Harriette Thompson becomes oldest woman to finish half marathon

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Harriette Thompson, a 94-year-old cancer survivor, became the oldest woman to finish a half marathon at the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Sunday.

Thompson, who two years earlier became the oldest woman to finish a marathon, clocked 3 hours, 42 minutes, 56 seconds. That’s an average of 17 minutes per mile for 13.1 miles.

“I feel just like I did when I was 16, but I just can’t move as fast,” she joked afterward. “The whole experience was enjoyable except for the potholes.”

The previous record was held by Canadian Gladys Burrill, who ran a half marathon at age 93 in 2012 in 4:49:25, according to the Association of Road Running Statisticians.

The 4-foot-11 Thompson walked and jogged in red lipstick, dark sunglasses and her trademark purple outfit to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Thompson, who has battled jaw and skin cancer, didn’t take up marathon running until age 76 and completed 16 full San Diego Marathons between 1999 and 2015. She became a viral celebrity in 2015 when she finished the San Diego marathon in 7:24:36. She missed last year’s event due to cancer treatment.

In Sunday’s race, Thompson was surrounded by family members to shield her from adoring fans so she could focus.

“I guess it’s unusual, but I don’t really know why people make [such a big deal],” Thompson said afterward.”I guess it may be a phenomenon, but for me it’s just a natural thing to do.”

Thompson has raised more than $100,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in her road-race career. She made media appearances before Sunday’s race, joking about her age while promoting her cause.

“I’m amazed at how many young people say, I’m running just because of you,” Thompson said. “I’m glad I’m good for something.”

Having given up sugar, Thompson said before the race that her celebratory splurge might be an ice cream cone. Afterward, she said, “I’m deciding whether I want scotch or bourbon,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Thompson is a former concert pianist who played Carnegie Hall the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. died. She still plays croquet and joined 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi and retired NBA great Bill Walton at a pre-race press conference last week.

She said she enjoys the crowd atmosphere of road races, “except when it’s so loud I have to take out my hearing aids.”

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