Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Farewell Joy Johnson


Credit: Jonathan Sprague for the Wall Street Journal

Joy Johnson. As I read the news from the New York City Marathon, the name was familiar. I pulled out the basket holding treasured hard copy articles, preceding the days before I began storing links on my laptop.

There it was: Page W1 of the Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal October 31, 2008, an article on marathon competition among runners 80 years and above. It included an interview with Johnson, then age 81. Matthew Futterman’s article contained a subtitle quote from Johnson: “I want to die running.”

I’d kept the article for its two intriguing aspects. The first was information on biological changes that occur in older runners. Futterman discussed the loss of efficiency in the circulatory system and some of the reasons senior runners are more prone to injury.

The icing on the cake in the article was a review of the training regimen Johnson adopted to lower her marathon time and place well in her age group. At age 81, she upped her running to 50-55 miles a week, ran the bleachers at the stadium, ran hills and increased her speed work.

The conjecture about her fall at mile 20 in this year’s NYC Marathon pales to me in importance. This was a woman confident in her decisions.

Twenty years younger than Johnson but older than most runners, I’ve had occasion to wonder when the need to test my ability may give way. For each of us, who knows when and if the drive for personal best and the love of running will cool, when we will be too sensible or too fragile to wait for a race start wrapped in a wind-protecting garbage bag.


Credit: Unknown. Facebook Photo

For Joy Johnson, the determination and drive didn’t subside at age 64 when she achieved a sub 4-hour marathon, it didn’t subside at age 80 when she upped her training.  It wasn’t the 2013 NYC Marathon, her last of many. Her love of running and willingness to work to her personal best were her companions to the end.

I’m scheduled to run the NYC Marathon in 2014. When I reach mile 20, I will be thinking of Joy Johnson, her love of running and her fellow runners, the drive and determination that brought her to the start and took her to the finish line. I’ll be reminded of what can be achieved and how to live fully while achieving it.

Well done, Joy.




  Chocolate Covered Race Medals wrote @

Well done, for sure! And cheers to her, what an amazing story.

  Still a Runner wrote @

Yes, truly a leader in competitive age group running and achieving so much.

  MikeW wrote @

What a great name for such an inspirer. I believe she’s still running, except now, lightening is her stopwatch when speed is desired, and leaves falling, when peace.

  Still a Runner wrote @

Joy was a great name and one she lived up to. This was a beautiful comment to start my day.

  Patty wrote @

Mary Lou
She is my new idol. Hope we can get to that point in life as well. I know I am going to keep trying.

  Still a Runner wrote @

I’m with you. Let’s plan to compete in the 80 and over age group. I’ve got about 15 years to train.

  It’s not just a race | My Road to Central Park wrote @

[…] Farewell Joy Johnson ( […]

  Still a Runner wrote @

Thank you for including this post in your links to NYC Marathon reports. Reading the other links included gave me pause to think about the many types of barriers to potential that are achieved through running.

  runnerrich wrote @

Joy was amazing. It’s great to see that there is so much potential throughout our life spans if we take care of ourselves. I wish Joy were still around to share her thoughts…on everything.

Thanks for sharing!

  Still a Runner wrote @

Potential is exactly the right word. Imagine how much most of us, myself included, leave untapped.

  Tina@GottaRunNow wrote @

Training harder even at age 81 and to continue racing long after that – what an inspiration!

  Still a Runner wrote @

I so agree and worth emulating.

  Jim Brennan wrote @

Wonderful tribute to a remarkable woman.

  Still a Runner wrote @

Thank you. And she has left a remarkable legacy.

  The Running Chef wrote @

What an inspirational lady, truly shows how strong and persistent runners can be. I can only hope I am that strong at her age. You have made a beautiful tribute to her and I am sure you will achieve much more than you would have without her guiding light. Good luck!


  Still a Runner wrote @

Thank you, Tina. And yes, she certainly raised the bar.

  seo rankings wrote @

A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
I do believe that you ought to write more on this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but generally folks don’t discuss these issues.
To the next! Cheers!!

  Still a Runner wrote @

Thanks. And may you find beauty along your route today.

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