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Marathon Finisher at Age 91 Says Never Too Old to Start

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Updated June 02, 2014

Suja San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon

Harriette Thompson and Meb Keflezighi

Jerod Harris / Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll Marathon A1849A75-D31A-46F3-AFAF-0DE697AEF72A.JPG

Harriette Thompson Finishes 15th Marathon at age 91

Jerod Harris / Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll Marathon

Harriette Thompson set a new age group record at the Suja San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on June 1, 2014. The 91-year-old classical pianist from North Carolina finished the 26.2 miles in 7:07:42 to make history as the second-oldest female marathon finisher in the U.S.

Harriette is a cancer survivor who finished a round of radiation treatment just weeks before the race. But she is no newbie, she walked and ran her first marathon in 1999 and this was her 15th finish. Do the math and find she began her marathon streak at age 76. "You're never too old to start," she said.

Harriette says in her starting line interview that she got started because a friend joined with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training to raise money and run the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. She figured she could walk it, and she did. And she kept coming back year after year for the joy of crossing the finish line and getting the medal. She has raised over $90,000 for the charity with her 393 marathon miles.

2014 Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi congratulated her at the finish line. He was also returning to his hometown of San Diego for his first post-Boston appearance and led the 1:30 pace group for the half marathon. Her son also joined her at the finish line.

What kind of performance did she put in? With a 16:30 pace, she would have beaten me for most of my own walking marathons. She put in a jog across the starting line, but walked across the finish line.

Senior Marathoners

I know many people who walked or ran their first marathon after age 55. As with anyone training for a long distance event, it is critical to give yourself enough time to slowly increase your mileage. For those starting from the couch, give yourself a full year to increase mileage gradually. For those who are already walking or running six miles at a time, a 19-week training schedule will get you ready for the race.
Training to Walk a Marathon

Seniors may find themselves taking age division awards even at a walking pace. If you can't out-run them, you can out-live them!
8 Tips for Senior Runners

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training program enlists runners and walkers to raise money in return for marathon and half marathon training, support and encouragement. That is rewarded with a trip to a destination race and camaraderie throughout the event weekend.

The Suja San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is walker-friendly with a 7-hour time limit for the marathon and a 4-hour time limit for the half marathon. The time limit starts after the last corral is released. With 25,000 racers, that's over 30 minutes after the first corral of elite runners.

The Competitor Group's Rock 'n' Roll marathons and half marathons are held throughout the U.S. and worldwide. They are fun events that draw newbies as well as world-class runners. They feature bands on the course and a headliner concert. Cheering groups are recruited to keep up the spirit throughout the whole course.

Harriette planned for a good soaking bath, a good night's sleep and a big celebration breakfast after the race. It is important for all marathoners to not only celebrate, but also to recover.Marathon Recovery

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