Real Life

100 and marathon mad: meet Colin Thorne

He’s putting in a marathon effort to reach his latest goal
Photos: Sarah Marshall

When 100-year-old Colin Thorne crossed the 5.5km finish line at the 2024 Rotorua Marathon, he deservedly milked the acclaim of supporters cheering him on.

After taking up running at the age of 64, completing the race with his daughter Pauline Dinsdale and son-in-law Rob in tow was all part of his crusade to get people moving.

“My main goal of entering races is not so much for myself, but to encourage people to get off their backsides and go for a run or a walk,” explains the spritely centenarian.

Keeping up with her dad is a challenge says Pauline.

Over the past 12 months, Colin has become somewhat of a New Zealand icon. He gained recognition after he decided to celebrate his 100th birthday by embarking on a “grand tour” of Parkruns around New Zealand, as well as completing the race for the 60th anniversary of the Rotorua Marathon.

The free-to-enter 5km event has become a global phenomenon in helping draw millions to regular. With the help of Pauline, 63, and her husband Rob, 65, Colin has soaked up the “Parkrun tourist” experience.

“I’ve had a tremendous response,” he grins. “People want to take photos and ask questions. Someone asked me, ‘Do I have my own teeth?!’ I get a lot of fun out of entering the events.”

Colin was born in 1924 and raised through the Depression. He believes the physicality of working on dairy farms for many decades formed the foundation of his longevity and fitness.

After more than 30 years playing, coaching and umpiring hockey until in his sixties, Colin decided to try running instead.

“The hockey fields were right by the park. I started to jog around them and do something for me,” he explains.

He quicky enjoyed the buzz and joined Hātea Harriers and later Whangārei AC.

Pauline and Rob are right by Colin’s side.

“I guess it became a bit of an addiction,” he reflects.

It wasn’t too long before daughter Pauline was following in Colin’s footsteps. The fourth of Colin’s five children, she has competed in numerous full and half-marathon events over the years, but it’s always a highlight to compete with her dad.

Despite describing himself as a “plodder” after running his first marathon in Whangārei at 65, Colin went on to finish a further 49 more. He boasts an impressive personal best time of three hours and 18 minutes for the New Plymouth 42.2km marathon – and ran his 50th and last marathon at 90 years old.

Loyally supported by his late wife Betty, who attended all but one of his 50 marathons, tears well in Colin’s eyes when he talks about their almost 70-year marriage.

With beloved wife Betty.

“She was a very kind lady. A good Christian with a big heart,” shares Colin. He himself takes a break from exercise each Sunday because of his faith.

Betty passed away in 2021, aged 90, after a battle with cancer. Her passing left the Thorne family deeply missing her loving presence.

“She never said much, and she never complained and right to the end was a brave woman,” tells Colin. “I hope she’s looking down on me now because she would be proud. She was a special lady and I miss her.”

Exercising six times a week, with three walks of up to 5km around Whangārei, plus three sessions at his local gym, Colin is a phenomenon. He still lives independently, drives, mows the lawn and is on very little medication.

Smiling at her dad, Pauline says, “I just feel proud. How many 100-year-olds can do what Dad does? He went to the doctor the other day and someone asked, ‘Are you that 100-year-old I saw on TV?’ He is now recognised everywhere we go. Hopefully I have inherited his long-living genes.”

His Parkrun crusade has taken Colin from Auckland to Invercargill, Christchurch to Gisborne and Blenheim to New Plymouth, plus many other cities and towns up and down the country, clocking up more than 190 Parkruns in total.

With a sore back and an arthritic hip, Colin admits, “I wish my legs would work a bit better. I get a lot of aches and pains, and I’m sore from my sciatic nerves. Yet wherever I’ve been, the reception has been marvellous, overwhelming. I’m very blessed I can still do it.”

Despite his health challenges, Colin has no plans to slow down, with his future ambition to knock off 200-plus Parkruns.

“The attention has been nice, but I’m humble and don’t let it go to my head,” he exclaims. “It has been an amazing journey and I’d like to do it all over again!

“It’s been a truly wonderful life, but I’m not finished yet.”

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