Live long and prosper

Nurturing

MOVE OVER, WILLIAM SHATNER Julia Hawkins on November 6, on her way to becoming the first woman to establish a 105+ age category world record in track and field. Pic: Twitter.com/@seniorgames1 (Brit Huckabay)

Some form of exercise every day will contribute to a longer, healthier life

Health
Andrew O'Brien

‘Here comes the story of the Hurricane…’. It’s a great story, but the tale of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter isn’t the one that will follow here. To learn that, listen to Bob Dylan’s song or watch the film in which somehow Denzel Washington didn’t win an Oscar. Instead, we’ll be talking about Julia ‘Hurricane’ Hawkins.
Never heard of her? Earlier this month, Julia set a new world record for the 100-metre sprint. “How can that be?” says you. “There’s no major athletics events on right now.” Maybe you were too wrapped up in the small matter of Ireland beating the All Blacks, but if you looked in the right places there it was in black and white. Julia Hawkins – 1:02:95.
Now, if a time that’s just shy of 63 seconds doesn’t seem that fast for the 100m, bear in mind that Julia’s record was set at the Louisiana Senior Games in a brand-new category, the W105. That’s right, she didn’t just set a record, she established a new category, by becoming the first woman to run the 100m at age 105!
In 2016, Hawkins also established the record for women over 100, but a youngster by the name of Diane Friedman broke that earlier this year. (Incidentally, Friedman also holds the record for 200m and the over 95s’ 400m as well, so keep an eye out for her times in 2026!)
According to post-race interviews, Julia wasn’t entirely happy with her race, saying ‘I wanted to do it in less than a minute’. In a hint as to why she races rather than playing golf, when asked if ‘beating her age’ lessened her disappointment, she simply answered ‘No’.
Apparently, Hawkins only took up running when she turned 100 because she had run out of people to compete against in cycling.
When it comes to Masters Athletics (a class of the sport of athletics for athletes of over 35 years of age), the endurance athletes have an edge over the sprinters. As we age, we lose a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibres, meaning that we lose power more rapidly than endurance.
For proof of this, consider some Masters’ marathon times. There’s Tommy Hughes from Derry, whose over 60s’ record is 2 hours and 30 minutes – a time way beyond most runners. Tommy also has a share of the fastest father-son combined marathon time with his son Eoin.
Possibly more impressive is Ed Whitlock, the Canadian who holds the men’s 70- and 80-years records of 2:54 and 3:15 respectively. Whitlock seemed to slow down in later years, only managing 3:56 when setting the record of over 85s. Although it’s worth pointing out that in the 2019 Dublin Marathon, the average finishing time for men in the 35- to 39-year age group was 3:57!
Are these people superhuman? Can all older people run fast?
Well, it must be said that both Tommy Hughes and Ed Whitlock were competitive runners in their younger days. Hughes ran in the Olympic marathon in 1992, although his time that day was two minutes slower than his over 60s’ record! But they both also took long breaks from racing – 16 years for Tommy Hughes and longer again in Whitlock’s case.
It would seem then, that there are two simple routes to setting age-graded records. The first is to be a good athlete already. The second? Live longer than everyone else!
But should that be a goal for everyone? I don’t think so. In much the same way that very few footballers will ever win the World Cup, not everyone has either the pre-existing talent of Tommy Hughes or the potential for longevity of Julia Hawkins.
Perhaps instead we should aspire to a different record, something more like that of Ron Hill who holds the record for the longest run streak. Thankfully, Hill’s streak had nothing to do with taking off his clothes, and instead involved running a minimum of a mile each day, every day.
Having started in 1964 after what he considered a disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics, Hill vowed to improve his running by increasing his mileage and not taking any days off. Some 19,032 days later – that’s 52 years and 39 days – Hill was forced to have a day off due to ill health.
It doesn’t have to be a run, and certainly not at world-record pace, but some form of exercise every day will contribute to a longer, healthier life. It’s not a cause Dylan will be making a song and dance about, but it’s worthy nonetheless.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.