Running a Marathon for PKD

Published on March 30, 2021 | What comes to mind when you think of ways to raise awareness of PKD? Attending the Walk for PKD, posting kidney facts on social media? As the spring weather settles in, there’s another active way to support awareness—running a marathon for PKD. And Heather Gillis is a veteran at running for PKD.

How did you get involved with the PKD Foundation?

Heather: We got involved with the PKD Foundation after our son, Bowen, died in 2011. We wanted to give meaning and purpose to his life, so we began raising money and awareness for the Foundation by hosting silent auction banquets and running races.

NYC Marathon

NYC Marathon 2014

What made you decide to run a marathon for PKD?

Heather: To raise money for the Foundation in honor of our son, Bowen, and to get closer to finding a cure.

Have you run a marathon for PKD before? If so, what was the experience like?

Heather: I ran the NYC Marathon in 2014. We’ve also created our own races in which we raised money. We formed a team that ran the 2012 Arizona half Ironman, run in relay teams, and I’ve also and a half marathon in Alaska.

During the pandemic, has it been hard to train for a marathon? What are your tips?

Heather: Yes and no. We live near a trail system so I have easy access to run outside. However, I do live in Colorado at 6,500 feet elevation, and the weather has been cold and with lots of snow. I’ve been doing core workout training and have access to a treadmill. My tips are to stay on a routine/schedule, do meal planning to get adequate nutrition, find a friend or two to train with and keep you accountable, and to create a good training program/schedule that fits your level of experience.

Are there other PKD awareness events you take part in besides marathons for PKD?

Heather: I’ve participated in a few of the PKD walks, I’ve attended the National Convention in Kansas City before and met other parents with children who have PKD. I am also a part of a Facebook group of mothers who have lost a child to PKD.

New York marathon

Heather at the NYC Marathon

Anything else you’d like to share?

Heather: This will be my second time running the Chicago Marathon and my fifth overall marathon. When I was 24 years old, I participated in Chicago for the first time in 2000. Chicago was the first marathon I participated in and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t run another marathon (San Diego, California) until after our son died in 2013.

To my surprise, I qualified for the Boston Marathon and was accepted in 2013 to run. This was the year of the Boston bombings. We were standing only a block away from where the first bombs went off. The experience was surreal and life-changing. I knew I had to keep running and not let fear stop me. The next year I signed up for the NYC Marathon (2014), and I was so glad I did. It was an amazing experience to meet other runners running for PKD. Running has been a way for me to heal, spread awareness, raise money for PKD, and honor our son’s life.


There are only two more days to claim your spot in the Chicago Marathon! Register before March 31 and help us #endPKD.


  1. Nicole

    Do you have a team for the Boston Marathon? If so, what is the fund raising commitment?

    • PKD Foundation

      Hi Nicole, sorry, we only have a team for the Chicago Marathon. Please email if you’d like to connect with us.


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