If there’s a litmus test for judging whether or not someone is a legend in the world of running, it might include some of the following criteria: Will they be remembered for years to come? Have they left an indelible imprint on the sport? Did they touch people’s lives? Have they pushed the boundaries and changed perceptions? In the case of Frank Bozanich, few could deny his status as a true running legend. Certainly not us.
Since he started running in the 1960s (this is not a typo) he has logged a staggering 170,000 miles. He’s probably taken part in 1,000 races, covering distances from 100 meters to 100 miles. He’s run in road races, trail races, track and field, in jungles, across deserts, across the arctic tundra and a myriad of other places.
Unsurprisingly, Bozanich has also been inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame. Now in his seventies, he continues to achieve competitive successes at a national-class level in ultra age-group competition. He has turned out to be one of the most durable runners in history. According to Ultra Running Magazine: “He holds the unique distinction of having won an ultramarathon outright, finishing first overall, in each of four consecutive decades: the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s. Frank Bozanich (Ultrarunner Podcast with Frank) is one of the most naturally fleet-footed athletes in the history of ultrarunning.”
Winding back the years Bozanich recollects how he got into running: “I started my athletic career as a sprinter and wrestler in high school (Anacortes, Wa) and college (Skagit Valley CC and Eastern Washington University. Upon graduation I taught high school in Dayton, Wa. Where I also coached football, wrestling, and track. At the end of my year I made a career move and joined the United States Marine Corps where I remained for 12 years.”
“Vietnam was really tough. When you are out in the field, of course there’s danger, but you have everyone with you. The problem is when you get back. That’s when you dwell on it and think about what you have done and the people you have lost. One of my most meaningful runs happened out there. It involved me running through incoming mortar rounds and gunfire to save two wounded Marines.”
Frank started running in his down time to keep his mind occupied. He was already in good shape because of his United States Marine Corps training and didn’t attempt anything too long.
“At one point we were based at an old French fort, which had been left over from the 1950s. I used to run around the perimeter fence when I got the chance. I remember running round one day when my foot hit a wire. I just went: ‘Shit’. My first thoughts were to keep going. When you are in combat and you hit a wire, it’s normally the person behind you that gets it. I kept going. Then, boom. It turns out that some of the other men had planted a smoke grenade for a laugh. But joking aside, it turned out I had been running through a mine filed the whole time. I am probably the first person to train on a mine field and survive!”
Upon leaving the Marine Corps he got a job in Law Enforcement that lasted until his retirement in 2009. His long distance running truly started upon his return from Vietnam in late 1969. He was stationed at Camp Lejuene, NC and began running longer distances to build up his endurance. Later on, it also helped with his post-traumatic stress from his combat experience.
“I ran my first marathon in Jan of 1972 at the Duraleigh Marathon and finished 4th in 2:42, “ he recalls. “It would have been quicker but at one point we were stopped by a train. We had to wait 3-4 minutes for it to go by. I continued to run various distances from 1 mile to the marathon and in September of 1974 I ran my first ultra marathon, the National AAU 50 km championships in Kent, Wa. I finished 3rd overall in 3:02. I then ran my second ultra marathon in Sept ‘76, a 50 miler on a dirt track in Santa Monica, Ca, I won the race in 5:30 and 2 months later won the AAU National Championships for 50 miles on the road in New York City in a time of 5:36. I went on to win two more 50 mile championships and two 100 km championships.”
To cut a (very) long story short, Frank just kept going, demonstrating a mental toughness and consistency rarely seen in the sport. As he got older, he constantly challenged himself to keep up with those younger than himself. It comes as no surprise that he's won ultras in his 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
“I was still running really well into my 50s. It hit me really hard after that. I just wasn’t as fast as I used to be. I still had the strength to take out a lot of the younger guys. But when it came to the over 40s, I didn’t want anyone to beat me. It’s all about having the right mental attitude, as well as a certain stubbornness. You learn a lot about positive mental attitude in the Marine Corps. You train yourself to think you are better than anyone else, with better physical ability. But I am not quite as fit as I use to be. I don’t do any of the upper bodywork or the push-ups. It’s too much like hard work.”
Over five decades of unparalleled dedication must have come at a cost?
“It is an addiction” he says. “My wife says it has been a negative. There’s no such thing as a positive addiction. An addiction always takes you away from something else. For me, it has taken me away from my family. I went to Europe to race, she would stay at home. I have lost a lot of time with my family. But I like to think that my runs in the early days of ultra marathons may have led to many of the runners today taking on back-to-back races.”
At the age of 72, it’s really hard to imagine what keeps Frank motivated to carry on. His legacy is assured. Surely it must be time to think about packing it all in? Not Frank
“As long as I am not getting hurt I will keep going. There’s no point carrying on if you are suffering. Some runners say that it’s a life or death situation. Of course it’s not. I have been in life or death situations when I was in the army. That’s when you really need to push through it. With running, you need to focus on the race, nothing else. If you are going to run well you can’t disassociate yourself from it. When you are in combat you have to focus on what you are doing. If you don’t it can cost you your life. It is the same with racing. Just focus on what’s in front of you.”