Breaking records is second nature to Harriette Thompson, who recently became the oldest woman to complete a half marathon. The 94-year-old cranked out the 13.1 miles in an unofficial time of 3 hours, 42 minutes, 56 seconds, and was welcomed by thousands of loud cheers at the finish line. That's just two years after she became the oldest woman to run a full marathon. (Related: The Next Time You Want to Give Up, Remember This 75-Year-Old Woman Who Did an Ironman)
— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) June 4, 2017
"I'm amazed that people think this is so unreal," says Thompson. "I don't understand people who say at my age, 'I can't do what I want to do.' That's a defeating attitude."
For Thompson, age has always been nothing but a number. In fact, she didn't even start running till she was 76 years old. "It was sort of an accident," she said of her passion for running. "I was at choir practice at church and one of my members was collecting checks. I asked her what for and she said, 'I am walking a marathon for leukemia and lymphoma research and I'm getting checks to go to research.' I thought, 'I could walk a marathon' [so] I signed up and got with Team in Training. When I came out, I thoroughly enjoyed it."
Today, Thompson has completed 16 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathons—the only series she's ever participated in—and has raised over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year, her efforts have raised $15,000.
As far as training goes, Thompson does what she can, health permitting. The two-time cancer survivor was first diagnosed in 1985 after noticing some red spots on the roof of her mouth. The cancer came back 25 years later and was much more serious. "That was when it started to eat the roof of my mouth away," she said. "I've had several operations."
The disease recently returned in the form of skin cancer on her legs. "My radiologist said I could heal it with radiation, which it did, but then I needed a skin transplant," she says. Those treatments are the reason she sat out of the San Diego races these past two years.
The grandmother from North Carolina still makes it a point to exercise every day—frequently running 5Ks and 8Ks. "I just keep thinking to myself, 'This is a piece of cake. I can do it,' Harriette says. "I just try to think positively."