The name Fauja Singh is an inspiration to senior runners the world over, Capt Seshadri takes a look at this remarkable runner.
An 89 year old Punjabi man in London, wishing to train for a marathon, landed up at Redbridge, Essex, probably in deference to the formal attire of the country of his residence, dressed in a three piece suit, much to the bemusement of his coach. To further add to the trainer’s surprise, the bearded and turbaned old man confessed that he thought the marathon was run over 26 km and not miles. Not that it mattered at all. His training began in complete earnestness and dedication. The outcome? In 2003, at age 92, he completed the London Marathon in 6:02 and the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 5:40.
This is the saga of Fauja Singh, a name that must now be familiar to every marathon runner across every continent. This was the same person who, born on April 1, 1911, in the village of Beas near Jalandhar, the sports goods capital of India, struggled to walk on his weak and scrawny legs until the age of five. One hundred years later, the very same ‘old’ lad set eight world age group records in a single day at the Ontario Masters Association Invitational Meet: 100 m in 23:14; 200 m in 52:23; 400 m in 2:13:48; 800m in 5:32:18; 1500 m in 11:27: 18; the metric mile in 11:53:45, the 3000 m in 24:52:47 and the 5000 m in 49:57:39. A series of events that no professional athlete would dream of attempting even at the peak of his career!
Where most master athletes would take weeks to recover from such a strenuous ordeal, just three days later, on October 16, 2011, Fauja Singh scripted history as the first centenarian to complete a full 26.2 miler, running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 8:11:06. Sadly, this amazing feat never made it to the Guinness Book of Records, since he had no birth certificate to prove his age, despite a passport confirmation of his date of birth.
Even though he was undeterred by age and never laid low through injury, this living legend decided to call it quits from competitive running after the Hong Kong Marathon on February 24, 2013, where he completed the 10K in 1:32:28, a timing which is just outside the qualifying limit of 1:30 set for the Tata World 10k, and meant for runners who would qualify as his great grandchildren! The proud moment of his running career was when he carried the Olympic torch in July 2012. The retired Fauja now runs for pleasure, health and charitable causes. Fauja Singh was honoured with the British Empire Medal in 2015, for his outstanding contribution to sports and charity.
The 52 kg, vegetarian Sikh attributes his longevity, stamina and outstanding fitness to his non-meat diet comprising roti, dal, vegetables and curd. Good hydration with plenty of water and ginger tea, early sleep, an abhorrence towards smoking and alcohol, and a professed diet of love and respect from the world around him, keep him going strong. His take on running successful marathons at such an advanced age: “The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for the last 6 miles, I run while talking to God”.