5 Jan

Breaking Dawn

80 year old Gordon Booth in action

With the 60 plus category now the fastest growing in the sport, we look at runners who are doing anything but reclining in their twilight years.

When Fauja Singh completed the Toronto Marathon he was 100 years old. By covering the 26.2 miles, he set a new Guinness World Record, surpassing Greek runner Dimitrion Yordanidis, who completed the 1976 Athens Marathon at the age of 98. While Fauja represents something of an anomaly, the trend of taking up running later on in life is becoming increasingly popular.

According to research from the University of New Hampshire, runners over 60 are the fastest growing group in the sport. In the 2012 London marathon, for example, there were 1186 runners aged 60 and above who completed the race. Even more surprisingly, 171 were in the 70+ category.

One person who has first-hand knowledge of the rise in older runners is Blackpool-based, Tricia Ellis. In 2010, Tricia started the Goal-den Girls with the hope of attracting newcomers. The criterion, however, was very specific: each woman had to be over the 'golden' age of 50, and had to share the goal of running 26.2 miles. Two years on, Tricia was one of 25 ladies who completed this summer's Edinburgh marathon.

In the first few weeks of training, Tricia said the girls brought a very different approach to younger runners: "For me, the majority of older runners don't feel they have anything to prove and just want to enjoy their sessions. This makes for a relaxed and happy atmosphere, which normally means they have a positive training session and makes them want to come back next week for more."

While the competitive edge wasn't as apparent as it may be in other clubs, Tricia feels that the ladies quickly became extremely dedicated to their training, as evidenced in their performance at Edinburgh. On top of the physical benefits, there are very apparent social advantages too: "Starting running in later life gives you a new lease of life, confidence, and if you join a group you also gain a new social circle. You stop being invisible as your family and friends start to recognise your achievements."

Aside from this feeling of recognition, Tricia adds, there is also a sense that the Goal-den girls, and those who have taken up the sport later on in life, have had a very tangible effect in inspiring younger generations to get fit. With the UK looking to maximise the legacy of last summer's Olympics, there is a very strong argument to made of including older runners as prime role-models.

In addition to highlighting the growing popularity of the sport amongst over 60s, the New Hampshire study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that the running economy - how efficiently the body uses oxygen at a certain pace - of older runners was no different than that of younger runners. While there was clear evidence that the strength, power, and flexibility certainly declined with age, the revelations concerning running oxygen uptake suggests older runners are just as efficient as younger ones.

Strong proof of this assertion is evident in the career of Yorkshire runner Gordon Booth. After taking up running in 1986 at the age of 54, Gordon completed his first marathon within 15 months. The event, the now extinct Pennine marathon, involved over 2,000 feet of ascent and saw Gordon take top billing in his MV55 category with a time of 3:30:04.

Gordon reflects on the lead-up to the race and to his surprising victory: "I was a little frightened by my lack of training before the marathon, I was only managing around 22 miles per week. My sister had to persuade me to stay for the prize-giving after, and I remember how shocked I was to be handed that silver cup and £25 voucher."

After the race, Gordon quite happily admits that his competitive instinct took hold, and he returned to the Pennine marathon the following year to break the MV55 course record by three minutes. His PBs, which includes a 37:22 10k (aged 58) and a marathon time of 2:53:04 (aged 62), constitute the sort of performances most runners would happily boast about. Since moving into the MV80 category earlier this year, he has maintained a prolific winning streak, coming first in the Ilkley 9 Mile Trail and the Bentham 10k.

To keep track of his career to date, Gordon has his own blog - oldrunningfox.blogspot.co.uk. For him, it is purely an, 'online diary', although the number of followers, plus the hits he has now amassed - almost 14,000 since March 2010 - suggest that his running adventures are keenly anticipated. Recently Gordon has taken umbrage with Jeff Galloway's book Running Until You're 100. His irritation stems from the author's contention that older runners should only be doing three sessions per week - one long run, one short run, and one long walk. "As far as I'm concerned, I'll only walk when I can no longer run."

While he may not speak for everyone, you get the impression that Gordon, like many others taking up running that bit later on in life, share this sentiment.


  1. Cathy Dalby said...

    I agree that the older generation is inspiring the younger generation to get fit and active. My mum did her first 10k at the age of 61. She is now 72 and has completed many 10ks and half marathons. She completed the Edinburgh marathon last may. Her first ever full marathon at the age of 72. She has inspired me my partner and my brother to take up running at the age of 52, 53 and 54