Peter Huemer competes at the 2006 Boston Marathon
By JULIE JAGSentinel Staff Writer
SANTA CRUZ â€” It happens at least once a race. A runner passes Katherine Beiers on her way to the finish line. As she does, she takes a quick sideways glance at Beiers, you know, just for curiosity's sake. But the sideways glance turns into a stare, and a head turn. The runner's pace slows just a bit.
Beiers knows what's coming next.
"I hope you don't mind me asking ...."
That's how they always start it, said Beiers, who gets the question almost exclusively from women.
"... but, how old are you?"
Beiers doesn't mind the prying. Not too many 73-year-old grandmothers run marathons. And even fewer run them at her quick pace.
Last year, at age 72, Beiers won the women's 70-plus age group at the Boston Marathon when she ran the 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 54 minutes, 52 seconds. She'll return to defend her title this year, joining 20 other runners from Santa Cruz County, including her son, in Monday's 110th annual race from Hopkinton, Mass., to Boston
Beiers has made a career of running for things and winning them. In 1989 she ran for the Santa Cruz City Council and was elected. She also came out on top when she ran for mayor of Santa Cruz in 1994 and 1999. Oh, and outside the political realm she's collected numerous other age-group awards with her fleet feet.
In fact, two weeks ago she won her age group in a foot race arguably more arduous than any marathon â€” the American River 50-mile Endurance Run from Sacramento to Auburn. That trail race took her more than 12 hours to complete, and Beiers expects it may have a negative effect on her ability to defend her Boston title. Still, she had to give it a shot.
"It's always fun," Beiers said of winning her age group in a race. Then, she grinned slyly and said, "It's more fun to beat the younger ones."
But Beiers wasn't always able to leap large sections of pavement in a single bound. In her younger days â€” her 40s â€” she struggled with completing a single mile.
Beiers was 48 and working as a librarian at UC Santa Cruz when she took up running to lose weight. Jogging the UCSC track during her lunch breaks, it took her three months to work up to running an entire mile. Getting to two miles took nearly twice as long.
Then someone suggested she try trail running, and suddenly Beiers started eating up the miles. She ran the Napa Valley Marathon, her first of approximately 25 marathons and 10 ultra marathons, at age 50.
She enjoyed the sport then, but she didn't expect to still be chugging along 23 years later. In fact, she remembers thinking that specifically after being passed at the finish of the Aptos Women's 5-miler later that year. When the woman ran by, she told Beiers not to worry because she was going to win the 60-69 age group, leaving Beiers as the champ in the 50-59 division.
"I thought, 'She's running in her 60s? You mean I'm going to have to run for another 10 years? I couldn't imagine it," Beiers said.
She almost didn't make it out of her 50s. Beiers' entree into the political realm when she was 57 nearly knocked her off her feet. With her election to the city council in 1989 came a myriad of late meetings, cocktail parties and projects that kept her reeling for nine years.
"I hardly ran at all," Beiers recalled. "The best thing that happened was my kids gave me a running clinic for Christmas. That put me back on track."
Or rather, on trail. Beiers does the majority of her running in local parks like The Forest of Nisene Marks and Fall Creek and Wilder Ranch state parks. She knows them pretty well since some of her "training" runs take her 70-plus-year-old legs on jaunts of more than 30 miles. In training for the American River run earlier this year, she recalled a seven-hour, 32-mile run in which she trudged through rain, mud and ankle-deep snow.
Sue Dunn, a Santa Cruz runner who will be racing in her first Boston Marathon this year, has tagged along with Beiers on a few training runs. Dunn said she is impressed that a 73-year-old woman can run hills with Beiers' vigor.
"She just keeps on going," said Dunn, noting they've had to cross creeks and scramble over fences. "My mother-in-law is the same age, and I can't imagine her doing that."
But Beiers isn't the bionic woman. She has a few scars to show for her 25 years of running. She has been bitten by a dog, has fallen more times than she can count and has torn the meniscus in both knees â€” most recently her right in 2004. She has recovered quickly, though. In 2005, a year after undergoing knee surgery, she notched her win at the Boston Marathon, a victory she puts on par with winning the mayoral race.
As a whole, Beiers believes more good than bad has come to her through running. For proof, she need only point to her age and her agility. Plus, she said, since those first short track runs 25 years ago, the sport has brought her happiness.
Longtime friend and fellow runner Holly Tyler said the fountain-of-youth effect running has had on Beiers is unmistakable. She has the energy and the adventurous attitude of someone half her age, Tyler said. And, she added, it's been good for Beiers' figure.
"Running up behind her in an event or seeing her from the back while she's running," Smith said, "you would never think she was 73 years old."
That explains why Beiers keeps hearing, "I hope you don't mind me asking...."
She hopes to keep hearing it for years to come.
"If I'm well," she said, "I'm there."
Contact Julie Jag at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Boston Marathon
Monday, April 17, noon
Route: Hopkinton to Boston, 26.2 miles
No. of entries: 20,000
No. of Santa Cruz County entries: 20
Records: Men's: Cosmas Ndeti Kenya, 2:07:15, 1994; Women's: Margaret Okayo Kenya, 2:20:43, 2002; Men's wheelchair: Ernst Van Dyk South Africa, 1:18:27, 2004; Women's wheelchair: Jean Driscoll United States, 1:34:22, 1994.
On the Web: www.bostonmarathon.org
Local runners: Katherine Beiers, 73, Santa Cruz; John Beiers, San Carlos S.C. High grad, 46; Mark Berlin, 50, Aptos; Andrew Campbell, 27, Aptos; Tim Campion, 38, Davenport; Elizabeth Devitt, 45, Santa Cruz; Debra Dill, 54, Santa Cruz; Sue Dunn, 50, Watsonville; Donna Florio, 57, Scotts Valley; Tom Gill, 50, Aptos; Greg Hales, 40, Aptos; Vicki Hawkinson, 50, Boulder Creek; Chris Hosmer, 47, Santa Cruz; Peter Huemer, 38, Santa Cruz; Ron Kobrine, 69, Aptos; Lynn Olavarri-Schmidt, 49, Scotts Valley; Alexander Reed-Krase, 23, Santa Cruz; Brian Schaeffer, 50, Aptos; Kevin Shannon, 47, Santa Cruz; Ron Smith, 57, Aptos; Mark Urlocker, 43, Scotts Valley.
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