Katherine Hughes Beiers has no awards, no trophies or certificates, for athletic achievements during her high school days. There were none to be had for the 1950 graduate of Langdon St. Alphonsus High School.
“I think we learned folk dancing in school,’’ Beiers said of activities available for females. “My father taught me how to golf. But there were no high school sports for women back then.’’
Beiers is more than making up for lost time in sports.
Last month, the 82-year-old was the oldest runner in the Boston Marathon. She’s no rookie to Boston; it was the 11th time she’s run the Boston Marathon, the first time in 2003 when she was 70 years old.
“I may be the only 55-year-old in the world who just ran a marathon with his mother,’’ said her son, John Beiers, who ran Boston for the 11th consecutive year.
“She’s kind of a celebrity at the Boston Marathon. She’s recognized by a lot of people when she goes back. She gets a special invitation to come back every year.’’
The grandma marathoner also is used to a question by fellow runners. “I get comments (about her age) all the time,’’ Katherine Beiers said, ‘’especially in races. Runners will go by and they’ll say, ‘Do you mind my asking’ and before they finish the sentence I tell them my age. That’s been going on for 15 years.’’
Home for Katherine Beiers is Santa Cruz, Calif. She’s lived there since 1967.
She raised three children (they were all younger than 3 when her husband, Gene, died in a plane crash in 1961 and she never remarried). She’s been active in politics, serving 16 years on the Santa Cruz city council, including two one-year terms when she was appointed mayor.
“She had to raise all three of us and she worked full time,’’ her son said. “You reflect back on your childhood, seeing the work and the responsibilities she had, and you appreciate all she did.’’
When her children were grown, Beiers began running when she was approximately 50 years old.
“I worked at the University of California in Santa Cruz,’’ she said. “It’s the most beautiful campus. I worked at the library and felt like I had to get outside more. I was yearning to do something. So over my lunch breaks, I started to run at the school’s track.
“It took me about four months before I could run a mile. But I found other runners, tried to keep up with them and got better and better. I loved running in the woods and on trails. That was recreation. But I also loved pushing myself in races. Something made me hungry for it. Running was rewarding from the start for me.’’
Beiers ran her first marathon at the age of 51. She’s run approximately 40 marathons in her life, as well as three 50-mile races and approximately twenty 50-kilometer runs.
She runs 40 to 55 miles a week when she’s training for a marathon. Otherwise, it is 25 to 30 hours a week. Two weeks after this year’s Boston Marathon, she logged 30 hours in a week.
“I’m slow. I don’t break down my body running,’’ she said. “So I can bounce back pretty quickly after a marathon.’’
The 4-foot-11, 100-pound Beiers has made concessions to the courses over the years. On the hilly Boston course, she never stops, but for the last several years she does walk up the hills. She finished this year in a time of 5:53.40.
John Beiers said part of the reason his mother is a good runner is her North Dakota roots, “the toughness she developed growing up there,’’ he said.
“At Boston this year, some of us went to the motel when we were finished, then we went back to watch mom at the finish line. It rained all 26 miles for her, with a strong wind. But she finished with a smile on her face. I had tears in my eyes watching it.
“She’s an inspiration for other runners. They look at her and see that it is possible to continue this hobby, this passion, for running into their 80s.’’
As for future running, Katherine Beiers isn’t ready to say enough is enough. She enjoys the sport. And those athletic awards that eluded her when she was a teenager in Langdon are now piling up, especially the crystal awards given out at Boston for first- and second-place age-division finishes.
“I will be going back to Boston,’’ she said. “I have nine trophies and 10 grandchildren. I need one more for them.
“As long as my body works, I’ll continue to run.’’