Margaret and J.R. Vaughn, both 80, are not your ordinary running couple.
They proved that when they were spotted running while holding hands at the Mule Kick 5K at Columbia’s Riverwalk Park for the third year in a row.
But their story begins even before that, back in 2012, at a local “dance place” in Columbia, Tennessee. The two met on the dance floor while dancing to country music — just hours after Margaret had completed a half marathon.
They were both single at the time, as both of their spouses had passed away earlier in their lives. And they weren't necessarily looking for love, but the pair hit it off immediately. That night, Margaret made sure to ask J.R. one thing: “Will you run with me?”
J.R. was more than happy to, as long as she would continue to go dancing with him.
“We are so lucky to have met each other and have so much in common,” Margaret told Runners World’s over the phone. “He loves square-dancing, and I love running. So we just put our two passions together.”
Running and proper nutrition have always been an important part of Margaret’s life. The Santa Fe, Tennessee, native used to work for medical and fitness doctors, so she always practiced healthy habits.
But when her son, Jeff Woody, 53, started getting involved in the marathon scene in 2005, Margaret decided to give running a try. (Woody completed his goal of running 50 ultramarathons in 50 states before he turned 50 years old in October of 2013.)
Though she loved running, it took Margaret until 2012 to register for a race. She said one morning she just woke up and decided to go do a local 5K. She won her age group that day and became hooked.
Shortly after, J.R. became hooked on Margaret. He asked her out to dinner the very next day after they met on the dance floor. J.R. said he wanted to eat whatever she was eating, so he traded in his steak for a piece of fish and veggies.
But there was one thing that was a little bit harder for J.R. to change:
“He always wears a cowboy hat and boots so when we started running together, he thought he could run in his boots,” Margaret said.
Finally after a little persistence, Margaret got J.R. to trade in his boots for a pair of “tennis shoes” — but certainly not for good. J.R. now wears his running shoes when the two attend races, but once in awhile when they aren’t racing, J.R. still puts on those boots for their daily runs.
Margaret and J.R. like to get at least a mile or two in every day together, and they up their mileage when they have an upcoming race.
The pair married in 2013 and have now completed at least 30 races together, including 5Ks (their favorite) and even half-marathons. The best part? They run every single race, hand in hand, the entire time.
“He’s known as the man who pulls me up the hills," Margaret said. "And we always cross the finish line together.”
J.R. could go faster than his wife now, but he never leaves her side. Every race they enter, they almost always win their age group, and they take turns letting each other cross the finish first.
When asked about their personal records, Margaret said they have completed a 5K in less than 40 minutes before, but quickly added that’s not why they do what they do. J.R. and Margaret’s hope is to inspire others their age, and younger, to take a page from their book. Their message? It’s never too late to start moving—and keep moving.
“We are so glad to be healthy and active together. We don’t do it for the glory, we do it to inspire others to do the same,” Margaret said.
And indeed, they still dance — almost always in matching outfits. They also have a garden where they raise fresh vegetables, and they enjoy sharing the produce with their neighbors. They go on bike rides and love to travel together, and want to plan more trips in the future.
As for what’s next for these two lovebirds? They take it one day at a time and fit races in whenever they can.
“He tells me all day how much he loves me,” Margaret said. “He’s a true gentleman. It means the world to me to have someone like J.R. to live with, to love, and to inspire me every day.”