Nun on the Run: 89-year-old runner enjoys the habit

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sister Beth

Sister Beth Wood will tell you she’s not a runner.

At almost 89 years old, she has participated in nearly 30 full and half-marathons and countless other races. She’s getting ready for her next 5K at the Oct. 1 Beaumont Red October Run through Greenfield Village, followed by her annual appearance at the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon on Oct. 15.

Her involvement in running began in 1977 while serving as a librarian with the Sisters, Servants of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe.

“One day I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I can go from here to the door of that other building without stopping.’ And I did. The next day, I said I wonder if I could go to the back door.”

And that’s how her interest in running began.

At age 53, with some encouragement from her older brother, she ran seven miles in her first organized race.

“One day, my brother said ‘If I entered you in a race would you do it?’ and I said ‘I guess so,’” she recalled. “I asked if there were going to be very many in my age category.”

Sister Beth recently celebrated her 70th Jubilee as part of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters in Monroe. Her career in the sisterhood took her across the state of Michigan teaching in catholic schools. After 24 years of teaching, she pursued a degree in library sciences where she spent the rest of her career, including 10 years in Rome as the librarian at the Graduate House of Studies for North American Priests.

Throughout the1980s, she ran one full marathon a year.

“The first one took me over five hours, but I guess that’s not unusual,” she said.

Though she didn’t begin running organized races until she was in her 50s, her very first memory involving running took place as a child.

“I was 3 or 4 years old and a man with a microphone announced a race for kids who were swimming in the local pool,” said Sister Wood. “I got a certificate and it was worth a dollar. This was in 1932 during the depths of the depression, so I thought my mother would say maybe we should buy a loaf of bread and some milk. When we got to the store, I remember her saying ‘You can buy whatever you want.’ I said ‘candy?’ and she said ‘Yes, you can buy candy.’”

“So, I bought a dollars’ worth of candy and gave some to my brothers and to my mother and my father. I shared my candy.”

Sister Beth has seen many changes and advancements in the sport, including a significant increase in the number of women runners over the years. Though she insists she’s not a “real” athlete, she encourages anyone with an interest to give it a try.

“Don’t think that you can’t do it. Start with a little at a time,” she said. 

Sister Beth still runs the same route at the convent that got her started so many years ago.

“I get up in the morning, get dressed and try to say my rosary. And then I go,” she said. “I always pray on the steps before I leave, that’s very important. And I especially recommend praying to your guardian angel because that’s the one who keeps me from tripping.”

Sister Beth has run the Red October Run 5K about a half dozen times. In 2015, Red October Run race coordinator, Cynthia Cook, had a special bib made to acknowledge Sister Beth’s 86th birthday. This was at the race’s 25th anniversary and its last year in the city of Wayne.

“The Red October Run is a fall fitness tradition for all ages and speeds; runners and walkers,” said Cook. “In our 26th year, it’s an honor to have Sister Beth and those like her who participate and inspire others to do the same.”

The annual run demonstrates Beaumont’s focus on wellness, fitness and activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle. This year will be the first race at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, and Sister Beth will be there to try out the course.  And she plans on being there next year too.

“My birthday is in November. I’d love to be able to say I’ve ran some in my 90s too.”

“God gave me good health and he allows me to be able to run. It’s my way of saying ‘I’m using your gift.’ And I do consider it a gift.”