81-Year-Old Runs 18th Straight Chicago Marathon
Frank Abramic has inspired his family to run, including his brother John, 77, who is making his second tour of the Windy City.
Runner’s World Editor’s note: This article first appeared in October 2015. Frank and John Abramic entered the 2016 Chicago Marathon (October 9, 2016). As a 60-year-old, lifelong Chicagoan Frank Abramic watched runners in the park near his house and wondered why they bothered. “I used to think, ‘These people are crazy—they don’t look like they’re having any fun,’” he told Runner’s World. “They look like they’re always in pain.”
“I don’t look at the marathon as a race,” he said. “It’s a 26-mile journey, is what it is.”
Four of his family members also ran Chicago in 2015, including 77-year-old brother John (6:03:07), John’s daughters Janet Abramic (5:12:02) and Karen Abramic-Dilger (4:44:31), and Karen’s husband, Mike Dilger (5:44:19). Though they finished ahead of him, Frank blazed the trail for the family, all of whom started running after watching him race. “I tell him all the time, ‘Look what you started, Uncle Frank,’” Janet said. Though he tends to shy away from the spotlight, “I think he’s maybe a little bit proud that he started the tradition.”
Until age 63, Frank worked as a mechanical designer, spending long, sedentary hours at a drawing board. At one point, his boss began running to keep health problems in check. “He would go out and run, and I’d be sitting there working,” he said. “I think my main motive was to be on the right path, too, doing this regimen.”
When he first tried running after retirement, Frank was surprised to find himself not only healthier, but also happier as well. “After a long run, you feel relaxed. It’s kind of stress relief,” he said. “And then you’ve got the camaraderie of people that you run with.”
He raced a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon. All of those before deciding to take on the full 26.2. In 1999, at age 64, he finished his first Chicago Marathon in 4:54:22.
From that first marathon through his personal-best of 4:47:37 at age 66 until now, his training hasn’t changed much. He said he doesn’t track his mileage or even wear a watch, but he runs in his South Side neighborhood and along the Chicago Lakefront Trail four times a week, averaging about six miles on weekdays. His Saturday-morning weekend long runs, which he sometimes does with a group from a store called Running Excels, build up to about 18 miles before the marathon.
He toes the line at a few shorter races throughout the year and often wins his division—sometimes, even against competition. “There were only two people in the Soldier Field [10-mile race, May] in my age group,” he said. “But I was number one.” (He unofficially placed third of three in the 80+ division in the 2015 Chicago Marathon.)
Though he always worries he hasn’t trained enough physically, Frank finds preparing for the mental challenge of the marathon—in his words, “what’s up in your noggin”—even more difficult.
“The first marathon, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” he said. “Now I pretty much have the course memorized, and I know, gee, this is kind of a rough thing.”
John, Frank’s younger brother, also started running for health-related reasons. Around 2005, he noticed his blood pressure and cholesterol creeping up and thought logging a few miles could help control them. His numbers have indeed come down. “It’s working very nicely,” he said.
But it was the yearly ritual of watching Frank race the marathon that convinced him to ramp up his mileage after retiring his career as a pharmacist in 2009. “I figured instead of going down and rooting him we could go together,” he said. So he joined the Chicago Area Runners Association, signed up for their marathon-training program, and joined Frank to complete his first Chicago him with last year.
“Of course we both finished kind of late, but I beat him by about three minutes,” John said.
John’s daughter Janet, too, said she never paid much attention to her uncle’s odd habit until she went to spectate. “I knew he had run it before, but I just didn’t realize how big of a deal it was,” she said. “Watching all the other runners and how inspiring that was, that’s what kind of got me started.” She lined up with her uncle in 2012 and has joined him every year since. Her sister Karen and her husband, Mike, first ran in 2002 before they had children. They came back in 2015 to complete the family quintet.
As for whether Frank will take on 18, he wasn’t sure how much longer his body could take the full 26.2. However, he wouldn’t rule it out. “Every year I do a marathon, I vow I’m not going to do it again,” he said. “Then I come back and do it again.”