Age catches up with Fauja Singh

It's been a marathon effort but the world's oldest long-distance runner finally retires today at 101

Simon Turnbull
Sunday 24 February 2013 01:00 GMT
Jog the memory: Fauja Singh (right) trains in Hong Kong with coach Harmander SIngh ahead of today’s 10km race
Jog the memory: Fauja Singh (right) trains in Hong Kong with coach Harmander SIngh ahead of today’s 10km race (Reuters)

For the world's oldest marathon man, the final finish line is nigh. Two months short of his 102nd birthday, Fauja Singh will hang up his racing shoes after completing the 10km race that will be held in conjunction with the annual Hong Kong Marathon today.

The great-great grandfather, who hails from the Indian state of Punjab but lives in Ilford, only took up competitive running at the age of 89. After completing nine marathons – including the first on record by a 100-year-old, in Toronto two years ago – he admits that age has finally caught up with him.

"Racing is getting very tough for me," Singh said, speaking through an interpreter in Hong Kong (he is a British national but only speaks Punjabi). "I have mixed feelings but I feel I must retire on a high.

"I am hurt by the fact that I am going to retire. I do not really like the word 'retire' because I can still run and jump on a bus. It's a sense of negativity that I have never experienced before.

"I fear that when I stop running, people will no longer love me. At the moment, everyone loves me. I hope nobody will forget or ignore me. When you become old, you become like a child and you want the attention." Singh has certainly not lacked attention. Indeed, adidas used the turbaned Sikh alongside David Beckham and Muhammad Ali in their "impossible is nothing" advertising campaign.

Singh was born on a farm in the Punjab on 1 April 1911. He emigrated to England in the 1990s and lives with one of his sons in Ilford. He is the eldest member of a group of Indian-born East End runners called "Sikhs in the City".

He ran his first marathon in 2000 and clocked his fastest time at the 26.2-mile distance, 5hr 40min 04sec, in Toronto in 2003. He was 92 at the time. He completed the 2011 race in Toronto, as a 100-year-old, in 8hr 11min 06sec.

Though "the Turbaned Tornado" bows out from competitive racing today, he intends to keep on running for fun in training. "Running is my life," Singh said. "I will keep running to inspire the masses and for my personal health. I will keep running for at least four hours daily.

"I have said before that I will carry on running as it keeps me alive. The reason for my good health is that I exercise daily and follow a proper diet regime. I take happiness in the biggest portions, though my actual diet is very small.

"Nowadays, people are more interested in going to a gym, but I feel that if they exercise regularly on their own they can be physically and mentally strong. Daily exercise will keep you away from all diseases."

Singh, who stands 5ft 8in and weighs 8st 5lb, says he does not suffer from any physical ailments. A torchbearer for the London 2012 Olympics, his one regret is not being able to speak and read English.

He emigrated to England in the 1990s but is a little foggy on the exact year. "I cannot remember for sure," he said. "I used to visit my children in England in the 1980s and eventually settled for good in the 1990s. I moved to England as a way of overcoming a traumatic time in my life. My family thought it best."

The trauma was caused by the deaths of his wife and two of their children. He settled in Ilford with the family of another of his sons, Sukhjinder Singh.

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