Posted by: drwbortz | October 19, 2011

HE DID IT !!! X 100

On Sunday October 16, 2011 Fauja Singh, age 100, completed the Toronto Marathon, an occasion worthy of an entire trainload full of champagne corks popping. Bigger than the Super Bowl, bigger than the World Series, bigger than the America’s Cup, bigger than the four-minute mile. Fauja Singh set the new world standard for the capacity of the human body and spirit.

For decades, I’ve been tracking the prospect of this moment. As a certified champion of what’s good about aging, I have lusted for this time to say “Hallelujah.” I rise to cheer.

Three years ago I was titillated by the fact that Buster Martin said to be 100 finished the London marathon. But the sleuthing of the Guinness record people discovered that he was only 94 — a different brand of Rosie Ruiz.

So the title of 100-year-old marathoner remained vacant until Sunday. Until that moment,the oldest marathoner record was held by Dimitrion Yordanidis, age 98, set in Athens, 1976.

My dear friend, Dr. Paul Spangler, my father’s Harvard Medical School classmate, gave up his medical career (he was chief naval medical officer at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941) to preach the gospel of fitness, which he did with great vigor. He ran the New York Marathon in 1991 at age 92. He charged me with helping him be the first in 1999 to duplicate this feat when he was a hundred. He didn’t make it, dying at 95 while running his customary 7-mile run in San Luis Obispo. Paul didn’t make it, but his shoe lacings did as I put them in my shoes as I ran that New York City Marathon in his honor.

So I have waited a long time for Fauja Singh.  He was born on April 1, 1911, in Punjab India. After his wife died he moved to London in 1992.  He spoke only Punjabi and cannot read or write (Wikipedia) At age 89, he took up running seriously, running his first marathon in London in 2000 and six others subsequently. His finish time in 2000, 6:54 at age 89, was approximately the same that I took when I ran London in 1997 at age only 68.

Last Sunday, it took him 14 minutes even to reach starting line. So, his corrected completion time was eight hours, 25 minutes, 17 seconds. “The Turbaned Tornado” was featured in advertising by Adidas, along with David Beckham and Mohammed Ali so his name is widely heralded and richly deserved. He holds innumerable age-group records, as did Paul Spangler.

A few years ago, we were at a small race in Palo Alto. I asked Paul what he thought his time was going to be the next day.  And he said, “I’m not sure what it is, but what ever it is, it will be a world record.” Maybe all of us should aspire to the same opportunity. So Fauja Singh joins my personal pantheon of athletes at the top. He has shown the world what a centenarian can do. I hope that his accomplishment will represent what Roger Bannister and Sir Edmund Hillary did — an inflection point — a signal for an avalanche of late blooming centenarian marathoners.

An evidence of this possibility is the record of the age group finishers in the New York City Marathon:

   YEAR      AGE     MALE    FEMALE
   1970 Ted Corbett (Only entrant over age 50)      50       1       0
   1978    70-75       6       0
   75-80       0       0
   1988    70-75      36       5
   75-80       9       0
   80-90       4       0
   1998    70-75      81      14
   75-80      23       7
   80-90      11       3
    90+       1       0
   2008    70-75     111      14
   75-80      28       6
   80-90      10       3
    90+       2       3
   2009    70-75     125      23
   75-80      31       3
   80-90       9       3
   2010    70-75     144      16
   75-80      36       6
   80-90      10       3
   2011     ?????     ?????

So, as I contemplate March 20, 2030, I hope that I am still in training for Boston in April.

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