NYC Marathon serves a purpose for Ahlers
FDSH graduate raises money for children’s cancer center in Africa
NEW YORK — He didn’t do it for attention, financial gain or career advancement.
This wasn’t about ego or adoration. Time was a measuring stick, but ultimately, that didn’t matter, either.
Fort Dodge native Ben Ahlers participated in his first New York City Marathon to very little fanfare earlier this month. Ahlers, a professional actor who now lives on the Lower East Side, had altruistic intentions in mind when he first signed up for the most challenging physical assignment of his life this past summer: a 26.2-mile trek through the five boroughs of the city that never sleeps.
The 25-year-old Ahlers made sure his commitment to the race — an idea sparked and then advanced by ongoing conversations with a workout partner months ago — stayed firm and unwavering. The 2015 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate pledged his entry in support of “Shoe4Africa,” an organization committed to building the first cancer hospital in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.
“In order to participate, you either had to qualify or partner with an accredited charity,” Ahlers said. “I’d always been intrigued by competing in a marathon — particularly this one. I was never much of a runner (as a Dodger athlete). Ask any of my (former) coaches. But I’m kind of a restless spirit when it comes to challenging myself beyond conventional limits and figuring out what’s inside of me that I haven’t accessed yet.
“If I signed up for this strictly for selfish reasons, it would have been easy to (come to the conclusion that) the training was too much and ultimately bow out. Raising money for the first children’s cancer center in East Africa was a great way to put some perspective and motivation on what I was doing. If there’s anything we’ve learned since the start of the pandemic, it’s how truly fortunate we are to have access to quality health care here. We tend to take it for granted. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, and it really makes you appreciate more and more what we have back home. It’s a big world out there, and the sense of obligation to help in your own way is something I’ve taken away from my trips elsewhere.”
Ahlers set a goal of raising $3,000 online. He surpassed that mark by nearly 32 percent, accruing $3,954.
As for the race itself, Ahlers wasn’t sure what to expect from his maiden marathon voyage. He fared well, though, finishing in 3:42.28 — placing 4,235th in a field of 24,947. His time was in the top-quarter for his gender, and top third for the 25-29 male age group.
“I trained seriously for over three months, and had a lot of variation in my preparation,” Ahlers said. “When you have hours centered around just you and your thoughts, there’s a certain amount of both physical and mental focus that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle once (race day) arrived. So I was really happy with– and a little surprised by — my time.
“I initially set a goal of four hours, but a buddy of mine pressured me into shooting for 3:45. Fortunately, I never really hit a wall and was able to stay loose and present the entire time. I really think the opportunity to get to know the city even more motivated me in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the race itself happened. You hit every area of New York City (during the Marathon) and gain even more appreciation for how diverse and sprawling the area is. It can be pretty overwhelming for someone who grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa. You see all facets and walks of life. It was an amazing experience and made me fall in love with the city all over again. Runner’s high is definitely a thing.”
Ahlers was thankful his family made the trip to support him on his big day.
“That made a huge difference, absolutely,” Ahlers said. “I’ve been away from them a lot this past year, so it was really cool to have them be a part of it all. This was the 50th anniversary, and the first one since the pandemic (the 2020 race was cancelled). So the excitement and life around the event and its comeback was a big deal.
“My family was a positive distraction, so to speak. I’m sure a lot of them still picture me as a duck-footed kid trying to steal second base (in a youth baseball game) when it comes to my running ability. So I think I was able to prove something to them as much as I did to myself.”
On the acting front, Ahlers’s new project, “The Gilded Age,” premieres Jan. 24 on HBO platforms. Ahlers plays the character Jack Treacher in an ensemble cast for the series, which is set in 1880s New York City and written and produced by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
“I’m very excited for this; like (the New York City Marathon) it was a big step up and out of my comfort zone,” Ahlers said. “I’ve been learning a lot and really trying to push myself and my boundaries, taking on projects I care about that will keep me motivated without spreading myself too thin. It’s all about pace and finding balance. Staying present in the moment.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed the show will be well-received.”