The world's oldest marathoner plans to celebrate his 101st birthday in an unusual way. He wants to break his own record.
Indian-born runner Fauja Singh, who became the oldest person to complete a marathon when he crossed the finish line at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last year, plans to compete in the London Marathon on April 22. If he finishes, it will be his 11th, 42-kilometer race.
Singh, who was a bit of a late bloomer, started running when he was 81 as a way to fight depression after his son and daughter-in-law were killed in a car crash.
“His mental attitude was what inspires me to this day,” said Harmander Singh, who coaches the runner. “He was so mentally focused. If I said, ‘We’re going to do 10 kilometers today,’ he would say, ‘Why not 20?’”
Despite the determination, the turbaned athlete still needed a little guidance.
“He turned up the very first day not knowing what running was all about. He was a savvy dresser. He came in a three-piece suit and a pair of trainers,” said Harmander Singh, who is not related to the centenarian. “I suggested he needed to invest in a pair of running kicks. And I provided him with a first set but he soon brought his own.”
Fauja Singh was inspired after seeing the New York City Marathon on television and decided he wanted to be a part of it. He finished his first marathon at the age of 89. Since then, he has broken eight world records for his age group.
In India, Singh was a farmer for most of his life. He is illiterate and speaks only Punjabi. But that hasn’t limited his international exposure, or prevented him from being an inspiration to others.
Centenarian Fauja Singh stretches himself at a running event in Amritsar, India, Jan. 22, 2012.
On a recent trip back to India, Singh told the Times of India
he wants to inspire young people and motivate them to “leap big in life.” But he said time is running out. “I am ready to go to any length to help youths before I die,” he told the newspaper.
Singh’s coach said as long as his trainee, a vegetarian, is moving, he’ll stay healthy.
“You can’t stop the guy running. Because the day he stops running will be the day his body will start deteriorating,” said Harmander Singh. “He said he would like to die running.”
Fauja Singh, with his long white beard, has become, in a sense, a man of steel. His trainer said recent blood tests showed the runner is as fit as a 40-year-old. And when London University tested his bone density, they found his left leg had the density of a 35-year-old, while his right leg had the bone density of a 25-year-old.
Singh’s trainer said youth and health are a state of mind.
“All people who reach a certain age, you will find what they have in common is they have a positive attitude in life,” he said. “They do not believe they are old. We do, but they don’t.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Woodsome)