76-year-old woman only Newfoundlander to run world's six major marathons

Despite her late start on running circuit, James chased down quite a feat

Published on May 12, 2017

Rosemarie James is the only woman from Newfoundland to run the world’s six major marathons. Amazingly, she didn’t start running until age 62.

©Robin Short/The Telegram

After teaching school for 38 years, Rosemarie James was retired and admittedly “bored to death” until the day she dropped by Churchill Square to pick up a bit of fish.

It was then she noticed a sign in The Running Room’s nearby window, advertising a Learn to Run clinic.

Her interest piqued, James took in the 20-minute clinic. The next day, she bought a pair of sneakers, went for a run that evening, and hasn’t stopped since.

Since 2008, James has run the world’s six major marathons — New York in 2006, Boston in ’08, Chicago in 2012, Berlin in 2013, Tokyo in 2014 and London 13 months ago.

She’s the only Newfoundland woman to do so.

She’s done umpteen Tely 10 races — actually, she has her 15-year pin — and soon, she will start training for another stab at the gruelling Cape to Cabot 20K run on Oct. 15, which begins at Cape Spear and ends at Cabot Tower.

And did we mention that Rosemarie (Doot) James turns 77 next year?

“I remember I went downstairs for the clinic,” she said, recalling that day at The Running Room. “I was really interested, but I looked around and I thought, these kids are younger than my baby. I was 62 then, and I thought, oh dear, oh my.

“After it was all over, Bruce (Bowen, the store’s manager at the time) said they were going for a run. And I said, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’

“But I didn’t even own a pair of sneakers. I’d always enjoyed sports, but I never ran. So I got all outfitted and showed up the next day, with the little teenyboppers in their LuLu Lemon.

“I was panting and panting, and really sucking wind when we were coming across Empire Avenue, near Bonaventure Avenue. A girl behind me, a student at MUN, said, ‘Mrs. James, I’ll help you.’ I said, ‘No, no.’ She said, ‘You don’t look very well.’ I said, ‘I’m fine’ and I took off.

“And that was it.”

Since then, James has been a fixture running the streets of St. John’s. In all, she’s run 12 marathons, among them Ottawa on two occasions, and Toronto, besides the Big Six.

She remembers her first marathon, 11 years ago in New York. Talk about green — James wasn’t even aware there was a marathon in Newfoundland.

She had been running with a group, mainly comprised of 20-somethings. One of the runners was 34, and her goal was to complete a marathon before she turned 40.

“And she said to me, ‘You should run one, too.’”

James says one of the girls in the group, Linda Manning, had won some sort of marathon entry lottery, and had openings for six runners in New York.

“She filled out our names and that’s how we got in,” James recalled. “They don’t do that anymore.

“So we all took off for New York. None of us had a clue what we were getting into.”

Her first introduction to the marathon was a celebrity sighting. Hours before the start of the race, the Newfoundland women were huddled at the Staten Island start line only to be pushed aside as rapper Sean (P. Diddy) Combs was hustled into his private, heated tent.

“Apparently,” she says with an eye roll, “he ran the marathon with two doctors on either side of him.”

The New York Marathon is said to be the largest marathon in the world, with over 50,000 runners. So you can imagine James’s horror when she lost her shoe on the second bridge, about 5K into the race, and you can imagine trying to find it amongst a sea of runners in a confined space.

“If it had gone into river, my race was finished,” she recalls. “But I managed to find it and put it on. By that time, my sock was gone.

“But I finished the race.”

James completed the six majors in April 2016 with the London Marathon, an event she twice applied to enter before finally getting in.

“That’s the marathon to do after Boston,” she said. “It’s the hardest one to get into, but London is also a fun marathon.

“When I did Ottawa, we drove around the next day and my son was asking me, ‘Do you remember this, Mom?’ ‘No.’ ‘Remember this?’ ‘Nope.’

“He finally said, ‘You know, only for I was at the finish line, I wouldn’t think you even ran it.’ But London was different. London was fun. There were all kinds of people dressed up in costumes. London is noted for a good pace, but a lot of activity.

“I wouldn’t have passed it up for the world.”

James is looking forward to preparing for the Cape to Cabot race — her favourite — which is said to be the hardest half-marathon in the country.

She said she’s done with marathoning — at least that’s what she tells her children — and she’s managed to do so free of injury. While some friends are hobbled with hip troubles, her only complaint is a lost toenail once in Miami.

“Most of my marathons have been in the spring, so I’ve done all my training here through the winters,” she said. “Luckily, I’ve never had a fall.”

James supplements her running with yoga and some working out. It’s helped get her through a career that started when virtually every other athlete has retired from competition.

“I remember when I finished Chicago,” she said with a laugh. “I said I’d better get Tokyo under my belt before they add a seventh because I’ll be 80.”