Relentless runner: Burt Carlson’s epic journey began at middle age

Burt 2015 pic 1May means many things to Minnesotans.

It’s the unofficial start of summer, which means it’s time to head up nort’ to kick off cabin season. It means it’s time to break oouut the booats on any of our beautiful 10,000 lakes (actually 11,842, but who’s counting?). It means ballgames, BBQs, lawn chairs and leisure activities.

But, for the state’s most active folks – those who may be working toward being the best at exercise – May also means the unofficial start of the long distance running season in our hometowns.

For 90-year-old Burt Carlson, a life-long Mound, Minn. resident, that means putting the rubber to the road once again.

Carlson is an unsung hero in several racing circles. He’s not the bragging type, though his running resume’ boasts an obscene 324 marathons and ultramarathons (more running than Forrest Gump ever could have dreamed). That’s not to mention (but we will anyway) hundreds upon hundreds of other 5K, 10K, and half marathons.

“I found myself suddenly single and somewhat lonely at the age of 57. Running seemed like a good way to stay in shape as well as to meet people.”

These numbers are even more eye-popping when you realize Burt didn’t even start running until he was 57 years old. In order to reach his lofty marathon totals, Carlson ran an average of 10 per year over the last 33 years. I spoke with him this week, as he was preparing for the annual ‘Get in Gear’ series of races in Minneapolis. “I found myself suddenly single and somewhat lonely at the age of 57. Running seemed like a good way to stay in shape as well as to meet people,” said Carlson. “Little did I know running would allow me to make lifelong friends in all 50 states since then.”

Not only has Carlson completed marathons in all 50 states – he’s also competed in nine different countries. Much more than the man from just west of Minnetonka ever could have imagined. “It started as a hobby and quickly became a passion – a way of life,” he said. “Before I knew it, running had taken me all around the world and taught me more about myself than I’d have ever thought I could learn.”

Carlson says his “best” days were about 10-15 years ago – when he would run 15-20 long distance events each year. Among his favorites, Grandma’s Marathon, which he has run 26 times in Duluth. But, no matter the race name or which zip code it is in – Burt says it’s no surprise that his dogged determination to keep on competing is just as strong as the perpetual support he gets from friends and loved ones: “Every time I step out on the pavement, I feel like I’m partially fueled by the spirit of the community behind me,” Carlson said. “Even though I’m often the only one in my age group anymore, I still have the will to finish for myself and everyone else.”

“Every time I get to the starting line – I think of all the images you see on TV of the less fortunate athletes who do more.”

Burt 2015 pic 2

One of the interesting things about Carlson, beyond the staggering number of marathons he’s run, is that his persistence to compete actually seems to increase as he ages. His spirit to sprint serves as inspiration to athletes of all age groups and backgrounds. “Every time I get to the starting line – I think of all the images you see on TV of the less fortunate athletes who do more. The paraplegic and amputee veterans who are running races with prosthetic limbs after coming home from war,” he said. “I just saw a blind skier training for the Paralympics. Those are the people who inspire me.”

Like thousands of other runners, fans, supporters and people inspired by Burt – we also plan to follow him as he proceeds to pursue his passion in 2016. Check back with RealStoriesMN in the coming months, as we document Carlson’s progress. As long as he’s conquering competitions and marking down more miles – we won’t be too far behind.

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