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Advice for Runners of All Ages From a 71-Year-Old World-Record Holder

Jeannie Rice keeps running, setting records, and encouraging the rest of us to stay motivated.

Photo: George Kubas II

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She’s 71 years old but following her world-record-setting half marathon in August, Jeannie Rice has no intention of slowing down.

In fact, going after records has become a pastime for this grandmother from Mentor, Ohio, who finished the Akron Half Marathon in 1:37:07 (chip time 1:37:01) to surpass the previous mark for 70-plus women by more than 30 seconds. She’s also the age group world record holder in the marathon (3:27:50) and has the American records in the mile (6:37), half, and full marathon distances.

Rice has advice for all of us about goal setting, motivation, and maintaining health in order to train and compete consistently. She also talks about why her only rival is herself. Read on for tips from the master.

Constantly change your goals.

Rice, who initially started running when she was 35 with a modest objective to shed a few pounds, now runs to set world records.

“I wouldn’t have dreamed years ago of a world record; I wouldn’t even think that. And now I’m trying to break my own record,” said Rice, who qualified for the Boston Marathon in 1984 during her second attempt at that distance and has done so every year since.

Over the last 36 years, Rice has adjusted her goals to ensure that they are ambitious but also attainable, acknowledging that her age brings new limitations.

“I understand one of these days maybe I won’t be able to run a marathon. I’m not going to give up until my body says no…. at that point I’ll do half marathons,” said Rice, who has completed more than 1,000 races.

Persist with discipline, knowing failure is not final.

Running impacts every facet of Rice’s life: early morning runs, nutritious meal planning, and the eliminating alcohol before races. Each choice brings Rice closer to achieving her running goals.

She routinely wakes up before sunrise to train.

“I don’t think I have natural talent. I train hard, and I work hard to get where I am,” she said. “Sure, some days I wish I could sleep in, but I know I wouldn’t feel good that day. I know I would feel better once I get up and do it.”

Persistence has also been crucial to her achievements. For Rice, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try… and try again. This was especially true during her quest to secure the 13.1-mile world record.

Rice came close to eclipsing the record, not once, not twice, but three times prior to actually doing so. After narrowly missing the record by one minute in Naples, Florida, due to hot and humid conditions, she made another attempt in Fort Myers. There she ran a world-recording breaking time of 1:36, but the course had not been sanctioned by U.S.A. Track & Field, which is a requirement for certifying any record. Her third go was in May 2019 at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, where she came up two minutes short due to a particularly hilly course.

Play some mental games.

When the running gets tough, Rice strategically and intentionally focuses on variables that are in her favor.
During the Akron Half Marathon, she knew that the hilly course could thwart her attempt to secure the world record, as it had done in Pittsburgh. Instead of obsessing about the tough terrain—something out of her control—she reminded herself that she felt good and that the weather was ideal.

Rice also employed mental games to propel her through the toughest portions of the race.

“When I started going uphill, I didn’t look up high,” she said. “Instead I just looked down and pretended like I was going downhill.”

Remember that prehab is better than rehab.

Remarkably, Rice has never experienced a running-related injury. The consistency in her training is a huge asset to getting the results she wants.

“Injury free is the most important thing. I have a lot of friends they get better, they get faster, and then they get injured,” she said. “Then they start all over again. Injury-free is number one. Listen to your body.”

Some of her good health is genetic, but Rice also doesn’t take any chances. She’s proactive about maintaining a healthy body and she is keenly aware that if she breaks or injures something, it will take her much longer to heal.

“I used to like trail running when I was younger. But, with all the up and down and tree stumps, I avoid that now. I am very careful,” said Rice, who splits her time between Ohio and Florida, opting to live and train in Florida during the precarious Ohio winters.

Find motivation in unexpected places.

Even though Rice has secured her ultimate goal—age group world records in both the full and half marathon distances—she has an insatiable drive to train and compete. She wants to set a new marathon world record (besting her own) by 30 seconds at the Berlin Marathon this month.

“I want to make it a little bit harder for other girls to break my record, so I can keep the record for as long as I can,” she said. “That’s my motivation.”

She has also gotten encouragement from unlikely sources. After setting the world record in the half marathon, Rice was overwhelmed with encouraging comments on social media from hundreds of strangers.

“Even the guys say I’m an inspiration and that makes me go out and run even harder,” Rice said. “They don’t know me; I don’t know them. Things like that make me feel good. I am helping people.”

Over the years Rice has also moved her family members, including her granddaughter Alyssa. The freshman in college aspires to run a half marathon in every state and has already done so in Alaska, California, and Ohio.

“Those moments fill my heart,” Rice said. “I am so happy Alyssa has her goal, and I’m hoping to run many of them with her. She might get faster, and I might get slower. When I am 80, maybe we can hold hands and run together. That’s something I can look forward to.”

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