‘A sea of positivity’: older women boost London Marathon numbers

Pandemic, daily pressures and Paula Radcliffe cited as reasons for 65% rise in over-50 female runners

As 50,000 London Marathon runners take to the capital’s streets on Sunday, spectators may notice a few more grey (or purple, see above) hairs poking out from under the caps and beanies.

Analysis has revealed the number of female runners aged 50 and older finishing the race has increased by 65% since 2018. It comes alongside a 91% increase in the number of female runners aged 60 to 69 registering to run, a demographic change organisers say will be hard to ignore.

“Older female runners aged 50 to 70 are the fastest growing group we have,” said Hugh Brasher, the event director.

“The demographic change is really noticeable and has created an atmosphere that’s just a sea of positivity, where finishing times are only one of many motivations for taking part.”

In 2020, when the race was run virtually because of the Covid pandemic, the number of men and women running were equal for the first time. Brasher suggested many of those women may have been older runners who felt able to give the marathon a go for the first time when it was held out of the spotlight. And now they are attending the real thing.

Kate Neale, 60, will be running the marathon on Sunday – followed by the Dublin marathon a month later. She did her first 26.2-mile race in Brighton in 2018 and completed Belfast the following year.

“I started running when I was 47 and needed some headspace that was cheap and quick,” she said. “I was quite unusual then but I’m not now: in my local running club, the majority of beginners are women, and more of them are in their 40s and older.”

Brasher puts the increase in older female runners down to a combination of factors, the earliest being Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 historic completion of the London Marathon.

“Many women who are running now in their 50s were inspired to start in their 30s when Radcliffe showed them that running was possible,” he said.

Paula Radcliffe winning the 2003 London Marathon in a new world record time.
Paula Radcliffe winning the 2003 London Marathon in a new world record time. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Guardian

Stuart Lewis, the founder of Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for people in their 50s and 60s, put the increase down to longer and healthier lifespans: “Today’s 50- and 60-year-olds are fitter and healthier than ever before,” he said.

Esther Newman, the editor of Women’s Running, said she was not surprised by the increase in older women taking part in the marathon.

More than 60% of her readership is aged 45 and over – with almost 4% aged between 65 and 74. “The proportion of women running marathons is growing,” she said, pointing to Cardiff’s half marathon in 2018 where more women registered than men. “More women are running ultra marathons too, because women are realising they can do these things.

“Women in their 40s and 50s are taking to running because they’re the demographic with all sorts of competing responsibilities on their plates, from work to family and more,” she said. “This demographic isn’t necessarily starting running because they want to lose weight or even keep fit. They’re starting because they’re realising it’s the best way to take time out for themselves. When you run, you just think about breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s meditative. It’s pure mindfulness.”

She added: “There are hundreds of running groups for women now that support women to run whatever hesitations they might have, whether it be running in an urban environment, running for the first time or running at night.

“All this makes running very accessible for women in a way it hasn’t ever been before, while longevity means women who start running can carry on into their 50s and beyond.”

Jane Jaffe, 69, will also be running in this weekend’s marathon. Jaffe started running when she was 50; Sunday will be her 27th marathon and 15th in London.

“Every single race I do, I notice there are more and more older women taking part,” she said. “The fact is that older people are getting younger. I don’t feel old: I run with my daughter and one of my grandsons, and plan to continue for many years to come.”


Amelia Hill

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Faster times, record numbers: the science of running marathons as an older person
The number of veteran runners is on the up and they’re leaving the times of their predecessors for dust

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

30, Sep, 2022 @12:34 PM

Article image
London Marathon runner reunited with finish-line helper
David Wyeth says he wouldn’t have got to the end without Matthew Rees’s help and he regrets having put himself at risk

Caroline Davies

24, Apr, 2017 @1:03 PM

Article image
Thousands take part in London marathon after countdown from space
Kenyan runners dominate elite race while Major Tim Peake clocks his own record aboard the international space station

Aisha Gani

24, Apr, 2016 @5:22 PM

Article image
London Marathon 'impostor' accused of claiming runner's medal
Man pictured at finish with lost race number of charity runner who was removed from course

Alexandra Topping and Frances Perraudin

27, Apr, 2018 @4:18 PM

Article image
Belfast City Marathon course too long, organisers admit
Officials estimated that runners had to run an extra 460 metres due to ‘human error’

Seth Jacobson

05, May, 2019 @6:08 PM

Article image
London Marathon could be biggest ever despite heat worries
Organisers aim to break fundraising world record for 12th consecutive year as forecasters say race could be hottest ever

Alexandra Heal

21, Apr, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Embedded in the local but open to the world – treasure the London Marathon | Alex Betts
Holding an arcane running world record gives the writer a rare insight into the event

Alex Betts

22, Apr, 2018 @5:02 AM

Article image
London Marathon: from Mo Farah to the Weirwolf, via epic women’s duel
It’s Eliud Kipchoge versus Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah out to show he’s not on wrong track, Mary Keitany facing with Tirunesh Dibaba and David Weir seeking to ‘break’ Marcel Hug

Sean Ingle

21, Apr, 2018 @12:16 PM

Article image
London Marathon: huge crowds spur on runners in hottest race ever
Mo Farah breaks British record but is two minutes behind leader in 23.2C heat

Nicola Slawson

22, Apr, 2018 @4:34 PM

Article image
The London Marathon spectators who also go the extra mile | Muriel Gray
Muriel Gray: Running a marathon requires total dedication – from us inflatable sausage-banging supporters too

Muriel Gray

20, Apr, 2012 @8:59 PM