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At 94, Harriette Thompson becomes the oldest woman to run a half-marathon

Harriette Thompson (with her son, Brenny, at right) made running history again Sunday. (Photo courtesy Mike Novak)

The petite lady in the red lipstick, undeterred by her latest cancer treatments, was back on the starting line Sunday in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.

This year, the goal for Harriette Thompson was to become the oldest woman to complete a half-marathon, two years after she became the oldest woman to finish a marathon in San Diego.

She’s 94 — and she did it. She really did it, cranking out the 13.1 miles at a pace of just over 17 minutes per mile and finishing in an unofficial time of 3 hours, 42 minutes and 56 seconds.

Never mind that her training was off because of health problems. As the video shows, she cruised right past the finish line and looked as if she might be able to go another 13.1.

“This year I really couldn’t train too much because I had an operation in July for my leg,” the grandmother from Charlotte, who has survived squamous cell carcinoma and oral cancer, said in an email. “They had to take some skin from my thigh and graft it into my leg where I had a big scar from radiation. … My training started several months ago, when I could start walking again. I did a couple 5Ks and [an] 8K. My son Brenny and I went for eight miles the other day. I’m scared I won’t be able to last 13 miles, but I’ll make a stab.”

Thompson, a widow who was a concert pianist, finished the 2015 marathon, accompanied by her son, in 7 hours, 24 minutes, 36 seconds two years ago and became a media darling, drawing attention from networks such as the BBC, ABC, ESPN and CBS in her bright purple running gear and red lipstick. Because of her health issues, she had been unable to race from August 2015 until this March and, although she told NBC that “I never thought I would still be here,” her attitude is far more positive than that would seem to insinuate.

Harriette Thompson sets a marathon record at 92

I always say, I feel fine unless you want the details,” she said in the email. “I know I have limitations now I didn’t have before. At age 94, I feel like I did when I was 16, but I can’t move as fast. Overall, I feel fine.”

Thompson, who took up running when she was 76 and decided “I can walk a marathon,” is also motivated by the knowledge that her efforts have raised over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year her effort has raised $15,000.

According to the Association of Road Running Statisticians, she topped the age record set by Gladys Burrill, who was 93 when she ran a half-marathon in Hawaii in 2012. Burrill had held the marathon record until Thompson’s race.

She did not run either San Diego event last year because of treatment on her leg, and this year she planned for her two sons to join her, along with her granddaughter, Angela. She expected to mostly walk the route and admitted she was “disappointed” that she couldn’t try for the marathon in the face of health issues that have included aortic valve stenosis, vertigo, facial numbness, eyelid problems and speech difficulties — “I had to have titanium screwed into my cheekbones so that I could talk and I could eat. That makes it difficult to talk” — a necessity after she lost her upper jaw to oral cancer four years ago.

“I don’t want to fall, so I’m just walking. But I tried to run the other day, and I actually think I go faster walking,” Thompson, who has run the San Diego race 16 times, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Perhaps. But what counts is showing up and giving her best effort over 13.1 miles, despite all that she has going on physically.

“I will have a little entourage with me,” she wrote, “and they have to stick with me the whole time.”

She was the 4-foot-11 starter with the sunny smile and the purple running clothes. And her lipstick?