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Tom Mix, Published October 17 2013

Bison freshman sets lofty marathon goal

Fargo - Keith Lehman’s running career didn’t exactly take off at full speed.

It has been more of a progression, which is something the 18-year-old from north Fargo enjoys about the sport in which anyone can steadily improve by simply sticking with it.

Lehman, a freshman at North Dakota State, has progressed quite a bit since he began running competitively in middle school. He has big plans for his future.

Lehman has set a goal of running 100 marathons in his lifetime and hopes he can average two or more a year. He is set to run a half-marathon during Saturday’s Fargo Mini Marathon at Scheels Arena.

“Running makes my life overall feel more fulfilled,” said Lehman, who has completed two marathons and two half-marathons in his young career.

Lehman has come a long way from his first couple of runs with his father, Marty, in the summer months of 2007.

“It started out as a way to get healthier,” Lehman said. “My father was getting back into running after not running since high school. I went running with him one day, and I couldn’t keep up with him for the life of me. I was wore out and got really frustrated immediately after that run, but I kept going at it for some reason.”

That summer Lehman dropped weight and hit a growth spurt. By the time he entered seventh grade, he looked more like a runner.

In the spring of 2008 he tried out for the track and field team, where he caught the attention of longtime Fargo North cross country and track coach Gary Mailloux as well as assistant coaches Mark Landman and Rod Hardie.

“I don’t know what (Gary) saw in me, because I wasn’t a very good runner by any means, but he kept encouraging me to come back,” said Lehman, who attributes much of his success to Mailloux, Landman and Hardie.

Lehman joined the Spartans cross country team the next fall and became a contributor on both squads.

“We work with anybody and try to encourage everybody, but not everybody has the willingness to put in the time to make that commitment like Keith chose to do,” Mailloux said. “He was willing to put in the work and was dependable.

“He worked through the disappointments,” Mailloux added. Often when young people are trying a new activity, and it doesn’t give them immediate gratification or sense of achievement, they are inclined to turn away and find something else. Keith was willing to stay with it.”

Lehman graduated from North last spring and in June he ran the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn.

Entering the race, Lehman said he was confident he could set a personal record considering the previous marathon he had run was the Fargo Marathon as an eighth grader.

Lehman thought a 3-hour, 15-minute finish would be ambitious, but he decided to run with the 3:05 pace group and see where he would end up.

At the 10-mile mark, Lehman said something clicked that made him think he could go faster. By that point he was turning 6:30 mile splits at the 20-mile mark. When the body usually begins to fatigue and slow, Lehman got even faster.

Lehman ran miles 21-25 at 6:08 splits, and his final mile was just under six minutes.

The result was a time of 2:56:17, which qualified Lehman for the Boston Marathon. Lehman didn’t register for Boston, but is hopeful he can qualify again in the future and run the prestigious race.

“After the race I was too exhausted to be excited about it,” Lehman said. “I couldn’t express it. It took a few days for it to set in. It really reaffirmed that this is something I want to do the rest of my life. That was one of the best experiences of my life so far.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562