Frank Williams ran his first marathon just before his 50th birthday—and kept running. Now 76, Williams has finished marathons or half-marathons on every continent, including Antarctica.
“I’ve done 19 marathons—10 overseas,” he says, adding most of his overseas runs were completed after he turned 60.
Williams has been a runner since lettering in high-school track. Long runs calmed his nerves during law school. When he settled into his work as a trust officer at a local bank, he ran at the downtown YMCA at lunch and moved his young family into Oakwood where he joined an ad hoc group of neighborhood runners.
“They were serious. They ran 20 miles a week. So I did too,” says Williams who now lives in Kettering. He watched the New York Marathon on television one Sunday morning. I bet I could do that, Williams told himself. And the next year, he qualified and finished in the top 10,000.
He was hooked. “I decided to do one marathon a year.”
By happenstance, he was in London during the running of the London Marathon. Williams said he loved watching the runners pass through historic spots. He went back in 2000 and ran it himself.
Williams booked through Marathon Tours, which handled race entries and offered added tours. Tour guides were distance runners. Williams enjoyed the trip so much he pledged to make the company’s Seven Continents Club® by finishing a marathon or half marathon on every continent.
One year at a time, Williams covered Europe, including Prague, Berlin, Loss Ness and Dublin—twice. When he ran through the Médoc, France, wine region, water stops included oysters and champagne. Easter Island, a Chilean territory, filled the South America requirement.
Auckland, New Zealand, was a beautiful place to run. “Around every corner was a more spectacular view,” Williams says.
He trained hard, logging 40-50 miles a week well into his 60s. But he began to dial back his speed when he began to experience stress injuries. “The trick was getting to the starting line healthy,” he explains, noting he had more starting lines waiting for him.
The Great Wall of China in 2015 was a beautiful location, but the course along the ancient wall included more than 5,000 steps. Williams grudgingly dropped to a half marathon for that trip. “That’s OK. I was never going to be the fastest. I did it because I loved being there.”
The following year, Williams, and his wife, Debbie, flew into Nairobi, Kenya, for the Amazing Masai Marathon just outside the Aberdare National Park. It was essentially a trail run at 6,000 feet, Williams says, tracking through the brush just outside the park. After race day, runners toured the animal park. “Lions were walking right next to the jeep,” Williams says. “It was spectacular.”
For his 70th birthday in March 2017, Williams headed to Antarctica by ship. March was the end of Summer with highs in the 30s. Still when the runners moved to land in rubber, zodiac boats, they were cautioned that they may need to abandon the race because squalls of bad weather blow in quickly.
“We were lucky,” Williams says. The weather held for the runners to trace the dirt roads between government research stations. “We didn’t have to run on snow. But you could look up and see glaciers all around you.”
And penguins. Williams said of the post-race tours of the region, “There must have been 10,000 penguins, as far as you could see.”
Williams finished his worldwide running quest in Patagonia, South America in 2018. He has transitioned from running to walking or water walking up to 20 miles a week. He still works part-time as a trust officer. That’s plenty of work for his arthritic knees, he says.
“I loved doing it,” he says of his overseas runs. “It’s the best possible world to walk away from the finish line with a smile on your face.”
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