Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for senior women runners


I still occasionally find myself amazed by the accomplishments of women in my age cohort. A new study recently appeared in my inbox, once again confirming our tenacity.

The Runner Click Study

Researchers at Runner Click have compiled information on the makeup of marathon runners worldwide. They included information from a total of 784 marathons in 39 countries over three years, 2014-2017. Nearly three million runners participated in those marathons.

This survey excluded professional runners and the data gathered from some very young marathoners and others for various reasons. Participants represented 229 nationalities.

Here is my interest in the study: My eyes went immediately to data regarding senior women runners, specifically those 60 years and older.

Looking at the numbers in this study, we senior women runners may be a distinct minority, but by percentage, we are a growing marathon population.

Marathon Background Info

As background, the study has a great deal of other information including which marathons are growing in number and which have slowed growth, where the fastest and slowest averages are found and what parts of the world have the greatest and least marathon participation.

Most people who have run a marathon will tell you that it is a challenge to the body and the spirit, generally requiring several months of training. I will also add that before the 1970s women were not encouraged, and in many cases prohibited, from running the marathon distance.

Now, women marathoners are quite common. The marathons included in this study mark them up at about 34% of all runners.

I’m providing that background to explain my surprise at several numbers and percentages in the report.

The Stunning Stats

Although the largest age groups participating in marathons are 30-39 and 40-49, making up about 60% of all marathoners, those of us 60+ right through age 100 are holding our own and, percentage-wise, are actually growing.

  • Researchers measured the growth rate in number of runners participating in 10-year age groups. The highest growth was in the age group of 90-99 years of age, increasing in an overall participation rate of 38.74%.
  • While the percentage of participations dropped in most younger age groups, those in age groups (men and women) over 60 years of age had a percentage increase (60-69 – 3.81%, 70-79 – 1.14%, 80-89 – 5.10%, followed by the whopping increase in age group 90-99 – 38.74%.
  • Researchers found the following average finish times (rounded to minutes) for women in age groups over age 60: 60-69 – 5 hours, 19 minutes; 70-79 – 6:00 hours; and 80-89 – 6 hours and 44 minutes.

Looking at those times, you may be mentally comparing them to elite runners who have remarkable times of just over 2 hours. Remember, though, that this data was compiled on recreational runners with the elite data eliminated.

Given that the fastest age group, on average, over the 182 marathons included in the study was 4 hours and 42 minutes, the times listed above for women in the 60+ age groups are quite impressive.

When I began distance training for my first marathon at 56, I followed the methods in Jeff Galloway’s book Running until You’re 100. At the time, I took that as an inspirational figure of speech.

Now, it turns out that Jeff was right. Men and women are not just running until they’re 100 but running marathons to that age.

There are times when, as a marathon runner, I have felt as though I am among the very few women my age still pursuing this distance. That apparently is not the case, as older women continue to take on the marathon.

Are you seeing an increase in the number of participants, particularly women, age 60 and over? Are you one of them? Please share your observations.

Super Senior – How does she do it?

Returning from a recent trip, a friend’s email suggested I look at an article in Parade Magazine.  Without that email, this wonderful read would have gone the way of the built-up unessential snail mail.


Photo Credit: Grant Harder

On the cover is a photo of 94-year old Olga Kotelko,  a record-holding master track athlete. I’m stunned realizing Olga is a generation older than me. How refreshing that as a 66-year old, frequently the oldest woman runner at races, I can read about a competitive champion in my mother’s age group.

In my closing post for 2013, I mused about the process of aging – and loss – as a senior athlete. This article is a window to a fresh mindset and a new year.

Bruce Grierson writes about Kotelko as an example of a category researchers refer to as “super seniors” and identifies six super senior habits:

Get or stay active – Does physical activity ward off those senior moments as effectively as word games or puzzles? Scientists are exploring this possibility, so why not do both?

Stand when you can – In addition to track training, 94-year old Kotelko uses her stairs multiple times a day and stands while cooking.

Eat healthy – You don’t have to be perfect, eschewing your favorite foods, but do eat often in smaller portions, incorporate fruits and vegetables and keep a distance from the fast food.

Honor good  habits – If the habit is to be at the track three days a week, you will get there regardless of your mood or life complications.  If your habit is to reach for the celery sticks in place of (or in addition to) the cookies, that is what your memory and muscles will do. Develop good habits and let them go on autopilot.

Log your progress – and you decide what is progress. Set up small wins for yourself.

De-stresssunsets_stressMake a choice  about what to get upset about, what you can change and what you can’t. Let the can’ts go.

To Grieson’s list, I would add two actions common to many senior women athletes at the top of the ranking:

Hang out with active friends.  It was a friend who suggested masters track to Kotelko. Kotelko in turn brought her friend, 76-year old Christa Bortignon, another world record holder, into the world of Masters Track. Share your passion for athletics with the willing, find a running group or workout group. Check web listings such as  localeikki or RRCA running clubs. If the first group you try isn’t a good fit, find another.  The camaraderie of an early morning run can build an unexpected new community of friends.

Speedword friends keep me accountable

Speedwork friends keep me accountable

Get a Coach – Every in-depth article I read about 60+ women making and breaking records report they work with a coach.  Many of them also have regular visits to a personal fitness instructor and massage therapist or chiropractor. These masters have mastered the art of self-care to stay healthy and at the top of their field.

I’d welcome any reader tips to add to my suggestions. In the meantime, Kotelko’s story has me feeling celebratory  and it’s out the door in freezing temperatures to celebrate the joy of movement and to mentally rewrite my goals for the running year.