More than 4,000 veterans to compete in the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World ChampionshipsMany runners dream of winning a world title. Few – very few – get a chance to do so at 86.
But that’s what South East London’s Eileen Noble will set out to achieve on Sunday morning when she lines up for the start of the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Noble, the oldest female starter among the 40,000-plus field, will be running her 20th London Marathon since she took up jogging to keep fit at 53, but her first as a competitive athlete striving to be crowned as the best on the planet for her age.
The rare opportunity to achieve such a global accolade arises thanks to the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships, being held for the first time as part of this year’s event.
The brainchild of Virgin Money London Marathon Race Director Hugh Brasher, the championships will see 4,200 runners from 82 countries competing in 18 age categories from 40-44 to 80+, nine each for men and women. All have earned their place in London by completing some of the event’s 150 qualifying races held across six continents between September 2018 and December 2020.
A potential world champion at 86
Noble won her championship entry with ease, having won five age group awards at marathons, four in London and one in Lochaber, and the one-time middle-aged jogger now has high hopes of adding a first world title to her list of late-life achievements.
“When I started I certainly didn’t think I would ever be running to be a world champion at 86,” said Noble, who has a best time of 4:40 and still trains three or four times a week.
“I wasn’t ever looking that far forwards, to be honest. I just started running to keep fit with a friend and got hooked.
“So these championships are particularly exciting. I was quite disappointed last year when it was cancelled [due to the Covid-19 pandemic] because I knew it was going to be special.”
It will be a special day for Yuko Gordon too, a former Olympic marathon runner who had a 15-year break from the sport when she had children and is now one the favourites in the women’s 70-74 category.
Memories of the Olympics
Japan-born Gordon, competed for Hong Kong at the 1984 Olympic Games, an experience she describes as ‘a beautiful memory’ and ‘mixed’ at the same time.
“The Olympics is the Olympics and I felt a bit like I didn’t belong there,” she said. “I was an air hostess at the time with three months’ leave. I was fittest in my life but I ran slower than my PB in the race. But it was still fantastic.”
Gordon moved to the UK in 1998 and retired from running until six or seven years ago when her children finished A-levels. Now she’s a veteran with her eyes fixed firmly on winning global honours, this time running for Japan.
“I started as an everyday runner,” said Gordon, who completed her first marathon in 1980 when there were just six women.
“I didn’t start as an elite, I was just jogging. I didn’t ever think I would be an Olympic runner, but I guess competitiveness is in my nature so I wanted to do my best.”