Cancer survivor shares 10 tips to a successful marathon experience

Casey (right) with her fiancé, Will
Casey (right) with her fiancé, Will

The number ten holds a special place in Casey Pereira’s heart – it’s been ten years since she went into remission after being diagnosed with cancer. To celebrate her story, and to honor patients everywhere undergoing treatment, she is running the Boston Marathon® with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) team, and aiming to raise $10,000.

To mark how truly special the number ten is, here are Casey’s top 10 tips marathon preparation tips.

  1. Simplify: one foot in front of the other

Casey appreciates the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other on her training runs – because she can remember when she couldn’t. In the midst of college at just 19 years old, Casey was a Division 1 gymnast when she was diagnosed. She underwent treatment, and was forced to abandon her twice-a-day practice schedule. Her firecracker determination guided her through treatment, and eventually led her back to exercising on a regular basis.

“I remember that first run I was allowed to take after my final treatment. I ran to the end of the road. I remember how excited I was just to run, period.

  1. Dedicate your race to a bigger cause

The training element of a marathon lifestyle is tough, but it’s a little easier when you devote your miles to a loved one. It helps to put things in perspective when blisters happen, or when you hit a wall. It also enables you to get family and friends involved in a bigger way (“No, you don’t have to run with me, Uncle Kevin; instead, be part of my run by making a gift to my fundraising page!”). Casey’s cancer journey provided plenty of motivation, and she’s going the“extra mile” by running in memory of Tatyana Abrams through DFMC’s In Memory program.

“I feel lucky to be running in memory of Tatyana. The Abrams family has shared their beautiful daughter’s legacy with me and it makes the whole experience so much more meaningful.”

  1. Social media can be fundraising gold

Casey is one of more than 550 runners fundraising as a member of Dana-Farber’s Boston Marathon team. She has her eye on reaching the $10,000 milestone, and she’s found social media to be the quickest and most convenient way to spread the word about her fundraising goals.

“I have done Monday countdowns, alerting my social network to the number of Mondays there are until I run 26.2 miles. I lucked out that some important dates fell on Mondays – the 10th anniversary of my first chemo treatment, and birthdays of special people in my cancer journey. I do my best to tie in a call to action or goal with each post, and those have seen the most success.” 

  1. Use your support system

Casey’s family and friends provided immense support as she navigated her cancer diagnosis and treatment. She’s now channeling that same network of support as she fundraises and trains for the Boston Marathon, particularly when it comes to running buddies.

“I definitely prefer to run with a buddy; it makes all the difference for me. I find it helps regulate my breathing, and distracts me from constantly checking my GPS watch.”

  1. Training in New England for the Boston Marathon RULES

It’s an amazing opportunity to train in New England, and more specifically in Boston, for this high-profile race. The camaraderie builds as more runners brave cold temperatures to squeeze in training miles, and the energy is palpable as the city readies itself for the big day.

“Seeing other runners tough it out during winter runs, giving nods of encouragement, really hits home, and makes me feel lucky to train here.”

  1. “Celebrate the small stuff”

Runners often reward themselves to keep motivation strong during training season. Food and drinks, pedicures, vacations – anything is game. Casey has always embraced this practice, even during her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“When you have a life-threatening illness, especially at a young age, you realize that life is short. It’s important to celebrate the small stuff, instead of sweating it. These days, my workouts are fueled by dreams of what to eat post-run. What’s the point of running double-digit mileage if you can’t have extra carbs and dessert?”

  1. Utilize music wisely (and safely!)

Most people throw on headphones when going out for a training run – slower tunes to ease your way into the route (#Adele), faster songs to keep the pace going (#Bieber), maybe even throw on a podcast (#ModernLove). As long as you’re safe, music can help keep runs fresh and fun.

“My go-to is definitely my Bruce Springsteen station on Pandora. It plays this awesome mix of classic rock, the Beatles, and 90s. When “Born to Run” comes on, it’s hard not to start running a little faster!”

  1. Choose a race that means something to you

The Boston Marathon happens to be one of the most famous races in the world, but choosing a race doesn’t need to be about the most popular race. Pick a race in a city you’ve always wanted to visit, where a family member or friend lives, or where a runner you admire has won. It’s your 26.2 miles, so make it meaningful.

“The Boston Marathon has been one of my favorite days of the year since I was little, and being lucky and healthy enough now to take part in it is pretty surreal.”

  1. Cut yourself some slack

Fitting fundraising and training into your already busy schedule can be tough. If you need to take a day or week off, do it. A break in your routine often rejuvenates you to push past barriers and really hit your stride.

“I would be a liar if I said my fundraising and training record was spotless. I try my best to make sure I stick to the long runs and get in any kind of exercise that I can throughout the week. Fundraising has its on and off weeks, but I always keep my reasons for running – my family, my friends, the Abrams, Tatyana, those who can’t run, myself – in the forefront.”

  1. Take the plunge

Running a long-distance race appears on many bucket lists – commit to a race now! There will always be something that makes training and fundraising a little tricky. Use the chaos to help better organize yourself. Oftentimes, the more you have going on, the more you can prioritize, and zero in on what’s really important to you.

“Since my diagnosis, I’ve always wanted to “pay it forward,” and help those who are currently in treatment. This year marks the tenth anniversary of my remission date, and also coincides with my thirtieth birthday. I felt like the planets were aligning, and I had to go for it.”

This year, more than 550 runners will brave the Boston Marathon course as a part of the DFMC team. Learn more about the DFMC team and look for the DFMC singlet along the course on Marathon Monday!

Katherine McIsaac
Assistant Director, Development Communications