There are amazing feats of athleticism, and then there is the professional running career of Fauja Singh. Mr. Singh has competed in nine full marathons, as well as a handful of shorter races, since he decided to take up professional running in 1994 — when he was 83 years old. Now, at 101, he has decided to retire.
Singh was born in 1911 in the Punjab region of India, which at the time was controlled by Great Britain. His legs did not develop properly, and as a result he was unable to walk until the age of five. This physical limitation (and subsequent teasing at the hands of his schoolmates) inspired young Fauja to take up amateur running as a youth. However, he ultimately chose agriculture as his profession and settled on a farm in Punjab, where he started a family and lived for the next six decades.
Following the death of his wife in 1995, Singh decided to take up running again — at first, just as a hobby. But once again, the passion for running overtook him and he got serious. He relocated to the United Kingdom, hired a trainer and, in 2000, took part in his first marathon in London at the age of 89.
Since his first race, Singh has participated in eight official marathons in London, New York, and Toronto. His other races over the years include the Glasgow City Half Marathon, Capital Radio Help a London Child 10,000m, and Bupa Great North Run. On Sunday, Feb. 24, Singh took part in his final competition, a 10k race held as part of the the Hong Kong Marathon.
“I’m very happy,” he told Deccan Herald upon completing his final race. “When I was running I felt very good, but now that I’ve stopped, I’m tired.”
Understandably, Singh has broken quite a few records over the years. For his age group in the United Kingdom, he holds best time records for the 200m, 400m, 800m, mile and 3,000m — in fact, he broke all of these records during the same race. When he completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2011, he became the first centenarian in history to finish a marathon; he recorded his career best time, 5 hours 40 minutes, during the same race in 2003.
But Singh’s personality is just as notable as his athletic accomplishments. As a practicing Sikh, the runner’s distinctive headwear and flowing facial hair have earned him worldwide recognition, as well as a longstanding nickname — ‘The Turbaned Tornado’. He featured prominently in a PETA campaign alongside David Beckham, and was a torchbearer for the 2012 London Olympics. Singh has also taken part in numerous charity races, and says he will continue running to support various causes during his post-retirement years.
You might be wondering how Singh has managed to stay fit and compete in so many marathons at his age. According to an interview with PETA, his secret is a plant-based diet. “In many parts of the world, people are dying because of starvation, whilst others are dying because of overeating”, he explains. “My solution is just to eat what my body needs.”
Best of luck to Fauja Singh during his well-earned retirement!