Started from the bottom

Started from the bottom

Amanda Cooke weighed 210 pounds -- 100 pounds heavier than she is now -- when she started running in 2009 because she wanted to lose weight after the birth of her third child.

Nine months later, she ran her first marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Then she hired a running coach, who helped her take 23 minutes off her marathon time for a personal best of 3 hours and 6 minutes. Now the Columbus, Ohio, woman is one of the elite runners who will race at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon later this month. She is hoping to break three hours for the marathon sometime this year.

Blog PhotoAs a teenager, running was a way for Cooke to try to stand out and gain some attention in a family of 11 children. She ran one year of cross country in high school, but she wasn’t the star that her brother -- a state champion two-miler -- was.

“I was really slow,” Cooke said.

Shortly after she took up running as an adult, she ran her first 5K race and then her first 10K race a few weeks later, where she placed first in her age group. She ran her first half marathon that spring of 2009. She was hoping to break two hours. She didn’t wear a watch, but the race had clocks at every mile, and she was surprised to see that she ran under eight minutes for her first mile. She finished in 1 hour and 40 minutes. She ran another half marathon, in 1 hour and 34 minutes, and she decided she wanted to run a marathon.

That fall, she ran her first marathon in Akron, Ohio, finishing in 3 hours and 29 minutes, which qualified her for the Boston Marathon.

Cooke hadn’t done any speedwork while training for her races, including her first marathon, and she didn’t even wear a watch when she ran. She decided it was time to get a coach.

Once she learned to include tempo runs and repeats in her training, she lowered her half marathon time to 1 hour and 25 minutes. She was the first place female in the 2016 Ann Arbor Marathon, running it in 3:08:11.

In the course of becoming an elite runner, she not only lost 100 pounds, she also had two more children. Her goal now is to run a sub-3-hour marathon.

“I know I’ve been sub-three ready several times and I talk myself out of it.,” Cooke said.

She’s been reading books about motivation to help her mentally prepare.

“I’m making my mental game stronger and realizing all the thoughts I have are very normal, and how do you talk yourself out of those thoughts? I think there’s a lot of potential there to run much faster. I just have to get past sub-3,” she said.

At 37 years old, she believes she has three strong years left for running marathons. Then she’ll turn to ultramarathons. Cooke has completed a 100-mile race, and she’d like to do more ultramarathons and trail runs in the future, once her children, who range in age from 15 to 4, are older.

“I have really good endurance. My endurance is definitely stronger than my speed. I have a strong will,” she said.

Cooke expects to run between 3:10 and 3:15 at the Illinois Marathon. She won’t attempt her sub-3-hour marathon here unless she has an unexpectedly good day, because she just ran the Carmel, Ind., marathon on March 31, pacing a group of women from Columbus to break 3 hours and 30 minutes and qualify for Boston.

However, “you never know what you can show up and do,” Cooke said. That’s the message she wants to give other marathoners as well.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it. I went from 210 pounds to running faster than most people will run. I think there’s way more potential in any of us than we know,” she said. “Run slow, have fun with it, just keep running a little bit further and who knows where you’ll end up. I certainly wouldn’t have imagined I’d be at a low-three hour marathon when I started.”


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at

 Photo: Amanda Cooke -- here running the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, Ohio, in April 2015 -- could crack the three-hour barrier at this year's Illinois Marathon in Champaign. Photo provided by Amanda Cooke

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