When it comes to setting running goals, age is no barrier for this grandmother from Ohio.
The day after a marathon, you won’t find Jeannie Rice kicking her feet up. Instead, you’ll find her doing what she does best: running.
Rice, who lives in Mentor, Ohio, is too busy chasing records—and on Sunday at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, she wants to set the world record in her 70+ age group. To do so, she’ll have to run faster than 1:37:38, an average of just under 7:27 per mile.
At 71 years old, Rice is not the slightest bit nervous. Why should she be?
In her age group, Rice already holds the world record in the full marathon (3:27:50) and the American records in the one-mile (6:37), half marathon, and full marathon distances.
Sunday won’t be Rice’s first attempt at the world half marathon record, either. She’s come close twice before.
“In Naples I missed it by one minute—the weather was real hot and humid,” she said. “But in Fort Myers, I ran a 1:36. I broke the record time, but that was not a [USA Track & Field] sanctioned course, so it didn’t count.”
Never fear—race officials are ready this time. Patrice Matamoros, the Pittsburgh Marathon CEO and race director (who is leaving her position after 11 years leading the organization), is rooting for the record-setting day on her home turf.
“It would be special to her and special to us. The world record was previously set in Australia,” Matamoros said. “It would be nice to see Pittsburgh, PA, in the record book—with Jeannie’s name beside it.”
The example Rice sets for runners of all abilities is also celebrated and welcomed at the event.
“Jeannie really does show that running is accessible to every age,” Matamoros said. “She inspires others to live healthy lives and not put a timeline on success in their lives.”
Like many runners, Rice first used the sport as a way to shed a few pounds. She was 35 and looking to improve her health and fitness—but it wasn’t long before she discovered she might have talent.
“In 1983 during my first race, a local five-miler, I came in fourth place. The girl who came in third was a ‘real runner,’” Rice said. “That’s when I got the bug. I thought, I was right behind her, and I thought, what if I really trained?”
The following spring, Rice ran her first 26.2-mile race, the Cleveland Marathon, in 3:45, followed by another marathon that fall in 3:16. In only her second attempt at the distance, she qualified for the Boston Marathon, and she has done so every year since.
During marathon training, Rice averages 10 miles a day—60-70 miles a week, with only two or three days off each month. Over the past 36 years, Rice has completed more than a thousand races, including 118 marathons.
To put the calculation into perspective, Rice estimates she has run around the world three times. She’s also literally run all around the world—New Zealand, the Great Wall of China, Paris, Prague, Iceland, Dublin, and Madrid.
“I make a trip out of it. I train hard, and of course I want to win my division, but I always make fun out of it,” Rice said.
So what’s next, after the Pittsburgh Half Marathon? Rice is looking to win her age group at all six of the World Marathon Major races. She’s already checked off the goal at the Boston, New York City, and Chicago marathons, leaving Berlin, Tokyo, and London up next.
Rice plans to run until she’s no longer able to do so.
“One day it’s going to come, sooner or later—and hopefully later—but the day is not going to be tomorrow for me,” she said.
Aside from setting records, Rice is also spreading the love of the sport to a new generation. In June 2018, she and her granddaughter Alyssa traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, where Alyssa ran her first 13.1-mile race while her grandmother raced the 26.2-mile distance. The duo plans to run a marathon together one day.
“It is so exciting that she wants to run marathons some day with grandma,” Rice said. “And I will be the happiest grandma when we do that together.”