Judy Sheppard took up running in her seventies – and has even completed an ultramarathon

AS FAR AS 76th birthday presents go, an entry into a 50K ultramarathon is fairly unconventional. But that’s exactly what Judy Sheppard, now 78, received from her daughter Liz Sheppard. More remarkably, she completed it and, at the time of writing, was preparing to run the London Marathon having achieved a Good For Age (GFA) place.

Liz has form with this kind of thing, having encouraged her mum to join her on a half marathon in Cyprus back in 2016. Judy, 72 at the time and with no previous running experience, didn’t think that she would be up to it but decided to find out. She was – and she’s been running ever since.

‘I got addicted to it,’ she says. ‘After a race, I get such a sense of achievement that I’ve done it at my age. And because there aren’t many runners in my age group, I’ve won a lot of trophies. It gives me a buzz to know I can do it.’

Speaking about the previously mentioned birthday present, Race to the Stones, Judy says: ‘The first 20 miles went quite well, but then it all went downhill. I felt a bit tired and sick, but I did at least finish it.’ A pretty standard ultramarathon experience, then, albeit infinitely more impressive given her age.

So what’s the secret to Judy’s current remarkable running success? ‘Most people are winding down in their seventies, but I’ve always been energetic as I have to take the dogs walking,’ she says. Alas, it seems that her four-legged friends do not make for the best running companions. ‘There’s no way I would run with them as they’d be dragging me into the bushes!’

She’s keen to encourage more septuagenarians to take up running, too, and believes that you’re never too old to get active. ‘Just go for it,’ she says. ‘I honestly didn’t think I’d be any good at running. If anybody in their seventies wants to run but thinks that they can’t do it, well, they can. Because if I can do it, anybody can.’

To date, Judy has run three marathons and an ultramarathon, all accompanied by her daughter, who says that running has helped bring them even closer together. ‘It’s given us a real bond,’ says Liz. ‘I think it’s amazing what she’s doing. You don’t get a lot of runners doing marathons and beyond in their late seventies. Mum is so determined. Once she fell over at the start of the race but got back up and made it to the finish. I think she is a real inspiration to older runners.’

Along with her new collection of finisher’s medals, Judy has also found a ready-made group of friends, many of whom are part of the Slinn Allstars, the running group she joined in 2017. ‘They’re fantastic and very inclusive,’ says Judy. ‘I never imagined I’d get the support I’m getting. I have a top with my name on it when I’m racing and have found a lot of people cheering me on.’

Like many others, Judy had to make do without any crowd support for the past 18 months as Covid kiboshed all big city races. Having secured a GFA place for London back in 2018, she had to requalify last year for the virtual London Marathon. ‘I scraped it!’ she says. ‘It was absolutely tipping down all day. The GFA time for women of my age was 6:15, and I think I ran 6:14.’

Liz’s London Marathon journey hasn’t been quite so lucky, though. Having secured a charity place for this year’s event, she had planned to run with her mum, but a badly sprained ankle put paid to that. ‘I’d hoped it would have healed by now, but there’s been very little progress,’ she says. ‘It’ll be my mum’s first big race without me. I feel bad, but I also know that she’ll have a great adventure.’

This may, however, be the end of their mother-daughter marathon running. ‘I think London will be my last marathon,’ says Judy. ‘I’ve heard it’s so well supported – the atmosphere and everything – so it’s something I wanted to experience, but I’ll concentrate on 10Ks and half marathons after this.’

Liz isn’t convinced by this retirement talk, though. ‘No way! She says that, but I know what she’s like. She’ll definitely do it again.’

It would make for quite an 80th birthday present, after all.

posted Saturday November 20th