81-year-old goes distance to stay healthy | TahoeDailyTribune.com

81-year-old goes distance to stay healthy

Steve Yingling

Helen Klein doesn’t possess a wonder drug preventing illnesses that routinely afflict the elderly.

Her fountain of youth comes cheaply and requires only that you can tolerate blisters.

The 81-year-old Rancho Cordova woman has been running from arthritis and poor health for the past 24 years.

Klein ran her first marathon at 57 and can still run the 26.2-mile race in the same time as when she started – 4 hours, 45 minutes.

“Exercise is the only way to good health,” said Klein, holder of numerous national and world records for distance running. “I’m extremely healthy because I eat healthy and I’m running, always going.”

Who better than Klein to speak to a national running convention? Klein and her husband, Norm, will speak at the Road Runners Club of America National Convention this weekend at the Horizon Casino Resort.

Klein took up running 26 years ago when her husband was challenged by a friend to complete a 10-mile race.

“He had never run and had a sports bug over the years where he could tell you all of the statistics for basketball, football and hockey,” Klein said. “He became a runner instead of a spectator of sports because he took the challenge. I took it with him and we’ve never stopped.”

Since then, Klein’s run her way into record books.

In 2002, Klein set the world marathon record for 80- to 84-year-olds when she completed the California International Marathon in 4:31.2, stomping the previous record by 39 minutes.

“When I’m 85 I’ll have to set a new record. I can coast for a couple of years and then turn it on again,” Klein said.

Although Klein has logged 139 ultradistance races and 69 marathons, she sees no reason to slow down. Since March 7, she has completed two marathons – the Napa Valley and an all-women’s jaunt in New York – the American River 50-miler and 50K and 30K races.

“None of us know our potential. We just have to keep reaching and reaching,” she said. “There’s room for improvement all of the time.

“I would like to be mobile as long as I live and I will continue to run as long as I can.”

One of Klein’s most grueling records is the 109 1/2 miles she ran on a track in a 24-hour period in 1991 in Santa Rosa.

“I set the record several times, starting at 101 and then I’d go back and do another one and get another mile or two,” she said.

The Kleins, who formerly co-directed the Western States 100 from Squaw Valley to Auburn, now pour their energy into the Helen Klein 50-mile/50K/30K races and the River by the Lake 100.

They also coach the Barrett Middle School track and field team in Carmichael and Helen is contantly in demand for motivational speeches like the one she will give this weekend on the South Shore.

“Too many kids are sitting in front of the TV playing computer games. I don’t seen enough out on the street playing ball and doing things that we saw years ago,” Klein said. “Exercise is the only way to good health. If they don’t learn it when they are young, they are not going to learn when they get older.”

Because of her former ties to the Western States 100, Klein may not be able to resist a run above Squaw Valley this weekend.

“I love Lake Tahoe. I’ll run on any of the trails and I really like to run at Squaw, overlooking the Sierra mountains,” she said.

If Klein finds time to embark on her treasured run, she may wind up in Auburn by weekend’s end.

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