Betty Lindberg likens herself to the Energizer Bunny because she just keeps going and going and going.
Born Sept. 7, 1924, she is the oldest participant set to run in the 49th annual Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race this Fourth of July. Though there is another competitor who also is 93, Lindberg is exactly one week older than the most senior male runner, Lamar Perlis.
While there were four men in the 90-120 division last year, Lindberg was the only woman over 87 to run. This year’s race will be her 28th since completing her first at age 64.
The Parkers Prairie, Minn., native was not aware of the Peachtree Road Race until her daughter and son-in-law asked her to drive them to the start line in 1987. At the time, she was not overly enthusiastic about getting up at sunrise on the Fourth of July, but once she witnessed the celebrations at the finish line, she decided to give the 10K a try.
Lindberg began training by walking around her neighborhood and hasn’t stopped since. She now works with a personal trainer three days a week, completes races of various lengths throughout the year and follows the Atlanta Track Club’s 12-week program to prepare for the Peachtree Road Race.
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“I just can’t quit,” she said when talking about her dedication to running the annual road race. “It’s a challenge. It’s hard work. It’s hot and it’s humid and it’s miserable. It’s early in the morning on the Fourth of July. After those first three miles, which are fairly decent, you start those hills. I’m sure every year I say, ‘I’m never going to do this again. Never, ever. This is it!’”
But no matter how many times Lindberg tells herself she’s hanging up her running shoes, she always returns. She has missed one Peachtree Road Race since 1988 after staying home to care for her late husband who had Parkinson’s disease. Watching the race on TV that day was a reminder that she wanted to get back on the start line.
“I’ll have to have something that absolutely keeps me from trying,” she said about running future races. “It will have to be a broken leg or a sprained ankle or something that would physically keep me from it because mentally, I’ve just got to do it.”
Merely doing the 10K is not enough for Lindberg. She has a goal of crossing the finish line in under two hours and has made extra efforts to ensure she will achieve the best time possible. In her early racing years, Lindberg ran the 6.2 miles but found she tired quickly and had to take more walking breaks as she got older. To make her racing as efficient as possible, she took race walking lessons with the Walking Club of Georgia.
Lindberg plans to put those skills to use this year as she was not satisfied with her time of 2:22:46 last year. She recalled feeling “lousy” that day despite training for the race and hopes to cross the finish line around 30 minutes faster this year.
In her pursuit for a sub-two-hour finish, Lindberg will be joined by her son and daughter-in-law. The family sticks together throughout the race despite Lindberg trying to convince her partners to run ahead to record better times.
All three will be outfitted in gear gifted to Lindberg by Mizuno, as she accepted an invite to the company’s racing team after setting a world record in the women’s 800 meters, ages 90-94, in 2016. She went on to set a U.S. record in the 400 meters last year.
At this rate, it seems as though nothing can slow Lindberg — not even a hip replacement, which she regards as one of the best decisions she’s ever made. She has plans to continue running the Peachtree Road Race as long as she can, and though she will always question her decision to return when conquering Cardiac Hill, she relishes the finish too much to let any obstacles stop her.
“When I get to that finish line, no matter how awful I felt and how many times I said I was never going to do this again, I forget that once I finish,” she said, adding that completing the race meant attending a party for Atlanta Track Club members at the Park Tavern and a celebratory Fourth of July cookout with her family.
It doesn’t appear that Lindberg will run her last Peachtree Road Race any time soon, but if there comes a day where she feels incapable of completing the 10K, she intends to join her family under a tent they always set up along the course near Trader Joe’s to watch the race and “drink mimosas.”
Until then, she will continue to run her race and live by a quote she clipped from a runner’s magazine years ago:
“You’re a winner when you get to the start line because think of all the people who can’t do what you’re going to do.”
With that in mind, whether she finishes in under two hours or not, Lindberg will feel like a winner from start to finish.