Norm Frank, runner of 965 marathons worldwide, dies at 83

by Leo Roth, Democrat and Chronicle April 22, 2015

Most people would consider running one marathon a great personal achievement.

Norm Frank of Brighton experienced that feeling 965 times.

"Everyone asks the same question, 'Why?' " Mr. Frank said in a 1994 interview with the Democrat and Chronicle. "You don't have an answer, except you enjoy it."

Mr. Frank, who once held the Guinness Book of World Records for most marathons completed and whose 965 marathons ranked fourth all-time for North American runners, died Tuesday (April 21) evening at Strong Hospital after years of declining health. He was 83.

"It became his person, to run marathons, not to win but to run them,'' said Bruce Bragg, 82, of Linwood, Livingston County, a lifelong friend who grew up on Parsells Avenue with Mr. Frank and was by his side, along with family members, when he passed. "Sometimes we made fun of it but as the number kept piling up, we began to realize how important it was and how much an athletic feat it really was.''

A 1950 graduate of East High School where he played basketball, baseball and competed in field events in track, Mr. Frank served in the United States Army from 1953-55.

His recreational physical activity consisted mainly of some men's league basketball until an acquaintance suggested he take up running. And so he did, entering the 1967 Boston Marathon at age 35.

Under-trained and under-dressed for the 40-degree rain and cold, Mr. Frank completed the race in 3 hours, 56 minutes.

"I was exhilarated," he later said. "I was hooked from that one on.''

Mr. Frank, owner of Marathon Lawn Service, averaged 23 marathons a year, including 39 in 1993.

Adopting a mantra of slow and steady, he completed at least one marathon in all 50 states and on four continents. At one point he competed in 30 consecutive Boston Marathons and 37 consecutive MVP Health Rochester Marathons.

On May 1, 1994 at the Ford Buffalo Marathon, he set a world record by completing his 525th run of 26.2 miles, passing the late Sy Mah, a University of Toledo professor he met in his travels and became friends with.

Bill Rodgers, the American marathon legend, was in attendance and said of Mr. Frank's feat, "You can't comprehend it. The hallmark of the marathon is persistence, still, it's hard to comprehend."

Many mega-marathoners followed in the footsteps of Mah and Mr. Frank.

According to the website World Megamarathon Ranking, 15 people worldwide have topped 1,000 marathons, led by Germany's Christian Hottas with 2,160 as of June 2014.

Mr. Frank was one of just five runners in North America with 900-plus marathons. The current leader is Larry Macon, 70, of San Antonio, Texas with 1,343. Irondequoit's Don McNelly, 94, is 36th on the list with 744.

Mr. Frank undoubtedly would've met his goal of 1,000 marathons had a series of health issues in his late 60s and late 70s kept him off the road. Over the years he overcame prostate surgery, open heart surgery, broken ribs and pneumonia to keep pushing on.

He suffered a series of strokes and a heart infection that left him with severe vertigo in 2008-09.

In 2010, he was honored with the keys to the city and Monroe County declared it "Norm Frank Day.'' He was a member of the Greater Rochester Track Club Hall of Fame (1981) and Frontier Field Walk of Fame (2000). USA Track and Field recognized his 965 career marathons with a citation.

Mr. Frank didn't run for personal times but for personal reward and inspired countless others along the way.

"Unlike any team sport and I've played them all you're not competing against anyone else. It's just you against yourself,'' Mr. Frank said in 2010. "It's a lot harder now that I'm older, but the thrill is always there for me. It always gives me goose pimples. That will never change."

Mr. Frank is survived by his children, Mark Frank and daughter Kayla Frank Jackson. Funeral arrangements are pending.