90 'just a number' for marathon record-setting B.C. senior
B.J. McHugh might be 90, but that doesn’t mean her best days are behind her. In fact, it’s other runners her age who are eating her dust, as the Vancouver resident continues to break long-distance running records around the world.
McHugh owns several 10-kilometre, half-marathon and marathon records for seniors, including her latest: the fastest marathon time by a runner over 90. McHugh smashed the record by two hours at the Honolulu Marathon in December, with a time of 6:47:31.
But despite laying claim to that title, she’s not letting the new record go to her head.
“Competition isn’t that good when you’re 90 years old, and that time wasn’t great,” she told CTV Vancouver on Wednesday. “But hey, good enough!”
McHugh discovered her love for running in her late fifties. She used to take her daughter, Jennifer, to the pool for swimming practice in downtown Vancouver, and since she wasn’t allowed to stay and watch, she opted to start walking along the Seawall to kill time. Walking soon turned into running, and before long, she was hooked.
“It sort of felt good so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just carry on with this thing.’”
McHugh started running marathons, and before long, she was getting calls from race organizers around the world.
Her first invite came in 2009 from Rome, where the race co-ordinator insisted she start the marathon up front, “with the Kenyans.”
“It was scary,” McHugh said. “I thought, ‘What am I doing up here?’ But they were gone just like that, and I set my own pace.”
McHugh has now run more than 20 marathons since then, in races in London, Boston, New York, Chicago and Big Sur. She’s also broken several age group records along the way in the women’s 85-89 and the overall 82-88 age groups.
McHugh is not only a master of the marathon, but also the matriarch of an athletic family that includes four children and four grandchildren. Many of them have joined her on marathons, and her daughter Jennifer was an Olympic swimmer for Canada in 1972.
Now, as she enters the 90-plus age group, McHugh says she sees no reason to slow down. “I just think 90 in this day and age, it’s really just a number,” she said. “People are living longer and doing things.”
And on a basic level, she simply loves the activity. “You go for a run and everything is rosy with the world,” she said.
Of course, that’s not to say the marathons aren’t hard, but McHugh always finds a way to push through.
“Every time I run I think, ‘This is my last one. I’m not doing anymore,’” she said. “Most people my age, they give up.
“I set goals and when I do, I’m determined to keep it. And that’s why I finish.”
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Christina Heydanus