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Runner Keeler Ramacier is ‘poster grown-up’ for Sunday’s women-over-40 marathon

Kelly Keeler came late to the games, but she's running in the More marathon in New York City on Sunday.
Kelly Keeler came late to the games, but she’s running in the More marathon in New York City on Sunday.

It’s been 37 years since a hair-coloring advertising campaign touted, “You’re Not Getting Older, You’re Getting Better.”

It was a bow to the horrifying notion that women become more interesting, attractive and substantial as they get a little bit of mileage on them. It came in 1971 as the women’s movement took hold and, oh so coincidentally, just one year before Title IX was passed, eventually opening the door to girls’ and women’s rights in sports.

Enter Kelly Keeler Ramacier, a 46-year-old marathoner from White Bear Lake, who is known in Twin Cities running circles as a Susie-come-lately to sports but who, this Sunday, is a headliner at a unique and notable race in New York City.

It’s the fifth-annual More MagazineMarathon/Half-Marathon in Central Park and it labels itself as the world’s first marathon exclusively for women over 40. Organizers are expecting 7,000 runners, all women, all older than 40.

More women taking control of physical fitness destiny
“This is really kind of a special race,” said Kelly Keeler — that’s how she’s known as a runner — and the poster grown-up for this More marathon and for women taking control of their physical fitness destinies later in life.

She won’t turn 47 until December  —”I’m a fairly new 46-year-old,” she said with a chuckle — but fairly new as a runner, too.

A textbook editor and project manager by profession, Keeler didn’t begin running — or doing anything very physical — until she was 32. Eventually, she qualified for U.S. Olympic marathon trials and ran a 2:42:25.

“Not only did I not run until I was 32,” she said. “I didn’t do anything.”

On a lark, while working in 1993 in Cincinnati, she accepted the urgings of friends and ran in a 5-kilometer race.  She barely finished the three-mile jog — she was a pack-a-day smoker then — but she fell in love with the exercise.

“It was sort of an awakening,” she said.

She got good. She wound up qualifying for two marathons for U.S. Olympic trials. She ran a 2:42:25 marathon just four years later at the 1997 Grandma’s Marathon.

“My body had not been abused,” she said of her late start, as opposed to some super-elite runners who pound their legs and hips for years by the time they’re in their mid-30s. “I was very fresh.”

She’s working her way back from severe knee injury

Recently, Keeler’s been fighting off injury. She fell on the ice near her home in 2004 and crushed her left knee. Surgeries followed. Her weekly routine of 100 miles per week has been reduced to, maybe, 50 miles per week. Long runs mean excruciating pain.

So, when she got the special invite to this Sunday’s race, she was flattered. And she’s viewing it as a powerful platform.

“There are a lot of women over 40 who are just starting exercise programs,” Keeler Ramacier said. “I have real humble roots. I wasn’t an All-American. I think I can prove to be an example to a lot of people that you can start whenever. If you really put your heart and soul into it, you can do a lot.”

According to the New York Road Runners, who help stage the More race, masters women are the fastest-growing segment of the running population. Female runners 45 and older increased 106 percent from 1997 to 2006, compared with a 49 percent increase for men.

Bad knee, less training, more years, added pain, “If I can break three hours, I’d be real pleased,” Keeler said of her goal Sunday.

She’s not getting older. She’s getting more realistic.

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