Joel Cohen of TheSimpsons
Iwas one of the fastest kids in my elementary class,” says Joel Cohen with a sardonic laugh. That’s because the 45-year-old attended a tiny school in Calgary. “There were four boys and two girls, So, I was one of the six best athletes,” he admits.
Cohen says he wasn’t a natural. “I’m sure the first time I ran was from some sort of bully.”
But a challenge on the school yard has stayed with him since his days at the small Yiddish school. “We would r un around the field, counting the laps until we ran the equivalent distance of making it to Edmonton,” he recalls now from his home in L .A. “The Commonwealth Games were there. I was the first one to make it to Edmonton.” Cohen says he recently found the Commonwealth dollar coin amongst his belongings after all these years – it was his reward for winning.
As an adult, Cohen moved first to Toronto to obtain a mba, then followed his brother out to Hollywood. “I still play ice hockey here in L .A.,” Cohen says, but after reading the book Born to Run, he started to think about running again. “The thing that I took away from it was that people love running, and that shocked me,” he admits. “So I decided, I’ ll try it.”
Cohen started by challenging himself to go out and just run a single kilometre. Soon, he was running his first 5k race. The thrill of being carried along with hundreds of others was tantalizing, and kept Cohen motivated, and thinking about new goals. “I wondered, ‘Can I run a marathon?’” he says, looking back to 2013.
There was one catch: “I literally had to look up how long a marathon was,” he confesses. But Cohen knew that he longed for a massive challenge, and sought out a grand stage. “If I’m going to do it right,” he says, “let me do it big.” So he decided he would run the New York City Marathon.
“I remember being at the race expo; and there was all this interesting stuff,” Cohen says of arriving at the Jacob Javits Centre in New York, where the marathon expo is held. “There were these ridiculous and interesting speakers.” He started taking notes on his phone about everything he was seeing, like a Gonzo anthropologist. These notes eventually became How to Lose a Marathon – part how-to-manual for newbies, part memoir, part history text. And all of it ridiculously self-effacing and funny.
“My first goal was to not die,” Cohen says of his plan for New York. “But I wake up every day with that goal.” But his second goal was to break the Oprah barrier – sub-4:30, the time the media icon once ran herself when she was training for marathons. The final section of the book turns into a gripping narrative about Cohen’s run in New York and the outcome.
As for which character Cohen thinks would be the best distance runner?
“I’ve pitched an episode about Marge running a marathon,” Cohen says. “But there was some tepid response, which is about the best I can ever hope for.”
How to Lose a Marathon is available now.— MD