Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cotton Row Run 2014

Race day has come and gone. I ran it yesterday. It was a hot and humid day. I had set small goals for this race. I had good reasons for that with my recent record of injuries. Even so, I was somewhat disappointed.

After 2 straight years of limping across the finish line of the Cotton Row's 5K race with a painfully shredded calf muscle I was encouraged by people close to me to lower my goals here and simply try to finish this event without any injuries. That includes all my training and the race itself since both previous years I was injured while training and had to focus on rehabbing the injury enough to be able to race at all instead of working on improving my speed and time. The results were embarrassing race times of over 30 minutes for a 3.1 mile race. For a person who has never run competitively that might be a time they can accept. For me it is humiliating.

The Cotton Row Run was started as a 10K race, 6.2 miles of Alabama heat and asphalt, with an obstacle they call "heart attack hill" thrown in somewhere between miles 3 and 4 just for fun. At some point, with the rising popularity of 5K races, they shifted the 10K race back an hour to 7 am and added a 5K race at 9 am. When I was young I ran the 10K and was competitive in terms of my times. But even then, had they fired their starting gun at 7 am I wouldn't have been there in time to compete. I'm no morning person, never was and never will be. So these days the 10K is out of the question for me. As injury-prone as I am at 9 am I would be worse if I tried to run while barely awake and poorly warmed-up at 7 am.

Anyway, I don't want to summarize this race for a third time. I wrote about as many details of the race as I could recall in 2012 and 2013. It's hot. There are a number of annoyingly selfish participants who get in the front of the starting line and walk when the starting gun sounds. They walk in the middle of the road, blocking all the runners just like I'm sure they drive in the passing lane at excessively slow speeds and refuse to get over or let anyone by. Each year these narcissistic 'runners' have increased in number and selfishness. This year was the worst. At one point 5 girls stood shoulder to shoulder all the way across the road blocking the entire course. Real runners started abandoning the street and running on the sidewalks. That is technically against the rules, but if the race officials aren't going to enforce their own rules against blocking runners and all that they clearly aren't going to enforce rules against leaving the course and running down the sidewalks. Eventually all the real runners were streaming down either side of the course on the sidewalks while the narcissistic obstructionists were in the center of the road, blocking everyone.

Let's get in the middle of the race course and walk

At one point I had a woman race up to get next to me, then jam her shoulder in front of me to block me from passing her. I sped up, stepped around her and got ahead. She sped up and jammed her shoulder in again. She did this 3 times. Finally, I put my hand up to stiff arm her away from me, but she fell back and was never able to catch up with me again. You can maneuver to block runners in a track meet, but in a friendly 5K race with a full street you are not allowed to do that crap. She was unfortunately what I'm increasingly seeing among the up and coming generation of 'entitled' runners. I quit soccer due to injuries and people like her. I noticed that this year's Cotton Row Run had the fewest runners I've ever seen this year in both events, the 10K and the 5K. I'm wondering if more real runners are quitting this race for the same reason - selfish pricks who would rather hurt others than compete.

My first mile split time was 10:30. That was the pace I had planned to run. It was slower than my previous 2 years, but I was trying a new strategy. My second mile split was 21 something. I don't recall, but it was right on schedule. I was trying to conserve energy and avoid injury prior to the third mile. I hoped that by doing this I would have more energy to speed up on the final mile and sprint the final stretch and across the finish line. This is how I used to run. I always had a last burst of energy for the final 100 yards. Of course, I often puked as I crossed the finish line, but my times were good and it was working for me. My final mile was often my fastest. I was also relatively injury-free, which helped. This year I hoped to get back to that strategy again.

I trained for this race for about 6 weeks, running 3 and 4 times per week. Several times I came extremely close to a serious injury, usually involving my calf and once, just last week, involving my hamstring. I started off blasting into my training, focusing on speed work and expecting to simply work up to the distance as I went. But with so many close calls I was encouraged to lower my expectations. Several people suggested that I simply aim to finish this race without being injured. I don't know if I made the right decision or not, but I decided to listen to them. I stopped doing speed work and simply ran my distance with a steady increase in speed until I reached the pace I wanted to run the entire race at, and then held it there to the end for each workout. This seemed like a safe way to train. Given enough time I think it could work. Maybe. Either way, one thing I know for sure is that I wasn't even going to show up to the starting line if I was already injured on race day like I was the past 2 years.

It was hot. During the 10K race the sky was cloudy and the sun was blocked. This helped keep things cooler, not that it was comfortable exactly. But by 9 am at the start of the 5K race the clouds were clearing out. We had full sun. It quickly got hot. The weather channel says it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't know the humidity level, but it was unpleasant.

This was NOT how it looked when I got to the water station

One thing I did during this race, which I can't explain exactly, was a big mistake. I don't know what I was thinking. After mile 1 there was a water station. With all the obstructionists on the course, they stopped at these water stations, took a cup of water, and stood there in the way so other runners couldn't get water. So when I came to the first water station, I had to stop, reach over someone standing in the way, and grab a cup of water. At that point I was at a dead stop, not running at all. I sipped my water as I walked away from the crowd of people standing around the water station. Yes, walked. I sipped only what I needed, then dumped the rest over my head, and began running again. I did this again at the 2nd water station, coming to a complete stop in order to get to the water. I've never done this before, stopping and then walking for a period before running on. I don't know how to explain why I did it this year when I had no injury and could have potentially run a quicker time than the past 2 years. I wasted probably a full minute doing this.

Up ahead of me a runner suffered heat stroke. People said he came down the final stretch flopping all over like a rag doll. He wobbled and stumbled and weaved and teetered with a wild look on his face. When he crossed the finish line 2 paramedics caught him just as he collapsed.

On the third mile I was feeling the heat. I was a lot more tired than I should have been considering I wasn't running an exceptionally fast pace up to that point. I was starting to droop, feeling my back weakening and encouraging me to lean forward. My form was breaking. There are no real hills of any significance on the 5K course, just little inclines here and there along the way. By the third mile those little inclines were straining me. This was the point where I had planned to be stretching out my stride, speeding up ever so slightly, and cutting at least a full minute off my mile pace, if not two or three.

It wasn't happening. I felt as if I was holding my pace well enough, perhaps slowing just a bit, but not too bad. My first mile was a 10:30. My second nearly a flat 10. If my third mile matched my first I should still be able to shoot for a 31 minute time. It'd be 1 minute and 1 second too slow, but still better than my worst time, which was 33:15 two years ago in the 2012 Cotton Row. My second worst time was 31 flat in last year's Cotton Row, so it wasn't looking good for me even equaling that anymore. And forget about my goal of coming in under 30 minutes.

I spent the last mile struggling to hold my form, control my breathing, and try my best to at least hold my speed when I felt like slowing down. I should have been going faster, but it just wasn't happening. At the final tenth of a mile I kicked it up with what little I had left. I stretched out my stride and 'sprinted' across the finish line. I didn't even bother looking at the clock. I knew my time was crap. I just didn't know how bad it was yet.
The race organizers seemed to take forever to finally post my time up on the wall. I almost wished they hadn't. It was an all-time slow 33:45, my worst ever.

Epic Fail

All I can say about this race is that I achieved my revised goal - I finished the race uninjured. I'm not sure if it was worth it or not. Even limping so badly that I didn't think I could run the last mile I ran a 31:00 last year. Maybe I just run better when I'm hurt?

My training goals for this race were too conservative. Aiming for a negative goal like not getting injured encourages you to hold back when you should be pushing harder. Somewhere in the middle should be my training target - not too aggressive and not too conservative, not insane and not completely lame. Basically I need to be pushing it hard, but not so hard that I get injured.

I'm supposed to run again tomorrow. I think after this disaster I'm going to have to pick up the pace and find me another race to run to see if I can redeem myself before the summer is over. The only other race I'm signed up for at the moment is the Warrior Dash, and Lord knows that isn't going to be a race time I can do anything with. Besides the uniqueness of the course, it recently involved killer hills that are a completely different challenge for me, one that I want to beat this time.


  1. sorry you were disappointed with the time - I do know how that feels. Injuries are just the most frustrating thing ever....well asides the walkers blocking the road. don't get me started on prams.............

    1. AlleyCat, this was my worst time ever. I trained to run my worst time ever. ARGH!!!!

  2. :-( wipe that run from your memory & start again!!!

    1. AlleyCat, I was just about to argue when I realized that what you suggested is exactly what a professional athlete would do. You're right.

  3. You can't fail if you don't quit! Don't be so hard on yourself. It is much better to get through the race without injury then to finish fast and be laid up for weeks unable to do any exercise. You might think you have to run 4 min. miles but I can guaranty your the only one who puts that kind of pressure on yourself. Remember life is about running the race and never quitting not how fast you got there...and as I would say to my son for encouragement...from 300 movie : Come home with your shield or on it! okay enough of my cheesiness...

    1. JustTellingItLikeItIs, it's just frustrating to know that I was 3 minutes slower than last year instead of faster, and last year I limped for exactly half the race.