OREM For John Bozung, turning 52 was the perfect excuse to set a new goal 52 marathons in 52 weeks.
The long-distance runner from Orem doesn't see his goal as anything out of the ordinary. After all, the marathoner has already run the 26.2-mile distance 200 times, on all seven continents and in all 50 states.
"Not all the marathons are fun," he said. "But the people and the places are."
Bozung has run alongside penguins in Antarctica, up the Himalayan mountains and finished a run in the original Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece. In fact, Bozung's only marathon win was at 21,000 feet in the Himalayas, at 4 hours, 25 minutes. Bozung planned it so he could finish his 200th marathon among friends, at the Deseret Morning News Marathon in July.
Bozung, who is single, is also recognized as the second person ever to run a marathon on all seven continents. (A Japanese runner beat him by six weeks to be the first after learning of his goal.)
Although Bozung has logged thousands of miles, he wasn't always so gung-ho about the long-distance race.
Bozung, who grew up in California running on the beach, gave up cross country and track after high school, but was dragged back into the sport by a brother-in-law who challenged him to a 10K race over the Fourth of July weekend in 1985. He finished in 58 minutes, beating his brother-in-law. But he was so sore he couldn't walk for two days, and swore he'd never run again.
Now, 200 marathons later, "so much for promises," he says with a laugh.
His initial goal was much smaller targeting all the big races in one year: Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, New York, St. George. As he worked into a conditioning routine, he said he realized running wasn't so bad.
"All of a sudden, I'm doing one a month," he said. "And hey, this is getting easier."
At the top of his game, Bozung was clocking in around 3 hours, 2 minutes, which translates to about a seven-minute-mile pace.
However, these days Bozung isn't so worried about his time.
"It's a lot more fun for me right now to help somebody that's struggling, than just to finish another marathon," he said. Now when he runs, he looks for those that are struggling or sick and encourages them to finish the race, then gets them the help they need. He frequently advises other runners to get IV fluids treatments after races. He would know, he's had almost 30 of them himself.
"After a race, there's nothing quicker to getting you back than having someone stick a needle in your arm and top you off," he said. Bozung has frequently benefitted from the saline injection that helps restore electrolytes and water. His worst race and first "Did Not Finish" event found him on a table at 44.5 miles into a 50-mile race, hooked to an IV, trying to become normal again.
"I don't care how good the rest of your body feels, when your stomach goes south on you, you can't do crap," he said.
So Bozung has learned what he needs to eat before and during a race to keep himself performing at a top-notch level. About three days before a race he starts loading up on carbohydrates and liquids, then gets up two hours before the race to prepare.
He rotates through a handful of shoes, but usually uses each pair for about a year. After all, he's only averaging 26 miles a week. He doesn't train during the week, just hits the road for his weekend competitions.
As he travels, Bozung meets and makes friends with runners all over the country. He first ran into Clay Shaw, a longtime marathoner from York, Pa., in a race in the Arctic in 1996, where the two led the race for the first 18 miles.
Although Shaw has done more than 140 marathons himself, he said he is impressed by Bozung's goals and intense running schedule.
"I don't think I could hold up doing that," he said. "But it's something that he wanted to do. I give him all the credit for accomplishing that."
When Bozung's not running, he's busy planning his own races. The Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run in the mountains above Provo is now the sixth-largest 50-miler in the country, and one of the most successful with a 92 percent finish rate, Bozung said. He's been working on it for six years and is pleased with how many people are interested. Last year's race filled up four months before the big day.
"He's a great ambassador for the sport," said Hawk Harper, owner of Runner's Corner. Harper has known Bozung for almost 15 years, and said his example is incredible. "He's an extremely nice guy. He's really driven to (run), that's his thing."
Whether Bozung is running a formal race or running his own race, his weeks are full of travel plans and sponsorship talks enough to keep him busy. And thank heavens his job is so flexible, he says. He works for Advanced Window Products in Salt Lake City and said he appreciates their accommodating attitude."They give me the time off that I need," he said. "It's nice to have a job where you can schedule work around vacation, not vacation around work. I like that."
E-mail: [email protected]