She was dubbed the “backbone” of her 2021 record-setting Hood to Coast relay team. If it hadn’t been for the heroics of Jeannie Rice, who ran four segments that added up to 22.5 miles (and averaged 7:45 per mile on an hour of sleep), the 70+ mixed-gender group may not have finished.
That’s one way to stay engaged in the sport at 73 years old. But Rice, who is a semi-retired real estate agent splitting her time between Cleveland and southern Florida, is also just the queen of consistency. She didn’t start running until her mid-30s, in an effort to lose a little weight. Now she runs six days a week, every week, to prepare for three or four marathons per year. Rice has stuck to this routine for 38 years.
“Running is kind of part of my life,” she says. “I get up in the morning, I have a cup of coffee, then I go out the door and start my day.”
We know it’s hard to maintain that kind of motivation for nearly four decades. Rice shares her advice and perspective.
Redefine Your Goals
Rice’s competitive spirit is the number-one driver of her running longevity. I like to win, number one,” she says. Don’t we all?
While Rice acknowledges that her days of setting lifetime personal bests are over, there are other personal bests that she continues to pursue. The marathon world record in the 70–74-year-old female category, for example, is one she wants to set. Again.
Rice first set the record in Chicago in 2018, running 3:27:50, and then she surpassed her own mark in 2019 in Berlin, finishing in 3:24:48. For perspective, both times would qualify her for the Boston Marathon in even the fastest, youngest women’s age category.
In part, Rice is motivated to beat her own time, but she’s also motivated by her competition. “If I do a little bit faster, it’ll be harder for other girls to run it,” she says, before acknowledging that someone else will inevitably come along and set a new standard. She just wants to make that as tough as she can.
Unlike most marathoners, Rice trains continuously, often without taking more than a day off in any given week. Every few weeks she’ll go out and do a three-hour run, no matter if she has a race lined up or not. She describes her fitness as “always marathon-ready.” And yet she has never suffered an overuse injury.
Her secret? It’s not much of a secret, she says. “I listen to my body. People think I overtrain, but my body can handle it. If I can, I can.”
That’s not to say she goes out and hammers workouts exactly the way she did when she was younger. She used to go to the track every week, but she now does pickups or fartleks on the road, which can reduce pounding and stress on the body. She also leans into local 5Ks and other short races to get in speedwork in a way that’s fun while staying injury-free.
Try New Things
In August 2021, nearly four decades into her running career, Rice participated in her first Hood to Coast relay. “Traveling for a relay,” she says, was “something I had not done before.” She was invited to participate as part of the “70 Rocks” team, which had a goal that appealed to her competitive side: they were aiming to be the first team of runners 70 years and older to complete the 200-mile course.
At first Rice was apprehensive about running alone at night, but she ultimately signed on, and she even wound up running an extra leg when two teammates were sidelined by injuries mid-race. While she says she’ll continue to focus on marathons, she is grateful for the experience. “I felt very honored that they asked me to participate. I enjoyed it very much.”
Don’t Set Arbitrary Limits
Years ago, Rice assumed that she’d eventually stop running the 26.2-mile distance. In 2015, as she approached her 100th marathon, she told her friends and family that afterward she would switch to half marathons. “But that didn’t work,” she says. “There were so many marathons I still wanted to do!”
Rice is now up to 124 marathons and running even faster in her 70s than she had in her 60s. While her body holds up, she sees no reason to stop. “If I can continue to do two to three more a year, I might be able to do 150. You don’t know. Every day’s different. I could be running tomorrow and never again. Or I could be running when I’m 80.”