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Older Runners Lacing Up in Greater Numbers

The average age of extreme athletes is rising, revealing benefits to endurance sports later in life

spinner image Left: Ron Romano running in the Tokyo Marathon on March 5, 2023.  Right: Phoebe Kiekhofer and her mother Leslie Cohen at the Asheville Half Marathon on August 27, 2022.
Ron Romano, left, running in the 2022 Tokyo Marathon, and Leslie Cohen, right, with her daughter Phoebe Kiekhofer, at the 2022 Asheville Half Marathon.
Courtesy Ron Romano and Leslie Cohen

The park-like grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward provide a rare oasis of open space in a crowded city of about 14 million. So it was there that visiting runners from around the world gathered two days before the Tokyo Marathon for a shakeout run.

After some confusion about which of the many historic gates was meant to be the meeting place, the group set out behind the man who had invited them to the event on social media and who seemed to be everywhere in Tokyo during marathon week.

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He wasn’t a 20-something elite runner or an influencer working for an athletic apparel company or sneaker brand. He was a gray-bearded 62-year-old from New Jersey named Ron Romano.

“No question, everybody else in that group was younger. There really wasn’t anybody in my age range,” says the indefatigable Romano. “But I think they figured, ‘Let’s go to this guy’s shakeout. He seems fun.’ ”

spinner image Group of runners who joined Ron Romano in Tokyo on March 3 for his shakeout run.
Ron Romano (center in green jersey) organized a group of athletes to participate in a shakeout run before the 2022 Tokyo Marathon.
Courtesy Ron Romano

Romano exemplifies a trend of over-50s continuing to compete at high levels in marathons, triathlons and other endurance sports much later in life than in the past.

Many in Tokyo were achieving the milestone of having finished all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors — the world’s top marathons, which also include Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York. Romano was doing it for a second time.

The average age of these so-called six-star finishers in Tokyo was 50. The oldest man who’s finished all six marathons was 80; the oldest woman, 77.

“What do we even define as old any more? It gets harder and harder to tell,” says Romano, a health care executive who works out with a track club made up of runners in their 20s and 30s who wonder the same thing. “ ‘We can’t drop this guy on a tempo run?’ ” he says he hears them ask each other when they think he’s out of earshot.

Average age of runners rising

The average age of participants in running events is climbing fast, a study released last December by the industry association Running USA found, with big jumps over the last seven years in the proportion 55 and older.

The study also found only a slight increase in the proportion of runners who are 25 to 34 — cause for concern for race organizers, who worry that not enough young people are getting into running. But there’s also appreciation for the growing numbers of runners sticking with it (and continuing to pay the entrance fees) well into their 60s, 70s and 80s.

“They’re showing the longevity of this sport,” says Jeff Matlow, Running USA’s interim executive director. “People are realizing the value, the ease, the benefits of running as they’re getting older. And they’re sticking with it.”

Running USA participants by age group, 2015-2022

spinner image Bar chart; percentage of race runners in different age groups in 2015 and 2022. The biggest increases are in the age 55 and over categories

Multiple marathons runners

Older runners may be better positioned to accomplish goals such as running all six marathon majors. That’s because aspirations like this can take decades to achieve — it can take years to get into some of these marathons, which are held only once a year, and many of which were canceled during the pandemic  — and it’s time-consuming and expensive to travel to the far-flung destinations where the races happen.

Running can be good for the physical and mental health of people as they age, says Dawna Stone, CEO of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

“In terms of health and keeping moving and having those accomplishments later in life, it’s absolutely self-empowering and a huge accomplishment,” Stone says. “More power to them. Let’s keep it going.”


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“I often think I’ll be the oldest person. But I’m usually passed by somebody who’s older, with grayer hair,” says Jill Jamieson, a runner and triathlete from Arlington, Virginia, who is 57. “There’s a discriminatory mindset out there that after a certain age you should sit back in the BarcaLounger and just wait for death.”

spinner image Jill Jamieson, running in the Brazil World Marathon Challenge.
Jill Jamieson, running in the Brazil World Marathon Challenge.
World Marathon Challenge

Running as therapy

Jamieson, the CEO of an advisory firm, took up running as a way to process emotions after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. (Watch Jamieson tell her story in the video below.) In late January and early February, to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association in his memory, she finished the World Marathon Challenge: seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.

With age comes wisdom, Jamieson says. Older runners, she says, have the experience to pace themselves.

Dan Jaworski, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s himself, competed in the Ironman in the fall. At 57, he runs in the hope that exercise will slow down the disease.

“I feel when I’m running, biking and swimming like it’s a counterpunch,” says Jaworski, an investment advisor who lives in Orlando, Florida. “I just want to win each day.”

Other motivations are simpler. Jeannie Rice started running when she was 35 to lose a few pounds. She has since claimed the world marathon record for women 70 to 74 (3:24:48) and broke the marathon record for women 75 and older in the 2023 Boston Marathon with 3:33:15, beating previous record holder Vera Nystad, who ran in the same race.

“It’s healthy, and I’m not one to sit around doing nothing,” says Rice, who spends her winters training in Naples, Florida. “Running is motivation. It gets you up in the mornings.”

Video: Daughter Ran Around the World in 7 Days to Honor Dad

Benefits of age

For Rice and other particularly fast endurance athletes, getting older is a good thing. That’s because “aging up” progressively moves them into new age-group divisions in which the competition begins to thin out.

“I’m competing pretty much with myself,” she jokes. “We have to accept that I’m not going to run as fast as five years ago. And that’s OK. The point is that I’m still out there.”

She’s not entirely joking, though, when she says that races ought to add a “grand senior masters” division for runners like her.

spinner image Gene Dykes running in the Rothman 8k, which is a part of Philadelphia Marathon Weekend.
Gene Dykes, running in the 2017 Rothman 8K, part of the Philadelphia Marathon Weekend
Courtesy Dave Broadbent

Gene Dykes would benefit from that, too. Dykes held, until recently, the marathon record for men 70 to 74.

“When we start getting prize money then I’ll know old people are appreciated,” says Dykes, now 74, a retired computer programmer who has run 77 marathons and 76 “ultras” — usually runs of 31 miles or longer. He has a 50-mile ultra coming up, and a 200-miler in August.

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He, too, “aged up” in April into the 75-and-older division. “We joke about that. In one [training] group, I’m the second oldest and we sit there talking about who’s next to die,” Dykes says. “I usually joke that all my competition is 6 feet under.”

Leslie Cohen, who is 67, has run 35 marathons and 95 half marathons, many of them with her now-27-year-old daughter. She has won her age divisions in the Boston, London, Los Angeles and New York marathons.

Older can be better

“The older you get, the better it is,” says Cohen, a bankruptcy attorney in Santa Monica, California, who wears a Tiffany chain with charms that chronicle the dates and times of some of the marathons she’s run.

“It keeps you in the world,” she says. “It keeps you healthy and it makes you feel good.”

So do accolades from admiring younger runners, Rice says.

“So many times, young people will pass by and I’ll say, ‘Good run,’ ” she says. “They’ll say, ‘You’re my inspiration.’ And that just makes my day.”

As for Romano, who has a podcast about running over 60 called Ron Runs NYC, he’s back from Tokyo and planning his next marathon.

“I’m still running really solid times. It keeps me strong,” he says. “I’ll keep doing it as long as they’ll give me a bib.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the 2023 Boston Marathon results.

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