Every five years, Joe Burgasser heads to Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Twin Cities Marathon, site of the Masters Marathon Championships for U.S. Track and Field. The national sanctioning body divided runners into five-year age groups, i.e., 40 to 44, 45 to 49, etc.
"I've been every five years since I turned 50," said Burgasser, now 70, and freshly retuned from yet another Twin Cities victory. "And every five years since then, I have won the national championship."
Burgasser's not bragging. He is merely stating a fact.
"In all honesty, I couldn't really tell you how many marathons I have run," said the coach of the Forerunners Track Club. "But that is not really important. The question is how many fast marathons have I run."
From Cincy to St. Pete
Burgasser spent his early years in Ohio but fell in love with California at an early age.
"My grandfather worked for the railroad, and every summer we would hop on a train and go to Los Angeles," he said.
After high school, Burgasser grabbed his gramps, hopped in his '51 Ford convertible and drove to the South Bay of L.A.
"I was surfing back before there were surfers," he said. "In California, back in those days, people were running, too."
Burgasser had never entered a running race before his first marathon in 1971.
"The furthest I had ever run was 4 miles, so when I got off of work Friday afternoon, I went right to the track thinking that I had better practice," he said. "I got up the next morning and ran the marathon. I didn't know better … nobody did."
A reluctant coach
Burgasser, an engineering instructor by trade, moved to south St. Petersburg in 1980 to be closer to his folks.
He kept running races, everything from 5Ks to marathons.
"There are people out there who have run 500 to 600 marathons," he said. "But I only keep track of the fast ones."
When pressed, Burgasser can come up with numbers.
"It is kind of scary … well at least to me," he said. "But I have run under three hours 83 times over the years."
Most people would just like to finish a marathon. Many are happy just to break four hours. But running a sub-three-hour marathon? Now that is something to brag about.
"Runners always do better when they train together," Burgasser said. "So I had a lot of training partners, and others ask me for advice. Somebody suggested that I put on a clinic. So I did, for free, and that is how this all got started."
Word spread quickly about Burgasser's free running clinic.
In September 1982, Burgasser decided to make it formal. Since he was on the forefront of the local running scene, he decided to call the new club "the Forerunners."
The clinic that started with 18 people quickly blossomed to a club with more than 100. Once a week, Burgasser's group would meet on a local track. Members ranged from beginners just hoping to jog a mile to seasoned athletes hoping to shave seconds off their personal records.
"The key is consistency," he said. "If you keep running with people that are faster than you, sooner or later, you will get faster, too."
Burgasser eventually was able to leave his job as an instructor at St. Petersburg Vo Tech and focus full time on his coaching.
He charges $35 a month, but added, "I'm not getting rich … when I'm not actually coaching, I am on the phone or answering e-mails. This is a full-time job."
Burgasser's Forerunners welcome athletes of all ages, experience and level of fitness. And he is always willing to offer free advice to anybody in need.
"The trick is to establish a pattern … make exercise as routine as going to work or brushing your teeth," he said. "The first step is getting out the door. I don't care if it is just for a walk. Do it again and again, day after day. Each time you go a little faster. Before you know it, that fast walk will turn into a run."
Forerunners Florida Track Club conducts group workouts and runs of varying distances Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. All workouts are open to area and visiting runners. For information, contact Burgasser at firstname.lastname@example.org.