Here at 406running.com our overall mission is to promote and highlight our thriving Montana running community. One way we hope to do this is by periodically interviewing notable Montana Runners so that our readers can see what other folks in their community are up to. We plan to spotlight runners of all different backgrounds and skill levels to give a true cross section of the 406running community.
To kick off our 406runner interview series, we caught up with Tony Banovich, a true Montana Runner who has been deeply involved in the Montana running scene for many years. Although Tony has logged miles all over the Treasure State, he currently lives in Plains, Montana. Tony is the head coach of the Plains Cross Country Program and is also the most recent inductee to the Montana Cup Hall of Fame.
406Running: First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with us Tony. Could you start by stating your age and how long you have been running?
Tony: 49 years old. Will turn 50 – new age group!! – this coming September. I started running my fresman year in high school (XC) in 1976. It was in the spring of 1979 (junior year track season) that I decided to get serious and train year round. So, spring of 1979 is when I really consider my running career to have gotten started – that will make it 33 years this March.
406Running: What initially got you interested in the sport?
Tony: I was a baseball player growing up – and I really loved it. But, as I got into high school, my size (I was 5′ 3″, 105 lbs my sophomore year) just didn’t really allow me to go to the next level on the diamond. Growing up in Butte, I can remember seeing the Butte Central guys running around town. They won XC titles in 1970, 71 and 72. I remember thinking that maybe I could do that. Then, once I got into the sport, I just kind of got consumed by it. I’ve become a fan of the sport as much as a competitor.
406Running: Could you share some career highlights for our readers?
Tony: Wow – there’s so many highlights. I’ll talk about some of my race highlights below – so, let me touch on some of the great memories I’ve accumulated.
I’ve been able to run all around the US and the World. Running on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. Running on an old fort in Old Town San Juan, Puerto Rico. Amazing trail runs in Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth Mountains. Running with a young native boy in Arusha, Tanzania. Hitting some of the classic trails in running hot beds like Boulder and Portland. Racing on the Hayward Field Track in Eugene. There are just a lifetime of memorable runs that I can always treasure.
And, this sport has brought me so many friends. Folks like Jeff Thomas (since 1978), Dave Coppock (since 1982), Pat Judge, Alan King, Kelly Fulton, Sam Hartpence, Ray and Nicole Hunt, Kirk Keller, Thomas Jodoin, Anders Brooker and Karen Sanford Gall. And there are so many others that I have met and whose company I have enjoyed. The community of runners is such an amazing, embracing group. It’s been a blessing and an honor to be involved with all of these folks.
406Running: I know you have a long and successful career with many great races. Could you share some highlights with our readers?
Tony: I’ve been very fortunate to have had some success in the sport; and, with that has come some great memories. Among the top highlights would be being the only male to have won all 5 events in the Governor’s Cup Series (5K, 10K, 20K, Marathon, Marathon Relay). Winning the Veterans Day race in 3 separate decades (80’s, 90’s, 2000’s)(a feat that Pat Judge also accomplished this past year). Being the 1st American and running sub-2:30 (2:28:55) at the Cleveland Marathon in 2001 (PR @ 38-years old). Finishing in 6th place in the Master’s category at the 2004 Boston Marathon and being called onto the awards stage to accept a leaded crystal trophy. Winning the 2000 Montana Cup.
406Running: Here at 406running.com we are interested in highlighting the running community across the entire state, as someone who has lived and ran in many parts of this state over the years, what characteristics would you draw from the overall Montana running scene?
Tony: Montanan’s are a commited group of competitive athletes. We aren’t like the east coast where you have a race in your back yard every weekend. We travel for 2 or 3 hours at a time just to hit a favorite 5K. Or 5 hours to do a 10K. That takes a lot of committment and passion.
And, as I noted above, the MT running community is incredibly close knit and supportive. There’s an incredible comraderie amongst the Montana runners. Almost a “One For All And All For One” type of mentality. As I’ve already mentioned, most of my closest friends are folks who I have met during my running career.
And, many of these runners are in it for the long haul. Many of the people that I met when I moved to Billings in 1991 (22 years ago) are still involved with the sport. What a great thing. As the USATF slogan used to say, it truly is a sport for life – and, Montana runners embrace it as just such a life long passion.
406Running: What has changed in this community since you first became involved over 30 years ago?
Tony: Probably the biggest thing that I have seen (and this is pretty much the case across the country) is the change from more of a competitive focus to a recreational/healthy lifestyle focus. In the early 80’s, every race was incredibly fast and incredibly deep. But, the overall fields were much smaller. Today, there are many more people involved in the sport; and, many of them are into the sport from a health, fitness and/or social basis.
And, I think the fitness and social focus is great. The more people engaging in a healthy, active lifestyle, the better. Especially with so many of today’s healthcare problems that have been the result of sedentary lifestyles.
At the same time, I wish that more of the fitness runners would truly get engaged as fans of the sport. Our sport on the front end is suffering; and, if we could get more people involved as fans, I think it would help.
406Running: What has stayed the same?
Tony: The great people and the great events.
406Running: We mentioned earlier in the intro that you were inducted into the Montana Cup Hall of Fame this year. How does it feel to be acknowledged for your investment in the Montana Running Community?
Tony: It’s an incredible honor. I feel so lucky to be recognized for being involved in an event and a sport that I feel so passionately about.
406Running: We understand you have been Coaching Cross Country at Plains High School for 3 yrs. now. What is it like to share this sport with the youth in you area?
Tony: It’s been a blast. Initially, I got involved just to make sure that the program was kept alive (which was started by Tim Brooker – now of the Runner’s Edge in Missoula). And, I figured I had gained enough training knowledge over the years to not screw up too bad. What has been most suprising to me was how invested I’ve become with the young men and women. It’s been a truly two-way street. I think that I’ve imparted some knowledge to the kids; and, in turn, they’ve helped keep me young and energized.
The other thing I’ve been involved in over the last 6 or 7 years is race announcing at events like the Montana Mile, Montana Women’s Run, Montana Marathon, Missoula Marathon, Missoula Mile and Wulfman Trail Race. It’s a whole new way to allow me to stay connected to the running scene and be right in the middle of some exciting racing.
406Running: You are currently suffering from a running related injury in your foot. It has kept you from running for 6 weeks now. What have you done to stay positive and fit during the recovery process?
Tony: You know, I just love to stay active. And, I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s just a part of my day. So, I’ve been hitting the gym and getting in about an hour or so a day of workout involving a combination of dynamic flexibility, core & strenghth work, and cardiovascular work on the stationary bike. Hopefully I’ll come out of this reasonably fit and ready to go when I’m allowed to be back to running.
I think the key is to stay positive, stay active and do as much as you can to retain your overall fitness. Of course, it would be even better to have taken better care of it when the pain first started to present itself – but, hey, nobody ever said that runners get smarter as they get older.
406Running: With all of your experience in this state, do you have a favorite Montana run or race?
Tony: Again, there have been so many. But, my top 5 (in no particular order) are: The Veteran’s Day Race in my hometown of Butte. The Montana Cup. The Lake Fork to West Fork Trail in the Beartooth Mountains. The River Trail outside of Paradise, MT. And, even though I’ve never competed (have always worked it) – the Missoula Marathon (probably more “energy” than any other event in the state).
406Running: Finally, do you have a favorite pre race meal? Post Race?
Tony: I’m old school-for pre-race, give me some basic pasta with marinara sauce and some goog bread. Post race-beer and pizza (aka “The recovery food of champions” :-))
Thanks again Tony for catching up with 406running.com. We wish you a happy and healthy year of running in 2012!
Tony Banovich lives in Plains, MT with his wife (of 26 years) Erin (and her 4 cats, 1 dog and 1 horse). They have a daugher Zoe (freshman at Montana State Bozeman and a son and daughter-in-law (Nick and Katie)(Nick is in graduate school at University of Chicago). You can follow Tony and his running at bigskymiles.blogspot.com which is listed in the 406running.com “Blogs” section.