A new start after 60: ‘Exercise is my lifeblood – so I decided to run my first marathon at 74’

This may not be every TOYLers idea of the Time Of Your Life, rather more TOIL than TOYL I suspect. HOWEVER we all need purpose and I hear running can become an addictive passion. Exercise is promoted as not only life enhancing and affirming but life prolonging too. From personal experience having attempted and failed to even get to the start line, training and then running a marathon is not to be taken lightly. BUT great oaks from small acorns grow, so why not sow a seed and see where it takes you?

To ease you into running there is a program to start you off as taking up running can seem like a scary prospect, especially if you feel out of shape or unfit.

NHS Couch to 5K will help you gradually work up towards running 5km in just 9 weeks.

What is Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K is a running plan for absolute beginners. It was developed by a new runner, Josh Clark, who wanted to help his 50-something mum get off the couch and start running, too. The plan involves 3 runs a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the 9 weeks.

Get started now on Apple or Android devices and share your story with the nation’s biggest running community across social media on the #Couchto5k hashtag.

Join millions of others who have started running with Couch to 5k – just because you don’t doesn’t mean you can’t.

Get started now on Apple or Android devices and share your story with the nation’s biggest running community across social media on the #Couchto5k hashtag.

Join millions of others who have started running with Couch to 5k – just because you don’t doesn’t mean you can’t.

Once you’ve conquered 5k why not keep it up with ParkRun

Run and live longer!

That’s enough from me, I may have failed to get to the marathon start line but I have now completed over 200 ParkRuns – at 250 I get a free milestone running shirt! You can get one for just 50 and 100 too – 500 is the ultimate and not impossible but will take you over 10 years!! Even if you don’t end up running why not volunteer – It’s a great community and you too can get a milestone shirt! (Kids get one after 10 runs but no matter how young at heart you are you’ll have to run at least 50 or volunteer 25!) 


Rajinder Singh: ‘I sometimes overdo it.’
Rajinder Singh: ‘I sometimes overdo it.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

Rajinder Singh, AKA the Skipping Sikh, is preparing for his first 26.2-mile race – with community support and the memory of his father powering him along.

Paula Cocozza@CocozzaPaula  Fri 3 Sep 2021

Rajinder Singh was five when he learned to run. While his father hand-cut the grass to feed their buffalo, in the village of Devidaspura in Punjab, Singh sat on a nice clean sheet, so the ants didn’t bite, and watched. When the work was done, his father taught him “how to jump rope, how to run, how to look after yourself”.

His father, a keen athlete who had served in the second world war with the British Indian army, told him: “‘I’m going to beat you in a race.’ But he never beat me. He ran [as if] to beat me, but he knew I was trying my best, so he stayed behind. I said to him: ‘Dad, you can win, why did you do that?’ He said: ‘If I discourage you, you will never enjoy it.’ He picked me up, gave me a nice cuddle, that I never forget.”

Now 74, Singh is preparing for his first marathon, in London, in October. And at weekends he pays forward his father’s encouragement at the junior parkrun near his home in Harlington, west London. Still, 26.2 miles is a lot further than a parkrun. Does he worry he won’t finish?

“No. I trust in God,” he says. Singh recently received an MBE for his inspiring exercise videos during the pandemic. He is a sort of older, turbaned, more homespun take on Joe Wicks; his skipping videos often take place in his allotment, where he, too, hand-cuts the grass, another great way to stay fit, surrounded by stacks of planks and plastic trugs.

Singh exercising in west London.
Singh exercising in west London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

“I sometimes overdo it,” he admits. He tries to speak positive thoughts to his right knee, which was injured when a dog bit him in a park six years ago (“I say to it: ‘You have to help me out till I do the marathon’), and his back, which has severe rheumatoid arthritis. His biggest run to date is 13 miles. So why do it? “Exercise is my lifeblood,” he says. “Sport is my family.” There is encouragement to be had from running, he says, “that you can’t get anywhere else”.

Running has flowed through his whole life. Singh moved to England alone in 1971, to join his uncle. As soon as he started working, helping his uncle with his repair business, he bought his first tracksuit “and carried on running”. Jobs with a joiner, an airline caterer, Mother’s Pride bakers and Heathrow airport followed; he worked there as a driver for nearly 28 years. Even when he took double shifts, racking up 16- or 20-hour days to save enough to buy a house, he still found time to run, and eschewed the free car park pass to commute on foot.

Sadly his dad never managed to visit. Three times Singh sent him the sponsor forms, but he was deterred by a friend’s warning that he could be seated on the plane next to a person eating beef. In 1985, mid-shift at Heathrow, Singh received a puzzling telegram. “It said: ‘Your father is expired.’ I went straight to my manager. I said: ‘I can’t understand those words.’ He said: ‘Your father is not any more on this planet.’” Later, Singh found out that his father had been strangled; no one was ever brought to justice.

From the way he talks about running, it is clear that even when Singh runs alone, he runs as part of a crowd. “When you are on your own, you make company,” he says. At parkrun, he is clapped. “That’s what I call family,” he says. He runs with his daughter, Minreet, and his wife, Pritpal Kaur, who is herself mastering hula hooping. He is also building an online community where he is known as “the Skipping Sikh”; people often send him fancy ropes. But of course, he never truly runs alone. “Every time I run, first step, my father comes into my mind.”

Contact TOYL for comments or do you have a story you would like to share? 

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