Story by Megan Whitehead | Dec 28, 2016

Dr. Kevin Lease, from a non-runner to a marathon runner in 15 months.

Dr. Kevin Lease

As we roll out of the holidays — that most wonderful time of year when gaining weight never tasted so good — we’ve entered that other time of year. That time when we tell ourselves one thing and do something else entirely. When our resolve is tested and usually fails.

Losing weight: it’s the oldest resolution in the history of chubby humans, from the first curvy caveman to that person now in the mirror. Exercise is what we do to help exorcise those demonic extra pounds. Ever since that curvy caveman was chasing that even curvier cavewoman, running has been one of the exercises of choice.

That brings us to Kevin Lease, who’s hardly a caveman — he’s Dr. Kevin Lease, an internal medicine specialist with Capital Region Physicians. He chose to become a runner, but his story veers down a different path at this point. Yes, he wanted to shed a few pounds (even though he wasn’t noticeably overweight), but that’s not why he did it. And it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution made good either, because he started running in the heat of summer.

He was challenged by his 12-year-old son, who basically skipped the double-dog dare and went straight to the triple-dog dare in July 2015. An acquaintance of Lease’s had run a half-marathon, and dad made the off-the-cuff statement to his son, “I could do that,” even though the good doctor — who was 41 at the time — hadn’t been a runner his entire life.

His son begged to differ. “You can’t,” he said, and the game was on, the line in the sand was drawn, and the challenge was accepted. “I had to show him I was capable of it,” Lease says. “I couldn’t let that rest.”

Lease, whose mom was a jogger, grew up just outside of Seattle, where he became a Seahawks fan and an even bigger Mariners fan and played tennis in high school. When he was 10, he wanted to have a baseball card store; at 15, he wanted to be a guitarist in a rock band. Then he became a scientist in genetics research for 10 years before going back to medical school at MU to become a doctor.

“I had a family member who had a stroke and I felt guilty,” Lease says, “because I couldn’t care for him. So, I started volunteering at the hospital, and I enjoyed it. That led me to becoming a doctor.”

He’s obviously been goal-oriented all his life, but deciding to run 13 miles at age 41 when you’ve never run before? “When I first started, I was a lot heavier, and I could run about a mile, then I’d walk back,” says Lease, who would eventually lose 37 pounds to drop his weight to 175. “That was it, I’d be totally tired. I started doing that a couple times a week, and then I gradually started running the whole mile back and forth and kept gradually increasing it.”

Lease started training that summer. He’d get up some days at 3:30 a.m. for his run with a goal of running a half-marathon nine months later in St. Louis. Mission accomplished. He completed the course in two and a half hours, an average of 11 and a half minutes a mile. “I knew I could do it,” he says.

He finished 583rd out of 718 competitors of all ages and both sexes. But it really didn’t matter if he’d finished 718th — the fact is, he finished. “It certainly wasn’t any kind of breathtaking finish,” Lease says. “The challenge was completing the distance without walking. Anybody could walk it, but to be able to jog or run it, that was the challenge.”

His secret snack when running long distances? “I’d carry Swedish Fish with me. That’s what I’d eat to keep my energy up.” There you go, straight from the doctor’s mouth. Swedish Fish.

When Lease crossed the finish line, his wife, daughter, and that triple-dog dare son of his were waiting for him. It was the ultimate “Hah, I told you so!” moment for him. Or at least it could have been.

“It was on my mind,” he says, “but it was more on my mind when I was training. In the end, I knew I didn’t have to say it because I just did it, and the actions spoke the words. But it was a motivator to get out there and do the training.”

With the goal of running a half-marathon achieved, next came his own self-imposed challenge of running a full marathon, 26.2 miles, no triple-dog dare required. “I decided I was going to try and do it,” he says, “and I wasn’t sure if I really could, to be honest. It seemed kind of daunting.”

Lease read a beginner’s book about how to run and train for a marathon. Basically, the book said to have one long run a week, not to exceed 20 miles, and three shorter runs, totaling not more than 35 miles a week. He had seven months between the half-marathon and the Cowbell Marathon in St. Charles in October, where he finished 524th out of 544 runners, in a time of six hours, fifteen minutes. But again, he finished.

“I’d never run that whole distance in training [or in his life], so there was that element of the unknown: ‘Am I going to be able to do it?’” Lease says. He certainly was able to do it, culminating a process that had started with a goal of proving his son wrong and ended with Lease proving something to himself. He had gone from a non-runner to the marathon man.

You’d think this would be a great testimony to the durability of the amazing human body, that a person can pick up running at age 41 and be running a full marathon just fifteen months later. Well . . .  

“It is,” Lease says, “but I think it’s more of the mind part of it. If you make up your mind to do something, you can make it happen.”

So go ahead: set that goal and make that resolution — and keep it. For most of us, it certainly won’t be to run 26 miles, but even if it is, Kevin Lease is proof it can be done.