I Am a Runner

“Dr. Cooper, Dr. Kenneth Cooper?  I’m Chip Marz and I’ve been a dedicated follower of your aerobics program for over 30 years now.”  Dr. Cooper paused and turned, not sure who he was expecting to see.  Ken Cooper left the Air Force in 1970 but not before he had established a reputation as an early pioneer in VO2 Max ‘training effect’.  Fast-forward to today, and you can find the term ‘training effect’ in your Garmin menu.  I had been trying to meet Dr. Cooper I had been trying to meet Dr. Cooper ever since 1968 when I attended Officer Training School at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.  I finally got the chance in 1997 when he was the keynote speaker at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler.

“Dr. Cooper, I mean it most sincerely when I say this…it’s your fault!”  Now Ken’s expression passed from curiosity to concern and before he could escape, I smiled, reassuring him, ‘It’s your fault that I got into running and I owe you a lifetime of gratitude.

Ken’s best seller Aerobics was published in 1968 while he was also stationed at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.  The Air Force top brass thought so much of his work that they made running the foundation of their physical fitness test, the 5BX.  The run part was 1.5 miles to be completed in 12 minutes.  My youthful reaction to this test was like one’s first sip of coffee or beer – ‘bitter and disgusting, how do people like this?!’, I wondered.   I had a natural aversion to running; like most high school and college boys, I lifted weights, and had never run, and so I struggled to complete the test in the allotted 12 minutes.  Throughout my 6 years in the Air Force I had to take that running test every year, doing just enough “training” to pass.  I left the service in 1974, and while not a dedicated runner, I was a true believer in Cooper’s aerobics, and diligently tried to accumulate my 30 points each week through tennis, swimming, and handball/racquetball.  

Photo  Trail runner paradise in Irian Jaya

1976, my work brought me to Freeport Copper & Gold’s massive mine in the mountains of what was then Irian Jaya, Indonesia.  Most of my aerobic options  were not available, so I reluctantly turned to running as a last resort.  My first race was a 6.82 mile (not sure how they arrived at that distance) in Cairns, Australia in October 1979.  My pace was 8:20/mile.  No doubt it was my  American flag shorts that had people chasing me, causing me to run faster.  Some people have no sense of humor!

Photo  No doubt it was my American flag shorts that had people chasing me, causing me to run faster

 I went back a week later for their “King of the Mountain” race.  It was only 6 miles long.  But it was multiple loops on a hill, with lots of steep ups and downs.  Since I was living and training at 6,000’ where I lived in the mountains in Indonesia, I was sure I would have no problem trouncing those lowlanders who were not altitude acclimated.  At that time I had no concept of heat and humidity versus altitude.  Heat and humidity trumps altitude training.  My pace was just shy of 13:00/mile.  It was me who was trounced…by the mountain.

Photos   Dr Ken Cooper has encouraged millions into being active and fit.

  All of these experiences were set up by my Air Force days and Dr. Ken Cooper’s influence.  While mine was only one small story, it did come from the early years of Ken Cooper’s practice.  Ken left the Air Force four years before I did and in 1970, he and his wife, Millie, moved from San Antonio to Dallas to found the Cooper Aerobics Center.  Some years later, they opened a facility in McKinney and opened eight health and wellness locations over the course of their careers.  Ken also published 18 books that have sold 30 million copies and been translated into 41 languages. He encouraged millions into being active and helped to launch modern fitness culture. He is known as the “father of aerobics” and in March of this year, Dr. Cooper celebrated his 90th birthday.

After moving back from Indonesia, my wife Chris & I returned to our native home of New Orleans to continue my career with Freeport.  As a member of the New Orleans Track Club I gained racing experience and opportunities to travel and run  throughout the southeastern U.S.  My running resume would later find me in the McKinney area and I served as the MRC Club President in 2014 & 2015.  Only recently has my running begun to wind down.  My last ultra was in November 2016, a few weeks before my 70th birthday.  It was the 12 Hour Ultracentric event, in which I managed to cover 42.3 miles.  I never won a race or even placed so ‘fame’ and even ‘local fame’ has eluded me but I’ve been repaid many times over with close friendships and bonds with fellow runners.   I’ve also been a close friend of Laz Lake (aka Gary Cantrell) whom you may know as the founder of the “Barkley Marathons”.  Laz continues to write a column for “Ultrarunning Magazine” and recently educated aspiring trail runners that, while they may never be elite in speed, they can be elite in preparation and race management, just like the Pros are.  

As I look back at my running career, I can quantify that even at a modest 10 minute/mile pace, 51,000 miles took up 8,500 hours of my life.  And it was those 8,500 hours of gratitude that I wanted to share and express with Dr. Cooper.  I think I can legitimately say, I am a Runner.  Thank you Dr. Ken Cooper

Photo  the author, Chip Marz,  enjoying coffee and ‘selfie time’ with Belinda Ponce

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