Race goes on for 79-year-old

Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.
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— The Beat Goes On 5K Run/Walk that was held Saturday at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton attracts local residents and serious runners from around the state.

Among the most serious of runners is Bill Duer of Mena, who said he drives more than 120 miles from his rural home to take part in the race.

“We get up at 4:15 to get there in time,” Duer said. “After last year’s race, it became one of my favorite 5K races. The race is well organized, and the people are friendly.”

The 2013 event was the fifth annual running of the race. Proceeds from the run/walk go to the cardiac assistance fund established by the Saline Memorial Health Foundation. The fund assists heart patients at the hospital who are unable to pay medical expenses and helps the hospital purchase cardiac and vascular care technology.

In 2012, Duer said, he finished the foundation’s race with a time about midway among finishers. Official records state that he finished just behind a 21-year-old runner and before a participant who was 32.

Not bad for someone who was then 78. However, Duer, who will turn 80 in December, said he has been running every day for 26 years.

“Normally, my pace brings me in around the middle of the pack,” he said. “When a race is divided into age categories, my finishing time is among the younger 50-year-olds.”

The foundation’s 5K race, at 3.1 miles, is just a little longer than Duer’s daily run.

“Ordinarily, I run two to three miles, though I will adjust when I’m training for a marathon,” he said. “Then, I will do as much as 15 miles a day.”

Duer said he once had a streak of running a marathon every month for 68 months. He said he traveled to 37 states to run the events, each of which covers 26.2 miles.

One extraordinary marathon is his favorite race, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Runners in that race climb more than 7,700 feet to an altitude of 14,100 feet above sea level.

“I really enjoyed that,” Duer said. “I ran in 2003 and 2005.”

In addition to his incredible record of daily runs, Duer is also on a streak of running races. The Beat Goes On race will carry on his habit of running a race every month. The habit started in January 2012, but he said he has signed up to run in 10K races and a half marathon, scheduled for April in Fayetteville.

“He is an inspiration for everyone in The Beat Goes On race,” said Rebecca Jones, marketing and communications director for Saline Memorial Hospital. “He is easy to spot, and you can’t help but cheer him on.”

Duer said he started running to stay healthy and alive.

“My father died when he was 63, and I thought I should get myself in better condition,” Duer said. “I had been sitting at a desk in a cubicle for too long.”

A Houston native, Duer is a retired businessman and teacher. He began running when he was 51.

“My wife, Beckie, and I had jogged around the neighborhood, but I decided it was time to get serious,” he said. “We entered our first race just nine days later. It was a 10K. I was excited we finished.”

Beckie, 61, runs several days a week but does not keep her husband’s pace because of injuries.

“We stopped running together a couple of years ago, but she is still good. She won for her age group in a race last year,” Duer said.

Both have been active in the Arkansas Senior Olympics, established as a competitive event for athletes age 60-plus.

The 2013 Arkansas Senior Olympics will be held in Hot Springs in September.

Duer has qualified for the national Senior Olympic competition but said he has never gone to the big event.

“I run the 1500-meter and 800-meter races. I held the record for 70-year-olds, but someone 75 beat it last year,” Duer said.

Duer said he has a plan for this year’s senior games.

“This year, I will be classified with the 80-year-olds because of my birthday this year, and I plan on setting some new records.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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