For most people, the idea of running a half marathon conjures up more reasons to avoid the long distance activity than participate, but for Buellton resident Peter Claydon, his reason to run far outweighed any excuse.

The 73-year-old first-time runner, says his decision to register for the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon on May 11 was prompted by some good old-fashioned peer pressure from his marathon-running friend, Lynette Hulbert.

Claydon says that Hulbert offered to pay his race entry fee if he would run with her. This piqued his interest.

"Being the cheapskate that I am," he said laughing, "it was too good an offer to refuse."

The avid horseman admits that he has never run for anything in his life, but the idea of running for a cause, appealed to his better senses.

A willingness to put himself through miles of "suffering" to raise money for the Santa Barbara Youth Project -- a charitable nonprofit that he and his wife Susan Miller, an equine specialist, began in 1996 -- became the motivating reason to face his fears.

Over the last 23 years, the organization has helped hundreds of disadvantaged and at-risk youth, many times referred by the courts, to cope with and overcome traumatic and often tragic life events through summer horse camps and after school programs, Claydon explained.

The spirited first-time runner said he got the word out on Facebook, asking people to sponsor each mile of his run to raise money for his nonprofit.

"I set myself an unrealistic goal of being able to do it in under 2.5 hours. I figured, it was a pretty safe bet that I wouldn't finish under that time," he recalled. "Besides, I've never run anywhere in my life, I ride horses. And it's for a good reason, because they're much better at running than I am!"

Claydon said within the first day they met their initial $1,000 goal; and deciding to up the ante, increased it to $3,000.

He says though he has never had any desire to run a half marathon, working with Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program and other equine therapy partners, became the driving force behind making it across the finish line -- not to mention the commitment to his sponsors.

"People paid money before I ran, so now I was beholden to them. I had to run and finish in that 2.5 hours," Claydon said.

Fundraising and running

Committed and admittedly unready, Claydon says he started his journey with research on the internet.

"I went online and found, 'How to run a half marathon for beginners,'" he said laughing, "and began 12-weeks before the race."

Looking back, he says he's not sure how he was able to pull it off.

Hitting the pavement in preparation, he remembers thinking to himself, "this is never gonna work."

Starting out with slow, small running sessions two times per week, he said that over time he noticed he became a little faster -- but still just couldn't understand why people do long distance running as a habit.

"It seems to me that it's a lot of work and a lot of solitude and I'm a fairly social person," Claydon said.

When the big day arrived, he remembers looking around and noticing that he was the oldest person in the race.

"I just went along with the pack," he said, further adding that was he was afraid to stop in fear of not being able to start again.

"I ran every hill except Chalk Hill, I was so tuckered I had to walk a little bit. Only for about 50 yards," recalls Claydon. "I just kept going, and thought, 'I've got to finish this!"

Much to his surprise, Claydon finished the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon as reportedly the oldest runner in the race with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 8 seconds, beating his personal goal.

By the end of the event Claydon had raised $6,000 for Santa Barbara Youth Project, well surpassing his fundraising goal as well.

Remembering the joy of having crossed the finish line, he says all the aches and pains he is still experiencing are worth it.

But then quickly adds, "I'm never going to become a runner by the way, it's not my new career." 

To learn more about the Santa Barbara Youth Project, visit http://www.sbyp.org/.

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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