96-year-old breaks world record at Ottawa Race Weekend

Despite entering her first-ever road race without any training, Réjeanne Fairhead set a new Canadian five-kilometre record in the 95-99 age category in last year's Ottawa Race Weekend. Now 96, she had her sights set on the world record this time around — and set it on Saturday.

Réjeanne Fairhead set Canadian record last year, despite not training

Several people in running gear make their way along a path on a sunny day.
Réjeanne Fairhead, second from left, walks with her team of supporters Saturday. The 96-year-old Fairhead's time of 51:09.01 in the 5k race set a new world record in the women's 95-99 age category. (Sannah Choi/CBC)

UPDATE: On Saturday, Réjeanne Fairhead broke the world record in the women's 95-99 age category by more than three minutes, finishing with a time of 51:09.01.

Last May, Réjeanne Fairhead laced her Keds and started walking.

Fifty-eight minutes and 52 seconds later, she crossed the five-kilometre finish line at the Ottawa Race Weekend.

Despite entering her first-ever road race without any training, Fairhead set a new Canadian record in the event's 95-99 age category.

Now 96, Fairhead is targeting the world record for women in that age group. To do so, she'll have to shave about three minutes from last year's time.

"I'll do my best," she said. "If it doesn't rain, I have a better chance."

Rain or shine, Fairhead said the record isn't her top priority.

Her main goal is to raise money for Ottawa's Perley Health long-term care home, where she's volunteered for the last 27 years. Her second is to inspire other older adults to stay active.

"A lot of people, when they get older, they don't want to do anything," she said. "If you're able — not saying if you're sick, that's different — but if you're able to, do something."

Headshot of Réjeanne Fairhead.
Réjeanne Fairhead says she's hoping for good weather for the 2023 Ottawa Race Weekend as she makes a bid for the 5k world record in the 95-plus age category. (Julie Ireton/CBC News)

Moves 'effortlessly'

Unlike last year, when she entered the race cold, Fairhead has been training with Ottawa-based physiotherapist Richelle Weeks since February.

Two people pose for a photo.
Réjeanne Fairhead, right, has trained since February with Ottawa-based physiotherapist Richelle Weeks, left. (Submitted by Richelle Weeks)

Weeks said she's worked with seniors in the past, but Fairhead's fitness is "far above and beyond" most of her former clients.

"She moves around like she's in her 40s or 30s," Weeks said. "She just moves around very effortlessly."

Weeks said Fairhead grew up on a farm and has stayed active her whole life while raising six children. As a result, she's managed to stay spry into her 90s, Weeks added.

Fairhead's training regimen started light and gently ramped up in difficulty. She started by walking at her projected race pace — first two kilometres at a time, then building toward the full distance.

Weeks also prescribed some simple strength training exercises, such as sit-to-stands and weighted glute bridges.

To break the record, Fairhead will have to hold a pace of just over 11 minutes per kilometre — a speed Weeks said is "bordering on breaking into a trot."

"She's kind of speed walking," Weeks said. "Now, with formalized training, I think we could definitely take those three minutes off."

Fairhead said she's "anxious for it to be over." "There's been so much commotion," she said.