HAVE you ever seen a man out running in a blue t-shirt in all weathers and thought: ‘who’s that mad bloke?’
Well, it was probably Gareth Cooke.
Because every day since November 30, 2015, he has been running, running and running and, unsurprisingly, he’s not bad at it.
He does not have Christmas Day off. He runs on holiday. Runs in the snow, rain and shine. Runs when ill and when injured.
He has now run 2,918 days in a row and often runs more than 100 miles a week. His Strava profile shows he has run 681 (and counting) times already this year. But why?
The 29-year-old, who now lives at Wilthorpe, smiles before answering.
“I could talk forever on this,” he says.
It turns out he started running as a tribute to his grandma, Ann.
“My nanan passed away in late 2012 to lung cancer. The plan was to raise money for Cancer Research by doing a marathon. That was then the catalyst of what has now been nearly 11 years in the sport and believing that ‘I can do better and still improve’.
“I entered the Milton Keynes marathon (in 2013) – I walked it, crawled it, cried. It was emotional.
“I did it in four hours and four minutes and thought I could do better than that. I then did the York Marathon in three hours and 19 minutes.”
He has since sliced the neck end of another hour off his PB and returned to Milton Keynes in 2017 and won.
He added: “I just enjoy it and beating myself. It’s not so much beating the people around me, I enjoy bringing people on around me as a bit of a team. We have got a bit of team in Barnsley now. Running by its nature is an individual sport but bringing people along with you on the journey makes it that little bit more exciting.
“It is a sliding slope of addiction. It’s about wanting to improve.
“I have won marathons at Milton Keynes and Hull. I got the course record at Hull and they are never doing it again.
“I would like to improve my marathon PB. It’s 2.25.02 – that means it’s not under 2.25. All my eggs are in one basket so I just look at the marathon.
“I was at the Berlin Marathon when Eliud Kipchoge broke the world record. By the time I’d finished – they had all the signs up saying ‘the world just got faster’ which was pretty good to be a part of that.
“I find doing a 5k, even though it’s shorter – running faster, I find it tough.
“If I was to describe myself it would be a diesel engine but with no turbo.
“I can run for a long time but I can’t really turn it up.
“I have done the Barnsley parkrun in 16.20, which with the hills is all right. I would love to step up to 50-mile ultra marathons too.”
Cooke has always been active. Like many other youngsters in this region his first love was football and he was good enough to play for Barnsley Schoolboys and earn a trial at Blackburn Rovers.
It was when he was at university that he made the switch to focus on running as it suited the lifestyle more.
But why do it every day? Even whilst injured he has kept on going. He makes the obvious Forrest Gump comparison which had been on the tip of my own tongue.
“I am coming up to my eight-year streak (of running every day).
“Before that I had a 100-day streak.
“I am a little bit inspired by Ron Hill who had a 52-year streak. He said that if you wanted to get better at something then you need to practise it. That’s my philosophy too. I have no plans to stop. If you told me I couldn’t run I’d be climbing the walls.
“I’d like to be in my 70s having run every day for 50-plus years.
“It keeps me mentally sound and having some purpose. It’s a little bit of ‘me time’ and a reason to get out the front door.
“I wouldn’t ever preach it but I have run through injuries and sickness. Even getting a mile a day has kept the doctor away.
“I’ve run with broken bones and pulled muscles. I pulled my glute, which was an unpleasant experience.
“Running the day after doing the Barnsley Boundary Run (73 miles) was a bigger achievement than doing the run itself.”
Cooke has even had to run before a 4am long distance flight to Abu Dhabi to ensure he kept the streak going.
He is a leading amateur for Barnsley AC and in the past represented Penistone Footpath Runners.
He will be familiar to many for his time with Barnsley FC, particularly with the Fit Reds programme but has since moved on to work for Barnsley Council as a sport and physical activity officer. As you might imagine, he is an advocate for regular exercise. It’s not just the job talking.
He runs a blog called The Running Man In Blue which he updates with diary-style pieces and also videos.
“It was about sharing my story using the diary form.
“I thought people might want to read about this. Each post used to get two or three thousand hits. People would recognise me at races through the blog. I don’t put as much time in it as I’d like. But I like to document my own journey.
“It’s motivated people and other runners to go on a streak – that’s nice.
“I worked at Barnsley FC’s Community Trust for 12 years and loved it. There was a lot of community-based programmes so it was a forward-facing job.
“There were a lot of people from Fit Reds who ended up coming to the Locke Park parkrun.
“They used me as a bit of a motivational tool.”
There is a lot of work to do to get Barnsley more active but it’s obvious Cooke is up for any challenge.
“Now I work within the council as part of the ‘what’s your move’ campaign.
“It’s about engaging people with physical activity.
“We have got nearly 40 per cent of people who are physically inactive and 49-and-a-half per cent of children who are physically inactive.
“Barnsley is a wonderful place and there are a lot of things going off.
“We use notable figures around the borough and volunteers who are inspiring people. We highight them.
“I get to do some stuff around running development too, which is a dream.”
Career in numbers:
Gareth’s 5k PB: 15.49.
10k PB: 32.15.
Half marathon PB: 1.10.24.
Marathon PB: 2.25.02.
Marathons completed: 40.