Betty Lindberg, a 97-year-old Atlanta athlete who took up running when she was 63, added a new entry to her résumé on February 26: World age-group record holder in the 5K.
Lindberg finished the USA Track & Field Masters 5K championships in 55:48, averaging 17:57 per mile. She took more than half an hour off the previous world record for the 95–99 age group, 1:28:36.
In a phone call with Runner’s World, Lindberg said she knew what the record was heading into the race and believed it was attainable.
She walked the whole way. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t train for it. Lindberg got out for race-distance training efforts around her neighborhood, taking anywhere from 57 minutes to an hour at a time.
Approaching the finish line, “I certainly was surprised when I saw I did it in 55 minutes,” she said.
Her strategy on the hilly courses of Atlanta is simple. “I just walk, as fast as I can,” she said. “I just keep it up. I may get to hurting and aching, I see the top of a hill and say, ‘I’m going to get to the top of that hill,’ and then it’s always downhill. And then you go up another hill and then you finish. I’m always fine after I finish.”
She knows where she stands in the pecking order of racers. “It’s kind of shocking, you know, when you know that the people who really run the race and do it well, they can do 3.1 miles in less time than it takes me to do a mile,” she said. “I feel sort of shabby to get out there. But once I’m out there, I say, ‘I’m out here, I’m going to finish.’”
The overall winner of the 5K, Bryan Lindsay of Zionsville, Indiana, ran 15:37. He is 41, more than a half century younger than Lindberg. She doesn’t see her age as an excuse, though.
“At 97, why are you supposed to do so poorly?” she asked.
Whatever Lindberg thinks about herself, her fellow runners adore her and her achievements. At an awards ceremony after the race, other runners kept coming up to her, sharing their congratulations and asking for photos.
“I had quite a time having my pictures taken with people,” she said.
Later in the day of her race, Lindberg was weary—she canceled a hair appointment—but she said she was fine the next day, with no residual soreness.
In 2019, at age 94, she set a world record age group record in the mile, running 15:15.58.
During the pandemic, Lindberg has stuck with mainly virtual races. She also doesn’t like to drive in the dark, so for in-person races with very early start times, as many in the Atlanta area have, she’ll take a Lyft to the start.
For her next race, the Atlanta Women’s 5K on March 26, she’s not sure yet if she’ll run in person or virtually.
But one thing is clear: If she’s in person, 55:48 is the time to beat.