91-Year-Old Runs Age Group World Record Marathon

91-Year-Old Runs Age Group World Record Marathon

Harriette Thompson after breaking the world record. (Photo: Courtesy of the Competitor Group, Inc.)

If you need some inspiration this week, here it is: 91-year-old cancer survivor Harriette Thompson ran a new age-group world record marathon in 7:07:42 at the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon To Benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on June 1. She became the second oldest woman in U.S. history to finish a 26.2-mile race.

Thompson, who hails from North Carolina, didn’t just break the previous world record marathon of 9 hours, 53 minutes. She shattered it by almost three hours. Plus, she accomplished the feat just four weeks after undergoing radiation treatment for skin cancer.

91-Year-Old Runs Age Group World Record Marathon

Thompson at the start of the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon. (Photo: Courtesy of Wireimage/Jerod Harris)

The race was Thompson’s 15th marathon, all run in San Diego. She ran her first 26.2-mile race at the age of 76.

“It’s never too late,” Thomspon said about starting a running and walking routine.

But more than simply running, Thompson has been a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training since her first marathon, raising more than $90,000 for the charity over the course of her 15 marathons. Altogether, she’s logged 393 miles at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.

The classically trained pianist, who performed at Carnegie Hall, said she planned to celebrate with a long bath, a good night sleep and a big breakfast on Monday morning. “I don’t deserve all this attention,” Thompson said. “But it’s fun being famous for a day!”

It hard not to be moved by a runner like Thompson, who shows that there is no such thing as “too late” or “too old” when it comes to running. My first marathon, the New York City Marathon in 2007, was filled with many memorable moments. But one of them was this: somewhere near the Pulaski Bridge, which takes runners from Brooklyn to Queens halfway through the race, a woman with a great shock of white hair cruised past me. I have no idea how old she actually was, but my guess was late 70s. I was 29-years-old and here was a woman more than double my age running rings around me. I instantly thought: that’s going to be me someday.

Meb Keflezighi paced 1:30 half-marathoners at the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon

Meb Keflezighi is ready to pace his team. (Photo: courtesy of Wireimage/Jerod Harris)

Thompson was among the nearly 25,000 athletes in the weekend’s events. At the other end of the racing spectrum was 2014 Boston Marathon winner and San Diego hometown hero Meb Keflezighi, who lead the 1:30 half-marathon pace group. “I hope I can help others achieve their dreams,” he said in a pre-race interview.

“Today, it was about them,” Keflezighi said after the race. “I would just tell them, ‘Stay with me, stay with me and you’ll break 1:30.’ It was a blast. I had as much fun as they did.”

Among those runners was Cristen Patton, 32, of Temecula, Calif., who ran a personal best time of 1:29 under Meb’s wing. “Running with Meb, it was indescribable,” said Patton. “Honestly, I could feel his energy. I could just feel his presence, his positive energy.”

I love that a pro at the top of his game took the time to pace regular runners to their personal bests. It’s as moving as Thompson’s world record. They’re both runners who are giving back to the community in different ways, and setting fantastic examples in the process.

Consider me sufficiently inspired.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


06 2014

11 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    Consider me inspired too!!! More examples of why I love this sport :)
    Kristi@Blog for an Average Runner recently posted..Comment on A Last Look at Ottawa Race Weekend 2014 by CathyHMy Profile

  2. 3

    Amazing story!! She is truly inspiring!

  3. 5

    Great story! Go Harriette! Go Meb!
    Ewen recently posted..The Hunter Becomes the HuntedMy Profile

  4. 7

    Wow. Just wow.
    Kellie recently posted..Fuel, Fuel Everywhere, But Which One to Take?My Profile

  5. 9

    “Consider me sufficiently inspired.”

    LOVE this story!
    Diann_D recently posted..Study Finds Walking Boosts CreativityMy Profile

  6. 11

    Clearly she’s in great shape, and she also looks GREAT. Never would’ve guessed she was that old. Good for her, all around.
    Sadye recently posted..Race report: Dam to Dam Half MarathonMy Profile