Noe Valley Voice December-January 2007

No Finish Line in Sight for Noe Marathoner

By Joshua Brandt

Like many athletes passionate about their sport, marathoner Kay Teiber is well-versed in running jargon. The fleet-footed Noe Valley resident peppers her conversation with phrases such as "interval speed work," "cross-training," and "deep-water resistance exercise."

And, like other long-distance runners, Teiber has suffered her share of injuries: broken tibias, fractured metatarsals, and torn ligaments--to name just a few. Indeed, when one considers the myriad of marathon-training mishaps Teiber has endured, it's a miracle that she hasn't quit jogging and joined her peers in more "age-appropriate" endeavors. Such as attending her 50th high school reunion.

"Well, when word got around to my high school peers that I was training for a 26-mile marathon, I guess it created a little bit of a commotion," Teiber said during a recent interview at the Noe Street home she shares with her husband George.

But that's not surprising for a woman who usually finds herself as a sorority of one: a 70-year-old marathoner. Well, 69 actually. But who's counting?

Actually, Teiber is.

"I ran the last ['06] marathon in five hours and 27 minutes, and I was really hoping to keep my time under five hours," says Teiber, who has the lithe physique of someone half her age.

All in all, though, Teiber can't be too disappointed with this year's results: she crossed the finish line first in her age bracket--65 to 69--in the 2007 Nike Women's Marathon, held in San Francisco on Oct. 21.

The route, which winds from Union Square through the Embarcadero, the Presidio, Lake Merced, and along the Great Highway, gives a bird's-eye view of San Francisco's most scenic vistas. Most runners, however, are not contemplating the scenery.

"I burst into tears when I crossed the finish line," Teiber recalled. "Mostly they were tears of joy, but there was a lot of pain and fatigue as well."

A retired nurse with two adult children and five grandchildren--including triplets born in July--Teiber enjoys spending time with friends and family. However, she would love the opportunity to train with people of her own generation.

"I'm sure they're out there, but I don't know where to look for them," she says. Almost as an afterthought, Teiber offers some sage advice for novice runners of a more mature age: "One block at a time."

"That's how I did it," says Teiber with a chuckle. "When I first started running in 1980 [primarily to reduce the stress of her then 3-year-old son's diabetes diagnosis], I could hardly run a city block. I thought to myself, 'This is ridiculous.'

"So I gradually increased it a block every week or so, until I was able to run around Lake Merced, which became my first real goal. Eventually, I got myself to the point where I could run my first marathon [in 1986], and I've continued the training ever since."

Teiber, who jogs from 5 to 30 miles per week when she's in training, talks about running in a way that's familiar to people bitten by the bug.

"Running is very calming and cathartic," says Teiber, whose training route takes her zigzagging through Noe, Church, Jersey, Elizabeth, and 25th streets. "Especially when you start running early in the morning, and the fog leaves a blanket of mist on your face."

That's not to say that Teiber is impervious to the butterflies that competitive athletes have to contend with.

"I often can't sleep the night before a race, and sometimes a whole week prior to one," admits Teiber. "But once I take my first few steps, I remember how fun it is, and I completely relax.

"Of course, around mile 20, I've changed my mind. Now I start to wonder how in the world I'm ever going to finish, and tell myself that this is the last time I'll ever do anything like this again."

Teiber pauses to sip a cup of coffee, perhaps recalling the seemingly endless slog through mile number 23 in October.

"But what keeps me going is realizing who I'm running for," says Teiber. "I train with the Leukemia Society, and many women with blood cancer have horrendous days of treatment where they wonder how they'll have the energy to make it through another day.

"If they have the strength to keep on going, then I can pull myself across the finish line."