Update: Little did we know we published this article on August 27, 2017, that less than two months later Harriette would pass away after a fall. We remember her with fondness through this FACES of Charlotte article.
At 94, Harriette Thompson still runs two miles a day. She’s also an in-demand concert pianist and motivational speaker and a two-time world record holder. Oh — and she’s survived cancer. Three times. This Charlotte resident, mother of five and grandmother of 10 is used to the spotlight these days – her recent runs have garnered a ton of national media attention. That’s because in 2015, at 92, she became the oldest woman to run a marathon, and this past spring, at 94, she became the oldest woman to run a half-marathon. She’s run 16 marathons in all (always the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon), but she didn’t start running until she was 76 years old. Yep — 76! So we sat down with her to get her tricks for staying active well into the twilight years as well as a few secrets for aging gracefully. Welcome Harriette Thompson, today’s FACE of Charlotte!
What made you start running at 76 years old?
I did 16 marathons, all in San Diego. I did one every year starting in 1999 (except for when I had treatment for cancer) and did them all for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. That’s the reason I run. I’ve lost so many family members to cancer — my father, mother, aunt, brothers — and that inspired me. I heard they were starting the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and raising money, so I’ve always done that one. I’ve raised more than $110,000 since I started running. I hope it’s helping. I’m sure it is.
Were you already a runner at that point?
I had been running a little around the block, and I did a couple of 5Ks, but I never did any serious running. I never considered myself an athlete. I just knew it was good for me and healthy. When I was younger, people weren’t really running. It wasn’t the thing like it is now. They didn’t start to run until the ’70s.
What do you love about it?
The camaraderie is fun. Everybody makes such a big deal of me because I’m so old. It’s very invigorating. You feel good afterwards for at least a week after running a marathon. I feel like a new person. I definitely recommend it!
You’ve survived cancer a few times now. How are you doing?
I lost my jaw to cancer, but that was back in 1985. It came back a few years ago, and I had to have radiation. I couldn’t run for a while after that, and I couldn’t train for the last marathon at all. But I did it! I have a scan next week to see what’s happening now.
What was this year’s run like for you?
I was really ready for it. My children kept saying, “Mom, slow down!” I never stopped from the time I started, but my pace wasn’t that great. It was about 17 minutes per mile. My son Brenny was with me. He’s run with me many times, and this last one, my granddaughter and my other son were with me too. They stayed with me the whole time. They could have run faster, but they stayed with me. I only did the half this year, and I felt like I should have done the whole marathon. I got to the end, and I could have kept going.
What are you up to these days?
I live in a retirement community that I love. It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven it’s so beautiful! They have classes here that I take. I took pilates this morning, and there are stretch classes and balance classes. I also run two miles around the lake here every day. I practice my piano. I have a little arthritis in my hand, so my daughter helped me figure out that I can practice an hour at a time in the morning, the afternoon and in the evening. I have some concerts where I’ve been asked to play, and today I’m working on a speech I have to give to the women executives.
What will you do to celebrate your 95th birthday?
Well it isn’t until March 27th, but if I’m still here, I guess my children will do something.
What’s your best advice to other women for staying healthy?
I’m still exercising a lot because I realized that’s the key to health.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I can’t live without music, and I’ve realized how much it means to me because I’m losing my hearing. I always have to have a goal — it keeps me going. And I have to say friends. At my age, I have to say friends.
Thank you to Piper Warlick Photography for the beautiful photos of Harriette.
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