A Century in Sport: A Conversation With 100-Year-Old Parkrun Athlete, Colin Thorne

An interview with New Zealand’s Colin Thorne, who at age 100 recently competed his 175th Parkrun.

By on February 23, 2024 | Comments

At the age of 100, New Zealand’s Colin Thorne recently completed his 175th Parkrun.

Through his weekly commitment to his local Whangārei Parkrun, Thorne has become a celebrity. Parkruns are weekly, social 5-kilometer runs, which take place in more than 2,000 locations around the world.

But the 5k is just one part of Thorne’s weekly exercise routine. He told iRunFar: “I go to the gym three times a week, and walk on the other days, and Saturday we have our Parkrun. I take Sunday off and go to church.”

We reached out to Thorne to hear his remarkable story, and found his positivity to be as infectious as his achievements are inspiring.

Born in Cambridge, New Zealand, Thorne moved to Whangārei as a young boy. Professionally, Thorne worked for most of his life as a dairy farmer, and upon retiring took a job maintaining sports grounds. To this day, he still lives in his own home, mows his large lawns, and grows his own vegetables — and he attributes his health and vitality largely to keeping busy and being physically active.

Colin Thorne - Whangarei Parkrun - fans

Colin Thorne being celebrated at Whangārei Parkrun, as he completed his 175th Parkrun after his 100th birthday. All photos courtesy of Whangārei Parkrun/Pauline Dinsdale

A Sporting Life

As for many New Zealanders, Thorne’s first sporting love was rugby, until an injury forced his retirement. He said: “I played rugby, but then I hurt my knee and had to have a new knee put in. I couldn’t carry on after that.”

Stepping back from rugby, Thorne took up hockey, which he played for 30 years, and said: “The family all played hockey and I coached them when they were little fellows. The whole family played — some of them were very good hockey players and represented New Zealand.”

After several decades immersed in team sports, upon retiring from hockey, Thorne went in search of a sport he could pursue solo. He discovered running, and at age 64, ran his first marathon. He told iRunFar: “The first marathon was the local Whangārei one. When I was nearly finished that one, I wondered if I’d ever do another one. But it just shows you, if you train hard enough, you can do it.”

Thorne went on to run 50 marathons and 102 half marathons, before stepping back from longer distances at age 90. He said, “When I was 90, I did the Rotorua Marathon. That was my farewell song!” Along the way, he received an award for being the oldest runner at the 2013 New York Marathon, which he completed aged 89, just two months before his 90th birthday.

Thorne acknowledged the mental aspect of marathon running and said: “There is a fair bit of head in it. You have to concentrate and always look for the positive. And it takes a lot of stamina to do that when you’re older. You can bounce around when you’re in your twenties, but at the age I was, it becomes a bit of a battle. But I did alright! I’ve never pulled out of a run yet, I’ve always finished.”

Finding Parkrun

Not quite ready to hang up his running shoes after his last marathon, Thorne started attending Parkrun at age 93 — encouraged by his daughter Pauline Dinsdale, who is a dedicated Parkrun organizer, and was one of the founders of the Whangārei Parkrun.

Although still jogging until recent years, he now briskly walks the course — usually accompanied by some of his five children, 15 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. “We’ve got a big team coming on!” he shared proudly. “A lot of them are doing Parkrun now, the teenage ones, they are doing Parkrun, and they’re all into sport. It’s in the genes of course, they were all brought up in that environment.”

Like her father, Dinsdale also ran marathons and half marathons before becoming involved in Parkrun, and she praised the initiative for its community spirit and inclusive nature. Of late the weekly ritual has become all the more special for her, through sharing it with her father, amidst his newfound celebrity status.

She said: “Our numbers [at Parkrun] are increasing every week because people want to see this man who is 100 years old that still walks. We’re even getting invitations throughout New Zealand. I’m getting Facebook messages from people all the time saying, ‘Come to our Parkrun! We want to meet this guy, we’ll pull out the red carpet!’”

Colin Thorne and Pauline Dinsdale - Whangarei Parkrun

Colin and Pauline at Whangārei Parkrun.

Tips and Tricks For Longevity

Thorne’s strength regime in the gym has helped to keep him relatively safe from injury. “I do weights,” he shared, “just 4-kilogram weights, I do cycling, and leg work on the leg press, and rowing. I do all the [exercises] I can manage. I spend about an hour in there. Afterward, I get in the pool and do water running for 10 minutes. I go home and have some breakfast then.”

He added, “Some of my bones are starting to ache. I have a bit of trouble with my hip, and the knee I had operated on is starting to feel a bit of pressure now. But I’m still going!”

While he also pointed to a healthy diet and other physical factors, Thorne’s positive, can-do attitude shone through throughout our chat, as possibly the greatest secret to longevity.

He shared: “I always encourage people to take up running or walking, no matter the distance. You’re never too old to start, you’re never too young to start. It’s just a question of getting the encouragement to get going. Once people get out there, they realize what they had been missing.”

Colin Thorne - completing Whangarei Parkrun

Colin Thorne completing his weekly Parkrun.

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever met Colin Thorne? Tell us your stories!
  • Are you or anyone in your family keeping active into advancing years? If so, what other secrets can you share?
Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is Managing Editor at iRunFar. She’s been working in an editorial capacity for ten years and has been a trail runner for almost as long. Aside from iRunFar, she’s worked as an editor for various educational publishers and written race previews for Apex Running, UK, and RAW Ultra, Ireland. Based in Belfast, Ireland, Sarah is an avid mountain runner and ultrarunner and competes at distances from under 10k to over 100k. When not running, she enjoys reading, socializing, and hanging out with her dog, Angie, and cat, Judy.