Friday, January 14, 2022

The Road To Houston -- A Look Back: Rich Cooper and the 1998 Houston Marathon

By Rich Cooper

It’s hard to believe this year will be the 22nd time I have participated in Houston Marathon weekend, where some of the most memorable marathons in the early part of my adult running career were completed at.  
Following the epic adventure of the 1997 Ice Marathon, I was fully immersed back into running. I couldn’t stop talking about it. 

My training also went up a notch as I now wanted to reach some ambitious goals.  
I was running and racing a lot. 

The impact of finishing Houston in the previous year also boosted my confidence in everything I did.  
As I mentioned earlier, running changed my life. 

In the summer of 1997, I met my future wife Ginger.  How she put up with me at the time I’ll never know because all I did was talk about running and working out.  
The 1998 Houston Marathon is my second most memorable race. 

I put everything into training. 

I decided to train again with Houston Fit only this time I would start my career in coaching as I signed on to be an assistant coach to the Yellow Group.  
This marathon would turn out to be a totally different story then the year before. 

The weather was decent. I had a goal of running a sub four-hour marathon. 

Little did I know something terrible would change my running forever.  
It was a really nice day. I had done everything right in the week leading up to the race.

When the gun went off, I stuck to my planned pace and I was feeling really good. 
All of us at different stages in our career have experienced the feeling of being in “THE ZONE” and on this day I was living in it! 

Today was going to be the day!  
The crowds were amazing. The one area on the course which stood out the most was in Rice Village. The crowds were at least two deep, there was music and the people were going nuts! 

My girlfriend Ginger lived in Rice Village so she was waiting for me. 

I gave her some excess clothing and took off on my quest.  
I was having a really good race. 

At the halfway point everything was progressing perfectly.  
Then it happened.  

Rich Cooper at one of the early City of Conroe Turkey Trot 5K's
(Photo courtesy of Jon Walk)

I had just turned onto Wesleyan when, while running in the center of the road, my right foot struck an uneven part of the road and “POP!” 

My foot violently turned out. I stopped and started walking, cursing my bad luck. 

The pain was terrible.  
An aid station worker ran up to me and asked me if I was okay, I promptly told her in a not so nice way to get away from me.  
I was devastated, but I decided I would keep going, hoping the pain would eventually go away. It did not.  
I kept going running and walking. 

When Ginger saw me at mile 18, she knew immediately something was wrong. (I was at least 20 minutes late). 

I told her I had sprained my ankle, but I was going to keep going.  
The rest of the way was all a blur, but I was determined to finish, and I finally crossed the finish line in 4:22:44. I did it. And I had improved my time from the previous year. 

I could barely walk, and I was escorted to the medical section for evaluation.  
When the doctor removed my shoe, he looked at me and asked me where I had hurt my foot?   

I replied, “At mile 14.”  
He said, “You ran on this for 12 miles?”

I replied, “Yes.”  
He just shook his head and said, “You runners are a crazy bunch.  You may have fractured your ankle.” 

I was stunned.  
The next day I went to the doctor and was told I had a severe high ankle sprain. 

He told me it would take at least four months to be able to start running again.  
When I think back to that moment on Wesleyan, I should have stopped right there but, runners can be a stubborn bunch. 

After that day, my running gait was never the same.  
The lesson I learned from that day is there is no shame in dropping out of race when you're hurt. 

A long time ago, a coach told me the hardest thing for a runner to do is not to finish a marathon, but to not finish one. 

I should have DNF’d that day.  
Still, the fact I ran 12 miles on a bad ankle is something I’ll never forget. 

To this day it fuels me as a coach to advise my runners to think before they do something that may change their running going forward.  
It was a great day, painful but great. I’ll never forget it. 

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