Too old to run a marathon?

Do you feel that you are too old to start running? Running marathons is surely something for the youngsters, isn’t it? I’ve heard a work colleague complain that he was not physically as able to do the things he used to do when he was younger. I wouldn’t mind so much if he was old…but he said it when he was just 37 years old! Being a fair bit older, and feeling considerably fitter at the time than when I was 20 years younger, that really shook me!

I think that a lot of the time, age limits are in the mind, rather than real physical limits. Sure, some people have health problems which prevent them from doing certain things at particular time in their lives. But human bodies are very often capable of doing very much more than their owners realise!


You may have heard about the claims that a 100 year old man ran the Toronto Marathon in October 2011. Sadly, according to the Guinness World Records website that record has not yet been confirmed, as they have not been able to confirm the gentleman in question’s birth date. However, don’t think that means that older people can’t run. Just for the record:

  • The oldest female to run a marathon has been confirmed as 92 year old Gladys Burrill (Honolulu Marathon, December 2010).
  • The oldest couple to run a marathon together is Shigetsugu Anan (83) and his wife Miyoko (78) at the Nanohana Marathon in Japan in January 2008
  • And in case you think that these are the exceptions that prove the rule, there are a LOT of ‘less young’ people running marathons. For example, in the London Marathon in 2011, 156 runners in the 70years + category finished the 26.2 mile course. In New York on 6 November 2011 1096 Men aged 60 – 64 completed the full marathon – alongside 287 women of the same age, and 682 of their elders!

All of these people are stars in their own right. They’ve obviously been through enormous challenges to achieve such magnificent feats. But the shear number of them shows what humans are capable of. If so many people can manage to run 26.2 miles, why not you? Maybe you can’t walk to the bus stop without puffing and panting now. But with persistence and training who knows what you could achieve. In fact, YOU won’t until you try!

One final thought. It’s easy to think that some people are born with natural ability to run. But rest assured that Usain Bolt – the worlds fastest man (100m in 9.58 seconds – equivalent to 23 miles per hour or 37 km per hour) was not able to run that fast as a boy. He just worked and worked and worked at it until he COULD run that fast.

And in 1954 most people believed that it would be impossible for a human being to run 1 mile in under 4 minutes. They said that such a speed was simply not feasible. However, Roger Bannister managed 3mins 59.3 on 14 May that year, and the record has continued to drop ever since – it now stands at 3min 43 seconds.

Running as slowly as Roger Bannister did won’t even get you a county record where I live in Cornwall UK!

With training, humans are capable of incredible feats, even after 80 or 90 years. I wonder what YOU could achieve…

©2011 Rob Knowles

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