The 71 year old athlete

Late starter – the pensioner winning marathons at 71


11 January 2019

Her husband’s heart scare inspired Angela Copson to take up running late in life – now she’s one of the UK’s top veteran athletes.

Angela Copson was 59 when she took up jogging. Her husband Harry had just undergone lifesaving heart surgery and was ordered by his doctor to take up exercise. She thought she may as well keep him company.

Eight marathons and ten world records later, Angela is one of Great Britain’s leading veteran athletes.

“It’s really odd how illness changes the paths of your life. My husband was so lucky because he went straight into hospital and had heart surgery and, although it did change our lives, it was like a second chance. A second chance to start again.”

Now 71, Angela ran her first marathon the day after her 60th birthday, completing it in three hours, 57 minutes (the average marathon time for a woman is four hours, 47 minutes). She finished her next one 45 minutes faster.

The Northampton pensioner has been hooked ever since. She trains with her local running club every week and travels the world competing in Masters championships against fellow veteran athletes. Shy and modest, Angela quietly reveals she has won nearly 100 championship gold medals.

“All my medals are in shoeboxes under the stairs. I’m sure when I’m gone they will probably just be binned,” she says.

“Running isn’t everything in my life, my family is more important. But I just loved that feeling of being fit and in control. I felt stronger in my mind. I actually became a stronger person as I got fitter. That’s why I am who I am today.”

Unsurprisingly, Angela is a big believer in keeping active in old age. And she has met a fellow believer in Dr Peter Joshi of the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Joshi is leading an ambitious study, funded by AXA, to investigate the genomic basis of human lifespan. In other words, he wants to know whether our DNA is linked to how long we live.

AXA Research Fund supports hundreds of research projects across the globe. Its purpose is to tackle long term societal issues, both now and in the future, to make life better for everyone. Thanks to the fund’s backing, Dr Joshi is gaining a clearer understanding of the factors that make the biggest difference to our longevity.

Exercise, he says, plays a key part. And he describes Angela as “a fantastic example”.

“What we are finding in our study is that cardiovascular fitness is a key part of your genetic health and lifespan.

“Angela has clearly had a genetic endowment that makes her able to be a fantastic athlete, but it’s something that she only discovered by chance and in later life.

“The lesson for all of us is that we probably all have hidden talents that we didn’t appreciate, and that we should remain open to new experiences.

“We have known for a long time that staying active in later life is the key to a happy and long old age. I think people like Angela inspire us all to get out there and stay engaged in life.”

What about Angela? Does she feel younger, despite nearing her 72nd birthday? And does she think running through Northampton’s marshes and bogs each week is going to keep her alive for longer?

To answer that, all she has to do is think of her mum.

“As I approached 70, I started looking at photos of my mother. And I thought, ‘I don’t feel like that’. She looked so aged at 70, and I think things are changing.”

Written by Ally Farrell, January 11 2019, for The Sunday Times