Some people might describe Maurice Robinson as a little crazy — well, maybe really crazy. After all it’s not every day you hear about an 80 year old who is physically able to run 100-mile races, much less someone that enjoys running that far.
But Robinson has been running ultramarathons, races with distances of more than 30 miles, since his late 50s.
For Robinson, who ran his first 100-miler at 61 years old, running is one of many interests — along with tending to 30 beehives, gardening, playing the banjo, learning to play the piano, enjoying life with his wife, Norma, and being a longtime deacon at First Baptist Church Benton, Arkansas.
Did we mention he’s 80 years old?
‘I don’t worry about my age’
“I don’t worry about my age,” he said. “I just look at what abilities I still have, what I can do and how much I enjoy doing those things.”
As a member of FBC Benton, Robinson is quick to blame some of his Sunday School class friends for “pushing” him to run the “really long runs” many years ago. He especially likes to throw out the name “Pete,” a longtime friend in his class who also is an ultramarathoner and has run a few with Robinson. Did we mention Pete is more than a year older than Robinson?
“Who needs enemies?” Robinson joked as he shared stories of some of the adventures his friends and family have talked him into, which has included hiking 14 miles up Pikes Peak in Colorado.
Influential friends aside, many might not know Robinson holds the record as the fastest 80 year old in American history to have completed a 100-mile run.
In March he finished the Prairie Spirit Trail run in Ottawa, Kansas, in 29 hours, 3 minutes. Not only was it a notable record, but it was his 17th 100-mile race.
And Robinson doesn’t appear to be done yet.
Eyeing a record
While he was a little hesitant during a recent phone interview to discuss the details of his next big run (a typical posture for many extreme athletes who don’t want to make promises they can’t keep), he hinted he’s got his eyes on logging his personal best at a race in Middle Tennessee on Labor Day weekend.
If successful, he could become the fastest 80-year-old 100-miler on the planet. Right now he is in second place in that category.
But before making any official announcements, Robinson said he was waiting to first check with Norma, his wife of 58 years.
At the time of the interview, she was on a trip to visit grandchildren. But with about 100% success rate of getting her approval on these types of challenges, Robinson seemed confident he’d get the usual “You go run your run, Maurice.”
After all, Norma, a cancer survivor, is one of the inspirations behind his love for running.
When they both were in their late 50s, Norma was diagnosed with breast cancer and became interested in running the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. For Robinson, it wasn’t long before his occasional 5K and 10K runs (around 3 and 6 miles) started to become more like something he’d do if he considered taking the day off.
Since then Robinson has run between 75 and 100 ultramarathons, which includes completing runs as long as 160 miles. He said he has lost track of how many “long runs” he’s done, but he hopes to write them all down at some point.
Leaving a legacy
With an easygoing demeanor, Maurice does get a little choked up when he talks about leaving a legacy for his grandchildren, and he acknowledges that he hopes his legacy is about more than running.
On those 50 to 100 mile runs early in the morning long before the sun comes out, the retired electrical engineer said he usually does some of his best thinking — and his thoughts often turn to spiritual matters.
“Here I am, running under God’s creation and hurting physically and feeling other pains of life,” he recalled of one of his races. “My mother passed away (2 1/2 years ago) and I was running and I’m thinking about my mother in heaven, and I thought someday … I’m going to see my mother in heaven, and I will get to see Jesus at the same time.”
It’s this kind of thinking, he said, “you’d never do at a desk.”
Specifically, he describes his running as “a way for me to minister by pointing whatever I do — even a training run — I point to God. … I’m just the wall that echoes the sounds.”
His pastor, Rick Grant, describes Robinson as humble, with a “faithful servant heart,” a “twinkle in his eye” and a love for life.
“He’s one of those guys that doesn’t make a lot of noise,” Grant said. “He doesn’t look or act like 80.
“I respect him. … He’s an encouragement to his pastors. He’s got great love for his family. Some fish you throw back and some you keep. And he’s a keeper.”