Local minister runs 13th marathon

Sunday, August 31, 2008 | 7:45 p.m. CDT; updated 7:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 31, 2008
Chris Cook runs about 10 miles a day in preparation for the Heart of America Marathon on Monday. This will be his 12th marathon. He hopes to run it in under three hours.

COLUMBIA — Chris Cook considers a 10-mile midday run taking a break from work. Running is a crucial part of Cook’s day. After working on his sermon for a few hours in the morning, the Parkade Baptist Church minister will head out to the trails. While Cook puts in his seven to 10 miles, he organizes his sermon, which pre-run, he said, is usually a collection of different thoughts on his desk. He also uses the time to reflect.
“To me running is a spiritual experience; it’s a time when my spirit is at rest,” Cook said.
On Monday, Chris Cook will be competing in the Heart of America Marathon for his 13th straight year. 
Joe Duncan, the race director for the Heart of America Marathon, said that about half of the runners who participate have run the marathon in previous years. It is rare for someone to have run more than 12 because the three h’s ­— heat, humidity and hills — make the Heart of America Marathon particularly challenging.
“The course is known to be one of the toughest courses in the country,” Duncan said.
While Cook is only one of about six people who have run the Heart of America Marathon more than 12 times, he has several years to go before he would hold the record. Lou Fritz of Verdon, Neb., ran the marathon 25 times between 1965 and 1989.
To no surprise, Chris Cook describes himself as an “endurance person.”
“I enjoy pushing the body to its limit,” Cook said.
Although supportive, his son Andrew Cook, 9, does not share his father’s zeal for running. When asked how he felt about running, Andrew grimaced.
“It’s boring,” he said.
Even though his family is not as active as Cook, they understand his passion. Cook’s ability to adhere to a schedule helps him balance his duties at the church with his time at home, according to his wife, Jennifer. When weather conditions complicate Cook’s routine, his family adjusts. During the summer when it was too hot to run in the afternoon Cook ran in the evenings. The nights Jennifer Cook had a night class, the Cooks hired a baby-sitter while Chris Cook trained.
“I know how much he needs to do this,” Jennifer Cook said. “I’m willing to do what I need in order for him to get his run in.”
Cook’s schedule continues even with the imminent approach of the 26.285 mile race. It is clear, as he sits in his office wearing tennis shoes six days before the Heart of America Marathon, he is not planning on deviating from his daily run. While some marathon runners may take as much as a week off before the big race, Cook plans on running five to six miles a day until the marathon.
“My body is not one to taper,” he said, explaining that his family’s history of heart disease makes his muscles quick to atrophy. He needs to keep active on a daily basis in order to maintain his training.
While the idea of heart disease kept him motivated to keep running after leaving college, Chris Cook’s passion for the activity extends beyond health benefits. “Running fits my personality,” Chris Cook said, “I’m very introverted. I cherish times when I’m alone and I can think.” 
When one of Chris Cook’s congregants suggested he should run the Heart of America Marathon in 1996, he seized the opportunity.
“My only goal that year, in ’96, was to finish the race,” Cook said. He finished in 3 hours, 27 minutes, 12 seconds.
Ten years later Chris Cook won the Heart of America Marathon with a 2:54:59.
Each year he runs, Chris Cook discovers something about the limits of his body. The learning process is often a painful one.
“I have to be injured before I learn my lesson,” he said.
After developing a stress fracture in his sacrum, Chris Cook incorporated a day of rest into his running schedule. Recovery from the fracture took about a year, but it gave him more than just insight into how he should train. 
“When I injured myself and had to use a cane, I could really relate to people who have to use a cane to go to church,” Cook said.
During the race this year, Cook has to contend with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissues connecting the heel to the arch of the foot, a common runner’s injury. Chris Cook developed it after putting in heavy mileage using shoes with little arch support. Now he knows that in order to prevent foot problems he needs to alternate between two pairs of running shoes.
As a result of his foot injury, Chris Cook is not running for any specific goal today. He just hopes to keep around the three hour mark. Regardless of the outcome of the race, his family will be there at the finish line. Even though Chris Cook’s three boys are not as athletically inclined as their father, they enjoy being at the race.
“They like to come along and cheer him,” Jennifer Cook said. “They get excited when they see him going down Broadway.”
For more information on the Heart of America Marathon, click here .

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