Khushwant Singh

Fauja Singh British Marathon Runner

The Year 2011 and Beyond

On 1 April 2011, Fauja Singh turned a cool one hundred years. It was time to implement coach Harmander Singh’s plan: To make Fauja run a full marathon at age one hundred in order to have his name permanently etched in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest marathon runner. The Waterfront Toronto Marathon was selected where Fauja would attempt to achieve this superhuman feat. Interestingly, Fauja had no idea what the Guinness Record stood for and its relevance. All he knew was that he had to run for 42.195 kilometers.

On 16th October when Fauja was at the start line, people from all over the world, especially the Sikhs prayed and hoped that Fauja Singh would be able to complete the feat that he had set out for. A determined Fauja didn’t disappoint them and completed the marathon, thus becoming the first man ever to run a marathon at age one hundred. A great human achievement indeed! He completed the race in 8 hours 11 minutes and 5.9 seconds. While the world was celebrating this great human achievement, Guinness served a big blow to the euphoric mood. It refused to record Fauja Singh’s amazing feat. This was because Fauja Singh did not have a birth certificate and the only proof of his age was his passport, which did not serve as proof enough for Guinness.

Incidentally, officials of the Guinness Book of World Records before the race had agreed to Fauja’s passport as sufficient evidence. Justifying the organization’s change of decision, a spokesperson for the company said, ‘It’s a no-go for the record I’m afraid, because if you can’t prove how old you are, you can’t be the world’s oldest anything. Guinness would accept marriage certificates, military draft details or records of surgery, but the organization didn’t see any of those types of documents. Passports only confirm a person’s nationality, not their date of birth.’

This decision undoubtedly was a significant blow not only to Fauja Singh but his followers too. Many split views emerged, some seeing a logic in the Guinness system of maintaining records, whereas others were calling it an institutionally racist method of doing so.

However, this controversy did not deter Fauja and to overcome this hiccup he decided to run one more complete marathon. Now, instead of signing off from Toronto, he would say his final goodbye to full marathons from the city where he had started his running career. Many advised him against running this race for medical reasons. Some suggested that he only run half the marathon. Fauja, however, would hear none of it.

I remember him calling me up and asking for my advice. ‘Khushwant Singh, if I have to die on the track, then why die with a half marathon tag around my neck?’ I had no answer to counter his logic, and I wished him luck. I knew his belief in his Waheguru would see him through despite any stumbling blocks.

And sure enough, the April Virgin London Marathon witnessed the most spectacular sight. The sprightly old man, aged 101, resplendent in his black turban and white flowing beard yet again surprised the world with his indomitable spirit. Fauja Singh, amidst cheering crowds completed the marathon without a fuss. The resounding applaud once again reaffirmed that for his followers he was still the same gritty great grandfather or the ‘Running Baba’.

Fauja Singh finally hung his running shoes at the age of 102 signing off permanently after a run in Hong Kong. Presently, he lives in London and still leads an active life.

A salute to you, Fauja Singh!

Khushwant Singh