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Thoughts of a Roads Scholar - Aged Marathonners

Thoughts of a Roads Scholar - Aged Marathonners

10th October 2003

On October 2nd, I celebrated my 48th birthday, and found myself entrenched smack dab in the middle of no-man's land. At 48, I am considerably slower than I was when I first entered the 45-49 age group, probably more due to lack of training that advancing age, and I'm still two years away from the relief known as 50-54. I'm thinking at this point that they must call it "Hard"ware because for the next couple of years, age group placement is going to be very hard for me to come by. As someone who tends to think of age in 5- year increments, I'm wishing at this point that I was already two years older, so I can once again be the new kid on the block. Runners are funny in that way.

But there is hope for me, and people like me, who tend to get older with each advancing year. This hope comes in the names of Andres Espinosa, Ed Whitlock, and Fauja Singh. Perhaps none of these are household names in most homes, but for aging runners, they probably should be. Allow me to explain.

You've probably already guessed that these three gentlemen must be old, and in varying degrees, you would be correct. In reality, they are old, older, and oldest, and all three have recently accomplished amazing feats in the realm of marathon running. Keep in mind that I use the word old in relative terms, for what they have accomplished on the roads is truly remarkable and the envy of many a marathon runner of any age.

Let's start with Andres Espinosa, who is the baby of the three. At age 40, he is barely teething, but that didn't stop him from taking on the world's best at The Berlin Marathon, held on September 29th, 2003. The winner of the race, Paul Tergat, became the first human ever to break the 2:05 mark in a marathon, and one second later, Sammy Korir became the second. But keep in mind that they only beat the old standard by a little over 40 seconds.

All that Andres Espinosa did was completely obliterate John Campbell's long-standing master's record of 2:11:04 by over 2 full minutes. His 2:08:46 marathon was good for 4th place overall in a race that saw the two fastest times ever run for the distance. That works out to an average per mile pace of 4:55! How many of us can run a quarter mile on the track at that pace? To put it all in perspective, nobody of any age had ever run a marathon that quickly until Derek Clayton did it in May of 1969.

Now, let's move to the other side of the pond, and talk about someone who was born in 1931. His name is Ed Whitlock, and he is 72 years old. He is 5'7", and weighs in at about 125 pounds. If you saw him walking across a busy intersection, you'd be inclined to assist him before he got caught with the lights changing. But looks can be deceiving.

Five days before intending to run The Toronto Waterfront Marathon, he tripped and fell on his way to the store, using only his face to break his fall. His race was in jeopardy, but he showed up anyway, his face still bloodied and scabbed from the fall. And less than three hours after the start, he became the first septuagenarian to ever run a marathon in under three hours, clocking an unbelievable 2:59:10.

But Ed Whitlock did not grab all the headlines at The Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It seems there was another runner there who was old enough to be his father. His name is Fauja Singh, a retired farmer who was born in Jalandhar, India a long, long time ago. Before World War I in fact. He is 92 years old, and has a hard time standing still. But forward momentum is another thing, and he can certainly maintain that for long distances.

Amazingly enough, he has several marathons under his belt already since turning 90, and has progressively improved on his own work records just about each time out. In 2001, he became the first nonagenarian to break 7 hours for the marathon, running London in 6:54:55, breaking the old world record by close to an hour. But he was not finished yet. The following year, he ran London again, this time shaving another 40 minutes off his own world record, completing it in 6:11:09. In the process, he beat over 10,000 other runners.

This brings us to The Toronto Waterfront Marathon, held on September 28th, 2003. He prepared by putting in about 15 Kilometers a day, eating a healthy diet, taking warm baths, and practicing daily meditation. It must have worked. He became the first 90 year old to ever break 6 hours for a marathon, and he did it by plenty. His finishing time was 5:40:01, another giant leap of over 30 minutes in breaking his own world record.

On October 2nd, I turned 48 years old. You know, that doesn't seem all that old any more.

I'm glad we had this little chat.

Michael Selman
Roads Scholar
Atlanta Georgia USA
Michael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.

Michael has published many other articles on running and his personal experiences in the Thoughts of a Roads Scholar. Feel free to E-mail him at

This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010

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