Age is No Barrier

Debbie Kellogg showing her 2019 New York Marathon finishing medal

by Libby James

At age 71, the marathon was Kellogg’s first, achieved after a long training period that included setbacks resulting from injuries and the development of an attitude that allowed her to run her own pace, maintain her own rhythm, and never give up, even when the road ahead seemed impossibly long and hard.

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“You are never too old to do this,” she insists. Her journey began when she was 57, busy with travels and conferences across the country, and wanting to spend more time with her husband, Bart. He went to a health club regularly and she decided to join him there, though she wasn’t sure just what she’d do once she got there. At least they could go together.

After some walking workouts, she decided she needed a reason for exercising—a goal. She found a friend in her 20s and began to run with her. Before she knew it, she and her friend had signed up for Run for Hope, a 5k race in City Park in Fort Collins. She found running to be a welcome stress relief that allowed her to indulge her need for a bit of competition, and encouraged her to do her best.

When another friend invited her to come to a regular Tuesday and Thursday morning running group based at the Fort Collins Club, she joined eagerly. She has been a part of this group ever since.

She began participating in longer races, from 10ks to half-marathons. There was a day when a 5k seemed a long distance, but in time and with training, she began to enter 10ks and half-marathon. Eventually, overuse injuries showed up: a couple of broken toes and IT band issues among others. She credits physical therapist Brad Ott and trainer Izek Vigil with helping her to recover and stay healthy, strong and flexible.

In 2014, she paid a visit to her daughter, Vicki, who lived in New York. The visit was twofold. While there, she ran the New York half marathon (13.1 miles), finishing fourth in her 65-69 age group with a time of two hours and one minute.

The New York Road Runners began encouraging her to come and do a full marathon. They offered her an automatic entry into the following year’s race. “All you had to do was click on a little red button on the computer and you were in,” she explains. “It was so tempting!” Eventually she pushed that red button, giving her a spot in the 2018 NY marathon.

Then disaster struck. Her back became so painful that she wondered if she would ever run again. After months of therapy and a visit to a sacrum specialist, her back began to feel better, but she had been forced to opt out of the 2018 race.

However, the following year, she pushed that little red button again and began serious marathon training. She lifted weights, found a training schedule designed for seniors and enlisted friends to do training runs with her. Her husband began biking alongside her on long runs. She competed in half-marathons and eventually did a 21-mile run at the peak of her marathon training.

At the Expo prior to the race in New York, she was inspired to the point of tears by the sea of humanity, from 140 nations, gathered together showing so much love and support for each other.

With the help of an experienced NY marathon runner she made friends with, she found her way to the start, via bus and ferry. During the race she encouraged a German woman who found her at the finish, and asked to be the one to place the medal around her neck. Then Debbie returned the favor. They hugged and went on their separate ways.

“Mile 16 was the hardest,” Kellogg said. I was tired, but I knew I still had 16 miles to go. It became a mental thing.” Praying and singing helped her to her focus. She found a rhythm which allowed her to keep going. “We all have our own rhythm,” she says. “When you find it, you can run for miles.”

In four hours, 59 minutes and 11 seconds, 49 seconds ahead of the five-hour goal she had set for herself, Kellogg crossed the finish line. She credits her strong faith, determination, and the help of her fellow runners for her accomplishment. She hopes that her example will encourage others of all ages to find their own rhythm and realize their potential.

When Debbie Kellogg returned to her hotel room after finishing the New York Marathon in November 2019, she found a framed plaque in her room, presented to her by the Loews Hotel.

It read:

Finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind: a state of mind that says anything is possible.                                                                                                 John Hanc