World's oldest marathon runner to retire after Hong Kong race

World's oldest marathon runner, aged 101, to retire from the sport that lifted him from the depths of depression after HK race on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 5:37am

A family tragedy broke Fauja Singh's will to live 17 years ago, but it also made him into the world's oldest marathon runner and an inspiration to many.

And at 101 years old, the runner will retire upon completing the 10-kilometre section of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon this Sunday.

Fauja, who had spent most of his life in the Punjab, moved to the UK in the mid-1990s at the age of 84. The sudden move may seem strange, but his family thought it was the only way to pull him out of the depression he had slipped into after his second son, Kuldip, died.

Fauja and Kuldip used to work together in the fields on his farm every day. But in a freak accident one stormy evening, an iron sheet from a roof fell and decapitated Kuldip right in front of Fauja.

"Fauja's life was shattered after Kuldip's death and he gave up the will to live," said Harmander Singh, Fauja's coach and interpreter. "But when he moved to London, he began running. Soon, he had a new zest for life, and it all started from there."

In October 2011, Fauja, aged 100, became the world's oldest runner to complete a marathon when he finished the Toronto Waterfront event in eight hours, 11 minutes and six seconds.

"It's like I've been given a second life. A chance to live again," he said.

In July last year, Fauja took part in the London Olympics torch relay.

That same year, he completed a 10-kilometre marathon in Hong Kong clocking one hour, 34 minutes and 54 seconds. He was also the top charity fundraising individual in the event, collecting HK$104,000 in donations, which granted him automatic entry into Sunday's race. The chance to help raise more money for charity was an incentive to close his career in Hong Kong, Fauja said.

"I enjoyed competing here. When I went back to London, my friends all said that of all of my races, I got the best publicity from Hong Kong," he said. "[So] I decided that when I retired, Hong Kong would be where I did my last race."

While Fauja's spirit remains willing, he said, his body is no longer up to the stresses of competitive running.

And apart from the physical aspects of the race, he is concerned about how he will feel when he crosses the finishing line on Sunday and hangs up his running spikes for good.

"I hope people don't forget me," he said. "When you get older, you become more like a child and want attention. Running has given me this attention, and I know that I'll miss it. It also worries me that the causes I have raised money for will suffer."

But even after his retirement, Fauja will continue to help raise money for charity, although it will be without taking to the track.

"I don't want to hear the word 'retire' because it means the end of something," he said. "But I still will be involved in some way to promote good health and try and be an example to other runners."