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At 71, She's Breaking Marathon Records

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At 71, She's Breaking Marathon Records

Jeannie Rice turned heads in Chicago with a race well under four hours; her training secret: She just runs a lot.

When you’re pushing your pace in a marathon and Jeannie Rice, a 71-year-old grandmother, speeds past, you can either feel defeated or inspired.

The senior speed demon says fellow runners almost always cheer her on. “People recognize me now and when I pass, they say, ‘There she goes again,’ ” she says.

Last year, Ms. Rice turned heads at the Chicago Marathon, where her blazing time of 3 hours, 27 minutes and 50 seconds smashed the previous 70-plus age group women’s world record of 3:35:29.

At the start of 2019, Ms. Rice taped the half marathon world record for her age group onto her fridge. After three failed attempts, she reached her goal at the Akron Half Marathon in Ohio on Aug. 10. Her time of 1:37:07 beat the previous record by more than 30 seconds. Her average pace, 7:25-per-mile for 13.1 miles, is a clip runners half her age aspire to run.

Born in Seoul, Ms. Rice moved to the U.S. when she was 19. She took Jazzercise in college, then turned to running at 35 hoping to lose a few pounds. After jogging around her block in tennis shoes for months, a mother from her children’s swim team convinced her to sign up for a 5-mile race. “She was a very good runner and placed third, but I was right behind her,” Ms. Rice recalls. “I’m very competitive, so I started training more seriously. That was the first and last time she beat me.”

She made her marathon debut in Cleveland in 1984 and caught the racing bug. Ms. Rice works as a realtor in Concord, Ohio, and uses her time off to travel for races. To date, she estimates that she has run more than 100 marathons, averaging four to six a year. “I don’t have many competitors—even men—in my age group, so I’m always focused on beating my personal best, even by seconds,” she says.

She has ambitions to win her age group at each of the six races in the World Marathon Majors. She’s already done that at the Boston, New York and Chicago marathons. Tokyo, London and Berlin remain. She plans to run in the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 29.

Ms. Rice has more than 30 pairs of sneakers. She believes regularly rotating sneakers throughout training has helped keep her injury-free.

The Workout

Ms. Rice runs seven days a week, averaging 10 miles a day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are her easy days. Tuesdays she does speedwork, usually a version of a fartlek, a training technique that emphasizes endurance and a faster pace, at a local track. Thursdays she does a tempo run at a faster pace. She gets her long runs in on the weekend. Depending on what she’s training for, she runs anywhere from 13 to 22 miles.
 
Half of the time she runs alone, simply because she doesn’t want to wake at 4:30 a.m., the hour she rises to run with the Northeast Running Club. The group meets at 5:30 and runs 6 miles along local bike trails. Ms. Rice will tack on an additional 4 miles. Ms. Rice spends winters in Bonita Springs, Fla., and runs with the Gulf Coast Running Club. “I avoid the icy winter roads in Ohio at all costs,” she says. She competes in around 30 road races a year, using 5K and 10K distances as speedwork. She takes a day off before a race.
 
Ms. Rice has been told by friends she should cross-train to avoid injury, but other than playing golf in the summer, she just runs. She mainly attributes the fact that she’s never been injured from running to the fact that she religiously changes her sneakers every three months.

The Diet

Ms. Rice says her eating habits have changed as she’s aged. “I used to wake up and run,” she says. “Now that I’m older, I need fuel.” Pre-run she has a small banana with a half tablespoon of natural peanut butter and coffee. Post-run she eats a bagel with avocado. In her younger years she says she never liked red meat, but now she craves it after long races. Fish—particularly salmon—remains her favorite.
 
“I eat a lot of carbs,” she says. “Of course, pasta, but I love rice. I know brown rice is supposed to be better for you, but I eat white rice. And my downfall is homemade bakery bread.” Lunch is often a green salad with avocado and dinner might be rice with shrimp and vegetables. She likes to organize pasta dinners for her running group ahead of a race. Blueberries and strawberries are her favorite sweet.

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