Meet the incredible woman running the London Marathon on her 82nd birthday
When Diana Green, then 69-years-old, took her place at the London Marathon’s starting line in 2003, her fellow competitors might have been forgiven for thinking she wasn’t the usual type to take on the 26-mile course.
But this was not the last hurrah of a seasoned runner: that race was to be her first – a test she'd set herself after being diagnosed with breast cancer a year earlier.“I didn’t burst into tears when I got the news,” Diana, now 81, says of receiving her diagnosis 14 years ago. “By the next morning, I decided I needed a challenge – and that challenge was going to be the London Marathon.”
Though she initially planned that “one race was all I was ever going to do”, the former arts and crafts shop owner developed a runner’s high that has spanned more than a decade since, notching up achievements from completing 12 London Marathons to finishing New York’s version of the race. This year, she will run the London race again - for the 13th time -on her 82nd birthday.
Diana’s fitness regime started out somewhat differently to most: recuperating from lumpectomy surgery, she would walk up and down the corridors of Northampton General Hospital, drips and drains in tow, keen to make good on her promise. “I don’t know if it did me any good or not, but that was it: I’d started my marathon training.”
Having joined the running crowd late in life, she eschewed the modern kit favoured by her contemporaries, instead retrieving a pair of aged plimsolls and a 90-year-old bicycle to serve as her training tools.
“The first time I went out, I took an envelope with me as if I was going to post a letter – I thought people would say, ‘what on Earth is she doing?’” She made it half a mile down the road in her Northamptonshire village of Old before, “totally shattered”, she gave up. “I sat down on a pile of bricks and wondered why I ever thought I could run the London Marathon,” she remembers.
But after six more months spent pounding the county’s pavements, Diana was on her way to the capital. Though “when I lined up in Greenwich on April 13, 2003, I wasn’t sure if I should ever get to the finish line,” she was spurred on by friends and family, who joined her along the route.
“I heard a shout of ‘come on, Diana Green!’ at Tower Bridge, where my daughter, Susan, was waving me on. I could cry now just thinking about it,” she says.
Five hours and 20 minutes later, the race of her life had been run.
Celebrations were pared down, but poignant: returning to the local hotel she'd booked with her husband, Michael – after stocking up on burgers from a fast food restaurant – she was greeted with a bottle of Champagne. “He said he’d bought it on sale, so it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t complete the race! That was a bit of a cheek,” she laughs. “And that was the start of it all.”
Diana didn’t register for the marathon the following year as she was “never going to do another one” – but it took a trip to the other side of the world to make her realise she wanted a second go. “We were on holiday in Australia, and it suddenly hit me that I wished I had a place,” she recalls. “I phoned Susan in England and told her to sign me back up.”
That amused a lot of people!”
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed - Diana has raised some £60,000 for breast cancer charities since taking up marathons, with donations streaming in from unlikely places. “I’ve had little boys put their pocket money in, someone donating on behalf of their cats, and the local villagers have been fantastic over the years.”
One of her most generous donors has been the vicar at the hospital where she underwent her lumpectomy, who she told of her ambitions back in its chapel in 2002. “He said, ‘if you do run the marathon, let me know and I’ll sponsor you.’ I’m sure he thought that was the end of that conversation,” she smiles, “but I wrote to him the following year to let him know that I’d completed it, and returned to hospital to show him my medal.
“He was thrilled to bits.”
Raising funds is all the more important this year, as Susan was diagnosed with lung cancer six weeks ago. Diana is also running in aid of Kettering General Hospital, where her 53-year-old daughter is currently receiving treatment.
“It’s been terribly difficult,” she says. “The cancer has spread to both lungs, and if chemotherapy doesn’t work, there’s nothing else they can do.” It is the latest in a line of devastating events for the family – not least because Diana received the news on her 60th wedding anniversary. And, two years ago, ill health forced Michael to move to a nursing home.
“I think marathons have kept me sane, especially over the last few years,” she rallies. “It takes you out of yourself, and being in the fresh air really clears your head. It’s a bit like being in Church – instead of saying your prayers, you’re mulling things over, and by the time you get home you feel that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were.”
She now incorporates Michael's nursing home, which is located 12 miles away, into her running route – and keeps her bus pass in her back pocket “just in case.”
Diana has said that every marathon she’s completed will be her last, though this year, she declares, she is “certain” of it. But she's not worried about how to fill her time once her running days are over – two of her three grandchildren live nearby, and she has a four-year-old great-grandson whose home was built from the very bricks she sat on, despairing after her first run, all those years ago.
“I’m quite proud, really,” she says of the hundreds of miles she’s chalked up since 2003. “When something difficult happens in a person’s life, they turn to all sorts of things: writing books, going on treks and climbing mountains - it just so happens that mine is running.
“And there’s nothing quite so special as going past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall at the end of the marathon,” she muses.
“There just couldn’t be, could there?”