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By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
There are mileposts you pass that, while due mainly to genes and luck, you may be justified in claiming some credit for, like turning 80 years old. Then there are mileposts for which the reverse is true and you can claim most of the credit: like turning 80 and completing the 26 miles and 385 yards of the prestigious Boston marathon.
Ruth Anne Bortz of Portola Valley has both mileposts under her belt. She celebrated her 80th birthday in October and on Monday, April 18, completed the Boston race. With a projected time of seven hours and 41 minutes, she came in second out of two women in the 80-plus age group, first place having gone to a nun named Madonna Buder, also known as the Iron Nun.
"She's a great runner," said Ms. Bortz, who herself took first place awards in Boston when she was 60 (with 10 women in her group) and 70 (with three women in the group). At the ages of 53 and 55, Ms. Bortz completed the annual Western States race, a 100-mile run through the Colorado wilderness, she said.
To prepare for the 2011 Boston race, she ran 50 miles a week on Portola Valley roads and trails, including eight 20-mile days, she said. "I love this town," she said. "I run a lot on Windy Hill and on the trails."
Running, at her age, is walking rapidly. She carries a transistor radio tuned to KGO and for the last hour of her practices, she sings to herself, she said.
While Ms. Bortz' has a medal for finishing Boston this year, her official time is not known; her slow pace put her behind the workers in the rear of the pack who were collecting the electronic timing mats that lay across the roads.
"We just can't keep the roads open," a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association said in a phone interview. "It's very noble of her to take on the event but at some point, we have to open the roads to the public."
"I'm not the runner that I used to be," Ms. Bortz told the Almanac, noting that she had surgery four years ago that left her with a partially metal knee. "I proved that you can have half a knee and still run a marathon," she said.
Her husband, Dr. Walter Bortz, has also run the Boston marathon but accompanied his wife this year as a support team. He rented a car and met her at six points along the course with M&Ms, peanuts and "a big smile," she said.
"I did it last year, so she had to chase me this year," Mr. Bortz told the Almanac.
The couples' four children have all run marathons, Ms. Bortz said, including their daughter Danna Breen, a resident and a member of the town's Architecture & Site Control Commission.
Of their nine grandchildren, one has completed a marathon, Ms. Bortz said. "The other eight will run marathons because we are offering them quite a large reward," she added. "I didn't want them to wait until they're 50."
A late start
Ms. Bortz started running at age 48 after coming home from a hard trek in Nepal, she said. She has raced in Dublin, Australia, Honolulu and Greece. She's run eight times in Boston, the nation's oldest marathon.
Some marathoners run for the accomplishment of finishing the race. "I run to win," Ms. Bortz said. "It's kind of fun when you're older."
Asked why she began running marathons, she replied that she wanted to stay out of a rocking chair. "I've always been an athlete," she added.
She said she ran the Bay-to-Breakers race in San Francisco once years ago, but that short races can be boring. The reward for her 20-mile practice runs: runner's high. "When you're supposed to be tired, I'm not tired," she said. "I'm excited. I'm hyperactive. I want to do stuff."