Age is no barrier

Think you're too old to run? 'Balderdash' say three inspirational older runners. Lisa Jackson talks to them...

 

‘Whenever I run a race I always write “Tell my children I love them” on the back of my number along with my contact details – at my age you never know what will happen,’ says Antoinette Rendle , 67, a shop assistant from Peterborough. ‘I lost my beloved husband Barry, who was my biggest supporter, when he was just 58, so I know life can take unexpected turns. We’d been married for 32 years and 18 days and I’m eternally grateful that I had running in my life as it gave me something to focus on other than my grief. Whenever I feel unhappy I go out for a run – it’s far cheaper than therapy.’

Antoinette only took up running aged 37 to lose weight and since then has done over 350 races – everything from 20 marathons to challenge runs to cross-country. ‘Barry used to accompany me to all my races and would look after our son and daughter while I ran. He’s still with me at every event as I carry a photo of him wherever I go,’ she says.

The secret of keeping running well into her 60s? ‘Joining a club,’ says Antoinette. ‘I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people at my club, Bushfield Joggers, and it’s meant I’ve never felt lonely.’

Antoinette’s proudest achievement? ‘I’m delighted to say I’ve finished every race I’ve ever started. I still enter about two races a month, and next year I’ve got loads of events lined up, including seven half marathons. Every year since 1997 I’ve competed in the Malta International Marathon – 26.2 miles run over three days – as I’m originally from the island and love seeing all the friends I’ve made there over the years.’

When asked about her future running ambitions, Antoinette has, unsurprisingly, a long list: ‘I aim to do the Virgin Money London Marathon when I’m 70 as well as the New York City and Boston Marathons, and I’d still like to be doing 10Ks when I’m 80.’
Antoinette Rendle , 67, Peterborough

Gina Little, a retiree from Greenwich, is no ordinary marathon runner. At an age when many women would be thinking of taking it easy (or taking up bowls), this remarkable 69-year-old is running 40 miles a week… and is just about to do her 500th marathon. Yes, that’s not a typo, her 500th – a feat she’s achieved in just 31 years. ‘I started running at the age of 37, did my first marathon the following year and then, in 1999, completed my 100th marathon,’ she says. ‘I’m amazed that I’m doing my 500th as I never expected to run so many, it’s just caught up with me.’

Gina joined the 100 Marathon Club in 2003 to meet like-minded people. ‘The club travels all over the world to run and I love being able to do this with them. I realise not everyone can afford to travel but I see running marathons as my hobby and you have to pay for your hobbies,’ she says. Her favourite race? ‘I love the Berlin Marathon. This year I’ll be doing it for the 25th time.’

Gina obviously doesn’t act her age, but does she feel it? ‘I never think about my age,’ she says. ‘I am what I am. But I sometimes realise how fit I am when I’m with other people my age!’ Proof of her fitness? ‘I always get into the Virgin Money London Marathon as I get a “good for age” place each year.’

And what’s the secret of her success? ‘I’ve been lucky not to have had any really bad injuries. Running has always come easily to me, and I’m very small and light so that may have helped.’

So how will she be celebrating her 500th? ‘I’ll be having a celebration with friends and family straight afterwards. My local running club, Plumstead Runners, whom I’ve run with for 20 years, have hired a coach to bring everyone along. They’ve supplied all the food and I’ll be taking lots of Champagne for the toasts.’

Her friends and family’s reaction to her reaching this incredible milestone? ‘They’re proud of my achievements but quite frankly they’re so used to my running, I think my 500th will be just another run to them!’
Gina Little, 69, Greenwich

‘What I love most about running is the fact that I’m viewed as “just another runner” and not an old biddy who should
be sitting by the fire!’ says Evelyn Elkington , 78, a former bookkeeper from Warton Carnforth in Lancashire. ‘I didn’t start running until I was 46 and was inspired to take it up while watching the Paralympics on TV,’ she says. ‘My husband Bernard and I decided to train for a half marathon to raise funds for a disabled team who wanted to compete abroad. We thought we’d only do that one race but then we were given flyers for some other races and that was it, we were hooked.’

After a long and varied running career that involved doing races of every distance including three marathons (Evelyn achieved her marathon PB of 4:14 in London aged 53), and winning numerous age-category prizes, she decided to celebrate the millennium by attempting to break all her PBs. ‘I’m not usually one to make resolutions,’ she says, ‘but I thought the year 2000 was special.

I really put my mind to it and upped my training from three to five times a week. My hard work paid off and I’m proud to say that, at the age of 64, I managed to achieve PBs in the 5K, 10K, ten mile and half marathon. With the latter, I beat my previous time of 1:47, which had stood for nine years, by an amazing four minutes.’

Evelyn runs between three and eight miles three times a week to this day. ‘I’ve continued to do 10K races and the odd ten-miler,’ she says. ‘I do get despondent at times that I’m slowing down, but I still love running as I enjoy the camaraderie at my two clubs, Lancaster & Morecombe AC and Red Rose Road Runners.’

So will Evelyn ever hang up her trainers? ‘If I stopped there would definitely be a void in my life; I tell all my friends I’d have to do something else, such as bungee jumping,’ she laughs. ‘But I’m terrified of heights, so I’ll keep on running!’
Evelyn Elkington , 78, Warton Carnforth in Lancashire

TOP TIPS FOR WANNABE OLDER RUNNERS

■ ‘If you want to run, ignore what others say, forget your age and run!’ says Gina. But, cautions Antoinette, ‘Get the go-ahead from your GP first.’

■ ‘Build up gradually – two minutes of running mixed with two minutes of walking is all it takes to get started,’ says Antoinette. Evelyn agrees: ‘Don’t expect too much too soon. Just put your mind to it and keep on plodding.’

■ ‘Join a club, not just for the company but to stay safe,’ says Antoinette. Gina adds: ‘Find your local Parkrun (www.parkrun.org.uk) and go along. They’ve helped tens of thousands of people to run.’

 


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