Eighty-five-year-old Frank Dearn is a former lawyer with remarkable endurance. He has held practising certificates in both law and accounting for more than 50 years, and in 2018 he became the third-oldest Australian to complete a marathon.
At 85 years old, very few retired lawyers are still running pre-dawn shuttles and doing speed training in the park. But Frank Dearn is no run-of-the-mill retiree. The former lawyer and life member of the Law Society of NSW ran his first marathon when he was 65 years old, just as most runners consider hanging up their running shoes. And after turning 85 earlier this year, he ran the Sri Chinmoy Marathon in June, earning the title of the third-eldest Australian to complete the 42.4km marathon distance in a race situation.
“How’d I go? Well, that doesn’t really matter so much to me, because the main thing is that I finished it,” says Dearn.
The Sri Chinmoy marathon was staged at the Campbelltown Athletics Centre as part of a “24 Hours on Track” running festival over the first weekend in June. It meant that Dearn had to lap the 400m synthetic athletics track a gruelling 105.5 times to cover the 42.4km distance. In the company of his two friends and running trainers Belinda and Glenn Lockwood, Dearn crossed the finish line in eight hours and 43 minutes.
“As a result, I’ve been told I’m now the third-oldest Australian to have completed a marathon,” laughs Dearn. “That seems to have aroused some interest.”
Interest is probably an understatement. Dearn has been featured in Runner’s World and The Weekend Australian, and enjoys semi-celebrity status as the oldest active member of his social running club, the Sydney Striders. He’s known in the group for his chirpy attitude and legs of steel that have carried him through twice-weekly training sessions since he joined the group in the 1980s. When I meet Dearn for a coffee on a Tuesday morning (specifically a “very weak cappuccino” – he clearly has all the energy he needs) he’s already been up since 5.30am training in the park with the Striders.
“I do all the same stuff, but I can’t keep up with them,” admits Dearn. “They don’t mind, though. I’ll run across the oval in my own time. Then on Thursday nights I do ‘Tough Thursdays’ down at the Little Athletics Field in Chatswood. It keeps me hopping.”
Dearn can’t recall the exact number of marathons he has run in his lifetime but thinks it’s “about 20 odd”. He has also completed three ultramarathons – gruelling endurance races that often wind through mountainous bush tracks for 100km or more.
In 2003, at 70 years old, Dearn finished the 45km “Six Foot Track” ultramarathon that climbs through the Blue Mountains from Katoomba down to Jenolan Caves. This highlight earned him the most prized accolade of the Sydney Striders’ annual presentation evening – the Maria Gemenis Cruikshank Award for Outstanding Achievement, named after a marathon runner who was one of the Striders’ most eminent members in the 1980s.
Dearn recalls being “quite sporty” as a young man and competing in athletics, cricket and rugby union as a high school student at Waverley College in Sydney. But he says he wasn’t born to run. He only took it up in his late 30s when a doctor recommended it.
“I had a legal practice out at Burwood and I used to get very sleepy at lunch time,” says Frank. “It’s a darn nuisance when you get tired like that. So, I went to a physical assessment laboratory down at Camperdown, and the bloke said to me, ‘Listen, Frank, you’ve got to start doing a bit more. You’ve got to start walking or running.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve seen a running club called the Sydney Striders running around Lindfield, and that might be the best option for me. I’m better being in with a good crowd.’ So I decided to join them, and running made such a big difference.”
Dearn says his energy levels skyrocketed when he began training with the Sydney Striders. So much so that he decided to study a Bachelor of Economics at Macquarie University, and became qualified as a Chartered Practising Accountant as well as a lawyer. He has since clocked impressive milestones in both professions – more than 50 years of membership with the Law Society as well as 50 years of membership with Chartered Practising Accountants (CPA) Australia. He has also been a member of Rotary for 50 years, but says his biggest claim to fame is 50 years of marriage to his wife, Judy, which the pair celebrated with their four children and eight grandchildren in June.
“I still had my practising certificate up until a few years ago,” says Dearn. “I would have kept practising, but my wife didn’t think I should. You’ve got to keep the wife happy, you see. Happy wife, happy life.”
As he approaches his 86th birthday in April, Dearn shows no sign of running out of steam. He still joins the Striders for 10km runs on the first weekend of each month, and takes regular Body Balance classes at Fitness First. He also recently hired a personal trainer to help strengthen his upper body with weight training.
Dearn assures me he doesn’t take any special supplements or adhere to a specific diet – just a bowl of porridge each morning, and “occasionally some raisin toast or an egg”. He notes that his mother – a World War One nurse who treated troops near Gallipoli – lived to age 99. So, perhaps longevity runs in the genes. But Dearn’s membership with the Striders has certainly played a part.
“I think you have to get in a running club,” says Dearn. “Because you meet people, you make friends, you get fit and healthy.
“My energy levels went up dramatically when I started running. And I’m still feeling pretty good.”