As an advanced practice oncology nurse at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Juli Aistars works with lung cancer patients who struggle just to take a deep breath. That's why she doesn't mind being a little out of breath herself this weekend as she runs a 500K -- or 314 miles -- through Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia.
Aistars, 55 of Lake Zurich, is no stranger to ultramarathons. This is her third year running the Vol State 500K, a race she was the first woman to win in 2010.
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She is one of about 70 runners who on Thursday started the Vol State 500K, a race only about half its participants typically finish, according to its website. In the first 24 hours, Aistars had run 90 miles before stopping for a few hours to sleep at a hotel.
Some runners do the race with no crew, meaning they have to go to a store or ask strangers for food, water and shelter along the way.
Aistars competed that way in 2012. This year her crew is made up of only her husband, who drives along with water and food.
"It makes me feel like a kid again," Aistars said as she got ready to start her second day of the run on Friday morning. "I love the challenge. I absolutely love this.
"Sometimes, like this morning, I am really tired and falling asleep on my feet and thinking 'Why do I do this,' but I still love it."
Aistars says running an ultramarathon is more about having will than speed. She has run more than 100 ultramarathons since 2002, including 19 last year.
"I'm kind of addicted to it," she said. "I really love it."
Now Aistars is trying to use her love of long-distance running to help to some of her patients at Northwest Community Hospital.
She's asking for donations for the Arlington Heights hospital's lung program, which helps provide programs to help low-income people quit smoking, and detect and treat lung cancer.
"It's a serious diagnosis, and we aren't doing enough," she said of the disease that kills about 160,000 people a year, according to the CDC.
Aistars is a proponent of early detection, including a low-dose CT scan for those at high risk.
She also runs two weekly support groups and several classes a month to help people quit smoking.
Money donated will help pay for those programs for patients who can't afford it. To donate people can go to nch.netreturns.biz/giving/ and write that their donation is in honor of Juli Aistars.
People interested can follow her progress in the run at www.tinyurl.com/Volstate2014.