Wolfeboro resident and former Brewster Academy Headmaster, Michael Cooper, traveled to Washington, D.C., to run his first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, and finished with a time of 5:49:08. (Courtesy photo)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michael Cooper runs on an old railroad bed that’s been converted into a trail for walking, running, biking, and cross country skiing. It runs by a lake and through the woods. While running, Cooper will sometimes sing in his head to pass the time, or he will put on a Pandora station and get lost in the music. For Cooper, running is a really good time to clear his head.
Cooper’s passion for running began about three years ago. He wanted to work out more, stay in shape, and wanted something with a goal at the end. His daughter, Allie Cooper, saw that a half marathon was coming up, and thought they should run it together. It was a great experience for Cooper and he has been running ever since.
Now 65, Cooper laced up his gently used gray and black Asics Gel sneakers on Oct. 22 as he took on his first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon.
“I’ll give a marathon a try and see how it goes, since I’ve never done one,” Cooper said. “So I’ll at least try it once and see what happens.”
Cooper found the Marine Corps Marathon online, when doing research, after deciding he wanted to run a marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon has a lottery, and he applied for a slot and was selected.
He trained for the marathon since the beginning of June, using a training schedule he found online. Cooper ran between 30 and 35 miles a week, and ran outside as much as he could, as long as the surface was clear and safe. For many years he ran on and off, going through spurts to try and stay in shape.
“I’ve never been in this good of shape as I am right now," he said. "I’ve always skated and done different activities like that, but this is the most serious I have been with exercising."
In preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon, Cooper ran the Mohawk Hudson half marathon in Albany, New York Oct. 8. He said he picked this half marathon because he has family in the area and it is a relatively flat and picturesque run. He placed third in his division, men 65-69, with a time of 2:09:54.
After finishing the Marine Corps Marathon, Cooper said that mentally and physically he was prepared to run, but he didn’t realize how much of an emotional impact the race was going to have on him.
“While I knew the race, by being sponsored by the Marine Corps, was going to have an honorific component to it, I wasn't fully prepared for just how much, especially in the section of the course called the "blue mile." It's a mile long honoring those who made the supreme sacrifice. Lining both sides of the course are placards with the pictures and names of those killed in action, followed by a gauntlet of U.S. flags held by veterans and family members,” Cooper said. “It was overwhelming to be part of the race during that section, not that the rest of the course wasn't special. It's a piece of the race I'll carry forever.”
Cooper lives in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and is a recently retired Brewster Academy headmaster. He now does part time consulting for the school, but has a lot more free time to spend outdoors and running. He started running while still the headmaster at Brewster, and his colleague, Kristy Kerin, noticed changes in him once he became more committed to running. Kerin said that at meetings he would frequently talk about running, and try and encourage others to get into it.
Not only was Kerin a colleague of Cooper's, but early on in his running career she was also his running partner. They would run together when they traveled for work. As Cooper got in shape, Kerin wasn’t able to continue as his partner.
“I’m not a running partner anymore because he’s too good for me,” Kerin said.
Cooper watches what he eats, and tracks his runs with his black Garmin watch and the map my run app on his phone. He also monitors his heart rate when running.
“He’s conscious that he had borderline diabetes and I think this is also probably what shifted his journey onto running and healthy eating. You know he’s 65 years old and he’s had no blood pressure medication, no nothing. He’s completely healthy and I think that’s really due to the fact that he’s a runner and he does pay attention to what he eats,” his daughter said.
He has immersed himself in a healthy lifestyle, and always knows about the newest fitness trends. When Allie Cooper needs a new kettle bell exercise, she goes to her dad for a suggestion.
As passionate as Cooper is about running, he isn’t in it to compete with others. He does it for himself.
“He’s intrinsically motivated," said his daughter. "He’s not like 'I have to beat somebody' or 'I have to do something better than somebody else.' He just gets personal pleasure out of it."
Allie Cooper thinks her dad will be a lifelong runner but she wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a one-and-done marathon runner, which she says is common.
This year marked the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon nicknamed “the people’s marathon,” because it is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money. The marathon began at 7:55 a.m. in Arlington, Virginia, between the Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. All runners had to finish the marathon in 6 hours and 55 minutes or less. The fastest man to run the Marine Corps Marathon was Jeff Scuffins in 1987 with a time of 2:14:01.
By Elizabeth Glover, Meredith native and student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.