Village of Oak Creek resident Paul Cooley has run the past 32 Houston marathons
VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK — Paul Cooley may not be a fan of virtual racing.
But the Village of Oak Creek resident didn’t let technology – nor the COVID-19 pandemic – keep him from running the Houston Marathon in January.
For the 70-year-old retired attorney, it was his 32nd consecutive Houston Marathon.
Why that marathon in particular?
Because he lived in Houston for nearly 60 years.
“My family moved to Houston from western New York in the summer of 1965. I had just turned 15,” Cooley said recently.
After attending high school in Houston, then earning a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, Cooley graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1975 and practiced law in Houston until June 2013.
Although he ran cross country and track and field ran in high school, Cooley never really considered himself a long-distance runner.
“My race was the one-half mile,” Cooley said. “Until the last day of my high school running career. Coach said we had too many half-milers and needed a one-miler. I’d never run a full mile in a race.”
Cooley finished his first ever one-mile race at 5 minutes 58 seconds.
“The other guy almost lapped me,” Cooley said. “I could hear him coming up behind me.”
Paul Cooley: Marathon Man
It wasn’t until 1989 when Cooley first considered distance running. A colleague at his law firm decided to run the Houston Marathon – and suggested he join him.
A few months later – before the race – Cooley’s friend dropped out.
“I had signed up for the Houston Marathon, which is held in mid-January each year, and ran it,” Cooley said. “When I finished it I said to myself ‘I am never doing that again.’ But, as the months following the marathon passed, I started thinking I could do better if I trained for six months ahead of time, so I did and ran Houston again in 1991.”
Cooley, who joined a running club and started training seriously, hasn’t missed a Houston Marathon since. He’s also run the Austin Marathon six times, the Boston Marathon and the Brian Mickelson marathon three times each, the San Antonio marathon twice, as well as the Big Sur Marathon, the New Orleans Marathon, the Buffalo (New York) marathon, the Wichita (Kansas) marathon, the Tucson marathon, the Dallas White Rock Marathon, and many others.
Cooley has run 60 full marathons, as well as eight 50K (31 miles) and one 50-mile competition.
“Once I did a 40-mile training on a Saturday, and laid on the couch on Sunday,” he said.
Overall, Cooley have run 636 races from 5K to 50 miles, including the Soulstice Mountain Trail run in Flagstaff the last eight years, which means he is a legacy runner for that event.
Sometime in the next few weeks, Cooley expects to eclipse 50,000 miles of running. In 2013, Cooley and his wife Jan moved to VOC from Houston.
Camille Cox, Village of Oak Creek resident and president of the Big Park Council, said that Cooley is one of the community’s hidden human gems.
“Beyond being an inspirational uber-runner and hiker, he has cultivated rich relationships with Native American leaders to accumulate a remarkable understanding of the ancient treasures in Northern Arizona,” Cox said. “He has become a valued resource to our Big Park Regional Coordinating Council’s Planning & Zoning committee, providing us with insight on archeological matters. All that, and ever ready with a funny anecdote to leave you with a smile.”
After running six virtual races in 2020, Cooley seriously considered skipping the 2021 Houston Marathon. The COVID-19 pandemic made it less likely he’d be in Texas. Besides, there are lots of reasons Cooley prefers to participate in organized races.
“The problem with doing a virtual marathon that was different from the shorter races was having to figure out a way to support myself during the event, such as water, sport drink, food and a place to use the restroom,” Cooley said. “A supported marathon would have all of those things supplied, usually at each mile.”
To run his virtual marathon in the Village of Oak Creek, Cooley parked his vehicle at a spot he would pass several times, so he could refuel himself as needed.
“I parked behind The Collective, off State Route 179 near the public restroom there,” he said. “I had water, Powerade, GU (energy gels) and other stuff in the back of my vehicle.”
Cooley also decided to run – and walk the marathon.
“There was no time constraint,” Cooley said. “So I walked the first two miles.”
Usually the cutoff for running a marathon is six hours, Cooley explained. However, he ran more often than he walked.
Cooley refueled after the first five miles, then refueled again at Pine Valley. From there, he ran several times to Verde Valley School Road – and back – until he did his 26.2 miles.
Through the entire virtual marathon, Cooley carried a 10-ounce rubber flask which he would drink from as he ran, each time refilling when he got back to his vehicle. With a specially designed runner’s belt carrying energy gels, Cooley was able to complete his virtual marathon in less than six hours.
In 1996, Cooley ran his best Houston Marathon time, 3 hours 25 minutes.
In 2014, he ran his Sedona marathon at 4 hours 20 minutes.
Cooley admitted being 70 is a lot different than being 43.
Conversely, the Village of Oak Creek’s elevation is about 4,200 feet, whereas Houston’s elevation is about 105 feet – and completely flat “except for one overpass and two under passes.”
“The VOC course had an elevation gain of 1,700 feet,” he said. “I tried to find as flat of a course that I could, but that would mean running 26.2 miles around the track at the Red Rock High School (more than 200 laps) and I was not about to do that.”
Recently, Cooley admitted he doesn’t know when he’ll run his next race.
“Usually I’ve got something planned,” he said. “Once the vaccine comes into play, they’ll be doing a lot of live races and I’ll be looking forward to doing it.”