Saddleback’s marathon man completes Long Beach Marathon

Ken Lee participating in the 2013 Long Beach International City Bank Marathon. (courtesy of Antraneise Jackson)

Shirley Smith

As Ken Lee steps over the finish line, of the Long Beach Marathon, he feels a sense of relief and accomplishment despite the pain. This year the run started before daybreak with an estimated 25,000 runners and ended for Lee with his elapsed time of 04:30:09:994. He came in number 1, 293 in his division, placing him number 62 in his age group.

Lee said keeping hydrated and taking an energy gel every four miles kept him in good shape throughout the race, but the 55-year-old college instructor recalls wanting to quit around mile 21 of the 26.2-mile run. With so many people counting on him, he managed to push past the pain.

“After the 14 mile mark, the pain started setting in. Mile 21 to mile 24 was uphill, and I could not keep up with the pace setter due to a previous knee problem and a twisted hip from last night’s run. It was a humbling experience,” he said. “That pacer flag just kept getting further and further away.”

Regina Lynch, a marathon runner and student of the landscape design program said, “I was very proud of him for signing up for his second race and combining his love of running with our trail project. I was happy to sponsor his effort.”

This is Lee’s second marathon this year. He entered his first last March where he ran under 5 hours in the Los Angeles Marathon.  Lee had to take a physical before his trainer would consider training him. Attempting a marathon with no previous experience  at his age and only four months training, seemed impossible.

“Not one person told me that it was a good idea.” Lee said. “They all said I was crazy because of my age.”

Lee believes in being an example for others and tries to be a positive influence in the classroom and on campus. His main objective was to show students they can do anything.

“First stop saying you can’t do it, second believe you can and third just do it,” Lee said addressing his students. ” You can do anything you want, you live in the best country in the world.

Ryan Franz, a 28-year-old engineering major, has been in the horticulture and landscape design program for three years and recalls, “The first time I met instructor Lee something shifted inside me…he is my hero. I encourage you to just sit in one of his classes and feel the love, passion, knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm.”

Wearing a T-shirt, printed and designed by the graphic design class led by instructor Will Baldwin, advertising the Saddleback College Arboretum Trail Project was Lee’s second objective in running the marathon. His pledges brought in $600 the day of the race and donations are still coming in.

“Ken Lee’s willingness to increase the Arboretum Trail’s visibility through marathon sponsorships helps ensure the viability of the project,” project specialist Michelle Mereks said.

Korean born, Lee moved to the U.S. in 1981 and became a principle in one of the largest landscape design companies in the world, but came to teach at Saddleback College in 1991 part-time after work, then retiring from the corporate world two years ago when he became a full-time instructor armed with his bucket list.

The Los Angeles Marathon in March was high on his list since he had to do it while he was still physically able. Running 5 miles two times a week and 12-15 miles on the weekends helped him run it in less than five hours.

Checking off the first venture on his bucket list last January was Angkor Wat in Cambodia, first a Hindu, then a Buddhist temple and the largest religious monument in the world.

Next on his list is to climb Machu Picchu in Peru, a 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 meters above sea level.

“We can either hike from the bottom, which will take three days or take a train half way and climb the rest,” he said. ” We haven’t decided which yet.”

Korean culture kept Lee from the kitchen growing up, but has recently learned some baking techniques from his wife. They are planning a trip to Tuscany so he can learn to make pasta from the masters in Italy.

“I want to get into the joy of cooking,” he said. “The original place for pasta is where to learn to make pasta, plus we can see the country.”

Lee admits his bucket list is pretty long, which means he might have to be with us for a long, long time.

To donate to the Arboretum trail, go to.

Ken Lee, 55, a horticulture and landscape design instuctor at Saddleback at the Long Beach Marathon fininsh line, Oct. 13 (Courtesy of Ken Lee)

Ken Lee crosses finish line in Long Beach Marathon Oct. 13. (Courtesy of Ken Lee)

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