Oldest woman to run in New York marathon dies next day

NEW YORK CITY (AFP) - An American grandmother, who on Sunday was the oldest woman to compete in the New York marathon, died a day later. She was 86.

Ms Joy Johnson from San Jose, California, took just under eight hours to complete the 42.2km race through all five boroughs of the biggest city in the United States (US).

She stumbled and hit her head at around the 19th km. But she went to the medical tent only after completing the race and declined their insistence that she go to hospital.

"She never really ran to compete, she ran because she loved it," her youngest daughter Diana Boydston told AFP by telephone Tuesday.

Ms Johnson, who would have turned 87 on Christmas Day, had been a physical education teacher and coach for many years, but only took up running in retirement.

Sunday was the 25th consecutive time she finished the race. Her fastest time in New York was just under four hours in 1991. She came first in her age group six times.

"She was a woman of great faith, that was first in her life, faith and family and then probably running. She really loved to run. She made a lot of friends that way all over the world," Ms Boydston said.

"She really was amazing." While Ms Johnson's training had relaxed slightly in recent years, it was still rigorous for many people half her age.

"She would go every morning out to our local track and run with people who were running or talking there. She would run bleachers, obviously doing stretching before you left," said Ms Boydston.

She travelled to New York accompanied by her sister, Faith.

After the race, it was her custom to have a hot bath and go to bed. On the next day, it was her tradition to go to Rockefeller Plaza where US TV network NBC films the Today show.

When she and her sister returned to their hotel, Ms Johnson lay down to rest and never woke up.

Her daughter last spoke to her one day before the race and said she had been "very happy." "I got to tell her I loved her. That's what's been keeping me going," Ms Boydston said.

Just 18 of the marathon's more than 50,000 starters this year were over 80, according to race organizers.

Ms Johnson came in fourth in her group of runners aged 80 to 89. A man aged 89 was the oldest person to compete Sunday.

"We're saddened to hear about the passing of Joy. She finished her 25th on Sunday and she was just such an inspiration to us all," Mr Chris Weiller, a spokesman for organisers New York Road Runners.

Ms Johnson was originally from Minnesota and grew up on a dairy farm. Her husband died 15 years ago. She is survived by three of her four children and six grandchildren.

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