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Meet the new marathon king
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Forsyth County News


The 49th annual Atlanta Marathon begins promptly at 7 o’clock Sunday morning.

This marks a break with tradition. From 1981, the race has been held on Thanksgiving morning in conjunction with the Atlanta Half Marathon. A major reason for the date change was to allow the course to remain open longer. This year, marathoners will have 6 1/2 hours to complete the race. That’s a 14:53 mile pace.

The hilly course begins and ends at Atlantic Station. It winds past Georgia Tech, Centennial Olympic Park, the State Capitol, Turner Field, Grant Park, Oakland Cemetery, Inman Park, Virginia Highland, Piedmont Park, Morningside, and Buckhead.

The Atlanta Track Club, the meet organizer, announced last week that about 2,500 runners will participate in the marathon and marathon relay (a new event in which four runners divide the marathon distance.)

“The running community here in Atlanta has really embraced the Atlanta Marathon and Marathon Relay, and we are thrilled that the inaugural running of the Atlanta Marathon Relay has reached its capacity of 300 teams,” said Tracey Russell, executive director of the ATC, in a statement.

I see only one major disappointment as the race nears.

Fauja Singh won’t be running.

He just completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 16. He should be excused if he hasn’t made a full recovery yet.

Fauja Singh is 100 years old.

That’s no typo. A guy who turned 100 on April 1 — no fooling — just ran, and finished, a 26.2 mile race. It took him more than eight hours, or about six hours more than Kenneth Munjara of Kenya, who won the event for the fourth year in a row.

“Beating his original prediction, he’s overjoyed,” Harmander Singh, Fauja’s coach and translator, told the associated press. “Earlier, just before we came around the [last] corner, he said, ‘Achieving this will be like getting married again.’

“He’s absolutely overjoyed. He’s achieved his lifelong wish.”

Fauja Singh stands 5 feet, 8 inchesand weighs 116 pounds. He wears a long, flowing white beard, and always wears a turban when he runs. Toronto marked his ninth completed marathon, but he’s still a newcomer to marathoning. He completed his first at the age of 89.

And he is slowing down as he ages. In the 2003 Toronto race, at the youthful age of 92, he set a marathon record for the 90-plus age group category with a time of 5 hours, 40 minutes, 1 second.

That result prompted an Adidas billboard campaign in London, where Fauja has lived since 1992. Beside his photo were the words, “6:54 at age 89; 5:40 at age 92. The Kenyans had better watch out for him when he hits 100.”

After completing last week’s milestone run, and his first marathon since 2004, Fauja’s coach told the BBC, “He certainly enjoyed the run; the records are a bonus. He lost his wife and one of his sons due to tragic circumstances, and that’s what made him depressed, and he overcame that by rekindling his passion for running.”

When he moved to London from his village in Jalandhar, in Punjab, India, he had trouble adapting to the British lifestyle. “Sitting at home was really killing,” he told The Sikh Times in 2004. “Most elderly people in Britain eat a rich diet, don’t move about, and only travel in cars, and that makes them sick.

“I never thought of running a marathon then. But slowly it grew.”

Part of Fauja’s secret is his diet. He doesn’t drink or smoke, of course. “I am very careful about different foods. My diet is simple phulka [light, unleavened bread], dal [lentils, peas or beans], green vegetables, yogurt, and milk. I do not touch parathas [pan-fried flat bread], pakoras [fried fritters], rice, or any fried food. I take lots of water, and tea with ginger.”

He adds a positive attitude to his diet and exercise. “I go to bed early taking the name of Rabba [God], as I don’t want all those negative thoughts crossing my mind.”

How does he block out negative thoughts during a marathon? “The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for the last six miles, I run while talking to Rabba.”

And he has another inspiration to keep him going through a marathon. As he told the BBC after finishing the Toronto race, “I run for charities. I feel that the blessings of the beneficiaries of the charities give me the strength to continue.”

“In the Punjabi language,” Fauja told The A.P., “there is no such word as impossible.”

So consider this. According to his coach, Fauja underwent bone density tests a year ago. His left leg had the bone density of a 35-year-old. His right leg, that of a 25-year-old. Remarked Fauja, “I knew my left leg was weak!”

Fauja also provided advice for all seniors. “The first thing is to get rid of this notion that you’re old. The other thing is, some people die of starvation in some parts of the world, but in western countries, people die of overeating. And they don’t do enough exercise to burn it off. You eat to live, not live to eat.”