Fauja Singh—At the Age of 93 the World Record Holder in the Marathon Still Has Ambitions

The world of long distance running has many great stories to raise the spirits, but the career of Fauja Singh is unique. Born into a farming family in India, he came to Britain eleven years ago and started running aged 89!

Fauja Singh during one of his runs, here later in Frankfurt 2011. © www.PhotoRun.net
Fauja Singh during one of his runs, here later in Frankfurt 2011. © www.PhotoRun.net

In this year’s Flora London Marathon this very special talent ran 6:07:13 in wet and cold spring weather. Good for him! But there’s more to marvel at. Singh was already a world record holder in running 5:40:14 in Toronto in 2002 and this among other fine performances impressed the sportswear company adidas. That is how he came to be a “colleague” of David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane. But having a sponsor’s contract doesn’t mean that Fauja Singh lives the high life: he uses his running to raise money for charity, in particular the British Heart Foundation and BLISS, which is devoted to the care of premature babies. As a schoolboy in Punjab in north-west India he used to run cross-country races and now he is rediscovered his talent.

“With the grace of God I can still run,” he explains, and because of my faith I run to help the vulnerable.” His body is something special. Compared to the average person, admittedly of 93, Fauja Singh is a physiological marvel: his general fitness is 180 % higher than average for someone of his age. But there’s more to it than that and it’s a big “But” because of the difference between his left and right legs. Tests have shown that his left leg is more like that of a 20-year-old, while the right has more the strength of a 50-year-old. All the same, his training schedule is something to behold: around 7 to 10 miles (12 to 16 kilometers) each day, a mix of walking and running. Once a week he and his coach get together, another Sikh with the family name of Singh but with the first name of Hamander. He makes good use of experience: “If I’m tired, I just use my bus pass.”

His teeth aren’t as good as they used to be. He can really only eat soft food that doesn’t need much chewing, nor are his eyes so good these days. He has never learned to read or write. But his fitness and ambition remain strong, while he now takes a break from marathons. His plan is to come back in five years and break the world record for a 98-year-old, currently held by a Greek. A vegetarian, he avoids rich food, preferring to drink yoghurt, water and plenty of tea with ginger. His advice on how to cope with the last 6 miles (10 kilometers) of the marathon? “Running 20 miles is easy. After that I speak with God.”

Posted in May 2004