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Carling keeps moving ahead

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The amazing thing about Richard Carling's marathon-racing career isn't that, at age 63, he's in better shape than when he was in his 30s. Neither is it that he has run 95 marathons, and expects next year's Deseret News race to be his 100th.

It isn't even that he ran a number of those races with someone who should have been his avowed enemy, former Salt Lake mayor Ted Wilson.

It's that he's never been hurt bad enough to miss either the start or finish.

One would think that somewhere amid all those miles — 79,191 counting training runs — he would pull up lame. (Quick aside: Does he get Delta points for those miles?) There were a few minor injuries, including the year he took a cortisone shot in order to get to the start line. Once in the Honolulu Marathon he got tripped at the 16-mile mark and crossed the finish line bleeding profusely from the shoulder and head, requiring 14 stitches above the eye. He looked like an extra from a Tarantino movie.

But not once did he quit a marathon. The score is Carling 95, The Wall 0. He has sustained remarkably little wear and tear. No hip surgeries, back troubles, ankle replacements or arthrscopies. Just announce you're having a marathon and you'll have his undivided attention.

"I keep doing this because it makes me feel so good," he says.

Carling will rack up his 96th marathon this week at the annual Deseret News race. Then it's on to Honolulu, St. George and Boston, which will bring him to next summer, when he runs historic No. 100 in Salt Lake.

"Then," says Carling, "I'll start on my second 100."

Carling's conversion to born-again road racer is a typical story. At age 39, serving in the Utah State senate as a Republican, he felt chest pains and thought he was having a heart attack. When checked by doctors, he discovered it was only stress. Still, doctors advised him to find a way to reduce it. So he and Wilson, a strong Democrat, began running, first at the old Deseret Gym, then outside.

The first competitive race they endured was the Ensign Challenge, in September of 1977. The course covered City Creek, Ensign Peak, Gravity Hill and Memory Grove.

"I beat him," says Carling.

A competitive runner was born.

He ran his first marathon the next year in the Golden Spike race, placing high in his age division. That quickly became routine. That same year he ran a 2:52 in St. George and a 2:59 in Honolulu. He finished second in his division in the St. George race in 1982, with a 2:33:21 time.

Carling has run 23 straight Boston, Deseret News and St. George marathons and 21 Honolulu marathons. Toss in a handful of others, such as the Las Vegas Marathon, and you have 95 consecutive finishes, no drop-outs.

That doesn't mean he hasn't seen his share of obstacles. One year he, Wilson and Wilson's son decided they could outsmart the competition in the Deseret News Marathon. At that time the race started at Little Mountain, which required participants to rise in the wee hours just to get to the start line on time. But Carling and the Wilsons thought that by camping overnight at nearby Big Mountain, they wouldn't have to rise so early to get to the race start.

Bad idea. They had planned to sleep until the cows came home and, well, the cows already were home. Grazing cattle roamed their campsite, keeping them awake all night.

An attorney who spent 23 years in the Utah State legislature, Carling has remained close friends with Wilson throughout. He chaired committees on higher education and business and labor, and was a member of committees on transportation and public safety, business, labor and economic development and judiciary and state and local affairs.

He is currently vice-chair of the SLOC Ethics Committee. But among his highest profile positions was that of co-chair of the Alcohol Beverage Review Task Force.

His long political career brings up an obvious comparison: Which is tougher, politics or running 26 miles?

"Marathons are a lot more fun," he says.

And you don't get as bloody.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com