THE BLOG
08/28/2014 11:25 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Dare to Be 100: Bortz's Law Resounds

"It is never too late to start.
It is always too soon to stop."

The Internet was abuzz seven weeks ago about the performance at the June 1 San Diego Marathon by Harriet Thompson of North Carolina. She is 91 years old (YOUNG). En route she set several age group records. Her time of seven hours, seven minutes, and 42 seconds broke the earlier record of women 90 to 94 by over two hours.

This was the 15th time that she had completed this marathon. Her first one came when she was 75 years old (never too late to start). Despite the fact that her training had been slowed by treatment of skin cancers on her legs, she ran strong. Amazingly, her longest training run for this event was only five miles. But even at mile 26 she was confident and smiled to hosts of admirers.

The oldest female marathoner is Gladys Burrill, who ran the Honolulu Marathon in 2010 at the age of 92. Her time there was nine hours, 53 minutes.

A number of older men have finished marathons, but old women marathoners! It really breaks the stereotype of the little old lady incapable of little else than knitting. It simply shows how old-fashioned we were. Just a short time ago marathon competition was not open to females. Remember the pictures of Jock Semple trying to wrestle Kathy Switzer off the Boston Marathon course in 1967, five years before women were accepted.

Eventually the stereotype was smashed. Joan Benoit in her Olympic winning run in Los Angeles was epochal. Seeing her entering the Coliseum first and alone was one of my all-time thrills.

Elizabeth had dedicated her running to lymphoma causes. Her 99-year-old brother died just last year from it. She has raised $90,000 from friends in her support effort. After the race she hopped on an airplane to return to North Carolina to celebrate her wedding anniversary . "As for next year, I hope to return and break my record." (ALWAYS TOO SOON TO STOP.)

This attitude reminded me of my friendship with wonderful doctor Paul Spangler who was in my father's medical school class at Harvard Medical School. Mid career he surrendered his clinical practice to preach the gospel of fitness. We bonded and shared many running experiences together despite his being thirty years older. One year while anticipating a 10k race around the Stanford campus the next day I asked him what he thought his race time might be, he replied, "I really can't tell you that, but whatever it is it will be a world record."

A couple of years later while planning on running the New York Marathon to celebrate his 100th birthday, he died while running near his home in San Luis Obispo. DAMN! ALMOST!

Paul didn't make it, but his running shoelaces did, as I had obtained them in a charity auction, and I tied them in my shoes as I ran New York to celebrate Paul's life.

So, as we individually and collectively try to figure out what this life race is all about don't forget Bortz's Law, "It is never too late to start, but always too soon to stop."