Life is a marathon

Carter Oliver uses running as an escape


Carter Oliver works as the county director for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Harrison County, a position he has held for six years.

Before that, he did natural resource work with land management. Studying animal ecology and forestry at Iowa State, Oliver also has a master’s from Colorado State in natural resource stewardship.

Perhaps even greater than those accomplishments, though, is his completion of all six World Marathon Majors: Boston, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo.

“Growing up, our family was very active in sports,” Oliver said. “A lot of us today still do different athletic competitions. I suppose the traveling started because both of my parents enjoy traveling. We always did family vacations in different locations growing up.

“I really love adventures; going to new places, doing new things, experiencing new cultures. I really enjoy history, so I enjoy going somewhere memorable that I can learn about the history of the location. I kind of mixed running and athletics with adventure. I’ve been very fortunate that that combination has taken me all around the world.”

A Woodbine graduate and resident, Oliver’s first marathon came all the way back in 2012 in Kansas City, Mo. Continuing to run regional marathons in Sioux Falls, S.D., Madison, Wis., and Chicagoland outside of Chicago, Oliver finally put two specific goals to mind.

These goals went hand-in-hand: Run a marathon in under three hours and qualify for the Boston marathon.

“Boston is the only major marathon that requires a time certification to get into it,” Oliver said. “I knew if I reached one goal the other would be achieved, as well. Boston was my first major marathon that I did, which is pretty out of order for most people.”

The two other major marathons in the United States, Chicago and New York City, came shortly after Oliver's participation in Boston, as his initial goal branched out to completing the remainder of major marathons in the U.S.

Running in Chicago that same year, then New York City the next year, Oliver’s goal was officially achieved. Taking a few years off from marathons, another opportunity would come up for Oliver to face a difficult task and aim for another goal: running in the remaining majors around the world.

“I thought, ‘Well, I already have three of those done. What’s another three?’ The allure of traveling and adventure and seeing new places really motivated me to achieve that goal,” he said.

The first marathon Oliver tackled overseas was Berlin. The experience was made even more memorable by the fact that it was his first ever visit to Europe.

Progress was then slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Oliver was able to jump through all of the protocol hoops to run in London in 2021.

Most recently, Oliver achieved his goal of running in all six majors after traveling to Tokyo in March.

Often wrestling within himself about which marathon was his favorite, Oliver pointed to several positive factors for each one.

Boston has the historical aspect, he said, as it is the oldest and by far the most prestigious. It is also the most difficult to get into as it requires a time qualifier. The race itself is a smaller one compared to the others, as only 30,000 people are let in. Running through different neighborhoods before eventually getting into Boston, the run also has a different feel than some of the other, more city-oriented marathons.

Acknowledging his bias towards Chicago, as it’s the one he performed the best in, Oliver said he has a special place for it.

“New York City was really cool,” he continued. “Running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to start was pretty epic. You start on Staten Island and run across, so you go through the five boroughs. On the bridge is the first mile, so you feel great. The whole city is laid out in front of you, which is really cool seeing Manhattan, Statue of Liberty, different ferries on the water. That scene was just very iconic.

“I really, really enjoyed running through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It’s right before the finish, and that was a cool moment. Every (marathon) has its cool thing. In London you finish at Buckingham Palace and end at the national mall that they have there. In Tokyo you finish outside the Imperial Palace, so, again, just pretty epic locations for what you’re running through and what you’re achieving.”

Despite reaching incredible highs and accomplishing the major goals he set for himself, the desire for adventure and for new goals is still within Oliver.

As of now, there are a couple marathons around the world that are trying to become majors. Becoming one is a process, but when the current group of six likely grows in the future, Oliver would like to pursue the new locations.

Going through a marathon tour company for the international stops has allowed Oliver automatic entry into the races. Typically a lottery system is employed, and entrants have to get lucky and be drawn in order to participate. With popularity steadily increasing ever since the World Marathon Majors was created, Oliver decided to put the odds in his favor rather than cross his fingers and hope for the best.

Of course, Oliver must train and remain in tip-top shape to have any shot of completing the marathons at all.

“I live in Woodbine, I do a lot of my running around Woodbine,” he said. “Thankfully, people on the roads are very understanding and very courteous… I’ve had two extremely supportive parents, both that ran in high school, but really found running later. They really became successful and dedicated to the sport. They continue to run today, which is awesome, and they’re great role models. My father runs on the same roads that I do, so cars are used to seeing someone on the roads and exercising. I run in the morning and he runs at night, so it’s a little bit different time, but we’re fortunate to have cars that are willing to move over and slow down.”

For longer runs, Oliver will head to different parts of the state, or to the Omaha and Council Bluffs area. Running in all of the different weather conditions throughout the year, as a marathon buildup requires 16 weeks of training, he makes sure to get outside for a run nearly every day.

Getting up a little after 5 a.m. for his runs, Oliver noted that his entire run is in the dark now as the season begins to change.

“The countryside is beautiful at night, watching stars, seeing different things most people don’t experience,” he said. “But yeah, it’s early, and it comes every day and you just want to roll over. It takes a lot of internal pressure or motivation to get up and get out. I’m always happy that I do, it just takes a lot of effort. Especially if I’m not training for anything.”

Oliver has had the fortune of experiencing every start and finish line with his wife, Taylor, who he also showed gratitude toward for traveling with him, as well as the day-to-day work of getting the kids up while Oliver is up bright and early on one of his runs.

Most importantly for Oliver, the marathons he participates in allow him to get away for a little while. That is, when he doesn’t have something back home eating up his time.

“It’s an adventure,” he said. “It’s a getaway, and it is an escape. Sometimes you have to deal with things that come up back at home. For two of those international marathons I was doing online classes for my master’s, so I had to submit a couple homework assignments from overseas, which is not what you want to be doing when you’re traveling.”

Those adventures can be terrifying, though. Races like New York City have 50,000 people in them, and it’s easy to feel like the task is too large. Despite how daunting it seems, Oliver said if you visualize the goal and break it down, you can work towards it much easier.

“You just normalize what other people may think is crazy,” he said.

Despite all of the incredible pictures Oliver can paint when speaking about his marathon excursions, the most memorable one for him came before those ever took place.

In 2014, Oliver and his dad, Larry, rode their bicycles across the country. Starting in San Francisco, Cal., the duo ended nearly 4,000 miles later in Yorktown, Va.

“It was awesome,” Oliver said. “Give anything time and you see it with rose-colored glasses, but there were a lot of great days spent on the bike.”

With the marathons allowing a break from reality, the biking trip did even moreso. A five-to-eight day trip gives you a bit of that needed break, Oliver said, but a 51-day trip across the country gives you a lot of it.

Each day was enjoyable, as the only worries in the world were these four things: Wake up, ride to a specific town, find somewhere to eat and sleep and do it again the next day.

“That experience came before marathons, and I think that probably helped make the others feel less daunting,” Oliver said. “Once you travel across the country and spend that much time in different locations, it doesn’t feel as bad going to Tokyo where you don’t know the language.

“That was a really great experience. We had a lot of hard days, we had a lot of great days, traveled over multiple mountain ranges, and we were fortunate that our bikes and bodies held up. No moments that were too dangerous. That was a really iconic adventure. Marathons, you can do it over or do it again much easier than an adventure like that.”