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86-year-old dies day after running NYC marathon

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nbc marathoner Credit: Al Roker interviews Joy Johnson on the "Today" show. (NBC)

Joy Johnson, so well known as an octogenarian distance runner that Al Roker annually chatted with her in the "Today" show crowd the day after the New York City Marathon, died Monday of an apparent head injury suffered during Sunday's race. She was 86.

Marathon officials had announced earlier Monday that Johnson, a retired gym teacher and coach who took up running at 59, had been this year's oldest female finisher, covering the 26.2 miles in just under eight hours.

Only later did they learn that Johnson had fallen around the 20-mile mark, striking her head on the concrete, but had insisted on continuing with the race.

According to Diana Boydston, 54, Johnson's daughter, Johnson immediately was taken to a medical tent along the course after her fall. "They checked her out and she was coherent and seemed fine," Boydston said. "Very conversant. With my mom, if she thinks she's feeling well, she's going to keep going."

Boydston, speaking by phone from San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, said she was tracking her mother's race progress via computer and "didn't notice any breaks in her time," and wasn't aware Johnson had fallen until Monday morning.

Johnson, also from San Jose, was staying in a New York hotel with her sister, Faith Anderson, and the two went Monday morning to their routine appearance in the "Today" show crowd, where Roker "liked to talk to her and admire her medal," Boydston said.

On the air, Roker mentioned Johnson's fall and asked if she was OK. "Oh, yeah," she said. "It looks worse than it really is. It's a scratch."

Boydston said her mother and aunt then "went back to the hotel and my mother wanted to take a nap, and my aunt couldn't wake her." Johnson was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, unresponsive, and died a short time later.

Marathon officials said Johnson had completed her 25th straight marathon, six times winning her age group (80-89).

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