Fifty Marathons after Sixty? Let Lillian Inspire You!

Birds and 5Ks and hospitality #InspireMeMonday via @blestbutstrestAt 23, I felt pretty invincible. So, when my Aunt Lillian casually asked me if I’d like to run in a 5K race, I accepted on a whim. I should have known better than to accept an invitation for a fun run from a 65-year-old—no matter how charming her smile.

It all started because Pedro and I had come to visit my cousin Wayne—the only family that lived within a thousand miles of us. We were just a newlywed and newly relocated couple of youngsters who wanted to go on a mountain bike ride (a new sport we had decided to explore together) in some real mountains (El Centro, California’s average elevation dips below sea level, and we wanted to try our bikes on ‘real’ mountains).

My cousin Wayne lived with Lillian and her husband at the time, while he attend medical school at Loma Linda University—that’s how my mom’s family has always been—taking in stray relatives and friends who need a place to stay, for a night or for years.

And so I’d called ‘Aunt Lillian’—my mom’s cousin who I’d met a handful of times—and asked if we could spend the weekend with her. Her smile warmed me through the phone line, and I could imagine her inviting grin as she said, “We’d love to have you! If I’m not home when you arrive, the key is in its usual place.” I’d visited enough times with my mom to know that she kept a key on a rock ledge above the front door.

After a great day mountain biking with Wayne and Pedro, Lillian invited me to run in the 5K she’d helped her running club organize to raise money for a curbside recycling program. “Why not?” I agreed. “As long as Wayne has some running shoes I can borrow.”

He did, so I did. I woke up early and we walked down to the starting line where I registered and pinned on my race number. “Do you me to run with you?” Lillian asked.

“Sure,” I answered, whilst thinking that a gentle jog in the park would help loosen up my slightly sore mountain biking muscles. “But if I’m too slow, feel free to go on ahead!” I urged her, while secretly doubting that she would keep up with me. After all, ‘Aunt Lillian’ was ‘old’—how hard could jogging along with her be?

When the starting gun went off, we sprinted down the road and I quickly learned the answer to my question. Hard. I huffed and puffed and tried valiantly to keep up. Clearly, the fact that I hadn’t jogged in two years and only exercised sporadically had taken a toll on my ability to run. “You go on ahead,” I wheezed to Aunt Lillian as we neared a gentle incline.

“If you’re sure…” she looked hesitantly at me.

“Really. I may need to walk a few steps. The elevation difference must be getting to me.”

“You can do it!” she encouraged me as she shot off up the hill. “I’ll meet you at the finish line!”

When I finally crossed the finish line (four interminable kilometers later) I’d like to think that my flaming red face was due to the heat and exertion and had nothing to do with the fact that a woman 42 years my senior had smoked me.

“Good for you!” Aunt Lillian enthused as I stumbled towards the recovery table. “I think you placed for your age group!” I answered with a wan smile and downed half dozen orange slices.

Of course, Aunt Lillian won for her age group (and finished with a faster time than everyone in my age group). I had placed third (we won’t talk about how many actual entries the race had).

When we left Aunt Lillian’s later that day, I glowed with my accomplishment (or perhaps just exhaustion). Every time I sat or stood for the next week, I remembered my accomplishment. I decided that if an ‘old lady’ could run marathons and sprint past twenty-year-olds, I had better get my act together. And thus began my life-long love of running, biking, walking and keeping myself fit.

Aunt Lillian’s influence lingers to this day (I still need to run a marathon one of these days, though, and there’s no way I’ll catch up to her lifetime accomplishment of 50 marathons in the last twenty years of her life).

I also credit Aunt Lillian with piquing my interest in birds—she started birding long before birding was hip, and she’s the first person I ever heard talk about a ‘life list’ of birds. Her stories of hiking and looking for birds to add to her list made me smile. I couldn’t imagine a person traveling to different countries and out of the way places just to see a bird to add to a list.

The entire time we lived in El Centro, we knew we had a place to stay if we wanted to meet up with college friends or attend a special event. After we moved further away, Lillian and I kept in touch with annual Christmas letters and the occasional visit. Even though she owned a successful Real Estate Agency, and served as a board member for the San Bernardino Board of Realtors, she went out of her way to make me feel at home and part of her family—even if she wasn’t really my aunt.

Birds and 5Ks and hospitality #InspireMeMonday via @blestbutstrestFamily legend says she jogged to the hospital for heart surgery about a month before she passed away at 81 from undiagnosed stomach cancer back in 2006.

While visiting my daughter and son-in-law over Thanksgiving, we went for a hike in the hills behind Loma Linda, and I came upon a sign that made me smile. The city of Loma Linda had named a stretch of trail for Aunt Lillian. When I decided to snap a photo of the city’s memorial to this inspiring lady who I proudly called “Aunt Lillian”, I thought it appropriate that a Black Phoebe landed. Aunt Lil would have liked that.

What’s your inspirational story?

Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Angie Ryg

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememonday. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Hey Anita …

    I’m gonna remember Aunt Lillian the next time I sigh and whine while lacing up my sneakers. I’m motivated to do this well … right about now!

    I hope your Thanksgiving and first Sunday of Advent were filled with joy for you, my friend!
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…A Serendipitous BenedictionMy Profile

    • She truly inspired me! She also started lifting weights when she was in her 70s so that she could stop bone loss–proving once again that it’s never too late to start something positive!

  • What an amazing story! Glad you shared it with us all!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…AdventMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by and enjoying Lillian’s story, Joanne :). Have a wonderful week!

  • Laura

    I love knowing more of this story! Great work. And don’t forget–you’ve accomplished at least one half marathon! And hundreds of bird sightings!

    • True ;). I’ve actually run in two half-marathons–does that equal one whole one? ;).

  • Regular exercise is one of the things I find most difficult. And yet, I am so blessed that I am healthy enough to do it. Shame on me! Thanks for the encouraging post and the link-up, Anita!
    Heather @ My Overflowing Cup recently posted…7 Tips for Keeping Christ in ChristmasMy Profile

    • I’m not a ‘sporty’ person by any means (PE was my least favorite class in school and the bane of my report cards), but wise women like Lillian have provided inspiration over the years for keeping in shape and I actually enjoy exercise now.

  • Wow! She IS inspiring! What a great story!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…What I Learned in November…My Profile

  • Oh, I have been looking for some motivation to get my running shoes laced up again. Thanks, Aunt Lillian for being just the story I needed!
    Colleen Mitchell recently posted…20 Holiday Cookie Ideas From One RecipeMy Profile

    • ;). I hadn’t run for 8 days when I wrote this–it got me back outside, too! (the sub 30s weather had me struggling to head out the door).

  • What an inspiration your Aunt Lillian was! I love when people share themselves and their interests with others and end up igniting lifelong enthusiasm. Thank you for posting this!
    Julie Clark recently posted…December: Month of WonderMy Profile

    • I think she left an incredible blueprint for aging gracefully and meaningfully, too :).

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  • And to think I was complaining about JOGGING 3 miles this morning…just WOW. Love this!!!!
    Bethany Boring recently posted…Expecting The UnexpectedMy Profile

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  • What an inspiration! Especially as I sit here in my too tight jeans, thinking about having a snack. Ummm, I’ll be starting that C25K program again after reading this!
    Ellen Chauvin recently posted…The Ultimate Secret to ContentmentMy Profile

    • I know this other guy that ran his age on his birthday every year–I interviewed him when he was 72. He wasn’t speedy, but he was out there. I think that’s the inspiration that we can take away from people like Lillian and Mr. Cleary–just doing something is way better than doing nothing!

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