boston, but I know I am one of the most loved.' It still gives me chills reminiscing that experience." The second half of the season brought her to New York, which she says was "the most energetic race of all the majors."

Two thousand twenty was like a treadmill, where much effort was exerted only to stay in place. With four majors down and two more to go, Julie prepared herself like never before as she felt the last stretch of her goal was finally underway. But like a cramp that surfaces at the worst possible moment, the Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed the world and brought it to its knees. Despite a year's break from running, Julie continued to work with her coach Shangrila Rendon, who holds two Guinness World Records as a triathlete. Her husband, Jim, was also by her side throughout all of this as her "off-track" coach and number one fan. Of Jim, Julie says, "I couldn't do all of these without him."

Two thousand twenty-one was a year of revival. With the situation slowly improving, she made her way to London to pick up where she left off. "I remember feeling so good to race again after all the cancellations in the last two years due to the pandemic. Again, I had incredible support from Arizona friends who flew to London with us (Maya and Tony Castillo, Jacque Green, Angie Gayton) and friends (Cloyd Facultad) who live in London. I ran my best time in a World Major marathon," she tells us. This race cemented her place, earning her two medals for finishing and ranking in the top 85 of the world in her age group.

Two thousand twenty-two, so far, has been a year of fulfillment. Amassing all this success in such a short span of time and with the world changing gears by the second, Julie wanted to add direction to her newfound purpose. At the World Marathon Challenge in October, contestants will run seven individual marathons, from Antarctica to North America, within 168 hours. Seeing this to be her biggest challenge yet, Julie and her team are gathering support from across the world as she decided to use this platform for a cause that is very dear to her heart. With all the undertakings for such a daunting feat, Julie acknowledges that she would need to find the strength from something bigger than just the individual satisfaction of completion. She found this fulfillment with the children of Kalipay.

Julie during her most recent race, the Revel Mount Charleston in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2022.

On a mission to the Philippines in 2012, Julie was introduced to the Kalipay Negrense Foundation, a non-profit organization in Negros Occidental dedicated to alleviating the struggles of homeless, disadvantaged, malnourished, and abused children.

"My husband ran our work foundation, the Ensign Foundation, in 2012, and at that time, our outreach focus was to help the Philippines. Marla Uychiat-Tirol, our cousin, told me about Kalipay. I brought our team there, and we fell in love with the kids, loved their stories, and how Anna Balcells, founder and president, and her team took very good care of them. My only regret was I didn't continue to do my part to support them after that trip in 2012. I needed to connect to a higher purpose for my upcoming race, I knew in my heart that I would do it for them."

In Julie's case, ironically, it was when she made racing her life that she fully understood that life in itself is not a race; you can't always run forward, and there's no such thing as finishing in first place. And through finding her purpose, albeit a bit later than expected, in something as mundane as hastily putting one foot in front of the other, she lives out her destiny of carrying the helpless through life's finish line.

As of this writing, Julie and her team continue to raise funds for Kalipay Negrense and hope that the momentum carries through to the long run. To extend your help, you may check out their website:

Text By: Mayumi Espina
Photo Courtesy: Julie Uychiat

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