Lots of people talk about aging gracefully – maybe staying active to preserve body function, or a cosmetic procedure or two. But few senior citizens can top 92-year-old Harriette Thompson. The Charlotte, NC resident became the oldest woman to complete a marathon Sunday when she finished the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego in 7hr 24min 36sec.
Thompson, far from a prototypical distance athlete, didn’t even begin running marathons until her 70s. A friend of hers at church was collecting checks for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Thompson thought she could probably walk a marathon. When she noticed everyone else running, she figured she may as well run too. Thompson herself is a two-time cancer survivor, and she lost her husband to cancer last year as well.
“I couldn’t train very well because my husband was very ill and I had to be with him for some time and then when he died in January I had some treatments on my leg,” she told The Guardian. “I was just really thrilled that I could finish today.”
Thompson is a classically trained concert pianist who’s played three times at Carnegie Hall. It’s her running that’s been her ticket to fame, however, having landed her spots in “People,” “Runner’s World” and “USA Today.” NBC’s “Today Show” is reportedly developing a lengthy feature on Thompson as well.
“She’s inspiring,” said Josh Furlow, president of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series, which stages 22 races across the United States, eight internationally. “For someone to say ‘I can’t do it,’ stand at the finish line, watch her come across and you’ll never say that again.”
Despite not having time to train, Thompson nearly matched her time from last year, 7hr 7min and 42sec. That was (and still is) a record for a marathon run by a woman over 90, shattering the previous record by over an hour and a half. Considering the average marathon time for women in the U.S. is 5hr 6min 8sec, Thompson’s pace makes her downright elite for a woman her age.
She says she’s not sure if she’ll run again next year, though she notes that she says that every year. If her family is any indication, chances are she’ll be plenty healthy enough to give it at least one more go: Her mother lived to 91, and three of her brothers lived to their late 80s and 90s, one to 99.
“I don’t think I’d be living today if I didn’t do this running,” she said. “I’m helping them and they’re kind of helping me.”