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After earning spot in Boston Marathon, 40-year-old takes aim at New York City

With only two weeks of training, Derek Larson, who is stationed at Fort Benning, ran his first marathon in Afghanistan in 2009. Little did he know, he would become hooked on the sport.

When he began running marathons, his main focus was getting in shape. He weighed 225 pounds — far from where he was when he first became a Soldier, he said.

“Prior to (my deployment) I gained a lot of weight,” the 40-year-old said. “I told myself I wanted to get into shape and I didn’t want to just do it while I was deployed.”

Before redeploying in March 2009, Larson signed up for two marathons — the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which he finished Oct. 10. Larson ran 80 to 90 miles per week to train for Chicago. And after finishing the marathon with a time of 3 hours, 20 minutes, 26 seconds, he qualified for the Boston Marathon, which is in April.

Chicago was a learning experience, Larson said.

“I was at the point (in Chicago) where I went out too fast,” he said. “Up until mile 16, I was feeling very comfortable, then at mile 16, I could feel it coming and it hit me — bam! I hit a ‘wall.’ When you ‘hit the wall’, it’s hard because time adds up. You just want to stop. There is something in your head that says ‘I can’t go any farther,’ but then you realize you still have to finish.”

Larson said he was excited to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon.

“The Boston Marathon and the New York marathon are the ‘Super Bowls’ of running,” he said. “They are something every runner wants to compete in.”

Between now and the Boston race, he will set his sights on qualifying for the New York City Marathon. He has to finish a certified race in under 3:10 to qualify.

Larson has three marathons lined up to attempt the feat. He’ll run the Ridge to Bridge Marathon in North Carolina Oct. 30, the Soldier Marathon at Fort Benning Nov. 13 and the Tucson Marathon in Arizona Dec. 12.Through training and marathons, Larson now weighs 185 pounds. He said he is still working at decreasing his weight, but marathons have become much more than a way to lose weight.

“I am competitive and I like a good challenge,” he said. “I am always thinking, ‘What challenge can I work on next?’”

Larson said if you asked him a year and a half ago if he could finish a marathon, he would have thought it was an impossible task, but now, he looks forward to it.

Alice Pate, who runs with Larson in the Columbus Roadrunners Club, said she remembers when Larson first came to the club.

“I have definitely seen improvements in his running since he first joined the club,” she said. “He’s dedicated to running and from that, I can tell he really loves running.”Pate has been running in marathons about four years and has been to Boston. She said it won’t be an easy course because it’s mostly downhill, but she is confident Larson will do well.

Marathons are just the beginning, Larson said. He plans on running an ultra-marathon in February in Destin, Fla., and has a five-year plan of the races he wants to compete in.