Harriette Thompson had her doubts, but she went out Sunday and did what she does every year. She ran a marathon.
Thompson, a former concert pianist, a cancer survivor and indominatable spirit, finished the the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, becoming the oldest woman to run 26.2 miles.
Thompson is 92.
Running to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the mother of five finished her 16th Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in an unofficial time of 7 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds. She was aaccompanied along the way by her 56-year-old son, Brenny, of Charlotte. He snapped photos and videos with his phone along the way, but his mom isn’t the sort of runner who is in it for the competition.
A resident of a Charlotte, N.C., retirement community, she has always liked to stay fit. Then, when she was 76, she decided to participate in a marathon even if she had to walk 26.2 miles.
“Everybody was running [when her first race started], so I decided well, I guess I’ll run, too,” she told Duncan McFadyen of WFAE radio (via NPR). “And it didn’t seem — at that time, it wasn’t so bad.”
Her time of 7:07:42 from 2014 is a world record in the marathon for a woman in her age group. Along the way, she has raised over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and missed the race only once, when she was undergoing cancer treatment. (She did not run it the first year she took up running.) She has lost friends and family, including her husband of 67 years, to cancer.
“That makes it personal, something that I really feel is important,” Thompson told Runners’ World.
Caring for her husband, who died in January at the age of 90, forced her to miss some training late last year and early this year. And Thompson herself is recovering radiation treatments for squamous cell carcinoma on her legs.
“I’m sure all that weakened me to some extent, so I’m not as strong as I’d like to be but I’m still going to try,” she said. “I’m just going to walk real fast and then run some, and just try not to wear myself down too fast. It’ll be sort of interesting. I’ll be the most surprised person if I finish it. I hope I will!”
— Rock n Roll Marathon (@RunRocknRoll) May 31, 2015
She needn’t have worried. Her lipstick in place and her son beside her, she kept up a nice pace throughout the race, which attracted 19,000 runners.
92-year-old Harriette Thompson's #RnRSD Splits 10K – 1:38:30 Half – 3:37:45 20 Miles – 5:35:55 Finish – 7:24:36 So impressive.
— Chris Chavez (@Chris_J_Chavez) May 31, 2015
Thompson broke the record set by Gladys Burrill, who was was 92 years, 19 days old when she ran the Honolulu Marathon in 2010. Thompson is 92 years, 93 days old.
Keep running, Harriette. Marathoner Faura Singh hung up his shoes at the age of 101. Singh’s record wasn’t recognized by as a Guiness world record because he doesn’t have a birth certificate to prove his age, only a passport.