Sunday, March 03, 2013

How I Beat The World’s Oldest Marathoner -- In His Racing Prime

The world’s oldest long-distance runner, Fauja Singh, aged 101, ran his final race in Hong Kong last week. He’s decided to retire from racing (but not running), after over a decade of international prominence.

Singh in training. Photo: Levon Biss for ESPN The Magazine.
Click to view original.

Congratulations to Mr. Singh, an inspiration to all of us!

Yes, I defeated the Turbaned Tornado
It’s thoroughly ridiculous to make this observation, but I did overtake the celebrated ‘Turbaned Tornado’ once, 10 years ago. Here’s the story:

It was at the 2003 Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in Toronto. Listed under the name 'Fauga Singh', the then-youthful-92-year-old started in the 'Early Bird / Walker' section, which began the race about an hour and a bit before the main start.

So, because of the head start, it was actually kind of tight for me, in terms of passing Singh and his coterie -- it happened fairly close to the finish line, with just a few kilometers remaining down the stretch. He wasn’t as famous then, but I still recognized him. He was striding along at a decent pace. I vividly remember thinking, I’d better complete this race or I’ll never hear the end of it.

His sprightly time was 5:40 -- which, retrospectively, turned out to be his personal best over the course of 8 marathons -- while I limped in at a lousy 4:06 (I endured wretched calf cramps that day, sigh).

In 2004 Fauja Singh starred in this Adidas advertisement
for the Nothing Is Impossible campaign

That’s part of the fun of racing; technically you’re competing in the exact same event and the identical course as everyone else, including the world-class runners and other outliers. It’s very... egalitarian.

Now that his competitive running career is over (we’ll see!), I can make the absurd boast that I beat Fauja Singh -- at his marathon racing peak. Hahaha!

For more about Singh, read this excellent, thorough ESPN profile of him (including the painful tale of how he was snubbed by the Guinness Book of World Records): The Runner.

Will Ed Whitlock one day shatter Singh’s records? That would be my wager. Heck, I couldn’t beat Ed Whitlock in a race even if I were in my prime [Seriously. My best unofficial times for half marathon distances were around 1:45; last year Whitlock did the Milton Half in 1:38!]...