Irene Franzen didn't have much time to chat Wednesday morning about her Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon debut.
She had a hair appointment to get to in Rantoul.
"I go once a week," the 91-year-old said, "and I don't want to be late."
Franzen will be lookin' good when she walks the 5K on Friday night. The oldest participant in this weekend's many races, the Rantoul High grad also might be one of the more popular in the field, too. With three children, six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, she has a rooting section the size of Zuppke Field.
"This is my first time at a marathon so it's kind of exciting," Irene said.
It won't be her first time wearing out her size 81/2 Nikes, however. Irene walks 3 miles five days a week, sometimes at malls in Champaign and Urbana, sometimes at the high school track. An avid softball player growing up — she played first base, probably a lot better than the guys she roots for (Cubs) — Irene has kept active into her 90s.
"She's not scared to do anything," said Kari Ackerman, a granddaughter of Irene's who lives in Gifford. "When I drive by, she's on her hands and knees working in the garden or working in the house."
It was Ackerman who pitched the 5K idea to Irene: "She asked how long a 5K was. I told her 3.1 miles. She said 'That's easy.' "
What might be hard is keeping up with Irene. She's that feisty.
"I'm just walking for the sheer joy of it," Irene said. "It doesn't bother me if I get passed."