By Louis Cooper

The year 2020 saw me running to get through it. Literally.

Let me back up to January 2019. I had been contemplating adding light running to my exercise regime. At that point, I was a few years into a weight loss effort through which I have now lost about 150 pounds. As a relatively inactive person for most of my life, and now in my late 40s, I knew I needed some professional guidance, so I enrolled a “My First 5K” training program at Pensacola’s Running Wild shoe store.

For the first 12 weeks of 2019, I met two nights a week with a team of coaches and other novice runners, building our strength, stamina and confidence. At the end of 12 weeks, we ran a 5K race on Pensacola Beach. My time wasn’t good, but I ran the whole way without slowing to a walk, which was my only goal.

Running a 5K was probably the biggest physical accomplishment this life-long fat kid ever achieved. I love it. Not just the races, but I have kept running several times a week. I went on to run in about 10 more 5Ks in the year following that first race. I loved it! I saw neighborhoods, parks and facilities I had never seen (or at least noticed) before. The crowds of runners, all having fun and yet working toward a goal, electrifies me. After I run for 10 or 15 minutes, that “runner’s high” people talk about really sets in. If you are lucky enough to find a buddy running at your pace, you can chat as you run, which is all the better.

I welcomed 2020 looking forward to a year of running adventures. Then, about a week after the exuberant McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Prediction 5K in March, COVID-19 hit. Sports events – including 5Ks – were necessarily halted.I was one of the lucky ones. My employer sent me home to work. That fact, and that no one in my closest circles has fallen to the virus, are things I am sincerely grateful for.

All through quarantine, I have continued to run. Science says running creates feel-good endorphins in our brains. The pandemic – not to mention Hurricane Sally – caused extra stress, worry, financial insecurity, loneliness and cabin fever for me and, I’d bet, most people. Thank God for those extra endorphins!Running a half hour in my neighborhood, two or three times a week, helps clear my head. My body needs to expend that energy, stretch those muscles and sweat out those toxins.

Running can be an emotional, almost spiritual, cleansing for me. In a time of isolation, running has also led me to develop deeper friendships with fellow runners. As understanding of the virus and the development of proper precautions have evolved, some of the organized 5K races have returned. My first race back was Pensacola Half Marathon & 5K in October. Registrations were limited, people wore masks when they weren’t running and they spaced runners several feet apart at the starting line to help create natural breaks. I asked my personal physician if he felt like 5K races, like most outdoor events, were safe, and he agreed they were.

Running – planning my runs and races, the relationships I share through running and the benefits of maintaining my weight – salvaged 2020 as best for me as could have been hoped for. So, in addition to my job and my healthy family, I am adding running to my 2020 gratitude list.

Upcoming 5K Runs

Casino Bridge Run (Biloxi): Jan. 30, 2021. or 251-980-1045
Saint Mary Catholic School Frosty 5K (Fort Walton Beach): Jan. 30. or 850-243-8913
Pensacola Double Bridge Run: Feb. 6, 2021. or 850 434-2800
Son of a Beach 5K (Destin): Feb 13. Visit or email
Sweetheart 5K, Sea Turtle Half Marathon and Sweetheart 1 Mile Fun Run (Gulf Shores): Feb. 20. or 251-968-7511
Flora-Bama’s Beach Run/Walk for America’s Warriors (Perdido Key), March 20. or 850-492-0611