A race against time: world’s oldest marathoner Fauja Singh continues to sprint on the other side of 100


That achievements are not a matter of luck but a result of strong will and hard work is a truth that has still not dawned upon many. Very often, success is attributed to good fortune, especially by those who have rarely been at the receiving end of such stroke of occult happenings. For those who have seen the true colors of success and resided in the surreal fantasy of it knows it indeed is the spirit that perseveres and hold its own even in the face of adversity that goes on sprinting in the path of happy realisation of goals.

And while the very daunting nature of success might make it elusive to people who have not any aim to dwell in, it also is what stems from the inner confines of the mind that determines the route to it. Barriers are rampant- and they are as rampantly varied as can be, stemming from issues as diversive as age and race, gender and privilege, and so on and so forth. Age however has been just a number and race not any more substantial for everyone of them success strivers who have literally turned the tide in their favour and have set out to achieve all that they had been banished from.

It indeed is the lasting lore of successful endeavours that scripts history and crafts legacy from such incidences and occurrences that have been defiant acts of brevity. Brave indeed then is a man who at the ripe old age of 109 years runs against the course of destiny to script a tale of himself steeped in resilience and determination. The world’s oldest marathon runner and one who has been continuously bettering himself at that year after year, Indian origin British Sikh Fauja Singh’s tale is one of gritty determination. What makes perhaps this centenary old young man all the more commendable an achiever is the circumstances in which he set out to conquer all. Commencing his running pursuit at an age that already was ripe old enough, Fauja Singh has been continuing with his sprinting tirade for almost three decades now, since when he decide to embrace the power that lay dormant within him.

For someone starting out at 81, Fauja Singh’s story is one of rising above the odds and not just in terms of his age. Unlike many whose prodigious explorations as a child find manifestation later in life, Fauja Singh was not any passionate sprinter anytime in his life. In fact, born as a rather frail child who started walking only sometime around the age of 5, Singh’s thin and weak legs had led many to conclude that he wouldn’t ever be able to run in life. And run he could not, forget running, as a child Singh’s inability to walk fast enough led him to drop out of school. Thereafter, it was understandably no any exalted an existence for Fauja Singh. Born in 1911 on 1st April, Singh however grew to be an avid amateur runner during his youth. That in particular was something that is attributable to the resilient spirit that Singh was born as. Constantly stirred by the worry of his parents, Singh tried as hard as he could to overcome his weakness and be able to not just walk normally but also run great lengths. However, that was a venture that had to be abandoned during the partition of the country and Fauja Singh would just have gone on to live another life of mediocrity, had it not been for more adversities that he continued to face in life.

His personal infirmity apart and the dream of a runner also far from vivid in his memory, Singh’s renewed tryst with running stemmed from some really unexpected happenings during the later part of his life. It was in 1994 when Fauja Singh had to bear the death of his fifth son that led him to return to his pursuit on the track. Prior to that, the death of his wife and elder daughter had already scarred Singh so much so that perhaps his alternate passion arose as a necessity for him to trudge along through life. And trudge he did, but with such determination and strong will that made a legend out of a common man.

Emigrating to England in the 1990s, Fauja Singh’s life abroad also spurred him on to pursue a goal that would keep him alive and kicking. For someone who wasn’t well versed in English, Singh felt lost in an alien land, like a stranger with no friends to even talk to. Rekindling his long lost desire to make a runner out of somebody who could barely walk, Singh took to professional training soon thereafter and began competing at international events. Running his first race, the London Marathon in 2000, the then 89 years old Fauja Singh, coached by Harminder Singh, set the stage right for a ‘career’ that would see him in sprinting action over the course of the new millennium. The very next year, Singh’s exploits in the London Marathon saw him clocking 57 minutes early than the then world record set at 7 hours 52 minutes to be the fastest marathoner alive over age 90. By 93, Singh had already embarked quite dedicatedly on the record setting spree when he slashed some 58 minutes off the previous world best for anyone in the 90-plus age bracket by completing a marathon race in 6 hours and 54 minutes. His personal best however continues to be as a 92 year old, an astonishing 5 hours 40 minutes in the 42.195 km race at the 2003 Toronto marathon in Canada.

But the most distinguished of achievements dawned on for Fauja Singh as a centenarian marathon runner. In competing at and completing the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on 16th October, 2011, Singh became the first ever 100 year old to do something as demanding as running a marathon. Not just that, Singh’s 100 old heroics also saw him attempting and accomplishing eight world age group records, all in a single day. At the special Ontario Masters Association Fauja Singh Invitational Meet, held at Birchmount Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Singh ran the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the 400 meters, the 800 meters, the 1500 meters, the mile, the 3000 meters and the 5000 meters, all in record time, some of which are spectacularly superior to the listed world record in the M95 age group as well. Singh also currently holds the UK records for the 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, mile and 3000 m for his age group, records all set within a single 94-minute period.

Standing on the magical threshold of completing an amazing 100 years of his life, a vegetarian Fauja Singh in 2011 also became the oldest man to be featured in a PETA ad campaign. An entrant into PETA’s vegetarian hall of fame, Singh attributes part of his success to his diet that which has helped him stay healthy, firm and active even in this old age. The PETA campaign however was by no means Fauja Singh’s first appearance in ad. In 2004, the inspirational Singh also was chosen by global sports brand Adidas to be its face, replacing prominent footballer David Beckham. His association with Adidas also led Singh to feature along with Beckham and boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the brand’s ‘Impossible is Nothing’ campaign. Fauja Singh also was featured in a video by Nestle India that paid tribute to his inspirational journey against the odds marking its own centenary celebration with the grand old man as its ambassador. Apart from that, Ford U.K.’s Unlearn Campaign also prominently feature the record holding and record breaking runner for whom learning and unlearning indeed has been what has charted his remarkable path out in life.

Over the course of his competitive running career that has spanned two decades since 2000, Singh has run some numerous marathons and half marathon in London and Toronto and New York, setting quite a few records, none of which however has been enlisted in the Guinness World Records because of Singh’s inability to produce a valid birth certificate that would testify his age. That however has not dented his reputation at the world stage by any means as he has gone on to also yield the prestigious Olympic torch on not one but two occasions. At the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, it was Fauja Singh who had carried the Olympic torch, reinstating his legacy as a true sportsperson at the most important sporting event in the world.

And not just brands and events, Fauja Singh’s unstoppable track record has created such a legacy of him that nations and governments consider it their good fortune to bestow awards and recognitions on him. As early as in 2003, Fauja Singh received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the the National Ethnic Coalition, a US group that advocates ethnic pride and tolerance. The medal was awarded to Singh as recognition of his part in helping bridge the gap that was created by the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States. The first ever non- American to receive the honor, Singh was also awarded the “Pride of India” title by a UK-based organisation for his achievements in 2011. In 2015, Singh was awarded the prestigious British Empire Medal (BEM) during the New Year Honours for services to sport and charity.

Running now for almost twenty years, though his last competitive race had been the Hong Kong marathon on 24 February 2013 as an almost 103 year old, Fauja Singh indeed is no less than any superhero of sorts, albeit with a turban. Also aptly featured therefore as a superhero in a children’s book recently, the now 109 years old superhuman’s amazing run of life in ‘Fauja Singh Keeps Going — A true story of the oldest person to ever run a marathon’ is indeed another tribute to his long standing determination and spirit. The Turbaned Tornado as he is popularly known, after the name of his biography that has been penned by eminent author Khushwant Singh, Fauja Singh is truly an embodier of success in the face of adversities, specifically because he never needed t overcome them but still chose to, at a time in life when most people would just resign to the fate consigned by destiny. In the small steps that he took in charting out a life worthy of living, Fauja Singh indeed has taken a giant leap for all such folks who ponder over the ‘age of success’ more than the reality in its adage. His belief in the greatest God and above all, in himself has made Fauja Singh such the deviant personality who inspires others to take the wayward route more often, specifically in the course of life that squanders no chance at getting as unpredictable as it can.