Running has always been a big part of Tom Antczak’s life, even before it was the trendy thing to do.
Antczak ran both track and cross country as a teenager at Rockford Boylan Central High School until he graduated in 1969, but he didn’t consider himself a serious runner until 1972.
“I don’t consider that because that was mostly fun and play, like a lot of high school kids do,” said Antczak.
Since then Antczak has logged more than 83,000 recorded miles (not counting miles ran in high school) in his pursuit of 100,000. He has run in and completed 46 marathons and established himself as a world-class marathoner, having qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials on three separate occasions.
Antczak is currently in his 21st year as a cross country and track and field coach and health/wellness instructor at UW–Platteville.
Antczak’s devotion to chronicled running began in early 1972 when his friend Peter Powers, M.D. returned from Ireland and shared his experiences of running for a European club team.
Powers sparked Antczak’s interest and encouraged him to begin training for the upcoming Boston Marathon.
“My running career started in the stone ages of running,” recalled Antczak. “No one knew what they were doing so there was no one to tell me I couldn’t do what I was doing. But there was also no one to teach me how to train. I just kind of learned through trial and error as I went along.”
Antczak ran roughly 20 miles a week for 10 weeks leading up to the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon in April of 1972, but nothing like today’s marathoners train.
Still he managed to break the three-hour barrier in the world’s largest race at that time with more than 1,100 participants.
When the 2013 Boston Marathon was run on Monday, April 15 more than 27,000 runners will take part.
“When I started running marathons in 1972 it was just prior to the running boom,” said Antczak. “I ran the marathon with a good buddy and I became addicted to running. That was my introduction to marathon running.”
Antczak credits three events for changing the American consciousness about long-distance running.
First Frank Shorter became the first American to win the Olympic gold medal in the marathon in 60 years when he won the event at the 1972 games in Munich, Germany that summer.
Ken Cooper’s top-selling book Aerobics (1968) began gaining steam and a budding shoe company called NIKE launched its first line of running shoes including the so-called “Moon Shoe” that featured a waffle sole and was widely distributed to athletes competing in the 1972 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.
While training for that first Boston Marathon, Antczak began recording every mile he ran. Initially it was just a number on a calendar, but it soon evolved into a detailed journal that recorded the type of workout, the weather and the type of shoes he wore so he could look at trends for his success.
He began running around 300 days a year between 300–400 miles a month, 4,000–4,500 miles a year, with a far off goal of one day reaching 100,000 miles.
Now at the age of 62, after tearing cartilage in his right knee during a fall on icy pavement, and having surgery to remove a Haglen’s deformity ankle spur on his left heel seven years ago, logs between 30–35 miles a week now days.
“I used to run over a 100 miles a week, but right now at my pace I am only running 1,500 miles per year,” Antczak said. “That puts me into my mid-70s before I will reach 100,000 miles. If I’m still running then I’ll be happy no matter how many miles I’m running.”
In 1975 he finished 20th overall at the Boston Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 36 seconds.
He also decided to go back to college.
“In 1976 I decided I wanted to teach and coach running at a smaller school,” said Antczak.
After a few stops he landed at UW–La Crosse, where he had enough eligibility to run cross country in the fall of 1977 and track and field for the ‘77 and ‘78 seasons, ultimately winning the 1978 NAIA national championship in the marathon. That same year he finished fifth in the New York Marathon.
In 1979 he won the Houston Marathon. In 1982 he placed 12th at the Boston Marathon.
For an eight-year stretch Antczak was among the best marathoners in the country.
He qualified for the US Olympic trials in 1976, 1980 and 1984, all while continuing his education.
He graduated from UW–La Crosse in 1980 and got his Masters degree in Human Performance from UWL in 1983.
Upon graduation he couldn’t find that desired coaching job, so he landed at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and later the Sweidsh–American Hospital in Rockford, Ill. as an a exercise physiologist working with older pre-diabetic individuals at a rehab-supported exercise facility.
He found a one-year interim teaching/coaching track at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., but returned to hospital work taking his next job at Buena Vista Hospital in Storm Lake, Iowa.
But in 1992 a friend Jim Nichash called and told him about a part-time job at UW–Platteville as the head cross country coach and assistant track coach. That December he was named the head track coach as well, after the passing of former UWP football coach George Chryst forced the new UWP football coach Jim Kinder to leave his post with the track team.
Throughout his journey of life, the colleges, the jobs, the 46 marathons, one thing has remained constant; Tom Antczak has ran.
“I’ve always enjoyed it and the statistics tell us that I am at the fitness level of an average 30-year old because of my running,” he explained. “I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I say it to point a finger and say, ‘What is going on with the rest of the country? Why are we so out of shape?’ What I do is available to everyone.
“I’m determined to avoid heart disease and diabetes. Running keeps me fit and allows me to eat a lot of ice cream and other things I’m probably not supposed. Exercise training is a minor inconvenience to be healthy.”