Lessons From Harriette Thompson, The World’s Oldest Marathoner

A member of the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego staff offers a few quick lessons from the world's oldest marathoner.

Photo: Ryan Bethke
Photo: Ryan Bethke

Celebrate National Running Day with a $5 6-month subscription to Women’s Running, available only on June 3!

The next time you decide to skip the gym, consider this: There is a 92-year-old woman who will keep running marathons as long as she is able. Harriette Thompson finished the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in 7 hours and 24 minutes. I’m humbled to say I was there when she crossed the finish line and to have met her in person the following morning when she was interviewed via Skype and Google Hangout by CNN and ABC News. Just think of all the changes that have happened in the world and running industry since Harriette was born—in the 1920s!

Here’s what I learned from Harriette:

  • Stay humble. Despite the awe and adoration from the media, fellow competitors, and Rock ‘n’ Roll staff, Harriette kept her enthusiasm and acted like it was just another day. “I put one foot down and then another one,” she said after crossing the finish line.
  • Do what you love, for as long as you can. Last year, Harriette set the record for the fastest marathon in her age group, and she vowed she would be back if she could still run. Despite losing her husband and having ongoing complications from her own cancer treatment—she is a two-time cancer survivor—Harriette came back this year. When asked how she does it, she knows it’s just the right fit for her. “Actually, I don’t know. It’s just I love to run.”
  • Do something that matters. There are people from all over the globe inspired by Harriette’s story—if you’re one of them, consider donating to Harriette’s fundraising campaign. However, Harriette again proved her perspective, listing the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s research mission as a motivator. I was positively in awe when she said, “At 92, there aren’t too many things you can do for other people.” Her family connection to cancer is poignant as well—as a survivor herself, she has a son currently in treatment and family who have succumbed to it, including her husband.
  • Focus on the finish. “You ran 26 miles, 345 yards” said David Muir of ABC News. Harriette reminded us she’s focused on the end result: “Is that how far it is? I’m glad I didn’t have to count that while I was running.” That’s probably a top-10 outlook on marathoning!

Harriette will be back to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon in October–we look forward to seeing her gorgeous smiling face in NY!