The 101-Year-Old Marathon Runner
Fauja Singh is giving up marathons later this month. We spoke to him about what it's like to run at his age and why he's still doing it.
There’s something about getting old in sports. For a time, getting older means getting better—adjusting to the pace, fine-tuning your faults to be advantages, just generally getting better, stronger, faster, or whatever other physical attributes your game requires. Then, for a time, it becomes an impetus for change. Speed dissipates, spring compresses and never reaches its previous heights, strength maybe doesn’t go away but it’s not as suddenly-powerful as it once was. Things like “savvy,” “craftiness,” and the sadly-blunt “intelligence” become more important. All the things you’ve learned replace all the things you’ve had. And then one day that doesn’t matter, and it all doesn’t work well enough anymore.
But running is different. You do it. Then you keep doing it and doing it and doing it, getting better along the way, until you start getting worse. And yeah, your times presumably drop after a certain point, but your ability to straight-up run the race doesn’t necessarily change—just the amount of time it takes from start to finish does. As you get older, you run more, which is weird. And which is what’s so weird about a 101-year-old man running marathons.
Fauja Singh is British, wears a bright yellow turban, and has a long beard and some crooked teeth—it would be odd if a man born in 1911 had a perfect mouth. He ran the 2012 London Marathon in seven hours and 49 minutes, which is faster than the majority of humanity would be able to do it. However, the Turbaned Tornado (yes) is giving up marathons—he still plans to run every day, just not competitively—after he runs in the Hong Kong Marathon this February. We caught up with Singh a few weeks ago over email to talk about his running. The dude runs marathons and can be contacted through email, despite being 101. I’m not sure what’s more impressive.
When did you start running?
I assume you mean running marathons. My first was the London Marathon in 2000 at the age of 89.
What’s changed the most about running—whether it’s the gear, the organization, the popularity, etc.—since you started?
To be honest, I just run and let my coach sort out everything for me. He advises me on the best running gear and even suitable races and locations. For me, I have noticed more women and Asians are now participating. I hope I have helped inspire some of them to start running.
What’s the most difficult run you’ve ever been on?
Making a comeback after a few years lay-off was harder than I thought. My run in Canada (Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon) at the age of 100 was very tough as I did not get enough rest after the eight world records in a day just three days earlier. Although there was a lot of support from the public and others who ran with me, it was only God and my coach who got me through it.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I enjoy the running. The achievements, like the records, were just a bonus. I guess the achievements put together helped me be chosen to run with the Olympic Torch not once but twice, which is something I feel good about.
Has there ever been a point when you’ve wondered if it was time to give this up?
Yes, when I have not trained enough for a race because of being on holiday, but I told myself I am not going to give up, I will finish the race. After all, it has to end sometime and I just need to keep going. I can never fool my coach. He spots this easily and reminds me to remain focused.
What’s been the most difficult part of running as you’ve gotten older?
I actually think it has been getting easier because I have learned from my mistakes and as my coach says, “Listen to your body.”
Has your diet changed?
What about your equipment?
Just the worn out shoes.
Do you still run every day? How many miles?
I cover the same distance as always as I have a set routine. In the past it was more running, some jogging, and a little walking. Now, it is a little running, some jogging, and more walking. The total is still 10 miles.
How much do you need to warm up and stretch before each race?
My coach has a set routine. He has put it on the Internet.
How sore are you after you run a 5K or any other race now?
Not at all after 5 or 10k. Anything longer can be a little tiring, and it depends on where in the world I run. Running in the heat is much harder.
How long does it take you to recover now?
I am usually fine by the next day.
So, you’re 101. Why keep running and, well, why not just relax?
Running keeps me alive. It is like asking, “Why not stop breathing?”