I found myself waking up at 4:30 on Monday morning, which was about 30 minutes earlier than I had originally planned on, with a nervous first date type of jitters in my stomach. In two and a half hours I would be running my first Cotton Row Run 10k through the neighborhoods of downtown Huntsville, and up a “short” little hill I had heard a lot of nasty things about. I decided that this would be my last race for a few months so that I could take time to focus more on core and strength building and I wanted to really make it count as it would be my first recorded 10k timing. I had continued on with running my normal 20-25 miles per week and although I was tempted to join one of the Cotton Row Saturday morning run through groups, but I decided that I would allow myself to be a virgin to the hill the day of the race.
I drank my coffee and stepped outside on the back porch to see what kind of moods the heat and humidity were in and decided that I would not let them take up any space in my mind, after all, there wasn’t anything I could do to about it. I put on my shortest of shorts and my new running shirt which I had asked my mom to screen print my Grandfathers name, rank, and outfit in which he fought with during WWII as I thought this was be the perfect way to honor his memory. PaPaw was a stern and caring man who always offered up a constant stream of wisdom filled one-liners like “If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a helping hand, look at your wrist,” so I knew that he would appreciate the thought of a 10k being run in his honor. He might have had something to say if I was only running the 5k; he was a Spencer after all. Let me put it to you this way, the man was shot twice in his right leg and took 11 pieces of shrapnel in his left in Tunisia, went to the medic tent where he spent three weeks and then promptly rejoined his unit. The man was the definition of tough.
After I ran in and out of our hallway bathroom three times, each ensuring myself that I had emptied my bladder and that the coffee I had at 4:40 was out of my system, I finally headed downtown to the race. It was an impressive site to see all of the runners walking up to the start line. A see of red, white, and blue brought along a feeling of solidarity that people were still taking the true meaning of Memorial Day seriously. I really appreciated that. This wasn’t just another run like all of the others where I was going for some personal record, it had a stronger meaning for me personally and with the pictures of lost loved ones carefully pinned to the backs of others, I realized that I was not alone.
I was lucky enough to run into some old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while such as Ken who to me is best known for hosting amazing taco night feasts at his house. He had been training his butt off for Cotton Row and lost a lot of weight since I last talked with him while I shoved bean burritos in my face. I was also lucky enough to catch up with one of the local Contracting Officers whom I took classes with while receiving my undergrad at UAH. This guy was a KO for a reason and pretty much ended up teaching one of the classes we were both enrolled in. He was a living and breathing version of the FAR. You want to talk about stories? He once told the class about a meeting in a building overseas, I believe in either Iraq or Afghanistan, where a guy chooses the elevator over the stairs and ends up getting assassinated because of this poor health choice. Yes, someone was supposedly waiting in the elevator to pull off some James Bond type maneuvers. Contingency Contracting is a hell of a thing, and its the main reason I always remember to take the stairs these days.
Remember those sole purpose for beard lubrication tears I talked about in the last post? Well boy did they try to show up again when a 90 year-old veteran who survived the June 6, 1943 invasion of Omaha Beach told the crowd that “If there ever was a Hell on earth, that was it,” I think all of us stopped to think about how lucky we were to be standing in our respective spots. I felt that if anyone had any doubt that they couldn’t finish this race, or that they were going to finish in the time they wanted, it was quickly dissipated by the realization that what they were about to face was nothing close to what the man standing on the podium in front of them had been through. Taps was played and shots were fired in remembrance and we lined up in preparation.
I don’t remember much about the start other than I was trying to wiggle my way through the mass of people I was in the middle of. I should have started a little bit farther up towards the start line and maybe I would have cut about 30 to 40 seconds off of my time. I continued on through the streets of Huntsville and saw some parts of town that I had never had the chance of experiencing before. I was thankful that I had decided to not join in on the training runs now as the run was more exciting because I didn’t know what beautiful home would be around the next curve. I have to add in here that the spectators composed of the residents of Huntsville were absolutely amazing. People waved and cheered, and I even got a few “Hey man! Nice Beard!” shout-outs as well. This was the first race where I had seen spectators take it upon themselves to set up drink tables because they just knew that I poured the majority of my last cup of water I had .5 miles back on my head when I really should have poured it down my throat. This made me thankful to be a part of the running community in Huntsville. And to that beautiful soul standing on the corner of Franklin and Randolph, I could have kissed you for handing me that cup of water right when I needed it because you could see the frustration in my eyes at the realization that my right shoe had decided to come untied but you said what I needed to hear, “Don’t worry about it honey, you’re almost there!”
At about mile mark 2.5 I realized that I was about to face what I had only heard in whispers, the dreaded hill. It was impressive to say the least and while I had been keeping a steady pace, and from what I could tell hitting negative splits, I realized that this was about to change. I had to stop running and slow down to a climb where I found it was best to stride as long as possible and put my knees into my face in order to make it up. The thought of amazement at the fact that anyone would want to live in a house located on a hill like that as the money they spend on car brakes each year must be astronomical seemed to keep my mind off of it. I have to say thank you to the home owner who was blasting the theme to Rocky as it provided me with a laugh and an energy boost to get my butt up the hill. Yes I did indeed raise my hands above my head in celebration once I had slayed the beast, but I was saddened that no one else was joining with me. It could have had something to do with the fact that a few people were busy puking.
I finished out the race at 51:14, a time that at first I wasn’t proud of but after taking into consideration the heat and humidity, I was happy with it. I finally have my benchmark time and I’ll be ready for that hill next year. It will never see me coming. I am thankful to be a part of an amazing running community that puts on amazing races run by even more amazing volunteers. We’ve got a good thing going on Huntsville. And hill, I’ve got your number.