The inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships takes place within the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon on April 26.
A full year of qualifying races produced the 1,000 runners who earned an invite to the first ever championships after finishing in the upper regions of the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World rankings, and they are now preparing for a race that could see them crowned world champion.
Among them are former Olympic champions and previous AbbottWMM race winners plus everyday runners from all walks of life – from artists to accountants, builders to bankers and pilots to plumbers – who have put in the effort required to perform to their very best against their age group peers.
Over the coming months we’ll be telling many of their stories as we build up to the big day, including an in depth look at the following five runners as they train for their attempt to claim the title of best age grouper in the world.
Anda Valtere – Latvia – f40-44
I started running because of my health issues. I thought I was too young (at that time I was 33) to have so many health problems and so many medicines to use. My brother - he's a doctor - suggested running. He said: "Take whatever sports shoes you have, and go out for a little jogging. Do 30 to 40 minutes three time per week.”
At that time I also had one sporty colleague, and she inspired me as well. I completed my first running competition together with my colleagues in 2012 - the 5km at the Riga Marathon. The distance was only 5km, but the joy was huge. The next year I did 10km, then a half marathon in 2014, and my first full marathon was in Riga in 2015. Running is great metaphor for life, it teaches you physically and mentally.
Running lets your spirit grow, it gives you a chance to be a part of one big friendly running community all around the World. It gives you so many positive emotions and unbelievable experience. Running is wonderful. I’m really excited about this goal.
Honor hill – USA – f75-79
I grew up in England but now live in Dallas, Texas. I only started running at 72, I had always been active but didn't start running until 2012, completing my first two marathons in 2014. I didn't love it at first, but now I love it as a means of keeping fit, being challenged, and having those wonderful running friends – the best part of running!
My biggest challenge has been training for marathons while also caring for my husband, who had Alzheimer's, full-time at home for eleven years. Running was therapeutic for me in so many ways--helping me overcome the frustrations that arose, provided social interaction lacking at home, and just plain started the day right! Deena Kastor continues to inspire me.
Her emphasis on the mental side of running, the mental discipline needed, and the importance of attitude is totally in line with my own thinking and approach. I love that she is so confident in what she practices that she wrote a whole book on the topic, Let Your Mind Run.
Mary Walsh – Ireland – f45-49
I starting running when I was 30. I wanted to get fit after having my first child and my brothers were runners so thought I’d give it a go. Four of them were going to run Amsterdam Marathon and I wanted to go with them, but my brother said I’d have to run if I went, so that was my first marathon in 2005!
The main thing I love about running is just being able to run. No matter where you are in the world if someone invites you for a run I love being able to say yes. In 2016 my brother Ronan and I were training for Dublin Marathon, he started to struggle on runs until it became impossible to run. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was only 44. He fought the cancer the way he ran: with great courage and determination, but he met his finish line way to soon in 2017.
Throughout his treatment he continued to run when he could and I always joined him. We never spoke about illness when we ran, it was a time to escape. My running inspiration is Ronan’s wife and kids who continue to live a joyous life in his absence. I always think of their fight when I run so it’s impossible to give up.
Koichi Kitabatake – Japan – m80+
I’m from Yokohama in Japan, and started my running eight years ago when I was 77 years old. I started jogging about 10 years ago, building from 5km to 10km and then to 20km. I ran my first marathon in Paris in 2012 at 78 years old. Since then I have devoted myself to running and ran 17 marathons in the last eight years, including my most recent run in Athens in November 2019.
At my age I often fail to finish. But the marathon is a great sport which gives me satisfaction – it requires mental and physical endurance. I am looking forward to running London, since I have been trying many years to run there. I am even more happy that it will also be the Age Group World Championships!
Carlos Soto – Guatemala – m50-54
I started running at the age of 16, but college, marriage and kids forced me to pause my running for 18 years. In 2004 I returned to running.
I was severely overweight and with health issues; with increased physical activity and better nutrition I managed to lose 52 pounds in five years and then the bug of the marathon bit me after running the TCS New York City Marathon in 2010.
I decided to run the whole AbbottWMM series and qualify for Boston. It took me five years to get into Boston but it was that stubborn attitude that made me a leaner and faster runner as I got older. During that period I became madly in love with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and managed to run the BMW BERLIN and Tokyo Marathons too.
I couldn't believe my (Age Group World Ranking) times had opened a space for me in the Virgin Money London Marathon that has been elusive for so many years. It is extra special because there I will not only have the honour of running the Age Group World Championship but also to get my sixth star.
The ride has been adventurous and awesome, I have met many people and made strong and beautiful friendships. I think I will continue to run the Majors series for the rest of my life.
Peter O’Brien – Australia – m70-74
I live in Deniliquin, a small country town in New South Wales. I ran my first marathon in Melbourne at age 50 and I’ve run several marathons with my son David and daughter Michelle. We don’t run together but we get to support each other and celebrate together later.
I decided to run the Abbott World Marathon Majors at age 70 and have ran Berlin, Chicago, New York, Tokyo, Boston and will complete my final Major in London at the world championships. All six majors in my Seventies! Michelle will run London with me.
I guess I love the fact that running is keeping me fit and healthy as I get older.
Living in rural Australia has its challenges if you want to do the Majors. I do all my training by myself and there is a lot of travel to compete overseas.