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The 100-marathon man

A Kaiser Permanente physician completes 100 marathons in 13 years in a quest to stay fit and healthy. Pictured, Joel Weber, MD, crosses the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2019, his 12th finish in that race and his 90th overall marathon.

Like many people in their midlife years, Joel Weber, MD, an anesthesiologist at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, knew he wasn’t in the best shape.

“I needed a fitness program in my mid-40s, because I was out of shape and a little depressed,” said Dr. Weber, who is the assistant physician in charge of Medical-Legal and Compliance at the hospital.

Around the same time, Robert Pearl, MD, then CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, started promoting running for health. This encouraged Dr. Weber to start running again.

Although he ran a lot during college, it had been more than 20 years since he ran with any regularity. At age 45, he signed up for and ran a local 5K run.

Encouraging words

“It was painful, I was breathing hard,” he admitted. With encouragement from colleagues, though, he kept going.

A year after his first 5K, Dr. Weber registered for his first half marathon in San Diego. After completing the race, it dawned on him that a marathon was possible, rationalizing that “it would only be a roundtrip half marathon.” Not long after, he registered for the 2007 San Francisco Marathon. In that race, he missed the renowned Boston Marathon qualifying time by just 9 minutes.

He kept up his training, feeling lucky that he didn’t experience many injuries.

“When you run long distance, there are typically around 5 injuries one can get, such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis,” he said. “But you can work through it.” He added that it’s important to gradually increase your distance when training and to add strength and flexibility exercises.

Dr. Weber shows off a plaque made by his wife commemorating 100 marathons.

New shoes are key

Today, he usually runs 5 days a week, with 2 of them devoted to longer runs.

During his 20-year break from running, Dr. Weber did stay active by hiking, biking, and strength training. Staying active, even if not in a structured program, helps to establish a baseline strength needed to get a running program started  —  or restarted.

His primary recommendation for anyone interested in running is to switch out your shoes often.

“One of the main reasons people get injured is due to repetitive stress motion,” he said. “I routinely switch out my shoes while I am training, because having different types of shoes helps to space out the weight and impact.”

His dedication to training eventually led him to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which he has since run 12 times.

Setting a goal

Still injury free, he decided to make 100 marathons his goal. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he had completed 96 of the 26.2-mile competitions. Sadly, all the races were cancelled in 2020, but that didn’t stop him from reaching his goal.

“I started to make my own courses and asked my family and friends to help by setting up aid stations along the way,” he said.

Dr. Weber ran on the American River Parkway on a 5.5 mile loop several times to meet the full marathon distance. He wanted to do his 100th marathon in Greece but had to cancel his trip due to the pandemic. Instead, he decided to return to where his marathon journey began and hit his 100th milestone marathon in San Francisco.

He credits colleagues, family, friends, and KP leaders he has worked with over the years.

“That was the motivation I needed,” he said. “Thirteen years later, 100 marathons!”

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