I still think it's pretty cool that someone with no journalism background can just go out and interview the top runners around. But to be able to interview an Olympian...it doesn't get much cooler than that.
When I think of pioneering women for Minnesota running, two names immediately come to mind; Janice Ettle and Janis Klecker. If you search the Minnesota Running Data Center you'll have no problem finding their names sprinkled throughout various rankings, no matter the distance. The top local runners of today are still chasing times these women set 20-some years ago.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Janis Klecker, 47 of Minnetonka, recently to ask her about her running career. (Photo by Victah Sailer)
You ran 2:58 for your first marathon in 1979 at the age of 18. Seeing how your mom was a veteran of multiple marathons and ultras, was she a big influence on your running at the time? When did you first get involved with the sport?
My mom was a huge influence on my running. She was always such an encouragement to me. We had so much fun running races together and often competed as a mother-daughter team. I am told we have the fastest combined marathon times in the world for a mother daughter duo. I first began running when I was in my first year of college, simply for fitness sake. I had no competitive goals in mind. I ran my first 10k in 1979 with the encouragement of my mom and it went from there. I actually was 19 when I ran my first marathon. It was City of Lakes Marathon (which is now Twin Cities Marathon) in the fall of 1979. I was third place for the women in 2:58. I was Janis Horns at the time and the winner of that marathon was Barney Klecker.
By 1984 you were running in the first Olympic Trials Marathon for women – your first of five qualifiers. Were you aware that women’s competitive running was about to explode at that time? What was it like to be one of the trailblazers in the sport for Minnesota women?
I think I was a little naive about women's running at the time. It was excited to think that women could run the marathon in the Olympics, but I still felt pretty new to the sport at the time. As time has gone on I have learned to appreciate all the experiences I have had as a result of my running and am honored to have been in the sport as it began to blossom.
Who would you say was your strongest competitor over the years?
When I was running my most competitive marathons there were not as many foreign athletes in races as there are today. The American women who were running well at the time like Jane Welzel, Jan Ettle, Kim Jones, Cathy O'Brien, Francie Larieu-Smith, Lisa Weidenbach, Gordon Bloch, Maria Trujillo, Diane Bussa, Gail Kingma (just to name a few) were all very strong competitors.
In 1992 you won the Trials in 2:30, but then were disappointed with your 21st place finish at the Barcelona Olympics, running 2:47. In retrospect, what do you think went wrong?
It is hard to say that any one thing went wrong that day. It was very hot and humid and very polluted. I have asthma and am from Minnesota, so these things I think affected me. I felt very well trained going into the race. I guess I learned you can't plan for the race of your life. You train hard and hope that a good race comes at the right time. I was happy to finish, but a bit disappointed in the time. As time has gone by, I just savor the whole experience and don't dwell on the results of the race.
Being an Olympian, is it safe to assume that was your fondest running memory or would you rank something else higher?
The Olympic Trials in Houston is probably my fondest memory of a race. It was exciting to have all the training-emotionally, spiritually, and physically come together on that day. I do have very good memories of Twin Cities Marathon and also Grandma’s Marathon as well. There were so many different races I ran, it is hard to pick only one.
How would you describe your training during your peak years?
I ran about 70-100 miles per week (in one running workout a day) and cross trained a second workout most days. I rode a lot of stationary bike, aqua-jogged, snowshoed, and swam a lot of laps to enhance my training while minimizing the risk of injury. My running workouts consisted of a long run a week, hill workouts, mile repeats (often on the treadmill), and a track workout here and there. It really wasn't that unique, just consistent.
In addition to starting marathons at a young age, you also started running ultras at a young age. At 22 years old you set an American Record for 50K, 3:13:51. Did you train any differently for 50K than for a marathon?
The training wasn't really any different. My long runs would sometimes approach 30 miles. But I did that in marathon training also.
Did you ever run anything longer than 50K?
I ran the Swiss Alpine Marathon once. It was a 67 km (about 42 miles) race mostly on trails in Davos, Switzerland. It was a beautiful race.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
My strength was consistency and tenacity in my races. My weakness was trying to and wanting to do too many things at once.
What are your PRs?
My PR's are mile on the track--4:51, 5k-15:57, 5 miles-25:50, 10k-31:44, 1/2 marathon-1:10:41, marathon-2:30:12, 50k-3:13:51
What is your running like now? Does competing as an age-grouper ever cross your mind?
I still run a moderate amount. I have run an occasional race in the last few years. I have 6 children ages 7,9,10,12,and twins who are 14. Between Barney and the kids, my life is very full. It seems my life is much more about them right now than about any competitive goals that may linger. I haven't really gotten to serious about competing as an age-grouper.
Your oldest kids are now teenagers. Do they show any interest in running? What advice do you and Barney give to them?
All 6 of my children participate in a variety of sports. My oldest son ran track last spring and will probably do so again. I have a feeling some of them may run. We try to be encouraging but not too pushy. They are free to choose the sports they participate in.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Bonnie Sons. We run together once a week and it is a highlight for me.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I have a poster that says “Running is a Celebration of the Heart.” I guess I've always known that, but I know it in a more meaningful way now. Once a runner, you're always a runner at heart, no matter what your training looks like.