Why I Run: Ming Chen of AMC's 'Comic Book Men'

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In his mid-30s and fresh off the birth of his first child, Ming Chen encountered what many eventually face at some point -- a mid-life crisis.

While some in that situation turn to expensive sports cars or a new hobby to deal with their conflicted feelings, Chen found running.

More recently, that running has taken on a greater role, one that helps him raise money for charity.

Among the thousands participating in the 2014 Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, Chen's face might be the most well known. He is one of the stars of the AMC reality show "Comic Book Men," which chronicles the daily happenings at a New Jersey comic book store owned by actor and filmmaker Kevin Smith.

Chen, however, will not be running the marathon as a celebrity. Rather, he'll be there to do his part in creating positive change.

"In the past, I just kind of ran for myself," he said. "I would compare my times and try to beat previous times.

"This year, I decided I wanted to put more of my efforts into raising money for charities. I think it makes it easier training and actually going and doing it if you're doing it for a cause and doing it to support someone."

When Chen lines up for the race May 4, he will be doing so for the Wayne Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to spreading awareness of commercial sexual exploitation of children and domestic minor sexual trafficking occurring within the United States. He has raised money for the group in his training and will accept donations through race day.

The marathon will be the fourth Chen has run in the past several years, but his story is far from that of a running aficionado.

He never ran cross-country or track in high school and detested the thought of running going all the way back to elementary school gym class.

While at the gym a few years ago, he became bored with running on the treadmill, opting instead to take his workout outside. That decision eventually led to running in a series of 5Ks, a distance he didn't feel like he could break until he was encouraged to venture into 10Ks and half marathons.

"If I want to do it at some point, I better do it now," he remembered telling himself.

Originally, Chen planned on running the Pittsburgh marathon with a friend. But when he was approached by Smith and Wayne Foundation president Jamie Walton about participating in the race to raise money for the charity, it took on a new purpose.

"It didn't take much to convince me," he said. "I didn't really hesitate. It was meant to be."

For years, Chen has been something of a jack-of-all-trades for Smith, working on his online properties and being the technical expert for Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, Smith's comic book store.

Chen's job is partially defined by an ability to do what few others are willing to, something that has translated to his marathon efforts for charity.

"If you look at the entire population overall, maybe 5 to 6 percent of everybody, or even less than that, have run full marathons," Chen said. "It's an effort. Not everybody can do it and once you complete one, people kind of look up to you."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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