94-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Breaks Half Marathon Record

What'd you do this weekend?

Jun 6 2017, 2:40pm

Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Harriette Thompson doesn't know why people are making such a fuss over her.

"It's amazing that anyone would be interested in someone who's 94," she says. But she's being humble—they're amazed because, at 94, Thompson is the oldest woman ever to complete a half marathon. (The record for oldest person to complete a marathon currently belongs to 106-year-old Fauja Singh, who completed the the Toronto Marathon in 2011 at age 100.) On Sunday, Thompson finished the Rock 'n' Roll Half in San Diego in 3:42:56—a 17-minute mile pace, or 3.5 mph on a treadmill.

Pretty fast, considering Thompson also fought—and won—against cancer twice (squamous cell carcinoma and oral cancer), and has battled a slew of other health issues like aortic valve stenosis, vertigo, facial numbness, and eyelid problems, according to The Washington Post.

Her training for this marathon suffered too—she underwent an operation last July for her leg in which doctors took skin from her thigh and grafted it onto a radiation scar. But just a few months following her surgery, Thompson was back at it, walking 5Ks—and the occasional 8-miler with her son—while still taking exercise classes at the retirement home where she lives.

Thompson, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, picked up the sport of running back in the '70s when running wasn't the norm. "There was one man in my hometown who ran and everyone thought he was crazy, but later on we got some sense and found out running was good for you," she says.

She never set out to run a marathon, but in 1999, a fellow choir member changed her mind. "She told me she was going to walk a marathon to benefit leukemia and lymphoma in San Diego, so I signed up too," Thompson says. She "took her sweet time," she says, but ended up placing first in her age group, coming in at just under seven hours.

"It was so much fun and I was doing something worthwhile, so I decided to do it the next year, and that went on for 16 years," Thompson says. She's only missed two Rock 'n' Roll Marathons—the only race she runs—since then: Once in 2013 while she was battling cancer, and 2016's because of her leg surgery. In 2015, she became the oldest woman to finish the marathon. If all that wasn't enough, over the past 16 years, she's raised over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

So what can you take away from a 94-year-old woman who out-performed you over the weekend? Some refreshingly reasonable advice for attempting pretty much anything: "It's just a matter of discipline and starting off slowly," Thompson says. "You'll find as you go along things get easier and you feel better."

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