The “turbaned tornado”
Hundred-and-one-year-old Fauja Singh from the UK is in perfect stride. He is bringing awareness that age is just a number and the need to continue reaching for one’s goals because nothing is impossible.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Fauja Singh is enjoying all the attention … and he deserves it. To many, he is a shining example of a senior continuing to do what he wants to and he is defying his age and its many perceptions – at 101, he is still running. He has having done nine full marathons and currently holds the UK records for the 200m, 400m, 800m, mile and 3,000m for his age group (records all set within a single 94-minute period by the way)! On top of that, he also has an autobiography called the “Turbaned Tornado” which was released last year.
Singh was also here in Singapore during last year’s Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore where he ran alongside his son, Sukhjinder. Though Ageless Online didn’t get the opportunity to chat with him then, we have managed to track him down to find out what makes him tick:
You are believed to be the “world’s oldest marathoner”. How do you feel about having this title?
It is with God’s grace that I have it now. It is nice to have such a title but there were others before me and there will be others after me.
It is amazing that you picked up the sport seriously only at the age of 89 and you have jogged 10 miles a day since. Can you share what made you decide to seriously pick up running then?
It was a way of finding a new focus in life after losing my wife and son (his fifth son, Kuldip died in a construction accident in August 1994, while his wife who died in 1992 of natural causes).
I understand as a young man, you were an avid runner but had to give it up. Can you share how your love for running continued on and off after?
I was always keen on sporting activity but after the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition, I had to concentrate on bringing up a family and did not have time to participate until I came to live with my son in England when I was 89.
How tough was it to run seriously at that age?
It was tough but my coach, Harmander Singh, was very helpful in nurturing my stamina and building it up as I had not experienced the endurance part to this level before.
I heard you turned up for your first training in a three-piece suit?
Yes I did but I did have my trainers on.
It is also interesting to know that you could hardly walk long distances and you were often teased when you were younger. I am sure those who teased you would be eating their words today!
None of them are alive anymore.
Running is tough on the knees especially as one gets older. How do you protect yourself – supplementation like glucosamine, knee brace, etc?
Who says running is tough on the knees? I do not use anything or need to as my coach has taught me to run smoothly so I do not jar my joints. My coach says it is better to land on your heels and roll your foot as you run instead of stomping with each step.
Any injuries you have had in your years running?
None so far.
How do you stay focused during the run?
I am either enjoying the scenery or talking to people if not my coach and when it gets really tough, I call upon God to help me get to the end.
What are you thinking during a run?
I don’t have time to think other than to get to the finish line.
Do you listen to music?
No, my coach tells me that for safety reasons most good races have banned such practice, as people could not hear any warnings. It is better to chat to a running partner.
What’s your typical day from morning till night?
I wash up, listen to religious sermon and news on the radio, have breakfast and go for my daily routine of walking to the Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). There, I pay my respects. I then walk/jog to my son’s business, have a chat and go back to the Gurdwara to meet friends. After lunch, I do some window shopping or run errands for friends who are not mobile as myself and go back to another Gurdwara before going home for evening meal.
The total distance covered in the day is about 10 miles. I then listen to the radio before going to sleep by about 10pm. As I have become better known, there are days when I attend events too and of course I would attend the weekly training session with my coach.
I noticed you stretch before you run. How important is stretching?
My coach tells me it is very important.
In April last year, you announced your retirement from longer distance running. Why retire?
Because I have nothing else to prove and it was getting tougher – my family and coach made the decision and I agreed with their judgement.
So you will be doing shorter distances like 10km and 5km?
I am not sure of the distances, my coach organises it all but that sounds right.
When is your next race?
It is the Hong Kong Marathon 10km (February 2013). (WRITER’S NOTE: This will also be Singh’s last competitive race.)
Why do you want to continue running at all?
Running keeps me healthy and through the fundraising or awareness-raising, many charities benefit. Also when a person gets old, they become like a child and seek attention. If I were not running, nobody would be asking me the questions or paying any attention to me.
How do you usually prepare for your races?
I just do what my coach tells me – he is very good.
What is your secret to staying in shape? (I heard it is ginger curry, no fried food and lots of tea.)
I train to a set routine and am careful about what and how much I eat. Also, I am a vegetarian.
With you exercising regularly, you must really plan your nutrition as I read a report that says a vegetarian diet can be challenging as some nutrients may be low. How do you deal with this?
The doctor who ran a short distance with me in my last marathon was saying the same thing – my question to him was how many scientists and doctors who are 100 years or more actually run a marathon?
What have been some of your highlights in your running career? I am sure your 2004 experience in an ad campaign alongside David Beckham and Muhammad Ali and your July 2012 holding the Olympic torch would be up there?
I value every moment of every race as important and enjoyable – if people start to rank their experiences they lose sight of what happiness is about. I am very lucky to have had so many happy moments.
What are your thoughts about all this publicity you have gotten over the years?
I am sure it has done some good to the charities and I have enjoyed the attention too.
If you could say something to other seniors, what would it be?
Don’t make your age an excuse for not trying to be active, I am living proof of what can be done.
What about to the young?
Don’t waste your life by getting involved in drugs and alcohol, get and stay active to enjoy life – you cannot buy good health.
Anything else you would like to achieve?
I am content with what God has allowed me to do so far and will accept whatever God gives me in the future.
How many children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) do you have?
I had six children, four of which are still alive. I think I have about 18 grandchildren and even they have children of their own, of which I have lost count how many there are.
Have you managed to inspire any of your family members to run seriously?
Yes, my son, Sukhjinder, with whom I live with has run a few marathons as have some of my grandchildren.
Anything to add?
God has given me good health and I have tried to preserve the body to do good work for others as my religion expects me to do. Running has allowed me to travel the world, see wonderful places and meet very nice people including some leaders which an ordinary, simple, illiterate farmer like myself would not normally be allowed anywhere near. I believe nothing is impossible.
SIDEBOX: It is all in the numbers – Singh’s times
(The sequence of Singh’s 10km, half and full marathon times is as below – he has completed nine full marathons):
London Flora Marathon 2000 – 6 (hours):54 (minutes)
London Flora Marathon 2001 – 6:54
London Flora Marathon 2002 – 6:45
Bupa Great North Run (half marathon) 2002 – 2:39
London Flora Marathon 2003 – 6:02
Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2003 – 5:40
New York City Marathon 2003 – 7:35
London Flora Marathon 2004 – 6:07
Glasgow City Half Marathon 2004 – 2:33
Capital Radio Help a London Child 10,000m 2004 – 68 minutes
Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon 2004 – 2:29:59 (seconds)
Lahore Marathon (10,000m) 2005 – 64 minutes
Newham Classic 10,000m, March 2010 – 75 minutes (best for over 95-year-old)
ING Luxembourg (half marathon) May 2010 – 3:32 (became oldest half marathoner)
Newham Classic 10km 2011 – 83 minutes (fastest ever for a 100-year-old-runner)
Toronto Birchfield Stadium 2011 – 8 track records for 100-year-old in 5 hours (100m – 23.40 seconds (previous 29.83); 200m – 52.23 seconds (previous 77.59 seconds); 400m – 2:13:48 (previous 3:41.00); 800m – 5:32:18 (no previous record); 1,500m – 11:27 (previous 16:46); mile – 11:53:45 (no previous record); 3,000m –24:52:47 (no previous record); 5,000m – 49:57:39 (no previous record))
Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2011 – 8:11:06 (as a 100-year-old)
Hong Kong Marathon 10km 2012 – 94 minutes raising US$25,800 (S$31990.581) for charity
Newham Classic 10km 2012 – 77 minutes 32 seconds (as a 101-year-old)
Virgin London Marathon 2012 – 7:49:21
Plus numerous other 10km and 5km races in Mauritius, Surrey (Canada), California, Kericho (Kenya), Toronto, etc.
(** Special thanks to Singh’s translator, Harmander Singh.)