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Passion for running inspires teacher — and his students

Windsor resident Bob Shebest does a light sprint at Foothill Regional Park in Windsor on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Shebest is an ultramarathoner and will compete in a 50-mile race this weekend at Lake Sonoma.

By Kent Porter / The Press Democrat
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 1:14 p.m.

WINDSOR — Her name is Samantha and she is a sixth-grader at Windsor Middle School and on this day she is sitting in Bob Shebest's math class.

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Windsor resident Bob Shebest does a light sprint at Foothill Regional Park in Windsor on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Shebest is an ultramarathoner and will compete in a 50-mile race this weekend at Lake Sonoma.

By Kent Porter / The Press Democrat

“Samantha,” begins Shebest, “you have been way out in front of everyone all year. But now people are starting to catch up to you. Re-apply yourself. Focus. Stay ahead. Stay in front.”

Samantha will roll her eyes, as everyone sooner or later does in any math class taught by Shebest.

“Oh, here we go again, the running thing,” Samantha will say. “Why is it always about the running?”

Samantha will grin. Her classmates will grin. Shebest will grin. They know the drill. They know the metaphor. They know Shebest, 39, is a runner of significance.

He once completed the Boston Marathon in 2 hours and 39 minutes. He has done more than 50 marathons. He will run this Saturday in the pre-eminent 50-mile race in America, the Lake Sonoma 50. He is an endurance coach as well, and will have two runners in next Monday's Boston Marathon.

What most of his students probably don't know but will not be surprised to learn: Parents have called Shebest to thank him for using the running metaphor in class, as it has made it easier for their child to grasp responsibility and urgency in their class work. It is not an idle, throwaway expression for Shebest that serves only the moment.

“When I run, I'm recovering from teaching,” Shebest said. “When I teach, I am recovering from running.”

It is logistical suicide to lump all endurance runners together as obsessive compulsives in search of pain and suffering. Truth to tell, they all are snowflakes, each different, and Shebest makes no attempt to hide his individuality.

“Beer is good.” Those are the very first words on Shebest's blog. The very first words.

Here are some other words: “I don't enjoy suffering ... It's not about suffering for me ... I do everything I can not to give it (pain) too much attention.”

What a minute! Shebest likes beer, is not into suffering? Are we talking about a guy playing slow-pitch softball or a guy who has run 700 miles and climbed 130,000 feet since January to prepare for the Lake Sonoma 50?

What's next, dude? You'll probably list your priorities.

“My first priority is my wife,” said Shebest, 5-foot-9, 152 pounds. “My next priority is my teaching. Then comes coaching. Then comes running.”

Shebest is giving “zealot” a bad name. True, he said his friends tell him all the time that he doesn't give himself a break from his schedule, up to 50 hours a week as a math teacher, endurance training three days a week, working with his 10 clients and, of course, giving Amanda, his wife, all the care and affection necessary to complete this sentence: Happy Wife, Happy Life.

“I wanted to run the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail this year,” Shebest said. “To me, it's the best race. But it's 100 miles and I know I had to sell it a little. So I waited until Amanda had a couple of glasses of wine and then I broke the news to her. She is very understanding.”

Amanda knows her husband doesn't wake up in the morning with his feet twitching to hit some asphalt and dirt. Shebest looks for balance in his life. He enjoys spearheading “Spartan Stampede” every year at Windsor Middle, a fund-raising run for the kids. To his clients, Shebest enjoys passing along everything he has learned since his first marathon.

“I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever done,” he said. To go from that abject misery after running 26.2 miles to running 100 miles around Lake Tahoe — and looking forward to it by the way — is a journey more of self-discovery to Shebest than anything else.

He found nutrition, exercise, planning, sleep, research, all of them melding together into the perfect three-word sentence, three words than unite all athletes, amateur or pro, beginner or seasoned veteran.

“Waves of elation.”

When his run is going right, when he is using the right amount of calories at the right running pace, the waves of elation come one rapidly following the other, Shebest becomes the baseball hitter who hits the ball on the bat's sweet spot. The ball goes and Shebest goes as well, flowing smoothly, seemingly without effort. The baseball hitter will tell you he didn't feel the ball hit his bat, he hit it so squarely. Shebest will tell you the same thing about the ground, his shoes don't feel it, as if somehow he is running on air.

“I'm an existentialist,” he said. He needs experience, whether it's at Lake Sonoma or the classroom. Life is not a spectator sport for him. He is a participant, active and involved. His students see that passion in his classroom. When he tells a kid who is struggling in class that there's a hill up ahead, get ready to climb, he presents it as an opportunity, not an impediment.

“I've always been drawn to adventure,” Shebest said.

Every teacher and every runner will know what that means.

(You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.)

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