At 85, woman keeps on running — and winning
JOHANNESBURG — Just about every morning, Deirdre Larkin, 85, runs through the suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa, her white hair buffeted by the wind as she breezes along her well-worn 8-kilometer training course.
A retired concert pianist who began running late in life, she can complete a half-marathon in just over two hours and holds the world record time for her age.
“Before I turned 78, the last time I ran was in college, and I was really bad,” she said, standing in front of a wall of some 500 medals in her home recognizing her athletic feats.
Stopping for selfies with children or to offer fellow runners encouragement, Larkin has become something of a celebrity in the races she runs.
“As people pass me — because most people pass me — they greet me and say ‘Hello! I saw you on TV!’ Otherwise we don’t really talk for any length of time because you need your breath,” Larkin said after a recent 10K race in Pretoria.
She arrived in South Africa from Britain in 1970, but her recent fame as a runner came as a surprise. In 2000, Larkin’s doctor diagnosed her with osteoporosis, which was untreatable with medication or injections.
In 2010, one of Larkin’s four children briefly moved into her home in Johannesburg’s middle-class Randburg suburb — where local media call her the Grand Dame of Randburg.
“My son ran three times a week. I said I would join him,” she recalled. “When I started, I was walking three steps, running three steps, walking three steps, running three steps.”
Seven years later, her running has been transformed. In May she was invited to compete in Switzerland where she ran a half-marathon in two hours five minutes, setting a world record for her age group.
“Running in Geneva was absolute magic. The race itself was lovely,” she said. “It was flat: You started in the gardens, you came to the fields and you ran alongside the lake.”
Deirdre Larkin, holder of the half-marathon world record in the 85-plus category, runs a 10K race in Johannesburg, South Africa, last month.