Written by Andrew Ottoson Wednesday, 25 April 2007 10:30
Todd Lehman’s 13-month marathon challenge ended April 16 at the Boston Marathon. Along the way, he has been raising awareness for a prison-visitation ministry. Andrew Ottoson / Free Press
Local youth pastor completes a challenge of body and soul
For more than a year, Hillsboro resident Todd Lehman has been covering a lot of ground in Marion County and around the country.
Lehman is best known locally for his work as youth pastor for First Mennonite and Trinity Mennonite churches.
But the Kidron, Ohio, native has been working on a project of mythic proportions: running a marathon per month for over a year.
Fittingly, the Boston Marathon, held for 111th consecutive year last Monday, brought Lehman’s odyssey to a close.
“(Boston) was the last one, the culmination,” he said. “I’ve done 13 in 13 months.”
Lehman began with a race in Abilene in April 2006, then ran marathons in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas before traveling to Massachusetts.
“Part of what makes (Boston) special is that it is the longest continuously running road-race in the world,” Lehman said. “There are only a few marathons that require athletes to qualify in order to run, and Boston is one of those.
“That makes it unique in the sense that everyone who runs it has ‘earned the right’ to be there,” he said.
Even with the qualification requirement, 20,000 runners take part.
Lehman said many of the entrants “are real serious runners, people who will run 18 to 20 miles and if their time isn’t going to be what they want it to be, they’ll just quit—not because they can’t finish, but because they’re just not happy with how it goes.”
In his second run at Boston, Lehman’s approach put less emphasis on time than on the race itself.
“I felt really good about how it went,” he said. “My primary goal was to feel good throughout the whole event. Last time I ran it, two years ago, I felt bad for most of the second half of the run.”
Lehman covered the 26.2-mile distance in 3 hours, 57.59 minutes.
“This time I felt good,” he said. “It wasn’t a (personal record) or anything, but I was quite happy with that. Especially considering the conditions.”
While not ideal, the 50-degree drizzle barely dissuaded the dedicated runners who made the pilgrimage to Boston, including two other runners from Hillsboro, Marlys Plett and Tam Perry.
In the bare fact that so many make the trip, the devotion to running that marathoners display is obvious. But what inspires such devotion is less obvious.
So causes a person to fly hundres of miles to run a couple dozen more?
“Generally speaking,” Lehman said, “I run because I feel good while I’m doing it. Having done a long run—a 10-miler or a 12-miler—it just feels good.
“Beyond that, sports has always been a part of my life,” he added. “This is one way I can stay in touch with that part of my life without needing to be part of a team. Once you get out of school, staying with a team is hard to do.
“Running is easy to coordinate because you only have to find time for one person instead of 12.”
Lehman said he has learned over the past year that part of the challenge is to learn how his body responds to marathon races and training.
“I had to learn what kind of routine to be in day-to-day, over a week’s time or a month’s time, what food I’d need, and how to best nourish myself. That kind of thing.”
Sometimes the hardest part has been finding the time to train.
“Running marathon takes a lot of time with all the training,”he said. “This was a time in my life when I thought I’d have the time.”
Lehman has now run 17 marathons.
“I ran my first one in South Bend, Indiana, in 2002,” he said. “Actually, that’s still my fastest time, 3:01.”
The training regimen he adopted makes a Bowflex infommercial look like a walk in the park.
“For the last year, I’ve done a lot of 10- to 15-mile runs,” he said. “When I was feeling the best, I’d do 10 to 15 miles three or four times a week, with one or two four to eight-mile runs mixed in. I could tell you exactly because I write everything down on the calendar.”
Lehman’s running log add up to 1,475 miles.
But soon after he began, he thought, “This would be more meaningful if there were a cause involved.
So Lehman has been raising money and awareness for M2, a prison visitation ministry that is part of an offender-victim reconciliation program supported by volunteers from around the area who visit prisoners in Hutchinson.
Apart from his chosen cause, Lehman cites several people who have been influential in his commitment to running.
“Early in my life, my oldest brother was a role model,” he said. “Here in Hillsboro, it has been inspiring to see guys like Randy Wiens and Glen Kliewer and Bob Woelk, who just run because they love it. To me they model a lifestyle of being active and healthy.”
Lehman offered a bit of advice to those who are interested in learning to run long-distances
“If someone picks up the paper and says ‘Hey, now I’m interested—how do I get started?’ they should look for someone who has done it before, or even just pick up something like a runner’s world magazine.
“My fiance—Julie Stultz—trained for the half-marathon in Phoenix, and she had never run farther than five miles in one shot,” he added. “A half is a good distance to start working toward, or even end with.
“You just have to try it.”