April 12: early afternoon
On a Friday afternoon off from her job as head of the Citizen Information Center in Larimer County Courthouse, Gael Cookman headed out the door to run 11 miles. In three weeks she’ll crank it up to 13.1 when she completes the Colorado Half Marathon down Poudre Canyon, her first-ever race at that distance.
Cookman, a single mother of three, sole supporter of her family, and veteran of 23 years of military service, is no stranger to challenge or to managing her time. In addition to her full-time job for Larimer County, she’s regional vice president and an independent consultant for Arbonne, a cosmetics firm. A couple of times a week she teaches spinning classes at a local Health Club.
This energetic lady makes it a point to do something “for the first time” every year. Firsts have included the Bolder Boulder 10k, snowboarding, and learning to play golf. “I tell people in my spinning classes how important it is to reach outside your comfort zone,” Cookman said. In this, the year she turned 50, she chose to do a half-marathon and hopes to finish in under two hours.
Years ago she competed in shorter races, and while stationed in Germany in the service, she trained for the Berlin Marathon. But duty called her away and she was unable to participate.
Cookman is thriving on a training program which pushes her to increase her mileage and includes a weekly long run. She’s doing intervals, adding a few carbohydrates to an already healthy diet, and working hard to stay injury-free. She limits sweets and is convinced of the benefits of an occasional glass of red wine. Most challenging is finding time to train and dealing with unpredictable weather. Fortunately, there’s a shower in the courthouse which allows Cookman to train during her lunch hour.
A people person, Cookman maintains a wide circle of friends, but she chooses to run alone. “It’s my time to unwind, meditate and regenerate,” she says. She’s enjoying the challenge of meeting weekly mileage goals, though she says the long runs are tiring. The hint of a stress fracture has cleared up, much to her relief.
May 5: early afternoon
“Perfect timing,” Cookman says as she answers her phone. “I just woke up from a nap. The race was amazing. Hard. Freezing at the start. Thank goodness for a trash bag for warmth. Right now, I’m not sure I’d do it again, but I loved it.”
Cold muscles, from standing around at the start for an hour, soon loosened up only to be replaced by a funny twinge in her right knee at mile five that also disappeared before the race was over. Even though they train solo, Cookman and her friend, Melissa Dasakis, raced together for 12 miles . “She’s done lots of races, including marathons, and was a great help to me,” Cookman said. Near the end, they split, each zeroing in on giving it all they had left. Dasakis finished less than a minute ahead of Cookman whose time of 1:58:29 accomplished her goal with time to spare, and was good enough for fifth in her age group. She looks forward to a well-earned glass of red wine when evening approaches.