Friday, December 31, 2021

The Road to Houston - A Look Back: Rich Cooper and the 1997 Houston Marathon

By Rich Cooper

It’s hard to believe this year will be the 22nd time I have participated in Houston Marathon weekend. 

Some of the most memorable marathons - early in my adult running career - were completed at the Houston Marathon.  

My first Houston Marathon was in 1997. The lead sponsor at the time was Houston Methodist Hospital. I was two years into my rejuvenated running career. 

During that time, I had started running again as a way to get back in shape. 

Running changed my life as I was able to lose 60 pounds and quit smoking. 

In my younger years, I had run three marathons and come close to qualifying for Boston, but college and a new career took me away from running which brought on the unhealthy lifestyle I was living.  

So, at the suggestion of my personal trainer, I started running again. 

At the time though, I had never dreamed of running another marathon. Then a friend of mine suggested I check out Houston Fit with the eventual intention of maybe running the Houston Marathon. 

In July of 1996, I took that leap of faith -- along with 1,500 of my closest running buddies -- and started training for the Houston Marathon.  

As training progressed, my confidence grew and in October, I took the plunge and entered. 

Rich finishing up his last Chevron Houston Marathon in 2014.
(Photo courtesy of Bill Dwyer)

Houston Fit was the perfect program for my training as it slowly prepared me for what lay ahead. 

Little did I know it would one of my most memorable running experiences in my lifetime.  

In 1997, the Houston Marathon was the only marathon in town.  And there was no half marathon, as that wouldn't come until 2001 when Compaq became the sponsor.

Leading up to race day, there were only 7,000 people entered.  

As we all do leading up to our races, I kept a close eye on the weather. The forecast did not look good, but I decided I was going to do it regardless of what it would turn out to be. 

The forecast called for a cold front to come through which would include temperatures in the low thirties, wind gusts up to 25 mph and rain. 

My friends all told me I was crazy and that there was no way I was going to finish. 

I wanted to prove them wrong.  

Race Day  

The weather was bad! 

I arrived at the George R, Brown Convention Center by 6 a.m., and by then the cold weather had arrived and the winds were gusting. 

I mentally prepared myself for what was ahead. 

When I stepped out to head to the starting line, I remember looking up and seeing the flags blowing like crazy -- along with sideways rain! 

My first thought upon seeing that was “What the hell am I doing?!”  

At the start line all of us were going nuts and I remember looking around and thinking, "There are not 7,000 people here."  (I later found out the final number was below 5,000). 

The gun went off and we shuffled north into the wind and the rain and onto the Elysian Viaduct. 

It was crazy because ice was already beginning to form so everybody was running really slow.  

Little did I know at the time, the temperatures were in the high twenties with a wind chill of single digits. 

Rich in the half marathon (2020) that made him a double Veteran at Houston.
(Photo courtesy of Bill Dwyer)

As we progressed along the course, the wind and rain never did let up. 

There were very few spectators on the course. 

I never really get cold simply because I had followed the guidance from Houston Fit to layer my clothing.  

The finish was really uneventful as the weather was still terrible so the spectators were not there at all. 

I practically cried when I crossed the finish line simply because I had done something that most people would never do in their lifetime. 

It was a moment that changed my life forever! 

Finishing the 1997 marathon also brought me legendary status with my friends.  Some called me crazy while others just shook their heads in awe -- not all of them were runners!

The storm later that day caused power failures all over the city, causing me to lose power later that evening and to be out for two whole days.

So memorable, Rich nailed it down for it to not easily get away.
(Photo courtesy of Rich Cooper)

I finished in 4:39:17. 

At the time, and still today, I am not disappointed with it as I did something I will never forget. 

It propelled me into making running a permanent part of my life.  

To this day, Houston Marathon weekend is the highlight of my running year. 

I’m amazed at how much its grown to become one of the premier marathons in the country. 

I’m proud of my "Houston" Veteran status. 

In 2020, I became a dual race veteran when I completed my 10th Aramco Houston Half Marathon (11 Houston Marathons and 10 Half Marathons).  

This year will be really cool as it will be the 50th Anniversary of the Houston Marathon and will fall on my birthday, which is really cool.  

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