Running Became a Phenomenon in the 1970's
The running boom in America started in the 1970's. By the close of the decade, the National Running Data Center in Tuscon estimated 10 million Americans were actively running. This represented at least 9 million more runners than reported in the previous decade. SCR member, John Fricano considers March 18, 1978 as the day he really started running. He was part of the boom. Forty-two years later he's still going.
In the beginning...
Fricano spent his early childhood years growing up in Buffalo, NY. He wanted to go out for a sport in high school so he picked track. The coach asked him what he wanted to run and he said the mile so that's what he ran for the next three years. He added cross-country to the mix and was happy. After high school, John pursued his education and worked so his running was put on the back burner.
And then it was time.
By 1977, John was living in Binghamton, NY and felt the need to get healthy. Like many Americans during this time, he turned to running. He went to a high school track and ran two miles. It wasn't easy but his running once again became a regular habit. All around him running was growing into a multi-million dollar industry. In fact, the New York City Marathon had grown from 126 starters in 1970 to having the field limited to 14,000 in 1979.
Races were popping up everywhere and John wanted in on the racing. He started training hard and considers the 1980's the peak of his running career. He was in his mid-30's, running faster and further than ever before. He had taken to running marathons. He set his sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. At the time, John would need a 2:50 to get in.
Despite being serious about running, qualifying took its time. Remember, these were the days before chip timing and instant race results. Fricano signed up to race the Philadelphia Marathon to try and break 3 hours. He fondly remembers being in a rather large pack of runners that all had the same goal. As they came around to the last stretch before the finish, they could see the clock as it neared 3:00:00. "We all were running as fast as we could at that point and we all dove across the finish line", John said. Each got up and hoped that the effort plus the big diving finish was worth it.
John got his marathon result six months later. Yes, S-I-X months later in the mail. The Philadelphia Marathon sent you a nice booklet with pictures, times and stories from the race. John looked his name up and found his time. It read 2:59:59. He was the only one in the pack that dove to finish credited with a sub-3 hour marathon.
At his next marathon he clocked a 2:56. He tried again and brought his time down to 2:54.
John flew out to Eugene, Oregon to attend a week long running camp to help him improve. About 25 runners were at the camp. They did workouts together. Visited Steve Prefontaine's crash site. And, ran a lot. One of his most vivid moments from the camp was on the last day. An All-Comers 5K was held on the legendary Hayward Field track. At this point, Fricano could easily clock a sub-18 minute 5K. He remembers racing around the track and a Kenyan runner blazed by to lap him. "I felt like I was standing still", said John. "He was going that fast and I couldn't believe it."
His PR Performance
The BQ finally happened for Fricano at what he considers his hometown marathon - Niagara Falls International Marathon. It starts in Buffalo, New York and finishes in Niagara, Canada. Back then it was known as the Buffalo/Niagara Falls International Marathon. It is one of the few marathons in the world that starts in one country and finishes in another. In September of 1986, Fricano ran his personal marathon best of 2:46:31 at the age of 33. It was good enough for Boston which he went on to run a total of three times. He has completed 21 marathons to date.
John moved to Brevard County in 2005 when he took a transfer with his company, United Launch Alliance. He worked another 15 months with ULA and retired. He's spent the past 15 years running all over the county and guess what? He loves the weather. Despite being raised in Buffalo, John doesn't mind the heat at all.
He joined Space Coast Runners in 2005 but ended up letting his membership lapse when an injury prevented him from doing a lot of running. At that point, John got into cycling but eventually returned to running and SCR. He rejoined when he turned 65 and got into racing the ROY Series. He wanted to prove to himself that he could still do it.
His favorite distance now is the 5K. "It's shorter", he said. Eat My Crust 5K is a local favorite given its close proximity to where he lives. "I like being able to do a warmup to the start and a cooldown after."
Quality over quantity. During his peak years in the 80's, John ran 70 to 80 miles a week. Now at the age of 67, he runs approximately 15 miles. He credits cross-training on the bike and going to the gym to workout three times a week as a great way to maintaining fitness.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. One final fun fact: John takes saxophone lessons in addition to all the running and cross-training.