Meet the Retirees Running Marathons Around the World

Amber Day

This is part of a collection of stories celebrating the many shapes retirement travel can take. Read more here.

The 2022 New York City Marathon was unseasonably warm. Temperatures were as high as 74 degrees, and runners were doing their best to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To distract herself, Ann Heaslett, now 60, started reading the backs of other racers’ T-shirts. She noticed a list of six cities kept coming up, with check boxes next to each. At the time, she was unfamiliar with the concept of the Abbott World Majors—a challenge to run six of the world's most iconic marathons—and little did she know, she was already halfway through the feat.

Heaslett is now one of many determined runners aiming to complete the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City, and Tokyo marathon courses. And she's part of a growing field of runners who are doing so at an unexpected age. From 2015 to 2022, the number of participants aged 55-65 running with Running USA, a nonprofit that works to grow and engage the running community, increased from 10.8% to 16%, while runners in the 65+ category increased from 2.6% to 9%, according to data collected by the organization. Races like the New York City Marathon have seen growth in older age categories, too—in 2013, 20.6% of runners were 50+; in 2023, 24.4% were, Carole Harsch, the New York Road Runners’ publicist, says. The Boston Marathon has seen a consistent increase in entrants ages 65+ since 2019, too.

When retirement rolls around, these runners are given the chance to lean even deeper into the sport—and fully enjoy the benefits of traveling, and connection, that it can offer.

“This is my social outlet,” says Rainer Schochat, 68, and a former math professor. "This is where I meet up with people.” He started running at 59 after seeing a sign outside a running store for a Craft Beer 5K in Oak Park, Illinois. At the time, he didn’t know what race staff meant when they asked for his “expected pace” (aka, how quickly he expected to finish); about a decade later, he’s completed all six Abbott Majors—and his newest goal is to complete them again, in one calendar year, to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Ruthie Maldonado-Delwiche, who retired in 2017 and lives in Chicago, has completed 3 of the 6 Abbott World Marathon Majors. She started running in 1982 while preparing for the Air Force, and while stationed in Hawaii, she ran several 5ks, and a 10k here or there.

“The real running started in 2012,” Maldonado-Delwiche says. “It took on a whole new meaning, because it became like therapy for me.” At the time, work stress led her to tackle longer distances; in 2013, at age 55, she completed her first half marathon. The next year, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and logging miles became even more beneficial to her health.

“The real running started in 2012,” Maldonado-Delwiche says. “It took on a whole new meaning, because it became like therapy for me.”
“The real running started in 2012,” Maldonado-Delwiche says. “It took on a whole new meaning, because it became like therapy for me.”
Amber Day

“I would run before his chemo sessions, I would run after his radiation sessions,” she says. “And then my first marathon, it was in his memory. He lost his battle to cancer a year after his diagnosis,” she says. “I vowed then that as long as God allows me to keep running, I would run every Chicago marathon with team Imerman Angels [whose goal is to raise funds to benefit those impacted by cancer]. I've been doing it since 2017.”

Her first destination run was Miami—the palm trees reminded her of Puerto Rico, where she’s from, and she spent hours after the race dancing to a live band of veterans at the after party. She’s run that same marathon every year since.

Mitch Strong, 75, is a coach for New York Road Runners Striders, a free program bringing physical fitness and wellness to older adults, including helping them get into races (a notoriously competitive process). He considers himself more of a “fun runner.” His definition of fun may differ from most—he’s run eight New York City Marathons, and is a regular ultramarathoner, with multiple 12-hour and 24-hour races on the books this year alone.

He’s not looking to complete the majors per se, but he is running the NYC Marathon again this year, his first time back since 1988. Strong chooses his races with a few factors in mind—he knows they can be a great way to visit friends and family.

“My granddaughter is Australian, and lives in the Melbourne area, so I want to run the Melbourne marathon next year,” Strong says. ”That’s my future overseas marathon.”

Maria Romano, 65, came to the sport later in life, first seriously running at age 52 after a brief stint with race walking. In her retirement, she has become a coach for Striders too; she also coaches cross country for NYRR and a private school in New York. In the 14 years since she took up the sport, she’s run an impressive 35 marathons and 110 half marathons, and in March, will complete her Six Stars at the Tokyo Marathon.

“I used to travel all over the world, but now I'm traveling with a purpose," says Romano. "I have a race to go to.” Her goal is to run all 50 states and all 7 continents—after Sydney this fall, she’ll just have Antarctica to go for the latter goal (yes, there are marathons on the white continent).

Retirement offers the flexibility to make these ambitious travel goals a reality. Now that she is semi-retired, working around 20 hours a week, Heaslett, a psychiatrist who’s been running since high school, has more time for races that are a little further away. “I would do local races as workouts before, but now I am more apt to say yes to trips to Spain or Paris.”

“I never had any plans of making it to all the States until this goal came within sight. I realized I could run a marathon in all of them and make each one a mini vacation and see these places.”

Rainer Schochat

The race in Spain was an ultra that served paella at the finish line; afterwards, Heaslett and her friends took the bullet train to Paris, where they tacked on a 10k.

For Schochat, who grew up in Germany and runs around 30 races a year, the Berlin race has been his favorite of the Majors. Along with being fast, flat, and easy to navigate, it was the only race where all the spectators correctly pronounced his first name. “In Chicago, after two million people keep shouting out ‘Ray-ner,’ I [thought] maybe that is my name.” This year, he’ll complete his goal of running a marathon in every US state.

“I never had any plans of making it to all the States until this goal came within sight,” Schochat says. “I realized I could run a marathon in all of them and make each one a mini vacation and see these places.” He’s ticked off 41 states so far, and plans to run his last in Hartford, Connecticut, this October.

The relative ease with which he completed his first few races, in his late 50s no less, made Schochat realize, “there’s always been an ability in this body of mine that I didn't know about.” Now, his priority is to just keep going. “The biggest goal for me now is to keep doing it for a long time and be able to run all over the country and all over the world,” Schochat says.

The logistics of getting into races can be tricky, given the qualifying times required for some and the sheer number of people entering the lottery for others. Making all six happen is no small feat, Schochat says: “I think you either need to be retired like I am or have a stash to do that,” he says.

In between races, it’s the run clubs back home that form the backbone of these retirees’ running communities. “I would not be running and I would not be a runner if it weren't for all these run clubs,” Schochat says.

Maldonado-Delwiche, who is a certified RRCA coach and recently ran her 10th marathon in New York City on her 65th birthday, runs with Latinas Run Chicago, a group created as a safe space for women, Latinas and otherwise, to exercise together. “The main focus is all are welcome. Somebody is always there to talk with you, to make you feel welcome, to make you feel that you can do this.”

“I want to run for the rest of my life. I enjoy running for the sake of running.”

Ruthie Maldonado-Delwiche

Some are chasing medals, and fast finish times—others, it's just getting out there that matters. Romano sometimes runs as a pacer, and helps train other runners to achieve their own race goals as a coach, but when she’s running for herself, “I run for time.” She often places in her age group.

Regardless of speed, there’s no denying the benefits that come from continuing to run, both physically and mentally. “I'm going to be 66 years old on April 14. I don't have diabetes. I'm not on any medication. I can squat, my balance is excellent. If you saw me, you would never think that I was the age that I am,” says Romano.

And as runners age and family dynamics shift—spouses pass away, kids are busy raising their own kids—the people pounding the pavement alongside them help fill in those familial gaps. “The running community has become my sole family,” Maldonado-Delwiche says. “Everyone knows me as mama Ruthie; I only have one son by birth, but I've adopted all these sons and daughters on the course.”

Similarly, Strong’s running community has carried him through some of the toughest times in life, including a bout with prostate cancer. “My partner in life kept me alive; the support that was given to me from her was a crutch; the running community was the other crutch that kept me standing straight up."

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler