Liliana Umpierre and the run to remember

After the Tokyo Marathon was canceled due to the coronavirus, a special marathon in Winter Garden was put together for Windermere resident Liliana Umpierre.

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  • | 11:27 a.m. March 25, 2020
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
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On Sunday, March 1, Windermere resident Liliana Umpierre was supposed to be in Japan to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Marathon — one of the world’s biggest marathons.

Instead, she found herself standing at the splash pad in downtown Winter Garden at 5:30 in the morning surrounded by her family, as well as friends from the local and Ocoee chapters of Moms Run This Town.

The Tokyo Marathon had been canceled by the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, but her friends in the running group weren’t going to let her training be for naught, said friend and group member Denise Snyder. Umpierre was going to have a marathon of her own.

“We tried to make it a light-hearted event and just (wanted to) show support,” said Snyder, who organized the event. “You train so many months for a race and to have it canceled like that, and not know if you’ll ever be able to do that race again, is just heartbreaking.” 

Liliana Umpierre hugs her husband, Enrique, after finishing the race.
Liliana Umpierre hugs her husband, Enrique, after finishing the race.

When the Tokyo Marathon was canceled Monday, Feb. 17, Umpierre lost out on not just a chance to run the marathon — she and her family lost a chance to enjoy a family vacation. It also cost her financially, as some parts of the trip were non-refundable.

After hearing the news, Snyder and the group acted fast. In the span of only a couple weeks, Snyder had planned out a marathon mile for mile and figured out the specifics to make the race happen. Part of the plan included members riding around in a van to get from place to place — handing out water and holding up signs written in both English and Japanese while Umpierre ran, creating the feel that she was in the Tokyo Marathon.

“It was kind of making the most of a tough situation,” friend and Moms Run This Town member Jeanne Harbin said. “She had stuff planned to go to other attractions, as well, with her family of five.”

Before the race, Umpierre was worried about running the course alone, but her friends had that figured out. During the run, Umpierre had runners by her side the whole time.

“They created a group where they were posting updates, and that’s when I realized I wasn’t running by myself — there were people who were going with me for a few miles,” Umpierre said. “I felt like I wasn’t alone — all the support they were giving me, it was the strength that I needed.”



That strength came in handy for Umpierre around mile 21 when she hit the proverbial “runner’s wall.” After 20 solid miles of running, she could feel herself begin to slow down, and when it happened, it happened fast and abruptly.

She had already finished the first leg of the run — going from downtown Winter Garden to Ocoee and back — and was in the final stretch when her body began to feel the stress. Despite the training she had done to prepare for the race, the hills in Clermont had tripped her up — proving to be the biggest challenge for her during the morning’s run.

“My mind started tricking me, because I wasn’t prepared for all the inclines in the area — I was asking too much of my body at that moment,” Umpierre said. “I’m not a fan of the sun and running (under) it — it was really bright and getting hot, and my legs were really, really tired from running on the inclines.

“The last three miles — it was a moment I stopped completely and I looked at my watch and I say, ‘Oh man, I still have this many miles?’” she said. 

With words of encouragement by her entourage, Umpierre continued the fight as she made her way back to downtown Winter Garden. 

As she got closer and closer, she could feel herself being pulled to the finish line by sheer will.

“When we were one mile from the splash pad, I just felt a push with my heart, because my legs weren’t moving,” Umpierre said. “I ended up running with my heart the last one mile, because my brain was wanting to shut down the rest of my body.”

As she pulled into view of those waiting at the finish line, she could hear her son, Diego, announcing her arrival, while her daughter, Isa, was holding up the finish line. Her other daughter, Gaby, stood holding the medal made of cardboard and ribbon.

Everything that had happened leading up to the race — a family trip ruined, the cancelation of the Tokyo marathon and the money lost — all fell away in that very moment.

“When I saw all the people who were there, I started crying,” Umpierre said. “I couldn’t believe it. I knew there were a couple of people who were planning to be there, but I wasn’t expecting all of those people. I was so emotional, and I felt like I was in the real race — I felt all of the emotions that you feel when you cross the finish line.”

It’s been a few weeks since that Sunday run — which Umpierre calls the “Friendship Marathon” — and Umpierre still gets a lump in her throat when she talks about the kindness and effort shown by her friends on that day.

And as far as the homemade medal she received? It now holds a special place among her treasure trove of hardware, Umpierre said.

“I’ve done Chicago and Berlin — Tokyo was supposed to be my third (major marathon) — and I have a wonderful frame where I hold those two special medals,” Umpierre said. “This medal will go over there — it belongs over there.”


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