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92-Year-Old Harriette Thompson Aiming to Make Marathon History

A world record awaits, if she finishes Rock 'n' Roll San Diego.

Thompson running the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon for the 16th time.

The darling of Sunday’s Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon and Half Marathon isn’t some lithe Kenyan, Ethiopian or Moroccan. It’s not an American hoping to follow in Meb Keflezighi’s footsteps.

Some 26,000 people will run, walk and push wheelchairs from Balboa Park to PETCO Park and the one drawing the most attention is 92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte, N.C.

A year ago this weekend, Thompson, then 91, ran the fastest marathon ever by a woman 90 or older, finishing in 7 hours and 7 minutes. Thompson obliterated the old record of 9 hours, 53 minutes.

Now, at 92 she’s back, ready to kick it 26.2 miles again. If Thompson finishes the race she’ll become the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon.

“Oh, it’s not unusual,” Thompson downplayed. “I think all you have to do is get to 90-something and you get all sorts of attention.”

Keflezighi and San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke and waved to fans at Friday’s press conference. They were appreciated. But the person who rocked the stage was Thompson.

She talked about riding in first class from Charlotte to San Diego. She’s staying at the posh Hilton Bayfront hotel, across the street from PETCO Park.

“I do like the attention,” she said with a warm smile.

Running historian Toni Reavis was among those in attendance Friday. Like everyone, he’s amazed by Thompson.

“What’s possible has been redefined,” Reavis said. “And each age is redefining what those new possibilities may be.”

Jen Rhines, one of America’s best distance runners, said of Thompson, “I think it’s pretty incredible. I don’t even know many people in their 90s. She’s setting the example for everyone about what a healthy lifestyle can mean when you get to your 80s and 90s.”

Thompson’s story is a fascinating one. She didn’t run her first marathon until she was 76. Singing in a church choir, Thompson noticed a fellow member collecting checks.

The woman said she was walking a marathon in San Diego and collecting contributions for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“I can walk a marathon,” said Thompson, a former concert pianist who played at Carnegie Hall.

Turns out the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a cause dear to Thompson’s heart. She has fought two bouts with cancer. Multiple family members have died of the disease.

Thompson has raised more than $90,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. People participating in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series have raised more than $179 million for the charity.

This will be Thompson’s 16th Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon. She missed the first race and the 2013 edition when she was battling skin cancer.

“I do love San Diego,” she said. “It’s such a vibrant city.”

Marathon training programs feature a weekly long run with most programs stretching the longest run to at least 20 miles. Thompson has never run farther than 11 miles in training.

“I save it for the race,” she said.

Thompson plays bridge and reads the newspaper daily. She walks/runs five days a week and attends a daily exercise class. She has five children and 10 grandchildren. She know all five kids’ cell numbers off the top of her head and can recite the grandchildren’s birthdates.

“I’m good with numbers,” she said.

She’s good with miles too.

Gladys Burrill was 92 years, 19 days old when she ran the Honolulu Marathon in 2010. On Sunday, Thompson will be 92 years and 93 days old. The woman who admits she likes the attention is 26.2 miles from becoming the oldest woman to ever run a marathon.

Thunderous applause await.