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Real-life Forrest Gump: 77-year-old Runner Hits Cross-Country Midpoint in Kansas City ‘He’s a machine’

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Above image credit: Ultra distance running legend Stan Cottrell is midway through The Amazing Friendship Run. (Contributed | Amazing Friendship Run)
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5 minute read

On Saturday morning at 6:45 a.m., Stan Cottrell stepped out of his RV in Kansas City with about 1,500 miles down and 1,500 to go.

That’s on foot, by the way. He’s just sleeping in the RV.

Cottrell, a 77-year-old ultra-long distance runner, world record holder and the living, breathing inspiration for Forrest Gump’s fictional cross-county haul, just hit the halfway point of his Uniting America Amazing Friendship Run.

The unprecedented endurance effort in the name of goodwill will take Cottrell 3,126 miles across the United States, from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.

He’s currently on pace to run about 30 miles a day — more than a marathon — for 100 consecutive days.

“No one ever accused me of being smart,” Cottrell said, after sharing a story about the time he finished a 2,152-mile run across China, despite two broken vertebrae suffered when a portion of the Great Wall gave way.

At the time, there were 1,000 miles to go.

Gathered members of Kansas City’s 816 Run Club laughed in awe of the running relic, who stood arms folded, wide awake with an even wider smile — not to mention quite the sun tan in the center of a Westport parking lot huddle.

Stan Cottrell (left) is welcomed by members of the 816 Run Club.
Stan Cottrell (left) is welcomed by members of the 816 Run Club. (Clarence Dennis | Flatland)

Kansas City is like an old friend to Cottrell, who has passed through the city on his two previous efforts to cross the country.

Think that’s impressive? The Georgian owns the Guinness World Record for running across the U.S. in 48 days. He ran across Europe in 80 days. In all, Cottrell has racked up more than 266,000 miles in his career through 40 different countries.

The total distance spans more than 10 times around the Earth.

Life on the Run

Cottrell discovered his gift at a young age. When he missed the school bus, which he estimated to be an average of three out of the five weekday chances, he ran to school.

As a seven-year-old, Cottrell chased a wild rabbit for five hours before catching it with his bare hands. 

During his college days, when the longest NCAA race was two miles and ultra distance running was in its infancy, Cottrell would be frequently stopped by the police, suspicious of his hobby.

In 1964, Cottrell became the first Southerner to run the Boston Marathon. 

On the Move

Soon thereafter, he organized the first-ever Kentucky Marathon while on campus at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Cottrell took second place.

Cottrell’s life and running career, a virtually indistinguishable conjunction, can be summed up by one of his favorite principles — “discover what you do well and do more of it.”

He’s put the principle to practice to the point that a stationary life has become unimaginable. Even into his seventies, Cottrell doesn’t think ahead or look back during his 30-mile segments.

On day 51 of his latest trek across the country, Cottrell was pleased to be on “the downhill drag” toward the nation’s capital.

“It sounds cliche, but you do it one day at a time,” he said. “You just work through, I don’t think about tomorrow. I’m here today because I did 50 days correctly and have been able to work through 30 miles a day.”

‘He’s a Machine’

While he welcomes other runners to join him on the Amazing Friendship Run, Cottrell completes the majority of his miles solo.

He’s joined by a small crew, including Dr. Joe Ross, who serves as Cottrell’s physician during the run. In addition to enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime cross-country road trip, Dr. Ross is able to measure Cottrell’s vitals thanks to AmnioFit Remote Patient Monitoring wearable technology

Stan Cottrell met with members of the 816 Run Club before setting off for St. Louis.
Stan Cottrell met with members of the 816 Run Club before setting off for St. Louis. (Clarence Dennis | Flatland)

If Cottrell’s heart rate, stress levels or oxygen intake becomes abnormal, Dr. Ross will be notified immediately and put in contact with his patient.

Fortunately, aside from a few blisters during the run’s early phases and battling “microwave time” heat in Death Valley and Arizona, Cottrell’s fitness has been just fine.

“He’s amazing,” Dr. Ross said, eyeing Cottrell as he stretched gently across the parking lot.

“His blood pressure is so low, his pulse rate is so low, it hardly varies — even on mile 25. He’s a machine.”

Encouraging Hope

The physical and mental benefits of running are enough for Cottrell, who is taking on the 3,000-mile challenge to encourage donations to a handful of associated charities.

He says this run is as important as ever when it comes to spreading hope. More specifically, Cottrell’s run is designed to inspire a nation turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage America to “get moving, pull back the shades and say howdy to a neighbor.”

“I think that every person has a unique victory to give to the world and nobody else can give that victory alone but you,” Cottrell said. “We each have a different friendship, we each have a different gift of kindness, compassion, empathy — intangible things that pay a lifetime of rewards and dividends.”

With a proclamation from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in hand declaring June 26, 2021 “Stan Cottrell Amazing Friendship Run Day,” Cottrell had a final piece of advice before setting out with the group for a morning jog.

“Running sends a powerful message and you are a powerful messenger,” he said. “We are all ambassadors to the human race. Run your race well, run swiftly, run kindly.”

Click here to support The Amazing Friendship Run 2021 charities.

The Route

Route for The Amazing Friendship Run
(Contributed | The Amazing Friendship Run)

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