Today is National Running Day and the anniversary of the debut of the Funatical Runner. It is hard to believe that a year has past since I started this blog. In my first blog post I wrote about Harriette Thompson who had just run the fastest marathon for women over the age 90 – 7 hours, 7 minutes, 42 seconds. Well, here we are a year later and Harriette has done it again! She set another world record this past weekend when she became the oldest woman to complete a marathon at 92 years and 65 days old. What a perfect story for National Running Day!
Harriette is an incredibly strong woman. She has lost many family members to cancer – both of her parents and three brothers. She started running at the age of 76 to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for her brother who died from lymphoma and has raised over $100,000. This past January Harriette’s husband died at the age of 90 from cancer. Harriet has survived three bouts of cancer herself. It is a disease she knows all too well.
Harriette has gotten lots of publicity over the last few years because of her marathon running. Let’s be honest. There aren’t a lot of 90+ year old women running marathons. But through the attention, she has inspired all sorts of people to become more active – young people; older people; people with weight issues; even people in wheelchairs. Many people look at her and say if Harriette can do it, there is no reason why they can’t run too. And they do.
I had been wondering if Harriette was going to run again this year. Then on Friday I saw her hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, featured her in an article. There was lots of excitement brewing because Harriette was heading back to San Diego to run the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon for the 17th time (it is the only marathon that she has run). The race organizers paid to fly her first-class to San Diego. They paid for her hotel. She got VIP treatment on race day and got to meet my favorite marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, before the race. She even had a personalized bib with her name on it like one of the elite runners. Reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox followed Harriette and were waiting at the finish line for her.
It wasn’t in the bag that Harriette would be able to finish. She hadn’t gotten all the training she needed going into the race. Last year, she put her training on hold to spend time with her husband before he died. Her longest run before Sunday’s marathon was an 11-mile run/walk. It is a big jump to go from 11 miles to 26.2. She was battling an infection in her leg that hampered her training. Plus I am sure that all the attention from the media added to the pressure and made it difficult to get rest before the race. I think that even Harriette wasn’t certain she could do it.
Her son, Brenneman (or Brenny), came along to run the race with her. Harriette has some balance issues and tends to lean to one side. Her son kept an eye on her to make sure she stayed upright as they ran. Brenny also protected her from enthusiastic fans who could have accidentally knocked her over with a high five or an encouraging slap on her back. He fed her carbs to keep her going. And of course, he took lots of videos and photos with his iPhone to record her achievement. Together they finished the race in 7 hours, 24 minutes, 36 seconds.
After the race, Harriette felt exhilarated – and tired. She has said she feels like a million dollars when she finishes a marathon. Any marathoner can understand that feeling. It is what keeps us signing up for race after race.
I wonder if Harriette will be in San Diego again next year. It is physically demanding to run a marathon. But training for a race keeps Harriette active all year long. She believes that running is keeping her alive. She knows she inspires others and I think that is another reason why she keeps running. I sure hope she makes it to San Diego next year. I want her to be part of my National Running Day celebration again.
Jeff Galloway wrote Running Until You’re 100, a book to help runners in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s run injury free. While researching this book, Jeff found numerous studies showing the beneficial effects of running on the bones, joints, and heart. Jeff’s run-walk-run method is one that I follow and is ideal for older runners who want to stay active. Remember you don’t have to be a fast runner. You just need to move at whatever pace you can – running or walking. Just don’t stop!