Fauja Singh says he lives ‘a very simple life’. Photograph: Chris Young
‘Anything worth doing is going to be difficult,” says Fauja Singh, the 100-year-old runner who this week became the world’s oldest person to complete a full-length marathon, crossing the line at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront event in eight hours, 25 minutes and 16 seconds. (And he didn’t finish last: five came in after him.)
At five foot eight and weighing a little more than eight stone, Singh is a spindly figure under his heavy turban and wispy beard. “Girl, you tell me: has anything you wanted ever been easy?” he says. “I was so worried we [he ran with his trainer] might not make it that we didn’t tell our relatives we were doing it. I just wanted to break that bloody record.”
He is referring to the record set in 1976 by a 98-year-old Greek athlete. “I lost my speed in this race,” says Singh, “but it was the thought of that old man that pushed me through the last four miles. That and God.”
Speaking in Punjabi, Singh says running has given him purpose and a sense of peace. “Why worry about these small, small things? I don’t stress. You never hear of anyone dying of happiness.” And Singh is, by his own admission, pretty happy. Having moved from India to England in 1995, after the deaths of his wife and son, he lives with family in east London, and leads what he says is “a very simple life”.
He took up serious running when he was 89 and says it was his good kismet (destiny) that led him to meeting ex-professional runner Harmander Singh, his trainer and friend. The pair were introduced through a neighbour after Fauja began asking how he might enter the London marathon.
“I train him for free,” says Harmander. “It’s an honour for me.” Together, they have clocked up more than a dozen full and half-marathons.
Harmander says health tests taken last year showed that Singh “has the bones of a 35-year-old”. And yet, Singh claims never to drink milk. “I’m scared of building up phlegm,” he explains.
Asked about the rest of his diet, he chuckles. “I could go on and on, but it’s not a new or magic thing, is it? Punjabi people know eating and drinking is important, but I just eat the minimum of what I need: some daal and roti, gobi and chai – I’d probably be dead if I was full all the time.”
Singh runs between 10 and 15km every day – “you have to keep your engine going” – and at 94, became a poster boy for Adidas, alongside David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson.
“I’m not really interested in all the rupees, I give it to charity,” he says of his sponsorship deal. “Money can be saved and spent and lost and made. At my age it’s nice just to do this. Come on, who wants to talk to this old man? Everyone now! And it’s because of the running that all these people keep showing me so much love. Look how blessed I am. What’s not to be happy about?”