Nathan Cooke, Runner of the LA River's 51 Miles

Meet Nathan Cooke, a designer with a passion for environmental stewardship, and a love for running. Nathan has set the ambitious goal to run all 51 miles of the Los Angeles River. Let that sit in: 51 miles! On August 20, Nathan will start in Canoga Park and run all the way to Long Beach in an effort to celebrate and bring awareness to the River and its future possibilities.


In order to complete the length of the River, Nathan will have to weave through side-streets and run directly in the water channel due to the gaps in the River’s pedestrian paths. His detached route calls attention to the need for a connected River corridor and pedestrian network. River LA’s Greenway 2020 campaign is a movement to connect all 51 miles of the Los Angeles River, from Canoga Park to Long Beach, by the year 2020. The Greenway goal is to provide key linkage for river-adjacent cities, improving quality of life and building a healthier and more resilient region. 

Nathan is all about goal-setting. He has previously run marathon distances and a 35 mile birthday run, but has never attempted the ambitious 51 mile goal. He will be joined by runners from the Skid Row Running Club, a nonprofit that hopes to empower the community and support participants to achieve positive life goals.

We asked Nathan some questions about why he’s running the LA River, which you can read below. If you’d like to show your support for the LA River and Nathan’s journey, make your contribution to River LA here

Screen_Shot_2017-08-17_at_11.48.54_AM.pngWhy am I running in the LA River?

As a Designer, part of my job is to envision things that don’t exist, and bring them to life so that others can interact with them. I believe this desire to imagine and create exists in everyone. I believe that this drive stems from humanity’s beginnings on the Savannah. People were made to run long distances. Our bodies were built to chase down prey that disappeared beyond the horizon; and our minds could imagine them even when we could not see them. All of this, imagination, drive and goal setting, is what pushed us off the Savannah, and to create the world we have today. People are natural runners. People are natural Designers.

Running the river is a clear way to connect these parts of myself. Running. Design. Stewardship.

What do you envision for the future of the River?

We have shaped much of the world to our needs, and at times, to the detriment of ourselves and the environment. The river was channelized to serve a purpose, and it needs to change to serve a new purpose. I would love to see a river with open spaces, and accessible by all. A place where people can run along its entire 51 mile length, and not be concerned with trash or sewage outflow. A place school children and families can encounter a variety of flora and fauna that inspire the imagination.


How will you face the challenge of running the long distance?

Running the 51 miles of the river, is a microcosm of going through life. We just have to keep putting one foot forward in front of the other, and adapt to the environment at hand. It is a challenge that will be full of pain. It is through this challenge though, that I find meaning. It is through this challenge that I can make meaning of life. That I reflect upon all aspects of myself. That I can bring others together for conversation about how to shape the world into that which we imagine together.

Which River Index Criteria Are Most Important to You?

(1) Open Spaces & Public Parks

(2) Public Health Social Equity

(3) Ecology and Habitat

(4) Water Quality


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