At 81, Custer was the oldest pre-registered participant in the 13.1-mile race.
The Wheeling resident is no stranger to the race and its unique physical demands -- she's now participated in 33 of the Ogden Classic's 35 runnings -- but Custer said she knew going in that Saturday-s run would be her most daunting challenge, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, the course is longer this year, as the race added 0.7 miles in order to become a half marathon, rather than a 20K event. And for another, Custer has spent recent months battling breast cancer -- a fight she said she's currently winning -- and hasn't run since October.
Many athletes in peak physical condition wouldn't dare tackle such a race essentially cold. But for Custer, it was an easy decision.
"I want to prove to myself that 81 is just a number," she said prior to the race. And following her 3:18:22 finish, she said she felt "pretty darn good" considering her lack of preparation, as she cradled a small bouquet of flowers sent by a well-wisher from out of town.
Custer is a veteran of several hundred competitive races over the years, including seven full marathons. When she was 51, she matched her age by running 51 miles in a single day.
In her younger years, it wasn't unheard of for her to run one race, jump in the car and go compete in another the same day.
Though she held up pretty well Saturday, Custer said she won't run the race again without training. All the same, she expects to be back next year, ready to run.
"I love my town with all my heart," said Custer, who owned a local business for 36 years. "Wheeling is a special place."
She said in addition to proving to herself that age is just a number, she also wants to demonstrate that to some of her contemporaries.
"I see so many older people that don't do anything," she said. "You need to get out and need to try to do something."
Photo by Ian Hicks
Ella Jane Custer of Wheeling, 81, catches her breath after finishing Saturday's Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Run. She was the oldest pre-registered entrant in the 13.1-mile run.