Bellingham’s Barb Macklow is not your average 82-year-old. She likes to go the distance. Macklow, a runner with a national reputation—she has been featured in Trail Runner and Runner’s World magazines—finished every race but one last year: a 100-miler.
She ran 100 miles before, but in a different decade. In her 70s, Macklow ran both the Umstead Ultra 100 in North Carolina and the JFK 50 Mile in Maryland and currently holds the title of being the oldest woman to finish both.
But turning 80 brought new targets. She realized there were no records for people aged 80 and older for 50K, 100K, 50-mile or 100-mile races. Macklow had attempted the 100-miler a couple of times but came up short. During the Pigtails Challenge in Renton, Macklow had attempted running 100 miles but hit a wall around mile 70 and was unable to finish.
“Give it one more shot,” Macklow told herself. At 82 years old, she headed down to Phoenix, Arizona, for the Dec. 31–Jan. 1 Across the Years footrace. She decided this was her last shot.
Before the race, she had surprisingly minimal training. In the mornings, she’d take her dogs out to Lake Padden, then return later to run by herself in the afternoon and run or walk at least one lap, a little over two miles.
Macklow came late to running. She moved to Bellingham in 1975 from Minnesota and didn’t start running until she was 51, after her youngest daughter went away to college. She liked running longer distances and didn’t mind being on the trail for eight or nine hours.
As she traveled to Phoenix, she accepted that all she could do was her best. “You don’t have to go any special distance,” she told herself.
The Across the Years race required runners to finish 100 miles in 48 hours. Macklow set out a plan: She would take a two-hour break in 25-mile intervals after the first 50 miles.
At 80 miles, she started, as she called it, to “lean,” a familiar condition to Macklow and other endurance athletes where fatigue results in running crooked. “It is like you’re paralyzed. You can’t help it,” Macklow said.
Macklow gave herself a pep talk. “This is my last chance. Do or die. Put one foot in front of the other.” She didn’t think ahead or how many miles were left. She thought only of where she was and lived in the moment.
At mile 86, she thought she had failed again. She was done. But this time, it was another runner delivering encouraging words, telling Macklow she had enough of a time cushion to finish by the 48-hour mark if she downshifted to walking instead of running.
That was enough for Macklow to push through the final wall. She finished in 47 hours, 21 minutes—more than a half-hour to spare, and the rest of her life to revel in her accomplishment.
After this great feat, Macklow considers herself a retired runner. She says she will not be running for competition, and only for enjoyment from now on. Then again, 90 isn’t that far off.