The Cotton Row Run is my favorite in Huntsville for several reasons. First of all, it is held on Memorial Day, so they incorporate many elements that honor the men and women who lost their lives in service of our country. They play Taps before the race (I tear up every time), they have the Honor Guard, they speak a special invocation that I wish I had a copy of, and they do a rifle salute (I believe it’s called a 3-volley salute? But I may be wrong.) Today they added something new – a stretch before the finish line where family members and friends of soldiers killed in action were standing with large photos of their lost soldiers and holding flags above the home stretch. If that doesn’t inspire you to kick it in to the finish, nothing will.
Second of all, it’s a large race for our city, so it acts like a homecoming event of sorts. You get to see your running buddies you haven’t seen in a while. There’s also two races: a 10K and a 5K so you can see your friends from all levels of training. There are nervous hugs given before and sweaty hugs given after, I love it. I just look around and say, “HELLO!” to all of the faces I’ve come to love over the years of running in this town. Faces I just saw this week and faces I haven’t seen in years. As you stand around waiting to start, you find your group grows as people stop and say, “Hi!” to their friends. It’s the coolest thing to be at the start line and be – quite literally – surrounded by some of your favorite people. Right before they fired the start rifle I soaked in the awesomeness of my running peers and thought, “If it weren’t for running, I wouldn’t have been blessed with any of these people in my life.”
AND THEN! The friends you don’t see running the races, you see along the course. I had friends volunteering at aid stations and directing traffic at intersections. I had friends cheering along the course and I was so excited to see them I would call out THEIR names just to say, “Hi!” (It’s hard to find people you know running a race that big, so it helps spectating if they find you :)) It seemed like I couldn’t go a quarter of a mile without seeing someone I knew and I loved it. And then I saw even more friends after the race as we shared war stories and discussed whether or not we met our goals.
Basically – it is this race every year that reminds me that running has brought much more than health and fitness into my life, it has filled it with friends and fun. I’m full of social anxieties that keep me from making friends in any sort of traditional context, but running has helped force me into groups to meet people I would have never met otherwise. I moved to Huntsville in 2001 and until I started boot camp in 2010 and running in 2011, I could count the number of friends in this area on one hand. Today? I talked to no less than 30 people that I would not hesitate for a moment to call a friend. It just filled me with such joy and is exactly why I do this race every year.
Now! To The Race Report
I knew ever since I finished last year at 56:03 that my goal this year would be to beat 56 minutes. I came SO CLOSE last year! I had done a sub-25 5K recently so I knew physically I could run a 10K in under 56 minutes, but this course has it’s challenges. Mainly, the first 3 miles are uphill with one MEGA steep (and infamous) uphill at the 3-mile mark. You can’t pace it with a straight consistent pace like you normally would. I successfully ran sub-56 in training a few weeks ago, but I had the help of two training buddies doing the math and pace decisions for me. (I’m married to one of them, it was his “easy” run day and my “killmenow” run day.) I knew my main challenges to meet my goal today would be 1) HEAT/HUMIDITY and 2) PACING. I don’t pace myself well, my GPS isn’t the best and my body delivers mixed messages that aren’t consistent regarding pace so I make bad judgements.
THANK GOD I ran into my first running coach before the race and let her know my goal. She didn’t have her own racing plan and had been helping with 10K training periodically, so when she found me early in the race she decided to help pull me to my goal. There were a few times where I wanted to sneak off into the bushes when she wasn’t looking, just to fail quietly on my own, but I stayed strong and stayed with her the whole time. The sun was rough, I am NOT a hot weather runner. I opted to throw the water on my head/face to cool off at the aid stations and just drink the water I was carrying with me. Doing that probably saved me because that heat was zapping me of my will to live, much less my will to run.
You know I pushed it hard when I don’t sprint at the finish…I always save enough to sprint at the finish. But not today. It took everything I had just to hold my 9’ish pace to the finish-line, knowing if I slowed a tiny bit I’d miss my goal. My former coach and another running friend just ran with me and cheered me into the finish, reminding me to stay strong and to hang in there because if I did – I’d have it in the bag.
Official time: 55:28.
BOOM goes the dynamite.
One Funny Note…
Remember when I talked about how you use social media to engage, not just promote your business/events/causes? And we met the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center “mascot” of sorts – Buzz Huntsville? Well, I suggested that he find a runner to tag along with for the Cotton Row since it’s a huge event in this city and then subtly hinted that I’d be willing to give him a ride. Well, they trusted me with the task! I even gave him a race bib and everything. It was hysterical. They probably didn’t realize how seriously I would take the job, BUT I TOOK IT VERY SERIOUSLY.
The first time I met Buzz, I PR’d a 5K. Today I PR’d Cotton Row 10K. I’d say this little guy is my good luck charm!