Walking the walk

Nancy Bender

Photo By Larry Dalton

In 1992, the greater-Sacramento-area chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s

Team in Training program first entered the Nike 26.2 Marathon. The chapter took 10 runners to San Francisco for the race to raise money to fund cancer research. This year, the same chapter hopes to raise $1.8 million for the society. Auburn resident

Nancy Bender is doing what she can to help. The 50-year-old nurse practitioner, personal trainer and aerobics instructor is training 32 Sacramento-area walkers for the marathon, which will take place in San Francisco in October.

You’re the area’s “walk coach” for the marathon?

Yes, I am.

What does that entail?

We meet twice a week, on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. And for about four months we do this, prior to the marathon. And we take them from the get-go—a lot of them right off the couch—and gradually increase their mileage and workout to the point where they can do the full 26.2 [miles].

What do they do to train for the event?

They are provided with a schedule monthly that tells them every day what they’re supposed to be doing in terms of training, and then we provide them with seminars: nutrition, physical therapy, sports psychology, and proper shoes and equipment.

And a marathon is something that an ordinary person can work up to in a few months?

Absolutely. We have some very de-conditioned people—that might be a polite way of putting it—that have really done very little exercise. And it’s so gradual that by the time they’re getting up to double digits in their workout, it’s not even an effort anymore. They’re feeling very proud, you know, and full of accomplishment. Plus, they’re raising money for a cure, so it’s a win-win situation for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and also the participants.

You’ve lost family to cancer, right?

My father-in-law to multiple myeloma in 1999 and my sister-in-law to leukemia in 2000.

And you’re also a nurse practitioner.

Yes, I am.

So, this event must have special meaning for you personally.


What do you think about while walking a marathon? I read that it takes about six hours to walk one.

Yeah, anywhere from about five-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half hours, depending on the person’s level of fitness. First of all, with the walkers, there’s a lot of camaraderie. They generally are walking with at least one other person or a group of people, so they’re very conversant during the whole thing, so that makes the time go by a little faster. For the runners, it’s pretty much an individual thing. But I think when the going gets tough, and they start getting tired, they all wear a hospital bracelet with the name of a person they’re honoring—they’re doing a marathon in their honor or in their memory. And I think reflecting on that, looking at the wristband, it puts things back into perspective and gives you the strength to keep going.

How many years now have you been doing this walk?

This is my third year.

And your husband, and is it your daughter …

Yeah, my daughter. She did the last one with us. My husband and I have done seven marathons. And our daughter did the Suzuki Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in June with us.

So, will they be doing this one with you?

My husband will be. And my daughter, she’s 17. … I think one was enough for her.

Is this something you’ll be doing in the future?

As long as my feet hold up.

And you’ll continue coaching?

As long as they want me. … We’re contractual, so it’s entirely up to the society whether they keep us or not, but I would love to keep doing it as long as I can.

What do you think new participants get out of it?

I think they, No. 1, become physically fit. They learn better eating patterns, hydration patterns. They make a lot of friends. And for those who are doing it because of a loved one having cancer, it’s a sense of pride for them, a sense of being able to do something positive to help.