After this year's Grandma's Marathon, my wife and I hung out in Canal Park and had dinner with a bunch of other runners. Afterwards my wife made a comment about how humble and low-key all the runners were about their performance that day. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised when I asked Kelly Keeler-Ramacier, 45 of White Bear Lake, about how dominate she was on the roads in her prime, she simple said "I don't know if I ever dominated..." I'm sure if I asked other runners who the best local woman runner was 10 years ago, Kelly's name would be at the top of a lot of lists.
Below she shares her thoughts on how she got involved with the sport on a whim, how it changed almost every aspect of her life, her work ethic and much more. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba)
For those who don’t know you from your prime, can you remind us how dominate you were? What are some of your accolades?
I don’t know if I ever dominated but I had some good years of running – mostly between the years of 1997 and 2001. I also ran well my first year as a Master and was ranked nationally in 2002.
I’m probably most proud of the fact that I made the World Championship Team for the Half Marathon in 2000. That was a goal I had had for a few years. I ran my two best half marathons in 2000 when I was 38 years old (1:13:20 at Vegas and 1:14:09 at Philadelphia) and was selected for the team. Unfortunately, overtraining and a nagging injury kept me from having a good race at the World Champs but I’m proud of the fact that I made the team.
What are your PRs?
1 mile 4:42
½ Mar 1:14:09
As a master
1 mile 5:03
½ Mar 1:19:21
If I remember correctly, you started running in your 30s. Did success come quickly?
I started running when I was 32. I was too shy in school to try out for any sport so I was a very sedentary kid and did not exercise. I smoked cigarettes for years – all through college and in my 20s and early 30s. I really can’t tell you what possessed me to go to a 5K race. Some friends at work (when I lived in Cincinnati) encouraged me to give it a try. I had literally never thought about running before. It’s not something that interested me in the slightest. I have vivid memories of that first race though. I remember that I was way overdressed (long pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt – all cotton, of course). I knew nothing about running and had no clue what I would run or even if I could run 3 miles without stopping. I also remember though that I was very competitive and I tried to beat people even in that first race. This really surprised me because for all those years I had squelched any type of competitive feelings I’d ever had. It was an awakening for me. I absolutely loved it from that very first day.
After that first race I went to races every weekend. I met so many nice people and it became my main social outlet as well. Every weekend I’d meet new people and make new friends. The more I raced and the more regularly I ran, the more I improved. Back in those days I was taking huge chunks of time off my 5K times every week. My first 5K was 26:27. In less than 2 years I ran 16:55.
My times did improve rapidly but it wasn’t because I was “gifted” or “naturally talented.” I was very dedicated from the get-go. I started reading about training, talking to people, and working out my own training schedules almost from that very first run. I worked very hard at improving and developing what ability I had to the highest level.
Looking back on your career, can you pinpoint a breakthrough(s) or was your improvement more of a gradual progression?
I think I naturally progressed for a few years. I was someone who had never exercised before so, starting to work out and train like I did there was going to be some rapid improvement. I think my “big” breakthrough was in 1997 at Grandma’s Marathon. I came in as an unknown with a PR of 2:54:05. I had been running for about 3 ½ years. I’d never “raced” a marathon but I had run a few before so I had gone the distance. I was so filled with confidence (and I was naïve!). I didn’t think about place but I had a time in mind that I was set to run – 2:35. Now that is a big jump from 2:54 but I had brought my 5K times down to consistent 16:30s and I had just run a solid 1:31 25K so I thought on a good day it might be doable. The gun went off and I proceeded to execute my plan. 1997 was a day like it was this year – HOT and HUMID. I was a complete novice so I found myself in the lead right off the bat. No one with any experience went out with me. I didn’t care though. I just went for it.
Well, I led for 23 miles before succumbing to the heat and my insane pace. I stopped and vomited right after Lemon Drop Hill around mile 23 and got passed by a few women. I was very disheartened but I limped on in and ended up in 3rd place with my still-standing PR of 2:42:25.
Even though I was very disappointed that I fell apart in that marathon I felt that I had reached a higher level with my running. I was not intimidated by the experienced woman who eventually won or anyone else. I had a plan and went for it. When I found out I was in the lead from the get-go that day I was not running for 2nd place. I was running to win and it was a great feeling. I probably would not have won that day even without my breakdown – the two women ahead of me were far more experienced – but I served notice that I was ready to run with the big girls.
That’s one thing I realized right away with my running – if I wanted to improve, I had to go and compete nationally. (In Cincinnati, most of the races were very low-key 5Ks.) I traveled a lot and I think that was a key element to my continued improvement over the years. I was always putting myself in situations where I had to run smart and strategically – and fast. I was soundly beaten in most of these races but I learned how to race and to improve. To be honest with you, I HATED the travel. For someone like me, who is basically handicapped by shyness, traveling alone and rooming with strangers at high pressure races was absolute torture. But it had to be done and the effort paid off.
Were you ever coached?
I have always been a self-coached runner. I’ve tried to be coached because I thought it would help me stay focused but the coach-athlete relationship has never worked for me. The longest I’ve ever had someone “coach” me was about 6 weeks and I still ended up doing my own thing. I’ve worked for a few weeks at a time with some very accomplished and credentialed coaches but I just never felt comfortable having someone else control such a big part of my life. I cannot follow a schedule unless I know exactly what it is doing for me and how it will help me improve. I do not want a schedule that is written for several other athletes to follow. I need something that is geared very specifically for me and my life. I know that I cannot expect a coach to tune in so individually to me and give me so much personal one-on-one attention – I’m not that good. I know myself better than anyone though and I studied and read as much as anyone I know so over time, I figured out what type of training worked best for me. I wonder sometimes how I would have been with coaching had I run in High School or College. I probably would have been used to that type of relationship and allowed someone to guide me. It might have helped. More likely though, I would not have been very easy to coach – even then.
A couple of years ago, you battled an injury that seemed to keep you out of the racing scene for a couple of years. What was your injury and how were you able to finally correct it?
I fell on the ice in Feb. of 2004. I was on a training run with Bobby Paxton, Mike Bjornberg, and Bill Magdelene. We were over by the Falls and I hit a patch of ice. I went down very hard on my knee and elbow. At the time, I thought I had broken my arm and wasn’t even thinking about my knee. The arm wasn’t broken but my kneecap had basically collapsed. I was training for the Olympic Trails Marathon at the time and things had been going pretty well so I carried on. The pain actually wasn’t too bad at first but it got progressively more uncomfortable to run. I had knee surgery in June of 2004. Things got far worse after that first surgery. I ran a couple of races but from Oct. of 2004 through 2005 I could not really run much at all and I thought my running career was over. The pain was very bad and I was even having trouble taking my dog out for a walk without wincing. I went to several doctors, tried different PT methods, and read and studied a lot to try to figure out what was wrong and what I could do to get back. The doctors I went to basically told me to give it up but I just wasn’t ready to do that. I had a different type of knee surgery in the fall of 2005 that put my kneecap back on track and I followed that up a few months later with a series of “hyalgon” injections. Hyalgon is like a lubricant injected directly into the joint. I started cross training and doing a little running after that. I slowly started to come back. I was able to race again in 2006. I still have to be very careful and pay close attention to how my knee feels but overall, things have vastly improved.
What motivates you year-in and year-out?
Running changed my life. I became a different person when I became a runner. Growing up and as a young adult I was so painfully shy. I held myself back in so many ways because I was afraid to try things. For some reason, running never intimidated me. I would walk up to total strangers and ask about their training. I would meet people I didn’t know and do workouts with them on the track. I traveled to races constantly. I always felt very confident and comfortable with myself when I was around other runners.
I’m motivated year-in and year-out because I like that part of my life and it has helped me in every other areas of my life. The confidence carries over.
You won the Masters division at the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon with a 1:25:58. Were you happy with that performance?
Yes, I was happy. That was a nice race for me. Based on my training I thought if I had a good day I could be in the 1:25s. I felt great the entire way. Earlier in the year, my plan was to be in 1:22ish shape for the half but I just have not done the type of training I needed to do to get there. Being first Master was a nice surprise. I didn’t realize I was first until later in the day when the results were posted. I thought there were a few other Masters up there.
What are your goals for the rest of 2007?
I’ll focus on the 5K and 10K for the rest of the year. I recently stepped on the track again for workouts after a 3 ½ year absence. I think it’ll help and hopefully, I can keep it up without aggravating my knee.
The first time we met, we were both crewing for runners at the Ed Fitz 100K. At the time you expressed some interest in trying an ultra marathon. Have you given any more thought to that? I did think about ultras for a while. Chuck Hubbard was a main training partner of mine and he, of course, was an ultra runner. Honestly though, my best range is probably 5K-1/2 marathon. The marathon is even a challenge for me. My husband, Jim, is an accomplished ultra runner but watching him run the Voyageur 50-miler last year reinforced my feelings about NOT being out there that long. He did very well and he really enjoys it but we are different types of runners. I have run the ½ Voyageur a few times and the thought of having to turn around and run that course again was so unappealing to me! I did do one 50K in ’03 and that was a lot of fun but I do not really have any desire or interest in going longer. Besides, physically, my knee would not hold up to the pounding. If I tried to train for a 50-miler I’d probably have to retire from running. Also, I am a terrible trail runner. I’m more of a rhythm runner. I like flat surfaces and getting into a nice steady pace. I’m clumsy and awkward on trails and I fall down a lot. I do run on trails a lot for training but it frustrates me if I’m trying to run fast.
I can see maybe doing a 50K again. I’ve always kind of wanted to go to SunMart down in Texas and Jim would like to run the 50-miler. But I don’t think I’d run the 50K very competitively. I’d just do it for fun and then watch Jim run the 50-miler.
In general, what is your training philosophy? How has it changed over time?
My training philosophy has not changed. I know that to be the best you have to devote all your energy into your pursuit. There are no substitutes for hard work and total focus. In my earlier years I was fortunate to have several superb training partners. First in Cincinnati, I would meet with a group of great guys. We did track workouts and tempo runs regularly. Some of the guys, John Sence and TJ Lentz, were sub-2:20 marathoners. My main training partner was a 55-year-old but he could crush me on the track. Pete could crank out sub-60 quarters. He was one tough hombre and a great training partner. When I moved to Minnesota I was again very lucky to find some awesome training partners. I met a group at St. Thomas for track workouts every Tuesday. We’d do tempos and long runs together also. Those guys – Craig Yotter, Todd Sheldon, John Hogan, Micah Grafenstein, Matt Sullivan, Pete Miller, and several others – were much faster than me. I also did a lot of killer workouts at Hyland Park with Chuck Hubbard. We would just pummel each other on that 25K course. I always worked out with guys who were faster than me. We all had similar running goals and training methods so it worked out really well. I was constantly working hard. I’d run by myself on my easy days but generally, every run had a purpose.
My training methods have changed a lot over the years. I do not train as hard as I used to – partly because I can’t physically. Honestly though, the main reason I do not train like I used to is because I do not have the time or desire to put that much focus onto running. A wise man (Dennis Barker) once told me that there is only so much emotional energy you can put out in a given day. Most of my energy now is focused on my new family, my job, and other things. I’ve had many dramatic changes in my life the past five years with school, job changes, moving and selling houses, and, most recently, getting married and becoming a wife and stepmother. I also had a catastrophic injury during that time period. Focusing solely on running has just not been possible for me. Running remains a very large part of who I am though and it always will. I’m not going for the big win at races anymore but I still want to do well and I’m excited about being in a new age division and doing well there.
Typically, what is your weekly mileage in and out of season?
Since I’ve come back from my knee injury my mileage is much lower than it used to be. For years I did steady weeks of 85-95 miles a week. I had seven years in a row of around 4,000 miles a year. Now, my typical week is around 50. I’ve gone as high as 70 for one week but my knee doesn’t hold up well beyond around 55-60 miles a week. When I keep it at 50 or so I can run relatively pain-free.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
My strength is my work ethic. I worked very, very hard over the years. I could go to a race and stand on the line and know that I had worked as hard or harder than anyone there. It gave me the confidence I needed to take risks in a race. I was not afraid to put it all on the line because I knew that I had done the work.
My weakness is that I could never allow myself to be satisfied with a race performance. I always wanted to run harder, run faster. I would run a PR but be disappointed because I had expected to run faster. I had very high expectations for myself. I wish that I had stopped to smell the roses a bit more but then, had I been satisfied, I might not have worked as hard or run as fast.
What is your fondest running memory?
There are too many to even recall. I’m just grateful that I came upon running at such a late age. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the type of training I did and the races I’ve run and all the traveling I’ve done. If anyone had known me in high school or college they would be shocked. I was such a “non-athlete” all those years. I was not the slightest bit interested in sports. My brothers were superstar athletes in football (both had full-ride scholarships to Nebraska) so, of course, I followed football, but other than that – nada.
I met my husband because I am a runner and I have made lifelong friends because I am a runner. I feel very lucky because it could all have easily passed me by. I could very easily have told my friend in Cincinnati that I didn’t run and that I didn’t want to go to that race that day. My life could be very different.
What’s your biggest disappointment?
I’ve had a few DNFs in my day and those have been devastating. I think the biggest disappointment I had was my DNF at Twin Cities in 2000. I was probably in the best shape of my life. I had just run 1:14 for the half marathon and my training had gone well. In retrospect I realize that I peaked about three weeks too early. I had trained for so hard and so long that by the time I ran that 1:14 I was done for the year. I felt horrible for the next few weeks after the half marathon and I was slightly injured. In the marathon that day I just never felt good. I couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm. I wish I had muscled through it and finished but I didn’t so that was that.
Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
Of course, Grandma’s Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon are two of my favorite races. I’ve run my open and masters marathon PRs on the Grandma’s course and I’ve run some of my best half marathons up there as well.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting and running with so many great Minnesota runners. I feel very lucky. Jan Ettle is a great person and has been like a big sister to me since I moved to Minnesota back in 1999. I am just in awe of her accomplishments. I am a hard worker but Jan puts my work ethic to shame. She’s the most mentally tough person I know. Gloria Jansen is amazing. She keeps her enthusiasm for running and competing alive year after year. Nothing seems to get her down. I’m glad she lives in White Bear now too! I’ve always had great admiration and respect for Bonnie Sons. She is so consistent year after year. And now that I’m a stepmother to two active boys I think, “Wow. Bonnie, how do you do it? You have four kids.” She’s a true inspiration. I also feel very lucky that I run for such a great team like Run N Fun. Kari and Perry Bach have always been very supportive and very good to me. I truly appreciate everything they’ve done and everything they continue to do for the running community. I’m proud to wear the uniform.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
You know, I’m really happy with the way things have gone for me. I don’t think I would have wanted to know a lot about running in those early days. It’s nice to think about those times when I was a complete novice. I ran with reckless abandon and I was fearless. I probably wasted too much time being depressed about bad races and bad results but I am, by nature, very intense so that’s not surprising. I am what I am. I like the fact that I figured things out on my own with regard to training and racing strategies. I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way.