Frances Barger doesn't make a big fuss over her running records. She says she's never been a real fast runner. She's even thinking of pitching some of her trophies and plaques, and keeping only the "special" ones in her display case. (She says her kids can have the rest if they want them.) She also doesn't like to train in the rain. She's laying off that.
But that doesn't mean she's not competitive. She hopes to do well this Saturday in Benton, the Arkansas Runner 2 Mile sponsored by the Saline County Striders, maybe as well as she did last Saturday at Burns Park, when she set a state record.
Frances Barger, it should probably be noted, is 80. You're probably feeling a little useless right now, aren't you? She ran the Go Mile run, sponsored by Go! Running, in a time of 10 minutes, 43 seconds. That's a record in her gender and age group for Go! Running races. She also holds the record for the 75 to 79 age group, 10 minutes and a half second.
So maybe that's not impressive enough. Would you be more impressed if you knew she's a regular competitor in the national Senior Olympics? She's never brought home gold, she laments, but silver and bronze, yes. She runs the 400 meter, 800 meter, 1500 meter, 5K and 10K events. Over two days.
"I'd like to be faster," said Barger, a member of the Arkansas Running Klub who runs a couple of miles or more five days a week, except for race weeks. She's run injury-free except for a pulled hamstring in 2007, the day before she left for San Francisco to run in the Senior Olympics there. She was able to get to a doctor before taking off, and still brought home the silver.
Barger has been running since she was 51, an age at which some people stop, stilled by wonky knees or ligaments, or just the fear of them getting wonky. She'd had a big life change and she just took up running. "I started out just doing 5K races, and then as you get involved and start maybe coming in the top, you just start wanting to run more." As a member of the Grand Prix series, she enters their races "that count toward Grand Prix points," and shorter ones. Barger kind of wishes she'd kept a record of all the races she's run.
So does athleticism in older years run in her family? No, she says. Does she know of other 80-year-old runners? Well, yes, there's a lady from Hot Springs who will be 80 this year. "We're good friends," Barger said, "but competitors." How's her bone density? "I had a little bit of osteopenia a few years ago, but I increased my Vitamin B intake," and it's gone. Still, she's not taking any chances on slipping on wet ground, hence her "fair weather" status.
Barger retired three years ago — at the age of 77 — from the state Department of Finance and Administration, where she worked in the motor fuel tax division for 31 or 32 years. She quit because of problems with her eyesight. That's also kept her from training with the marathon group, since they start at 6 a.m., when driving is difficult for her. "It was fun, though." She's done a few marathons and half marathons, but like running in the rain, she's given that up. You've got to slow down sometime. She even took a few months off after the last national Senior Olympics, in Cleveland. She plans to compete this fall in Arkansas's Senior Olympics.
When she's not running, Barger is hiking. She belongs to a hiking group and has hiked all over the country and Canada. "I don't want to sit down and do nothing," she said.
The Observer would love to go for a run with Barger. But we know we couldn't keep up, though we've got a couple of decades on her. Too much sitting down, too much doing nothing. Journalism does nothing for the old bones, or young ones for that matter.