Gary Spehar has traveled all over to compete in marathons.
His passion for running has even taken him to Boston 13 times (yes, 13) for the Boston Marathon.
But as he comes up on his 100th marathon, Spehar tells us he's happy to keep it local. He's saved the milestone for the Canton Marathon, taking place June 17.
Below, Spehar shares his thoughts on running — why he does it, what it means to him — and what events like the Canton Marathon mean to his community.
North Canton Patch: One hundred races sounds cool to me, but is it just a number to you or does it really mean something?
Gary Spehar: It does. I had run my first marathon when I turned 40 years old, and I never intended to run a certain number of them. But after I got over the soreness and fatigue of the first one, I realized how cool it was to finish, and I more or less got hooked and began running a few more and a few more and all of a sudden I reached 25 and then I reached 50 and lo and behold here I am on the brink of 100.
It means a lot to me, ... just because I've done it in a relatively short time frame, if you will — about 19 years. But it's really a milestone that I'm proud of as an athlete. I've always been a good athlete but not a great one. I could do pretty much every sport and have found at least in this one that I'm doing something that most people don't do, that a lot of people don't think about doing.
North Canton Patch: It's interesting that you got into running at 40 years old. What or who turned you on to it?
Spehar: I always enjoyed how I felt after running, but I never ran much of any distance. I would run a couple miles ... to get loosened up, to burn off stress. But I always enjoyed the feeling after. I was working with a gentleman and we got on the topic of running one day. He and I confessed to each other that we wanted to run a marathon but never did anything about it. We turned 40 the same year and decided to do training and aim for the Columbus Marathon that year. So it was a little bit of peer pressure. But four or five months before the marathon, he took another job in another state, so he has never run one. But I persisted and showed up in Columbus and got through it. And ultimately I enjoyed what I was doing.
North Canton Patch: Has anything changed, mentally or physically for you, since you first started running? Do you find that you really don't have to train much anymore?
Spehar: When they announced (the Canton Marathon), about two years ago, I was sitting at 84 marathons complete, so I had a ways to go to get myself positioned to run No. 100 in Canton. But I knew I would like to do it that way. I have been in a situation the last couple years ... where I've been running marathons during the fall and into the spring about every five to six weeks. So you have to keep in shape, but when you're running them that frequently, you really have to slack off to fall out of shape, too. So it's kind of a continuous thing for me, the way I've been approaching it. But if you take some time off in the summer ... when you come back to that first one in the fall you better have done your work because it takes time to commitment to get up to speed and go that distance.
North Canton Patch: What's running mean to you? Is it more about your health, having a hobby, or is it something more?
Spehar: First of all, you go through life and you achieve things. We all have jobs and at the end of six months or at the end of the year, you're evaluated and you may get an "atta boy." When you're doing great things, you get a pat on the back. But the next day they're yelling at you about something that didn't get finished. You achieve things in life but rarely do you step back and recognize the fact or other people step back and recognize the fact. With a marathon, when you cross the finish line you know you did your best. You know that you really dedicated yourself and that you've achieved something special. And on top of that, someone hangs a medal around your neck. It's instant recognition. And it's self satisfaction (that lasts three or four days until, of course, you go back to work).
Another thing that's important: What you put into a marathon really flows into other aspects of your life. It's all about discipline to get out and train almost every day. It's about running the distance when you don't feel like doing it, eating responsibly and those sorts of things that aren't confined to running. You gain energy, you gain fitness, and mentally you're sharper. I find at my age, particularly now where I'm in an industry where I work with lots of young, smart technology people, that I can keep up because I run, and I really kind of gain energy and I gain stamina, and that just applies to your whole life and everything else you do.
When you train for and finish a marathon, you will likely realize that as a person you are capable of more than you thought. You gain confidence in the fact that you can stretch yourself and like the discipline, the stamina and the energy you gain from training and competing, that confidence is entirely applicable to everything you do.
North Canton Patch: Do you have any expectations heading into the Canton Marathon? ... Maybe placing first?
Spehar: I'm an old guy, so there's no way I will even come close to winning it. When you're my age, you just want to finish. On top of that, I want to enjoy myself. There's going to be lots of family and friends along the course and at the finish line. That's going to make it special for me. I want to be deliberate about putting in a good time. On the other hand, I want to walk away and remember how it was that day. I want to finish it, first of all, and enjoy it. I have a secret number I'd like to get relative to time, but that's between me and me right now.
North Canton Patch: Anything you'd like to add, Gary?
Spehar: I'd like to invite people who have run but aren't committed to showing up in Canton and doing the 10K or half if they're capable, to consider it and really support this because it will be a special day for Canton and for everybody that's running. And I hope that excitement carries over into future years because marathons are great events. They bring people together — as volunteers, as runners and even spectators. Hopefully this is like Hall of Fame weekend. This is another opportunity for Canton and the communities of the surrounding areas to just bind together and just enjoy the event.
GARY SPEHAR, AT A GLANCE
Name: Gary Spehar
Hometown: North Canton
Family: Wife Lee; son Andrew, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University; daughter Natalie, soon-to-be graduate of the University of Maryland
Occupation: Information technology architect at Progressive Insurance
Editor's note: Interested in knowing more about others running in the Canton Marathon? Our North Canton Patch blogger and employee also is training for it! Find her blogs in our Local Voices section on North Canton Patch.