New to running, man jogs 35 miles on Frisco Highline to raise Alzheimer's awareness
In late 2019, Mark Applegate shared with the News-Leader what his family was going through with his mom having end-stage Alzheimer's disease.
At the time, Applegate weighed about 360 pounds.
When the pandemic hit a few months later, Applegate became increasingly concerned about his weight.
"I thought if we are going to be in this lockdown thing for a while and I'm going to be sitting in the house eating all the time, I better come up with a game plan," Applegate said.
Applegate joined Weight Watchers, which was meeting via Zoom due to social distancing recommendations.
"I walked the track during my Zoom meetings," he said. "I'd hold my phone up in front of me. It looked a little goofy, but it worked fine."
Since his mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago, Applegate has worked to raise awareness about the disease and dementia as well as advocate for the Alzheimer's Association.
As he became more serious about his fitness, Applegate began thinking of ways he could combine these two passions.
"I've been involved in volunteering for the Alzheimer's Association for some time. They have two different big fundraisers every year," he said. "One of them is called The Longest Day, which is tied to the summer solstice, June 20."
For that fundraising opportunity, people are encouraged to do an activity for a long time — a marathon, of sorts — on or around June 20 in honor of their loved one who has Alzheimer's. It can be anything from playing video games to fishing, Applegate explained.
Participants promote their "marathon" and solicit pledges from friends and family.
"I was already walking a little bit and thinking, 'What kind of stuff could I do?'" he said. "(My mom) has always been an outdoors person, never really a runner but a walker. She always walked. Back when she was well, she would walk three to five miles almost every day."
By this time, Applegate had picked up the pace a little and started jogging. He lives near the Frisco Highline Trail in Bolivar, the perfect trail for someone looking to get in some miles.
About six months ago, Applegate decided he'd "pull a Fonzie on Happy Days and jump a shark."
He started collecting donation pledges from people, promising he'd attempt to run the entire Frisco Highline Trail.
And that is exactly what Applegate did on Saturday, one of the hottest days of the year so far.
(The trail runs 35 miles from Springfield to Bolivar. A true marathon is 26.2 miles.)
Applegate got started around 5:30 a.m.
"It was nice that early in the morning. My intent was to get done as much as I could get done before it got hot," he said. "I'm not fast anyway. I'm at best a 'dad bod.' I'm not a runner type. But I tried to blast through as much as I could early, which is apparently not what you are supposed to do when running a long run like that."
Applegate figures his pace throughout the first 10 miles or so was about a 12- to 13-minute mile, a bit faster than what he normally runs.
"As it got hotter, obviously it slowed me way down, and I ended up walking segments and running segments," he said. "I got to Springfield at about 5 p.m., so it was a little under 12 hours."
His wife and kids met him at five different spots along the trail to refresh his hydration pack, bring food and supplies, and offer encouragement and moral support.
"I drank 13 liters of water," he said. "I stayed good and hydrated because it was hot."
Applegate's fundraising goal was $5,280. He's almost to $5,600 and plans to continue to collect donations for another week or two. He plans to split the donations between the Alzheimer's Association and SeniorAge.
He's dropped 120 pounds
Though he'd been walking for a while, Applegate's training for his ultramarathon kicked off in February. That's when he really started jogging and running.
During the week, he'd be on a treadmill at Planet Fitness from 4-6 a.m. He'd shower at the gym and be at work by 7 a.m.
On the weekends, usually Saturdays, Applegate would be on the Frisco trail for his weekly long run.
The novice runner said he's been following Jeff Galloway's Run Walk training plan, which has him running or jogging for 25 minutes and then fast walking for five minutes.
"I've got a lot of friends that actually do run for real and do marathons all the time. I've been picking their brains a lot," he said.
He continued to build mileage on those weekly long runs until he got to 31 miles two weeks ago. Then he tapered his long run to 13 miles to rest and prepare for Saturday's ultramarathon of 35 miles.
Throughout his training, Applegate has dropped about 120 pounds. He now weighs in the 230-range.
"I'm very happy with it. I am pleasantly surprised," he said. "On Weight Watchers when you exercise, you get extra points. I can actually eat 10,000 calories a day if I wanted to."
When he completed his run on Saturday, Applegate said he felt "kind of emotional" but good physically.
He's got some blisters on his feet and a few "runners' toenails."
"I'm not going to win any foot modeling contests," he said on Monday.
Applegate said he plans to continue running and jogging. He's already planning an even longer route for next year's The Longest Day fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association.
At different times during his 35-mile run, Applegate stopped to record videos about Alzheimer's disease and dementia to share on his Facebook page and his blog digitalcornbread.com.
"I wanted to make it into a little bit of a teaching opportunity, too, because I love to talk about Alzheimer's," he said. "It is something that literally tens of thousands of people in the Ozarks are affected by and that many more are going to be affected by it that have no clue what they are going to be in for."
"I hate that deer-in-headlights look that so many people have when they don't have any idea and suddenly their mom or grandma start having problems," Applegate continued. "They don't know what to expect. So if I can teach them a little bit in the process, that is what I want to do."
His message to the public
Although he's happy with his weight loss and overall improvement to his fitness, Applegate is mostly interested in educating people about Alzheimer's and dementia.
Here's what he'd like people to know:
1. If your loved one has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, focus on what is left with that person and not with what memories are missing.
"If you haven't seen your loved one with dementia in a while and they can't remember your name or who you are, you can let the whole visit get ruined by the fact that you are sad about that piece of them," he said. "Say something funny that they laugh at and you'll see the old person is there, for lack of a better term."
"You can reminisce about the past later on after they are gone," he said. "Focus on the now and love them exactly like they are. Soak up the time you have left."
2. "What's good for your heart is good for your brain. Take care of your blood pressure, blood sugar, exercising and diet," Applegate said. "I've been kind of a bad example of that for most of my life, but I'm definitely more focused on it now."
3. The Alzheimer's Association's 24-7 help line is 1-800-272-3900. This line is answered by experts in the field of caregiving, Applegate said.
"If a person has a loved one that is wandering at 2 a.m. and you are like, 'What on earth do I do?' you can call them for tips."
4. If a person begins noticing memory issues, get tested for Alzheimer's disease.
"Not just senior moments, for lack of a better term, that we all have," Applegate said. "We have all left our keys somewhere. But when we are forgetting what our keys are for — there's a difference between losing your memory and having a forgetful moment here and there. Some things we shouldn't be able to forget."
If the disease is caught early, there are treatments that might not extend the person's life but can extend the early period of the disease when they have more of their memory.
Also, if a person catches the disease early, it gives them a chance to get their affairs in order, make plans for the future and have conversations with their family members about their wishes.
Learn more at www.alz.org.