Still an ‘Ironman’: 94-year-old reflects on a life in athletics

Mount San Antonio Gardens resident Alan Carlisle, 94, has competed in 93 marathons and eight Ironman triathlons. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo |

Over the decades, Alan Carlisle has captured headlines as an older athlete who has competed in some of the most grueling high endurance races. Now 94, he has 93 marathons and eight Ironman triathlons under his belt, and he’s finally catching his breath at Mount San Antonio Gardens retirement community, where he lives with his wife of 55 years, Cherie, 91.

Carlisle has been an exceptional athlete all his life. A gifted swimmer, he won a state championship in the 200-yard freestyle relay for Florida’s St. Petersburg High School in 1947.

In the 1970s, Carlisle watched as American long-distance runner Frank Shorter took gold in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, then silver in the 1976 Montreal games. Shorter’s success helped launch a national long-distance running craze, and Carlisle was among those swept up in it.

Soon he became a well-known figure in the marathon circuit, competing across the U.S., the Netherlands, Italy, and other locales, and being featured in print publications from the Claremont Courier to the Chicago Tribune, and on ABC Channel 7 television in his home state of New York.

He was intrigued by the first Ironman triathlon, held in Hawaii in 1978. The race consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon run. Carlisle competed in his first Ironman-style event the following year in Newport Beach, which included a ½ mile swim along the beach’s Back Bay, a 12-mile bike segment around the Fashion Island shopping center, and a 5K run through Newport Bay.

“I was an immediate star because, first of all, everybody else was 20 years old,” Carlisle said. “The girls and the boys were all 20 years old and here’s this 50-year-old, going to do this race. And since I was a swimmer and swimming is first, I would get out of the pack in the middle.”

The participants ages were written on the back of their calves, so Carlisle knew the youngsters behind him were shocked to be trailing a man more than double their ages.

Mount San Antonio Gardens resident Alan Carlisle, 94, seen Monday with his red standard poodle, Braxton. After competing in 93 marathons and eight Ironman triathlons Carlisle is finally catching his breath at the Pomona-based retirement community. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“I did the Ironman in Hawaii shortly thereafter and I’ve done four regular Ironmen around the [nation],” he said. Numerous triathlons around the world followed.

After decades of racing, Carlisle has some great stories to tell. He recalled running through the boroughs of New York; toward the rising sun in New Zealand; conquering the hills of San Francisco; and competing in the ancient city of Venice, Italy.

After carrying the Olympic torch through the Bay Area prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he thanked the Secret Service officer that had been shadowing him. But the agent told Carlisle he was there to protect the torch, not him.

Of course, but for an elite few, running marathons and competing in ironman competitions are impractical ways to make a living. Carlisle’s non-athletic journey has also been interesting.

After graduating high school in 1947, Carlisle enrolled at Colorado School of Mines but left during his second year to work as a geodetic engineer. He and others mapped the geography of Costa Rica and Columbia for a year to get a better sense of Central and South America. Their efforts were later rendered obsolete when NASA launched the Explorer 1 satellite in 1958.

After finishing his education in Colorado he served in the Korean War with the Army Corps of Engineers, reaching the rank of first lieutenant. After his service, he landed a job at Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana.

Carlisle met Cherie — who was literally the girl next door — when he was 35. The couple were married at New York City Hall.

In 1968 he earned a master’s in business administration from California State University, Fullerton. He followed that up at 50 with a law degree from Western State College of Law in Irvine. Carlisle subsequently practiced family and divorce law for 35 years. He’s no longer an associate at Rancho Cucamonga’s All American Law, but is still listed as “of counsel” on its website.

Nowadays, Carlisle can be seen walking around the Mt. San Antonio Gardens campus or traversing Bonita Avenue in his power chair to walk the couple’s red standard poodle, Braxton.

For decades, Carlisle ran enough marathons so that the running total, pardon the pun, outpaced his age. “I wanted to always stay ahead,” he said. He ran his last — the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon, his 93rd — when he was 85. Just last year his longevity finally outpaced his marathon total.


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