By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Frank Woodward carries a look of rugged determination.
At 70, the Peru native has been actively involved in long-distance running for much of his adult life, and he has not let age interfere with what has become a daily routine.
“It’s not hard,” he said of the distance runner’s need to stay at it, to run on a daily basis despite the weather or how a person might feel on any particular day.
“I have no special rules, no special diet,” he added. “The only thing I do is run every day, four to six miles each day. The best prescription for a healthy old age is regular exercise.”
ATHLETE FOR LIFE
As a kid growing up in Peru in the 1950s, Woodward first got involved in athletics when he caught the eye of Peru High School coach Tony Papero.
“If you had any athletic ability back then, Tony made sure you played sports,” Woodward recalled with a smile. “Whether you wanted to or not, you played all high-school sports.”
He started his running career on the track team, where he competed in the quarter mile. Former Peru standouts Elmer Duprey and Larry Morrow were one and two in the 100 and 220 sprints, so Woodward landed in the longer distance.
He still vividly remembers that initial experience, when he ran the quarter mile in 56.4 seconds at the old Plattsburgh High School track on the field behind where Stafford Middle School now stands.
Prior to the race, he had bought a soda and hot dog at a nearby gas station; he promptly threw up after completing his race.
By his senior year in 1960, he had taken over as a sprinter and won the Section VII championships in both the 100 and 220.
While attending college at SUNY Plattsburgh, Woodward decided to join the fall-season cross-country team as a way to stay in shape for the springtime track season. It was his official start in a career that has seen him complete countless miles on the distance course, including around 80 marathons.
“I didn’t even know what a marathon was,” he said of his younger days as an athlete, recalling the time he traveled with the Peru varsity baseball team to Lake Placid and watched a man run around the track, where the speed-skating oval is now located, for the entire game.
That man, it turns out, was Westport veterinarian Dr. Robert Lopez, an avid local runner who was training for the Boston marathon.
Woodward’s first two attempts at a marathon did not go well. Not accustomed to distance running, he fell short on both tries, completing only nine miles in the 1973 YMCA Champlain Valley Marathon and 15 miles the next year.
“A light bulb clicked after that (second attempt),” he said. “I knew I had to start training better for marathon distances.”
The next year, he finished the local marathon in three hours, 50 minutes, paving the way for his future running endeavors.
He and his brother, Scott Woodward, ran in the 1978 Boston Marathon as “bandit” participants, competitors who did not qualify and were not registered for the race but ran the distance behind the qualified runners.
“It was a great experience, totally different to the huge extravaganzas (surrounding the Boston Marathon) today.”
One of his most cherished possessions is the 100th Anniversary Boston Marathon medal he earned in 1996, when more than 38,000 people participated.
A federal immigration officer for 27 years, Woodward also competed in the annual New York State Police Olympics, including some events during the latter part of his career when he ran as a 60-year-old against competitors a decade or more younger.
One of his more recent trophies is in the shape of a lobster buoy; he earned it in the Booth Bay Harbor Lobster Roll 5K race in August 2011 for finishing atop the 60-to-69 age group.
During another Maine vacation, he and his wife, Kathy, were driving home when he happened across the first-ever Clarence Demar Marathon in Keene, N.H. Demar was a top-notch marathon runner and had won several Boston Marathons.
Woodward suffered some serious injuries during his running career, though none were tied to running specifically. He once tore his Achilles tendon while playing with a pet dog, and he suffered major injuries in an automobile accident.
Those two events combined took him away from running for five years, but with determination and the help of skilled surgeons, he was able to get back on the distance trail with as much determination as ever, even if his speed would never return to his pre-injury days.
He has currently run for more than 150 straight days and said he will not miss a day unless injury or illness prevents him.
And though he suggests that people thinking of starting an exercise program should speak with their physician first, he believes anyone can start getting in shape simply by taking those first few steps.
“Seems like there’s always something that interferes with someone’s exercise routine,” he said. “Don’t look for an excuse; look for a way to be active every day.”
E-mail Jeff Meyers: