Sarasota resident Apolonio “Apollo” Lirio started running in marathons in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just four years later, on March 3, the 50-year old family dentist and father of three–who also happens to be the team dentist for the Riverview High School football, basketball and lacrosse teams–competed in and successfully completed the 2024 Tokyo Marathon. By doing so, he earned the Abbott World Marathon 6 Star Medal, a prestigious award given to marathon runners who successfully complete all six of the World Marathon Majors. These are the largest and most renowned marathons in the world–Chicago, Boston, New York, Berlin, London and Tokyo. 

Twelve years ago, Lirio and his family moved here from Philadelphia where they had been living for 16 years. An athlete for most of his life, Lirio participated in varsity sports in high school and college but like that of many responsible adults, his passion was laid aside as he settled into the routine of work and family responsibilities.

“During the pandemic, my business was closed, and life became very stressful for me and my family,” recalls Lirio, who as a dentist, was unable to shift into virtual work like many others, and found himself lacking sleep and purpose. “One day I saw this post online from the New York Marathon. With all the events and happenings across the world closing, the organizers posted that they would keep going by having a virtual marathon–gotta love New Yorkers, can’t tell them what to do–so I decided that I was going to do something I had never done, and that was to run a full marathon–26.2 miles!” The plan supplied Lirio with renewed energy and a goal. He ordered some shoes, researched training schedules, watched workout videos online and planned his race route through town on Google Maps. “I even dragged my wife, Stephanie, a board-certified psychiatrist and accomplished half marathoner, into this endeavor,” he adds. “On the day of the race, we woke up at 4:00am, packed up all our gear, and ran from our house on Honore to the Ringling Bridge and back. It took us about 9.5 hours of running through the empty streets of town, but we finished the 2020 New York Marathon right here in Sarasota! It was such an amazing feeling–I felt like my old self again.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

From that day on, Liro started keeping to a regular workout schedule and continued to run. When the world opened back up and live races resumed, he learned about the Abbott World Marathon Majors Challenge where competitors finish the 6 largest and most renowned marathons to join a class of less than 15,000 athletes from around the world.  

To date, Lirio has completed seven marathons: 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, 2022 Walt Disney World Marathon, 2022 Boston Marathon, 2022 TCS New York Marathon, 2023 TCS London Marathon, 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon and 2024 Tokyo Marathon. He successfully made the official time cutoffs in all of his races as a first-time marathoner–a very difficult task as a rookie runner in races that were filled with experienced runners. In Chicago, he finished about 30 minutes before the official cutoff with a time of 6 hours and 5 minutes. As he continued with his training, he was able to improve his time in each race. “I recorded my personal best time in my final Major, the 2024 Tokyo Marathon with a time of 5 hours and 24 minutes,” he says proudly.

Lirio’s regimen includes training four days a week, four months before a race, with most of his training being done during the week after work hours. With the help of a personal trainer, he’s learned about specific exercises and stretching techniques to help him perform better and avoid injury. “I typically would have workout sessions twice a week and run twice a week for 3-5 miles each session with a rest day on Friday,” he says. “Saturday mornings were for my long-distance training runs, anywhere from 10-20 miles.”

For those thinking of following his lead, Lirio says “Just do it. Run a 5K, a 10K or a turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning. Fun runs and races are a great way to be healthy and do something that’s really cool.” He credits running with putting him in the best shape of his life. “I have lost about 20 pounds, gotten stronger and I feel healthier. I love my life and I want to be able to enjoy every minute of it.” Looking back at his situation during the pandemic, Lirio knows he’s now in a much better place physically and emotionally. “I am very proud of myself. Five years ago, if you told me that I would finish the Boston Marathon, I’d tell you that you were crazy. Now, here I am, in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Hall of Fame.”