They probably thought she looked an easy target.
But when three teenagers snatched a bag belonging to 68-year-old Janet Lane, they were given quite a run for their money.
The fleet-footed grandmother, a champion athlete in her school days, chased after the three youths and managed to grab one by the collar.
Police say the boy, aged around 15, was so scared when Mrs Lane caught up with him that he dropped her bag and begged to be let go.
He managed to escape empty-handed while Mrs Lane retrieved her bag and all its contents, including her purse containing over ?100 in cash. Mrs Lane, a diabetic retired nurse, said: 'I think those boys saw a little old lady and thought I was easy pickings, but there was no way I was going to sit there and let them get away with it.
'My first reaction was, "They are not having my bag". I used to be a very good runner when I was younger so I just got up and ran after them. I was screaming at them too. I felt outraged.'
Her bag was snatched as she sat on a bench in parkland outside the Riviera International Centre in Torquay on Monday afternoon.
She said: 'The boys came up to me and asked for a cigarette but I said no. Then I felt a whooshing movement and I saw a boy in a grey-hooded top take my bag.'
Her pursuit included a 100-yard dash across a park and into the grounds of the nearby Inglewood Hotel. She recalled: 'I followed them through the park and into the back of the hotel where they ran down a lane and on to the road.
'I caught one by the collar and he was so afraid he dropped my bag but then managed to wriggle free. I was delighted to get it back. I haven't run like that since I was a girl. It must have been a bit of a sight.'
During the pursuit, she alerted staff at the hotel, who then joined the chase.
A hotel spokesman said: 'There was quite a commotion outside as the lady ran by chasing the boys. Her shouting alerted two waiters who were putting up decorations and they tried to stop them as well.'
Mrs Lane added: 'Thinking about it now I suppose it was a silly thing to do for a pensioner, but I just thought, "What gives them the right?". I stretch every penny of my pension out to make ends meet and I'm not having someone take it.'
Mrs Lane was a school cross-country champion for Yorkshire in 1953, a keen long-jumper and a netball and rounders captain. A grandmother of two, she still swims regularly.
As well as ?100 cash including her ?86 pension, her bag contained her purse, mobile phone, umbrella, a first-aid kit and a present she had bought for a friend.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police praised Mrs Lane but added: 'Generally for safety reasons we do not actively encourage this kind of behaviour, as you never know what could happen.'
Police are searching for the youth in the hooded top. He is described as around 5ft 7in tall. His accomplices are a similar age.