Obituary: Jenny Wood Allen MBE, World record marathon runner

Jenny Wood Allen, MBE, councillor, marathon runner and world record holder. Born: 20 November, 1911, in Dundee. Died: 30 December, 2010, in Dundee, aged 99.

The death has occurred in her home city of Jenny Wood Allen, the proud Dundonian who broke world age group records for the marathon from the age of 71 onwards.

She remains in the Guinness Book of World Records for her feat of completing the London Marathon at the age of 90 in 2002, the oldest woman ever to complete the 26 miles and 385 yards of the marathon. Her time of 11 hours and 34 minutes was immaterial, given that she had taken part despite injuring her head in a fall during her training for the race.

"I feel just a bit disappointed that it took me so long," she said afterwards That fall, the result of medication she had taken for aching joints, brought about her retirement from marathons, but by then her passion for running had already inspired a whole generation of older women to take up the sport.

Born in Brown Constable Street and later raised in the Blackness area of the city, Janet Wood Soutar - always known as Jenny - was one of six children. She won a scholarship to Harris Academy, but was unable to continue with it due to the straitened circumstances of her family in the 1920s. She ceased her formal education at 14, before working in retail in the city with Cairds and Robertsons.

During the 1930s, she took up cycling and was soon recognised as the unofficial Scottish women's road race champion. Wood Allen always credited her cycling days as the source of her extraordinary stamina in later life.

She married her husband Roy Allen on New Year's Day, 1938, and once joked that her honeymoon had been "a cruise" - a day trip on the Tay ferry.

Her eldest son Graham was born the following October and, like many women in wartime, she raised her family while her husband was serving with the armed forces.

In the 1950s and 1960s she worked as a corsetiere with the Dundee branch of Spencer's, all the time developing her interest in public speaking with the International Toastmistress organisation. She later became its Scottish and Great Britain president and international vice-president.

Her talent for public speaking led to an invitation from the local Conservatives to stand for the city council, and after three unsuccessful attempts in Labour strongholds, she was elected in the West Ferry ward, which she held for 14 years. The rules said she was "too old" to continue as a councillor in 1988, by which time she was already running marathons.

Wood Allen's interest in marathon running came about almost by accident. She was involved as a councillor in organising the first Dundee Marathon in 1983, and innocently asked if she was too old to take part. She was then 71.Friends and colleagues attempted to dissuade her, but she filled in an entry form and with the assistance of Eric Ferguson, physiotherapist of Dundee FC, she trained for five months and duly took part in the race, finishing in a time of 5 hours 34 minutes, which would have been commendable for any first-time marathon runner never mind a person in their seventies.

The marathon bug had bitten and two years later in the Dundee event, she set a new world record for a septuagenarian female of 4 hours 21 minutes.

She went on to set the fastest time for a woman over 70 in the New York marathon, which earned her a specially-commissioned Tiffany vase from the New York Runners Club.

She later went to Sydney to compete in the hugely popular City2Surf 14-kilometre run from Sydney to Bondi Beach, the world's largest timed running event.

In all, she completed more than 50 marathons, and was especially linked with the London Marathon, where she was feted by stars and celebrities and never failed to be mentioned by the BBC commentators in her 16 London runs.

The BBC also featured her in a documentary, Long Distance Runners, in 1992.

It is estimated in that her years of running she raised some 40,000 for charity, especially the Childrens Hospice Association Scotland and Cancer Research - her husband Roy died of the disease in 1991, and her son Graham also succumbed to cancer in 1994.

Among other activities, she helped form the Running Sisters group to encourage women to take up sport, and for many years was a stalwart of the Good Neighbours scheme working with disabled people in Dundee.

Wood Allen was also a long-serving and very dedicated Justice of the Peace in the city. One of her greatest honours was being named Dundee's Citizen of the Year in 1996 in recognition of all her varied work.

She remained mentally alert as well as physically fit almost to the last. At the age of 92, she won a Scottish Arts Council Award as a finalist in the Adult Learners' Week scheme, four years after joining a creative writing class at Dundee College.

Latterly living in the Douglas area of Dundee, she was made an MBE in the New Year's Honours List of 2004, and was genuinely surprised though proud by her nomination: "I don't think I'm anything special," she said.

Jenny Wood Allen is survived by her sons Alistair and Kenneth, her six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Her sons said in a joint statement: "She was an inspiration for us and for young and old people alike.

"Having been denied it herself, she was determined to ensure that her sons gained a university education, which we did. She loved Dundee and never failed to promote the city. She showed everyone that age was no barrier to what you wanted to do."

Her funeral service will take place at 10:30am on 12 January at Douglas and Angus Parish Church, and thereafter to Dundee Crematorium at 11:45am.

Her sons have asked for family flowers only, and for any donations to go towards the creation of a race in her memory.