Thursday, June 3, 2010

On her 87th, she'll do 26.2

Like clockwork, Harriette Thompson is headed back to Southern California this weekend for the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. Her 12th San Diego marathon. In the past 12 years.

It's the only marathon she's ever run. And this year's race, set for Sunday, just so happens to fall on her birthday. Her 87th birthday.

The Charlottean -- a grandmother 10 times over -- started her streak in 1999 after a friend turned her on to the idea of walking a marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team In Training. In that first race, Thompson mixed in some running and wound up winning her age group in just under seven hours, just seconds before the official cutoff time. (She hasn't finished that slowly since; her PR is 6:07:22.)

Thompson is a cancer survivor herself, and says she's lost many friends to the disease. Over the years, she's raised $75,000 through Team In Training, and is currently the organization's top fundraiser for San Diego.

Q. When did you start running?
Around 1977, running started to become popular. It was thought to be beneficial, exhilarating, etc., so I decided to run around the block every now and then.

Q. How many miles do you log a week, and what's your average pace?
I never keep track of my mileage or time unless I am with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Team In Training. When I am facing a marathon, I do try to exercise an hour on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Lately, I have been trying yoga once a week.

Q. What is it about San Diego that's so special?
The only reason I have been going to San Diego is to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I did find that it has many attractions which I enjoy. To name a few: The Zoo, Coronado Beach, Sea World, Balboa Park, La Jolla, and Mexico is just a stone's throw.

Q. Do you ever run local races here in Charlotte?
I run quite a few races in Charlotte. Mostly 5Ks, with a 10K every now and then.

Q. What type of cancer did you have?
My cancer was on the roof of my mouth, which never hurt and was only noticed by the dental hygienist. Fortunately, after an eight-hour operation, they were able to remove it. As a result, I now have to keep an obdurator on the roof of my mouth, which attaches to my teeth and covers the hole. When I take it out, I can't eat, talk or drink. I'm very lucky science has improved the technique of this operation. I was told that years ago the operation was done from the outside and was terribly disfiguring. The operation was around 1985. Cancer runs in my family. I've lost my parents and two brothers from cancer. I am delighted that I can raise money for cancer research.

Q. Tell me about your experience with Team In Training.
I've been involved with Team in Training ever since I ran my first marathon. I was not aware how much the training helps. For many years, I just ran on my own, and when one year I was not prepared, I decided maybe I better train with the team. It is inspiring to have coaches who really care. Now I am totally sold on working with them. My problem is that I often have conflicts and can't meet with them as much as I should.

Q. What's the secret to your success as a fundraiser?
Having great friends!

Q. I hear you're also an accomplished pianist. Are there any similarities between the way music makes you feel and the way running makes you feel?
I never compared my running to my piano playing. I have found recently that to keep my mind off the strains of running, I choose a piano piece with lots of rhythm, and I think through that piece and time flies. In San Diego, I can't do that because they have over 40 loud jazz bands playing, and that interrupts my train of thought.

Q. How's your body holding up?
So far, my body has been cooperating. One year I was nursing hamstring problems. That seems to have subsided. I do notice I am gradually slowing down. Last year was quite unusual -- I took about 30 minutes off the previous year's time. It was all due to the weather. No sun, a cool breeze, a slight mist, and temperature around 66 degrees. That encouraged me to try one more marathon.

Q. Do you ever think to yourself, "I'm getting too old for this ----"?
I don't think as much about my getting too old for this, but my friends keep reminding me how crazy I am. ... All the literature about staying healthy emphasizes how important it is to exercise. ... I've always wanted to get places quickly ... and always ran up stairs. Now I notice I don't do two steps at a time. So I am slowing down, doggone it.


Anonymous said...

Wow......this woman is awesome!!! She needs more news coverage as she will inspire others half her age to get going and exercise.Too many people are fat and inactive!!!!

Anonymous said...

Amazing...keep going!!

Anonymous said...

We often see stories about parents and their children running. Ms. Thompson's son, Brenny, is a very fast local runner as well. But the different spin, is her age, and he is in his 50's. Both are very fast!

jthd.williams said...

you ROCK aunt harriette!! keep it up and have a safe trip!