Advice from the world’s oldest marathoner on eating well and living long

Fauja Singh, 104, on greed, pinni and McDonald’s milkshakes.

Written by Murali K Menon | Mumbai | Published: January 16, 2016 7:14 pm
Fauja Singh believed to be the world?s oldest marathon runner after running the London Marathon. 101-year-old Singh will take part in the Senior citizen 4.5 kilometer run in  Mumbai Marathon on Sunday. (Photo: Kevin D’Souza) Fauja Singh believed to be the world?s oldest marathon runner after running the London Marathon. 101-year-old Singh will take part in the Senior citizen 4.5 kilometer run in Mumbai Marathon on Sunday. (Photo: Kevin D’Souza)

Fauja Singh’s face is a filigree of wrinkles and his unruly silver beard cascades down his neck, but he is still sprightly and his eyes still twinkle. The world’s oldest marathoner is here for the 2016 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, which will be flagged off tomorrow morning. Singh, who was born in Beas Pind, Jalandhar, in 1911 and stays with his son Sukhinder in Ilford, near London, ran his first marathon at the age of 89. Since then, he has run the London Marathon (7 hours and 49 minutes) and completed eight other runs, including the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

In 2004, he featured in an ad campaign for Adidas alongside David Beckham. The advertisement featuring him had the following tagline: 6:54 at age 89. 5:40 at age 92. The Kenyans better watch out for him when he hits 100. Singh retired from competitive running after completing the Hong Kong Marathon’s 10-km race. But he still walks a fair distance daily, and still remains a poster boy for amateur marathoners across the world. We spoke to him and his biographer Khushwant Singh on the sidelines of a press event in Mumbai on his diet and the bearing it has had on his fitness and longevity.

*I have always been a frugal eater. I turned vegetarian some 30 years ago, and I believe it has helped me in many ways.

*I am also not a fussy eater. I’ll eat anything but very little of it.

*If you ask me, more people in the world die of overeating than from starvation.

*You should eat as much as a child. You should stop just when you know you can eat a little more. “He says ‘hamesha ek phulke ka gap rakhna chahiye’,” says Khushwant Singh.

*I am not a greedy man, and it reflects in how and what I eat. “He always tells me,” says Khushwant, “that this thing about ‘pet bhar gayi lekin neeyat nahi bhari’ doesn’t work for him.”

Fauja Singh at the 2013 Mumbai Marathon. (Photo: Kevin D’Souza) Fauja Singh at the 2013 Mumbai Marathon. (Photo: Kevin D’Souza)

*I have one roti and some dal for lunch, and the same for dinner, more or less every day.

*I have a lot of curd, soondh (dry ginger) and lentils.

*I love pinni (a traditional Punjabi sweet made of flaxseed) and mangoes. Mangoes are especially good since they help you get your bowels moving.

*I avoid milk since I believe it causes a build-up of phlegm in the body.

*I love simple Punjabi food, and often eat at the gurudwaras near our home in London.

*When I wake up each morning and take my first step, I can figure out whether what I had the night before has worked for me or not. “He listens to his body, and implements what it tells him unlike a lot of us,” says Khushwant.

*Sometimes I’ll have a milkshake at McDonalds – only half a glass — and French fries, but never more than two or three.

Since Singh landed in Mumbai yesterday evening (Friday), he has had, says Khushwant, just a glass of milk for dinner, and the same again for breakfast this morning. At the press event, he had a roti and some bhindi. “We are scheduled to go to actor Ranjeet’s place for dinner tonight but he has already told me he won’t be eating much, so maybe, a dal and roti.”

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