A lofty experience in the Colorado mountains in 2004 brought Jim Cooper back down to earth.
“Hiking would have been a lot more fun if I had been in better shape,” he says.
A 2003 four-wheeler injury, combined with back pain from his rodeo days, was making the Grant, Nebraska, farmer feel older than his 43 years. A physical therapist encouraged him to exercise.
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So in 2007 he enrolled in a community college running class taught by Running Times editor, Jonathan Beverly. Today, Cooper has run a half marathon, and his 5-foot,11-inch frame is 30 pounds lighter. “I'm a farmer first, not a pro runner,” he says. “I'll never be real fast.”
Running is the sixth most popular exercise in the U.S. Its appeal for Cooper and others is that it takes minimal equipment and offers the flexibility of exercising anywhere, anytime. “It's a 16-mile round trip to the nearest fitness center,” he says.
Cooper often gets training advice from Jonathan Beverly. “I found out he lives only a few sandhills away,” he says.
Cooper's wife, Lynda, also began running. The couple started with 5K events: the Firecracker Fun Run in Grant, the Pumpkin Run at Cox Pumpkin Patch in nearby Champion, and Grant's Flurry Scurry on Christmas Eve morning.
“We decided to try 5Ks and see if we had fun with it,” he says.
Cooper's first major goal was to do a 10K at the Imperial Fair, followed by the Bolder Boulder in 2008. He ran his first half marathon in December 2009, the Rock ’n' Roll Las Vegas. He's aiming for another at the Nebraska Sandhills.
“I encourage people to try a 5K first,” Cooper says. “If they try a half or full marathon too soon, they'll get hurt or have such an awful experience they'll quit and never run again. I want people to succeed.”
Lynda began running with help from a nine-week online training plan called Couch to 5K (www.coolrunning.com).
Healthy = More Productive
Cooper scales back on exercise during planting and harvesting. “Sometimes I have to be creative to get it in,” he says. “Many farmers feel if they have time to work out, run, or do something else for their health, it's time better spent working. But that healthy time can make them more productive and more fit to handle the physical part of farming.”
He says running isn't for everyone. “I encourage people to get moving,” he says. “Start slow, whatever they do, and set reasonable goals. The no-pain-no-gain philosophy puts too many people back on the couch, injured and defeated.”