Fauja Singh Runs for His Life

Fauja Singh took 54 years off from running.

He was born in 1911 with no birth certificate and weak, thin legs he couldn’t really walk on until he was 10. But once he got walking, he got running. Around the farms of Jalandhar district in Punjab, India.

But marriage and six children and life happened. And Mr. Singh stopped running.

Five decades later, Mr. Singh had lost his wife, then a son. He said he felt “more dead than alive.”

He moved to London to be with another son. And when he was 89, he began running again to get out of the house. Then he saw a marathon on TV. If people could do it on TV, he figured he could do it in real life.

He didn’t know how it was done. So, he got a trainer. Arrived at his first day of training in a three-piece suit. Which his trainer quickly nixed.

Most days, he woke at 6am. Ate a simple Punjabi diet: green vegetables, yogurt, milk, tea with ginger. Went to his East London Sikh temple. And ran for four hours.

He ran in bright running shoes. Loose fitting running pants (no more three-piece suit). A tightly wound turban. He still had thin legs. But they weren’t still weak. And a grey beard that ended midway down his ribs.

Mr. Singh ran shorter distances. Then longer distances. Then marathons. In London and New York. But it’s Toronto he’s proudest of: five hours and 40 minutes when he was 92. He ran Toronto again when he was 100.

It was a world record. But Guinness World Records denied him. No birth certificate, they said, no proof you’re your age. Mr. Singh shrugged it off. He didn’t run for records, though he’d broken plenty. He ran because, he said, it “brought me back to life.”

He founded the Sikhs in the City running club. Was on billboards for Adidas. Carried the Olympic torch in London.

And when Mr. Singh was 101, he retired from marathon running. But not running itself. “The day I stop running,” he states, “is the day I die.”

So more than a century after he was born with weak, thin legs. More than a decade after he felt more dead than alive. Fauja Singh goes out on the streets of East London. And runs for his life.

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