Keep on running: the veteran runners breaking all the rules

Originally published on The Running Bug

Should you still run when you’re 60? This lot think so!

Running is a young person’s game and not for the over 60s, right? Wrong. Just because you’ve reached your golden years doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the benefits of the open road. Inspired by The Iron Nun we did a bit of research. It turns out that integrating running action into your routine could add years to your life. Or for these three veteran runners, transform it completely.


70-year-old Pam Cockerill from Yorkshire started running three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. ‘I run to prove I still can and because my son, who is competing at Kona this year so sets the bar high, encourages me,’ says Pam. ‘I love ‘me-time’ and the way my body surprises me and other people by what it can still do.’

Pam has benefited hugely from running. ‘I am a lot fitter now than when I was 60 and didn’t run,’ she explains. ‘People use excuses about joints and arthritis as a reason for not even trying. I know, because I did it myself (I had an ACL replacement 15 years ago) but in fact running can help your joints.’

Although Pam may not be as fast as younger runners, she still competes against herself and uses her pace to build improvement. ‘Discovering age-grading has been wonderful,’ she explains. ‘I am on a level of about 63 per cent. My dream is to hit 70 per cent. It makes much more sense than simply comparing PBs with younger people, which is a quick route to feeling a failure.’

Pam’s advice to would-be runners? ‘Try NHS couch to 5K. I would never have started running if it were not for that programme.’

Run the world

Since starting running nine years ago, 67-year-old retired teacher Keith Simpson from Surrey has run 22 marathons, with a 3:51:27 marathon PB and even a 50-miler under his belt. Since then his running has far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

‘I initially started running to wind down, then stay fit and now because I enjoy getting out on trails and tracks if possible; but also to achieve a world first,’ says Keith. ‘I’m running 26 marathons, in alphabetical order, and in different countries. I love the freedom it gives me, being on my own not having to answer to anyone or justify what I am doing.’

Age has never hindered Keith’s performance. ‘I am fitter now than any time in the last 40+ years, maybe even more than I ever have been!’ he exclaims. ‘I suspect I would have been faster if I had run when I was younger. When I pick up injuries they take longer to clear up than I would like. And there are some ‘challengers’ that might be steps too far, but never say never.’

Keith believes it’s all about mindset. ‘Most people don’t even think about it. But when people who don’t run know what I do they usually just say “I couldn’t do that” without ever having considered trying.’

His advice? ‘Just ask yourself what have I got to lose? Do it, you don’t know what adventures it could lead to.’

Ultra veteran

63-year-old retired cell biologist and psychotherapist Jacqueline Millett started running six years ago and, 114 marathons later, is still going strong.

‘I started my fitness campaign on the realisation that I needed to look after my body more as I got older,’ says Jacqueline. ‘I had never been overweight but apart from a bit of hill walking had not done any regular exercise before this. I started running on the treadmill as I wasn’t confident enough to run outside, but soon found out about parkrun and after that there was no looking back.’

Jacqueline’s running quickly progressed. ‘Over the first year of running I built up from 5K to my first marathon. I ran Edinburgh 2010 in 3:48 and my first thought on crossing the line was “I want to do this again”. I have since run 114 marathons and ultras as well as numerous shorter distances races.’

With a 3:43 marathon PB and age group win for Comrades Marathon 2014 under her belt, running has been life changing for Jacqueline. ‘I run because I love the physical activity and the feeling of exhaustion, achievement and wellbeing after finishing a long distance race,’ she says. ‘The social aspect is also very important – I have met so many interesting and inspiring people through running and many have become friends.’

Age has never been a hindrance to Jacqueline. ‘I get wonderful age-graded results and I haven’t had many injuries,’ says Jacqueline. Some non-runners my own age make comments about running not being good for my body – it’s usually knees that get mentioned most.

‘I actually think that running has helped my knee recover. After breaking my leg I was on crutches for nine months and told by doctors I would not run again. I am back running and a month ago I ran my first 100 miler!’

‘I feel passionate about running and am always trying to encourage others, especially older women, to give it a try,’ adds Jacqueline. ‘If I had a time machine I would definitely have started running earlier. Also there are so many great races around – although I don’t plan to stop running in the near future, I am worried about running out of time before I get to run them.’

Have our veteran runners inspired you to take up running? Try our Fitness tips for the over 60s. If you have any health concerns, always speak to your GP before engaging in a new exercise programme.