It was 3 a.m. on the Fourth of July and 90-year-old Christine Beard was already up, ready for a long day.
She would first volunteer at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta — helping with the logistics of the world's largest 10K — and then run it herself, a routine she’s perfected over the last few decades.
Beard, a great-grandmother, breast cancer survivor and world traveler, has taken part in the race for 32 consecutive years, she said. She started when she was 58, encouraged by a neighbor, even though she’d been more of a walker than a runner and had never competed in any events before.
“I was pretty nervous,” Beard, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, told TODAY. “I tied my shoes so tight — I thought they were going fall off my feet. And my husband thought for sure I’d end up in the first aid tent, so at the end of the race, that's where he was looking for me.”
But she started to enjoy running and began taking part in 5K races in between the big Atlanta event. She likes that running requires her to use many different parts of her body, making her more agile and giving her a good feeling when she’s done.
During the Peachtree Road Race, the nonagenarian runs until she gets out breath and then fast-walks until the end. She finished the race in just under two hours this year — a bit longer than usual because several people along the way recognized her from a local news report and asked for a photo, she said.
Beard runs for herself but also for other people — a list that’s been growing over the years: her late husband, who couldn’t run because of heart problems, her daughter, who died of a fast-growing brain tumor at 61, and a friend who had multiple sclerosis.
“I’ve had different people in my thoughts and that’s kept me going because when you're facing 6.2 miles, you think, ‘Oh my, am I going to make it?’” she said. “I would think about these people as I ran and it helped a lot to make the time go by.”
At 90, Beard lives independently, drives a car, exercises at the local YMCA three times a week, is active on social media and texts and emails on her smartphone. If something needs to be repaired in her house, she can often fix it herself, she said.
As an 18-year breast cancer survivor, Beard credited her healthy longevity to always looking at the good side of things and helping others. She eats everything in moderation, focusing on a healthy diet, but also allowing herself a special treat once in a while. She loves ice cream and sometimes indulges in it in the middle of the night if the mood strikes.
The pleasure of good food and good company is important.
“I'm Italian and we always have lots of lengthy meals. I've always enjoyed cooking and having a lot of things to eat and setting a nice table,” Beard noted.
“When you set a good table, you sit down and you enjoy what you're eating — not eating standing up or walking around like some people do.”
Beard has traveled all over the world and has been to every continent, she said. If someone were to ask her if she wanted to go to France right now, she vowed to be ready in 15 minutes.
A trip to the local library is also part of her routine: She loves to read and checks out about four books every two weeks. She crochets and volunteers at her church.
Looking at modern life, Beard urged others — especially kids — to put the gadgets away and enjoy the outdoors.
“I think they should get outside and play and use their imagination,” she said, “rather than sit indoors, always with a phone or a TV or something.”
A run might just be perfect.