Ellen Noble with her finishers medal after completing The Virgin Money London Marathon, 28 April 2019 Credit: ©Virgin Money London Marathon

It’s a weird feeling, now I’m a celebrity

Eileen Noble took up marathon running at the age of 54. Now in her 80s, she’s still going strong

The first time I ran the London Marathon in 1989, I got to 18 miles and thought I’d never make it to the finish line. But I told myself, ‘Hang on in there!’ Afterwards, I said to my family, ‘Never again – I just wanted to be able to say I’d done it once!’

That was when I was 54 – and I’ve run it a further 18 times since. You forget the pain, you see!

I started running when I was in my early fifties, in 1986. I’d been sporty at school but running around a track never appealed. Then the jogging boom came and I thought I’d have a go.

At first it was a struggle, but after each session I’d keep going back. I’d go jogging with my friend Shirley and we’d chat. I liked the camaraderie, and still do, training with friends whenever I can. Although my late husband Tony wasn’t a runner, he always supported me. He’d see me off at the start and meet me when I’d finished.

Now my daughter Imelda, 46, has been inspired by my exploits to take up marathon running too. Needless to say, she’s a lot faster than me now!

We were hooked

In 1988, Shirley and I did a 4km (2.5 mile) fun run and then a half- marathon. We were hooked, so we entered the London Marathon. It was easier to get a place then. We ran it in 5 hours 15 minutes and crossed the line together.

I did it again in 1990 and knocked almost half an hour off my time, finishing in 4:50. The second time was much easier, although it was raining and my shoes were soaked. In 1992, I ran my fastest time of four hours and 40 minutes.

Now, it takes me just under six and a half hours, but I feel as if I’m going as fast as I ever did!

The only real disaster I’ve had is when I had to pull out in 1991 after breaking my ankle six weeks before, so I’m always cautious in the run-up to the race.

It’s a weird feeling now I’m a celebrity. People want to have their picture taken with me – it helps keep my mind off the distance. I was stunned when I crossed the finish line in 2019 to be greeted by photographers. It gave my fundraising a boost – I raised £2,620 for children’s charity MACS (which supports children born without eyes or with underdeveloped ones).

Two miles from the end

The best bit of the race is coming onto the Embankment – two miles from the end. I have my name on my shirt so everyone shouts it out, which keeps me going, even if there’s a runner dressed as a rhino or a dinosaur overtaking me!

I’ve had years when I’ve said, ‘This will be the last one’ but I carry on because it cheers me up. When my husband Tony was ill in 2001 and 2002, I’d come home from the hospital and run. It makes me feel so much better and I miss it if I can’t get out.

My advice to anyone taking up running is: go for it. Try doing a Park Run (free, weekly 5km runs that take place in local parks; visit parkrun.org.uk). 

The hardest part is getting out of the front door – remember, if you can walk, you can run!

As told to Lebby Eyres.

Eileen Noble

Written by Eileen Noble