Jean Duncan has always been active. In 2003, while in her 70’s she was regularly participating in yoga, biking and aerobics. Then at the family Boxing Day dinner her granddaughter began talking about the Vancouver Sun Run, an annual 10 kilometer race with over 50,000 participants. She loved it so much that she encouraged her entire family to join her. Jean took her up on her offer.
Although active she explains that she “had never seriously walked.” She trained with other participants in a Sun Run training program that prepared her for her first 10km race.
But this is not just a story about her training for one race. Since 2003, Jean has participated in the Sun Run every year despite battling cancer and a broken back during two of those years. Shortly after her first race, Jean was diagnosed with tonsil cancer and underwent months of chemotherapy. But she still managed to attend the next year’s race. In 2008, she had another setback when she slipped during her aerobic class and broke her back in 2 places. Concerned for her safety in the huge crowds, Jean walked the shorter 2.5km race during the 2008 Sun Run while wearing a special collar to support her neck.
Racing even helped her during her recover from cancer. She had a reason to exercise and felt it was something she could control herself whereas she had no control over her cancer and treatment.
Jean walks her races because her legs “just won’t run.” She explains that that is her personal limitation but it doesn’t bother her because she can still be active. Her first Sun Run race in 2003 took 93 minutes. She had her best ever time in last year’s race at 86 minutes. This year the race took just over 2 hours to finish because she slowed down to walk with her injured daughter.
Her lifelong love of fitness has inspired her entire family. This year there were 12 family members that participated in the Sun Run together including her children, grandchildren and even her great-grandson. They have made a tradition out of the Sun Run. They stay overnight in a hotel close to the race start line. The night before the family eats a pasta dinner as per the running tradition of eating a high carb meal before races. After the race they celebrate with a brunch. The family even celebrated Jean’s 80th birthday by walking in 8k race.
Jean encourages all seniors to participate in races. She loves having a goal to work towards. She experienced her first runner’s high after the first race and says it’s almost addicting. But unlike most addictions this is a healthy one and it makes sense to stay active.
She follows the same training program every year and alters it as she needs to. If an upcoming race has more hills than the Sun Run does she adds more hill work-outs to the training. The training taught her how to stretch properly, eat the right foods and gave suggestions for complementary workouts besides walking.
Jean says it’s an amazing feeling to be running with thousands of other people, but you don’t have to be worried about keeping up with the crowd. You can go at your own pace and won’t be left alone. Organized races have volunteers, waters stations and first aid stations all along the way to keep everyone hydrated and safe.
Jean doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. She is already registered for more races this year and it’s hard to think of anything that could stop her in the future.