I wasn't planning on making this a race report, but seeing as how I just set off a couple of computer models that will probably take another hour or so to finish, I might as well do something productive...
The Cotton Row Run is a staple of the Southeastern road racing circuit. Having been run thirty-one times, it has quite a following, and given its impeccable management, it is a fantastic event in which to participate.
I, along with my Inimitable Mother, Darling Little Sister, and Cool Little Brother, have made it to the last 10 runnings of Cotton Row, and it seems to get more and more fun each year (for me, at least). This year I actually went into it with a somewhat decent base of mileage, so I was hoping to set a PR for the course. My previous best time on this particular race was a 37:02, run a couple of years ago, and I was shooting for around a 36:30, maybe 36:00 today. The reason for the somewhat modest time goal for the race is the layout of the course. The two miles are mostly flat and easy to set a fairly aggressive pace, but after a turn shortly into the third mile, a gradual uphilll starts to chip away at the leg strength, and then the course kicks you in the face when it turns onto the hill. The three-mile mark is on a relatively short (200 meters, maybe?), but incredibly steep hill that has even been graded to prevent vehicular traffic from slipping. This particular hill has reduced me to a modest trot every year and seems to just take any speed out of my legs, which is unfortunate, because shortly after cresting the hill, a sharp turn leads to a long downhill mile, then simply through downtown Huntsville to the finish.
But it's only 6.2 miles, so it should be a piece of cake, right...
We got to the race site about an hour early, and after making an obligatory trip to the port-o-potties, I set about a fairly short warmup along the last mile of the course and back before making one last "download." The I changed into my racing attire that was a hit amongst most of my running buddies that saw it: my old high school XC/track uniform. Some of my ultrarunning buddies were pretty amused, one even quipping "I've never seen you in a singlet before!" Even some of the guys currently on my old high school's team got a kick out of seeing the old uniform (none of them have ever worn this particular style; they've always had the fancy technical fabrics and cool designs, as opposed to my simple nylon uniform... I felt "retro"...)
Clothed in my "old school" Austin High School Black Bears black and orange nylon uniform, I made my way to the starting line, and after the various Memorial Day recognitions, we were off. The first mile of the race winds through downtown Huntsville and is mostly a blur due to the fact that it is spent almost entirely jockeying for a good position. I settled in right behind a friend who is currently a pretty speedy high schooler (has all of my 5k and under PR's blown out of the water), hoping I could pace off of him. I caught up with him right at the mile marker, which came entirely too early, hitting a 5:31. We both knew immediately that this was probably a wee bit ambitious, but I thought, "well, I can't undo it, so I might as well roll with it," and I pressed on. Matt, my high schooler friend (whose sister, by the way, was this year's ACC steeplechase champ...), backed off the pace a bit, being a little less experienced at the 10k distance, and so I was on my own.
Over the next mile, I managed to get into a decent rhythm and held a fairly constant distance behind the next guy, just trying not to slow down any while conserving a little energy for the looming hill. My pacing efforts paid off, as I managed to hit a 5:44 for the second mile still feeling pretty comfortable, which was a nice confidence boost.
After making the left turn onto the residential road leading to the hill, I noticed someone coming up behind me. For a few minutes, I assumed it was one of the Russian women, but as it turned out, it was Alissa McKaig, who wound up in second place overall for the ladies (first was Janet Cherobon, who was well ahead of me the entire race). In any case, Alissa pulled up beside me just as the hill was coming into view, and we exchanged a couple of humorous/nervous/oh crap/let's-work-it remarks about it before embarking up it. Mid-hill, I hit the third mile in 6:06, which is, more or less, where I anticipated being, considering the remarkable slowdown that inevitably accompanies the incline. As always, I simply trotted up it, but for some reason, I felt a bit stronger and more focused on holding the pace than in previous years (as opposed to only being able to think about how much this hill sucks...I didn't really even notice all of the people that are there every year, sitting on the hill, playing the Rocky theme music, and enjoying observing many a runner's misery...), which allowed me to more quickly settle back into a rhythm once we got to the top. This added strength, although it did keep me in front of Ms. McKaig whilst summitting the hill, did not keep me ahead of her once we got to the top; she slipped right around me right at the top of the hill and got a few yards ahead of me to the turn that marked the beginning of the downhill portion. Aha... I had a rabbit to chase...
Down the hill we went, picking up the pace quite a bit, and much to my surprise, I felt fine with the increased tempo, hitting mile 4 in 6:01 (not too impressive, I know, but we still had about two-thirds of the hill during mile 4), and nailing mile 5 in 5:23. Somewhere right around the 5-mile mark, as we were heading back toward downtown, I realized that I felt pretty good, almost comfortable, and definitely better than I had 1, 2, or even 3 miles prior, so I took the surge of energy and slipped back around Alissa. I knew that she probably had a better kick than I do (believe it or not, we ultrarunners don't often focus on a finishing sprint...), so I figured that I needed to put some distance on her before the home stretch (I guess my inner 5-year-old still doesn't want to be out kicked by a girl...).
Into town and back to the home stretch, which is actually around a half mile (maybe more) long straightaway, we made our way to the finish. I was still very surprised at how smooth and relaxed I felt. Make no mistake, I was putting forth a fair amount of effort, but it seemed to click today, which made for a rather enjoyable race. In any case, after hitting the sixth mile in 5:33, I went the extra two tenths, finishing in 35:32, and edging out my race companion by four seconds.
I was pleased with the race and felt fine at the finish (dang... I should have pushed harder; maybe I could have PR'd, which is very difficult to do on this course). I was also pretty surprised that I beat my seed. Going into the race, my final seed was 28th, and I managed to wind up 22nd, which I guess isn't too shabby out of 2048 finishers.
The rest of the Nevels clan did well. Cool Little Bro managed a 52:23 just chillin, Darling Little Sister blazed through it 54:49, which I think is a 10k PR for her (good job Lynn!), and yes, Inimitable Mother trucked through it to snag a 1:06:21. Of the four of us, naturally, Inimitable Mother had the best finish, as I went back somewhere around three quarters or a mile back to find her, ran her in, and somewhere along the last straightaway, both Cool Little Bro and Darling Little Sister joined up with us, so the Inimitable Mother had her Entourage to the finish, as she ought to.