Jan Holmquist following her USA Track and Field record for women ages 74-79 at the Dedham James Joyce Ramble/ Credit: Lidia Cossi

On May 18, Jan Holmquist will celebrate her 80th birthday. The next day, she hopes to set a US 5k record for women ages 80-84 when she participates in Needham’s Great Bear Run. The record is 25:11.

“My goal is to finish in under 25 minutes,” Holmquist said. “I’ve already done it twice.”

Breaking records is nothing new for Holmquist. Last Sunday, at the James Joyce Ramble 10k in Dedham, which serves as the USA Track and Field Masters 10k national championships, she set a record for women ages 74-79 with a time of 49:46, breaking her own record of 50:01 set last year. Holmquist still holds several other records in various distances for women 70-74.

Holmquist is a 5-foot-1, 92-pound bundle of energy. She didn’t begin running until she was 38. It was another decade before she ran her first road race, a 10k in Boston, at the urging of her daughter, Kara. This was something new for both of them.

“We’re chatting along,” Holmquist recalled, “not warming up, not cooling down. We knew nothing. It was a fairly small race and we waited for the awards, and I came in first (in her age group). I came home with this big trophy! This was fun!”

And off she went. “I’ve been competing now for 30 years,” Holmquist said. “One of my main goals is to show that older people can stay fit and active and social.”

Holmquist said she ran the Boston Marathon 11 times, including four with her daughter, but stopped several years ago. “It takes a lot out of you,” she said. But she continues to run — and excel — in several races at lesser distances.

Holmquist grew up in Newport Beach, California, and earned a degree in nutrition at the University of California-Santa Barbara. She came to the Boston area in 1968, when her former husband got a position at Harvard, and she has been here ever since. Holmquist moved to Needham three years ago to be closer to daughter Kara, her husband, Kiko Bracker, and their 16-year-old daughter, Story, who’s on the track and field and ski teams at Needham High School. She also has a son and daughter-in-law with twin 16-year-olds, a boy and a girl, in California.

“I love Needham because I can walk and run,” she said, “and everything’s two miles — the library, my daughter, the garden plot (off Rosemary Street) and Trader Joe’s.” That’s a lot of walking from her home off Greendale Avenue. Holmquist said she runs about 20 miles a week and walks another 15. She confirmed she has a car, not that it’s used all that much.

Holmquist said she is excited about the new Cutler Park parkrun, a weekly, volunteer-organized 5k run around Needham’s Cutler Park, off Kendrick Street. The runs are every Saturday at 9 a.m. “They’re free and (provide) community for kids and adults,” she said. “And once you get your barcode (to show your finishing time) it’s good forever.” 

Holmquist is retired after 20 years as assistant to the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Retired, but plenty busy with her workouts and races, volunteer work, keeping up with her grandchildren and reading. “I spend a lot of time at the library,” she said. It’s not that long a walk, after all.

She proudly shows a visitor her comfortable, third-floor (stairs all the way) apartment where she lives with her two cats. Dozens of medals won in various races hang over the doors. A prized possession: the Olympic torch she was chosen to carry from Boston to Everett on its way to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Holmquist trains regularly at Needham’s Koko Fit Club and runs every other day. She sometimes joins a group that includes her friend Don Hogardt on what they call “Tuesday morning Tower workouts.” They jog a loop that includes parts of steep Tower Avenue plus Concord Street and Lexington Avenue — four times.

Besides exercise, Holmquist credits diet and nutrition for her achievements. “I’m a vegetarian,” she said. “I’m gluten-free. I drink coffee in the morning, but green tea every day. Fruits, vegetables, protein, calcium. I’m pretty diligent.”

So why does Jan Holmquist do all this — the running, the walking, the workouts, the diet? “Because it helps keep me sane,” she said. “It helps me deal with life, because I feel physically good.

“I just think my essence is getting Americans healthier.”

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