At 85, woman keeps on run­ning — and win­ning

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

GUL­SHAN KHAN / AFP

Deirdre Larkin, holder of the half-marathon world record in the 85-plus cat­e­gory, runs a 10K race in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa, last month.

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