Seniors & Aging

Bellingham ultrarunner Barb Macklow, 82, chasing her second 100-mile footrace

Barb Macklow, 82, who has been running for over 30 years, has completed numerous ultramarathon footraces and holds several national age-group records for women.
Barb Macklow, 82, who has been running for over 30 years, has completed numerous ultramarathon footraces and holds several national age-group records for women. For The Bellingham Herald

It’s a tribute to 82-year-old Barb Macklow’s endurance that she could use the word “failed” while talking about an event at which she set five national records for women runners age 80 to 84.

What the Bellingham great-grandmother did not do at the 2015 Across the Years footrace in Phoenix was reach her goal of running 100 miles within 48 hours. She did manage to cover 78.7 miles, however.

“I’m going to give it another shot in Phoenix,” Macklow says of the 2016 event at the end of December. “My goal is to run 100 miles for the second time.”

The first time she ran the “century” - as competitors in the world of ultramarathon running call it - was in 2009 when she was 74 and became the second American female older than 70 to run 100 miles. Her time in that race, the Umstead 100 in Raleigh, N.C., was 29 hours, 46 minutes and 11 seconds, and she did not even take a nap. She still holds that over-70 race record.

The five women’s age records she set in Phoenix were for 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers (a bit more than 62 miles), miles in 24 hours and miles in 48 hours.

As far as I know, no American woman over 80 has run 100 miles. It‘s a goal, but it‘s an ‘if,’ a big ‘if.’

Barb Macklow, Bellingham

Her race strategy is set for her return appearance in Phoenix.

“If I use eight hours to take naps, eat, and so on, I will need to average 24 minutes per mile in 40 hours to reach 100 miles,” she says, adding “there will be a lot of walking as well as running for me.”

“As far as I know, no American woman over 80 has run 100 miles,” she says. “It‘s a goal, but it‘s an ‘if,’ a big ‘if.’”

This might be her last shot at a 100-miler, although she plans to keeping running distance races.

“I run about three to five miles almost every day with my dogs, Rosie and Roger, while doing low-impact training,” she says. “If I don’t make 100 miles, it’s no huge loss. I’ve already suffered the ultimate loss.”

One of her five children, Joan Macklow, died at age 11 in a boating accident on the Nooksack River 40 years ago, not long after Barb and her husband moved to Bellingham in 1975.

Macklow, a retired registered nurse who spent 30 years working in emergency rooms, was active as a swimmer and cyclist during her youth in Minnesota. Later, while raising four children as a divorced mother, she didn’t have time for running.

She finally found the time at age 51 when she began running as a way to stay fit. Since she already had cycling and swimming experience, she started doing triathlons a few years later. Once she reached her 60s, she decided just to run.

Macklow, who stands 5 feet tall and weighs 85 pounds, found that 5k (3.1 miles) and 10k (6.2 miles) runs didn’t fit her aptitude for endurance. She also discovered that she loves trail running, so she began doing ultra races, ones longer than the 26.2-mile marathon distance, starting with a Chuckanut 50k, one of Bellingham’s signature runs.

“I didn’t finish last,” she recalls with a laugh.

Macklow says her close friend Vicki Griffiths, who is nine years younger, “is now too fast for me to train with.” But the two women still find time to run together now and then.

In the past two decades, Macklow has run well over two dozen ultra races, at an age when few people in their 70s and 80s are still walking the distances she runs.

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