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It's never too late: The story of Jenny Wood Allen

To learn that nothing is impossible if we set our mind to it.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To learn that nothing is impossible if we set our mind to it.

Preparation and materials


  1. Find out who in the assembly today likes running? (Or celebrate those in the school who are good at running.)

    What about running 26.2 miles? That is called a marathon, and thousands of people take part in these runs every year in many large cities all over the world. You may have heard of the New York Marathon or the Rome Marathon.
  2. One of the biggest marathons is the London Marathon, taking place this year on 17 April.

    Imagine 35,000 people all lining up to race. Can you imagine the buzz as people limber up?

    (Show images from the London Marathon homepage.)

    And then they are off, probably at a good pace to begin with. There will be the experts out front, of course, setting a gruelling pace from the start. Then there will be those running together from clubs all over the country, sticking together to encourage one another. And then there will be those running to raise money for a charity important to them, maybe even in fancy dress. You get all kinds of people in marathons.

    Imagine 35,000 people, running, jogging, walking, staggering as the day wears on.
  3. The person who came in first in the 1996 London event was Liz McColgan from Dundee. How many have heard of her?

    The person who came in last was also from Dundee. Her name was Jenny Wood Allen. I don’t expect many will have heard of her; after all, you don’t usually make a big splash about the person who came in last. But what if that person was 85 years of age? That might be an achievement worthy of mention.

    In fact, Jenny Wood Allen was almost as well known as Liz McColgan. At the age of 70 she got ‘bitten by the marathon bug’ and started running. To begin with, she used to run with her shopping bag so that people would take less notice of her. She complained that in those early training sessions she ‘couldn’t find anyone slow enough’ to train with her.
  4. Jenny entered her first marathon at the age of 71. In the 1985 Dundee Marathon she finished with a time of 4 hours 21 minutes, despite warnings from her doctor that it would take her nine hours to complete. At 90 she completed the London Marathon. ‘I feel just a bit disappointed that it took me so long,’ she said. She could be excused for that as she fell during the race and hit her head, and was on medication for aching joints.

    She completed her last marathon at the age of 91.
  5. Jenny became known all over the world for her battling performances and won the respect and friendship of many athletes and media figures. She raised over £30,000 for charity. Sir Richard Branson even sponsored her.

    Jenny died on 30 December 2010, at the age of 99, in her hometown of Dundee.
  6. Many older people were inspired by Jenny’s achievements. Her son Kenneth said, ‘She showed older people what they could achieve, and that older age shouldn’t be seen as a time to stop doing things.’ .

Time for reflection

Think about Jenny’s example of courage and perseverance.

What goal do you have at this stage of your life?

How hard are you persevering in it?

Dear God,
Thank you for the example of Jenny Wood Allen.
Thank you for her courage, hard work and gutsy perseverance.
Please help me to display those same qualities in my life.


‘The journey of life’ (Come and Praise, 45)

‘One more step’ (Come and Praise, 47)

Publication date: April 2011   (Vol.13 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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