100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
Elite international athletes arrive for TCS World 10K Bengaluru
BENGALURU: Five of the world's leading distance runners on Friday gathered at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium ahead of the Tata…
Kenya's Rio Olympics 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tanui top attraction in TCS World 10K
BENGALURU: Kenya's 2016 Olympic Games 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tanui will be among the top stars in the international elite…
Dublin Marathon will hit the streets again after an absence of two years but faces significant challenges
After an absence of two years due to Covid-19, the Dublin City Marathon returns to the streets of Dublin on…
Parents of six-year-old marathoner reveal child protective services visit
The Kentucky parents who drew backlash for running a marathon with their six-year-old son said that child protective services made…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Personal trainer scoots from Land’s End to John o’Groats in memory of his wife
Stuart Jamieson hopes to be named a Guinness World Record holder after covering the 995-mile journey in just 11 days.
Personal trainer sets world scooter record in memory of his late wife
Stuart Jamieson raised more than £9000 for end of life charity, Marie Curie, by scooting from Land’s End to John…
Get all your news in one place
Latest Sport news:
French Open: Emma Raducanu battles through at Roland Garros but Heather Watson suffers early exit
Emma Raducanu was made to work hard for her first-round win over Linda Noskova at the French Open.
Read news from The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more, with one subscription
Learn More
Qatar World Cup Audience Projected at 5 Bln, Says FIFA Boss
The 2022 World Cup hosted by Qatar is expected to be watched by 5 billion people around the world, FIFA…
Man City Premier League title parade: Route and start time after trophy clinched on dramatic final day
Manchester City have confirmed plans for an open-top bus parade after retaining the Premier League title in dramatic fashion on…
Liverpool vs Real Madrid: Champions League final prediction, kick off time, TV, live stream, team news, h2h
For the 63rd and final time this season, Liverpool will take to the pitch on Saturday night when they face…
Turning despair into action for female athletes
After a decade of research, advocacy and outreach for female athlete health by NZ experts, why are sports organisations not listening and…
From analysis to good news, read the world’s best news in one place
When does the 2022 summer transfer window open and close across Premier League and Europe?
With just a couple of European finals to go until the 2021/22 season comes to end, attention is already quickly…
Indy 500: Palou leads Ganassi 1-2-3 in practice as Kellett crashes
Alex Palou headed a Chip Ganassi Racing 1-2-3 in the final practice session before Carb Day ahead of team-mates Scott Dixon…

Age no barrier: how Jo Schoonbroodt smashed the 70+ marathon record

By Sean Ingle
Jo Schoonbroodt in action
Jo Schoonbroodt believes being a late convert to marathon running helped him because he had no youthful success to hark back to. Photograph: Asics

At an age where many of his contemporaries are winding down, the man they call the Grey Kenyan is somehow speeding up. On Sunday Jo Schoonbroodt, a 71-year-old from Maastricht, ran a marathon in a staggering 2hr 54min 19sec to become the fastest septuagenarian in history.

A few days later, when the Guardian catches up with him, his achievement is still sinking in. “I only started jogging at 36 because my doctor told me I had high cholesterol,” he says, chuckling. “But last year I ran 7,242 kilometres [4,450 miles], which is more than double what I did in my car.”

It also turns out that Schoonbroodt’s new 70+ world record, set at the Maasmarathon of Visé in Belgium, was inspired partly by an unlikely source: the Flemish crooner Eddy Wally. With a few miles remaining, he knew he was just ahead of the previous best, set by Gene Dyckes in 2018, because a friend was following him on his bike and barking out his lap times. But his legs were starting to get heavier.

“However, my friend had a special trick to keep me on track,” says Schoonbroodt, who was wearing a yellow and blue kit in support of Ukraine. “He picked up his phone and put Eddy Wally’s song Chérie, Chérie on repeat. I’ve always loved it, I don’t know why. It gave me a boost in morale. I overtook one runner after another and, despite getting cramp in the final 500m, I was able to break the record by four seconds.”

Incredibly it was Schoonbroodt’s 75th sub-three-hour marathon, and it came only four weeks after his 74th at the Rotterdam marathon. For good measure, the flying Dutchman also holds a number of ultra running records. He is clearly no ordinary Jo. But the secrets of his success might surprise you.

“Most runners train too hard. I do a lot of my training with groups who run very slowly. And then I build on these basics with some faster interval training. But I don’t do the same stupid distance 10 or 20 times – I prefer to have a lot of fun with my running.”

Jo Schoonbroodt after running the Maasmarathon in a record time.
Jo Schoonbroodt celebrates after his record run in the Maasmarathon, his 75th sub-three-hour marathon. Photograph: jo.schoonbroodt

Schoonbroodt often runs at nine- or 10-minute mile pace, far slower than the 6:38min miles he ran for 26.2 miles to set his world record, but he says the crucial thing is he listens to his body. “A lot of people follow a training plan or coach and push on even when their body is saying: ‘No, this is not a good day to do it.’ But if you go out the door and just do what you feel, it’s easier to keep running and stay injury-free.”

He also dismisses the idea that runners need to do anything special with their diets. “Diet? No, no,” he scoffs. “No diet! I eat double portions, of course, with all these calories I burn. I love pasta and potatoes. But whatever is on the table, I eat it.”

He has a similarly relaxed attitude when it comes to alcohol. “I prefer the French wine and the Belgian beer. Not too much, and mostly on weekends. Wine is just a grape drink, so it’s made from nature. And Belgian beer is special. And if you do all this with your body,” he adds, referring to the 85 miles he still runs each week, “you need to give it something back. And this is what I give back to the body!”

Schoonbrot is a former IT worker and can tell the exact day he started running – 1 January 1986 – and how many kilometres – 120,000 – he has done since. But he stresses he was no natural. At first people called him Jogger Jo, because he was slow. Nowadays he gets called the Grey Kenyan – a nickname given to him years ago by a race announcer as he blasted past athletes a third of his age.

Being a late bloomer, he believes, has actually helped him because his ego never had to worry about chasing faster times of his youth. “Because I started so late, I missed my best years. But that’s no problem. Everything is still new to me.”

Schoonbroodt also cites the new range of carbon-plated “super shoes”, which have swept the running world over the past five years, as a key factor. On Sunday he ran in the Asics Metapeed Sky, and has been an ambassador for the Japanese company for the past four years, preaching the positive benefits of exercise to sceptics and lapsed practitioners.

Jo Schoonbroodt hard in training
Jo Schoonbroodt does not fuss over diets to suit his running. ‘I love pasta and potatoes. But whatever is on the table, I eat it,’ he says. Photograph: Asics

But while Schoonbrodt’s achievements are exceptional, he is not the only old master to defy conventional wisdom. Several men older than 70 have run a sub-three-hour marathon – the first of whom, Ed Whitlock, who died in 2017, also ran a 3:15 marathon after turning 80.

So what might explain this phenomenon? John Brewer, a sports scientist at the University of the West of Scotland, points out that while we experience a 10% decline in muscle mass every decade as we age, the decline isn’t as sharp for endurance. “The scientific evidence shows that you can maintain your aerobic capacity – your Vo2 max – very effectively into old age,” he says.

“And if you look at where we are now compared to 40 years ago, the advances in nutrition, sports science, recovery and technology, all mean that it is more feasible for people in their 60s and 70s to produce good performance if they follow the right training.”

Brewer, who was also part of England’s backroom staff for the 1990 World Cup, says Schoonbrodt’s story carries another message – that it is never too late. “People think they can’t turn it around after years of no exercise or poor diets,” he says. “Well, actually you can.”

Schoonbroodt, meanwhile, has no plans to put his feet up. “My next marathon is in two and a half weeks, on an old Roman road built 2,000 years ago,” he says, the excitement obvious. It will be his fifth in 2022. And with that he is off. After all, the quest for a 76th sub-three-hour marathon waits for no man. Not even one who is 71.

• This article was amended on 12 May 2022 to correct a reference to Eddy Wally: we initially described him as Dutch. He is in fact Flemish.

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
Elite international athletes arrive for TCS World 10K Bengaluru
BENGALURU: Five of the world's leading distance runners on Friday gathered at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium ahead of the Tata…
Kenya's Rio Olympics 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tanui top attraction in TCS World 10K
BENGALURU: Kenya's 2016 Olympic Games 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tanui will be among the top stars in the international elite…
Dublin Marathon will hit the streets again after an absence of two years but faces significant challenges
After an absence of two years due to Covid-19, the Dublin City Marathon returns to the streets of Dublin on…
Parents of six-year-old marathoner reveal child protective services visit
The Kentucky parents who drew backlash for running a marathon with their six-year-old son said that child protective services made…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Personal trainer scoots from Land’s End to John o’Groats in memory of his wife
Stuart Jamieson hopes to be named a Guinness World Record holder after covering the 995-mile journey in just 11 days.
Personal trainer sets world scooter record in memory of his late wife
Stuart Jamieson raised more than £9000 for end of life charity, Marie Curie, by scooting from Land’s End to John…
Get all your news in one place