Margaret Hagerty, 91, has a magazine clipping on her dresser with the quote, “It’s up to me to have the guts to make my life exciting.” After recently completing the New York City Marathon and preparing for more races over the next month, the Guinness World Record holder is doing just that.
“My bucket list is just about complete. … I really have done almost everything I thought was fun,” Hagerty said.
The Concord resident was the oldest person to finish this year’s New York City Marathon, and one of the oldest ever, but records are nothing new to the Concord resident.
Started running in her 60s
She is known as a runner, but Hagerty did not run growing up. She said there were no organized sports available to her. She helped her mother around the house and rode a bicycle.
“This is wonderful to find something late in life,” she said.
She began running in her 60s. When she was 64, Hagerty went to a clinic to stop smoking. She was advised to quit smoking and to get outside and move.
So, one morning, after she had her coffee and breakfast, Hagerty put on her tennis shoes and got moving in downtown Concord.
“I looked like an intoxicated orangutan,” Hagerty said. “I liked the feeling of movement, so I said ‘I’m going to move a little farther.’”
Before she ever participated in a race, she watched one that took place on Union Street.
“I said, ‘I could’ve done that and gotten a trophy.’ From then on, I was addicted,” Hagerty said.
Her first event was a 10K at the Philip Morris plant, which was ironic because she was quitting smoking.
“It was a long, straight finish,” Hagerty said. “I thought I would never get there.”
But she did, and she learned that there were races somewhere almost every Saturday.
She joined a running club in Rowan County, and one of the members suggested participating in the New York City Marathon. The idea stuck with her.
One day, Hagerty said she went up and down Union Street in Concord for seven and a half hours. She had blisters on her feet, but she said she knew she could do it.
Hagerty did not begin with a half marathon, the way some people do. Hagerty’s first full marathon was in Greensboro at the age of “66 and a half years old.”
World record holder
She went on to do the New York City Marathon 24 years ago and has done numerous 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon runs over almost three decades. Hagerty is not sure how many races she has participated in.
“Thousands. I don’t know. A lot. It was kind of like my Saturday morning fix,” Hagerty said. “One time, I did one in Kannapolis in the morning and did one in Morganton in the afternoon.”
She has a room of trophies, plaques, scrapbooks and framed photos that illustrate how many events she has participated in all over the world, including Athens, Greece and Dublin, Ireland.
Hagerty also has the Guinness Book of World Records edition that features her as the oldest person, at 81 years and 101 days, to have competed in a marathon on each of the seven continents. The book notes that she began that record on Nov. 5, 1995 at the age of 72 and completed it on July 4, 2004 at 81 years and 101 days old.
She said the hardest one overall was the marathon at the Great Wall of China, and her favorite race was at Arctic Bay near the North Pole.
“The reason it is my favorite is because we had a race for the children. … It was just wonderful seeing those little children,” Hagerty said.
She has never had a sponsor because she said never wanted to have to apologize if she did poorly.
And it wasn’t just the running that attracted her to the sport.
“My priority was traveling,” Hagerty said. “I traveled a lot before I even thought about taking a running step. I have used whatever money I had to travel and do the races and experience the culture. It’s just been great.”
‘Might have another in me’
Hagerty has continued to participate in races, but up until recently, she had not completed a marathon in a while. When the director of the New York City Marathon invited her to participate in this year’s event, she thought it was an opportunity she should take.
“I said, ‘I don’t know how far I’ll get.’ … I just did it. I did not hurt. The last couple, I thought I would die. I guess that’s why I hadn’t done it in (a while). I might even have another one in me. Who knows?” Hagerty said.
She said she had a “terrible clock time” and knew she would. She said she focused on finishing it and not hurrying.
“They closed the course before I finished,” Haggerty said. “I couldn’t be on the streets. I was on the sidewalk with pedestrians and strollers and had to stop at streets for stoplights. … It’s the first time in 27 years of running I’ve had to stop for a stoplight. It was very frustrating, but I wasn’t the only one. … I got it done, and that’s what counts.”
Hagerty said her competitive spirit, which she gets from her father Carl Widenhouse, a powerboat racer, has kept her motivated.
“I love to get out there and do whatever I can and see where I compare to people my age. … As long as I can win some or come close, I’m happy. … I’m willing to work and do what it takes to be competitive,” Hagerty said. “It’s not free, but I’ll pay the price because the reward outweighs the effort.”
She will participate in the Santa Scramble and Turkey Trot later this month and the Kiawah Island half marathon on Dec. 13.
“I signed up for the half marathon, but I might have another marathon in me,” Hagerty said.
She added that when she cannot run anymore, she is going to play golf again.
When asked what advice she would give to someone interested in running, she said to give it a try.
“You might like it. You’re either going to love to run (or not),” Hagerty said. “When you do your first (race), don’t kill yourself because if you don’t like it, you’re never going to do it again. I had a ball on my first one.”
She said she knows if she stops, it will be over, so she plans on continuing on for now.
“As long as people make me feel welcome and don’t pay attention to how slow I’m going, as long as I feel comfortable and am physically able, I’m going to keep going,” Hagerty said.
Contact reporter Jessica Groover Pacek: 704-789-9152