Deirdre Larkin breezes through Johannesburg’s suburbs most mornings, her white hair buffeted by the wind as she runs her well-trodden 8km training course. At 85-years-old, this retired concert pianist who only began running in later life can complete a half marathon in just over two hours and holds the world record time for her age.

“Before I turned 78, the last time I ran was in college, and I was really bad,” she said, standing in her home in front of a wall of some 500 medals recognising her athletic feats. Stopping for selfies with children and to offer her fellow runners encouragement, Larkin has become a major draw at the races she runs.

“As people pass me, because most people pass me, they greet me and say ‘hello — I saw you on TV!’ Otherwise we don’t really talk for any length of time because you need your breath,” she said following a recent 10-km race in Pretoria. Her late fame as a runner has come as a surprise for the pianist who arrived in South Africa from Britain in 1970.

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