This record-breaking grandma started running at 78


Deirdre Larkin never had record-breaking ambitions. Born with a missing vertebra, the music teacher only took up running when she was 78 years old. But once her feet hit the ground there was no stopping her. Now in her eighties, Larkin is representing South African running to the world. She broke the 10km record for South African women over 70 in 2013, as well as the world record for women over 80 with a time of 54 minutes and 17 seconds.

Larkin’s journey as a runner started after her doctor diagnosed her as being at risk for osteoporosis. The medication made her ill, and despite following advice from health experts for years, she knew she had to try something else. Inspired by her son’s regular jogs, she put on a pair of takkies and stepped out onto the streets of Johannesburg. At first, all she could manage was a few steps of running interspersed with bouts of walking. She kept going. Larkin’s bone density improved thanks to a combination of diet and exercise and a short month later she had completed the Randburg Harriers Valentine’s 10km. Hooked for good, she ran 36 races in 2009, her first year of taking to the tarmac, and increased her annual tally to 58 the following year. By participating in at least one race per weekend, she never gives herself the chance to slow down.

Since those first tentative steps, Larkin has accumulated over 500 medals. She trains by covering seven kilometres a day four days a week, starting at 5:30am. This may seem excessive at her age, but Larkin is determined to make the most of her vitality and strength. Now in her mid eighties, she’s highly respected in the circles she runs in, serving as an inspiration for younger athletes. And for those still waiting for a new week, or year, to get going, Larkin is a reminder that it is never too late to start something – and conquer it.