2012 saw the beginning of an annual tradition which I hope continues for years to come -- getting together with some of my dearest friends who live in Huntsville, AL for part of the Memorial Day weekend! Though lots has changed for me over the past year (getting married, moving from the Gulf Coast as a result thereof to be with The Hubs), I wanted to be sure that the last weekend of May 2013 was celebrated with my girls in just the same way. Since these lovelies all reside in or near Huntsville (where I lived prior to my move to the coast in the summer of 2009), I make the trip north to them. NOT a problem when you have as much as fun together as we do!
Part of - but not all - the fun of doing Memorial Day in the Rocket City with my friends is that whoever is so inclined can run Huntsville's long-standing Cotton Row Run, which Runner's World has previously ranked as one of the 100 best road races in the country. The 10K is also the final awards event on the Running Journal Grand Prix Championship Circuit.
Last year, my friends and I did our get-together on Memorial Day Eve (a/k/a Sunday night before the holiday) by cooking out at E's house. BUT.....as much fun as it was, the problem with a Memorial Day Eve cookout was that it put an automatic bedtime on those of us who wanted to get up to run the race bright and early the next day (i.e., peeps who are used to enjoying an adult beverage or 2 when we get together) and certainly presented a timecrunch for our Memorial Day hostess "E" (who puts on a hell of a party for every occasion - especially no occasion at all). So the group consensus was that for 2013's Memorial Day shindig, we'd have our party time after the race, making it more of an early afternoon/late lunch than a night-time event.
In my opinion, this year was an upgrade in every way. I brought The Hubs with me, who'd never run Cotton Row and was actually running his first race of 2013. Also an upgrade: I ran the 10K with a former work colleague/good friend who had been training at paces similar to mine and we finished together! Then, after a short rest break, I started and finished the 5K with some of my best friends!
But one thing remained the same, a *great* time with my friends at E's house!
After a pretty intense workweek, we stuck close to the house for most of the day on Saturday -- The Hubs' grandmama came into town with Hubs' adorable high-school aged first cousins (very sweet girls). We took them out for a pizza lunch and fro-yo dessert downtown, and showed them a bit of the AU campus. On Saturday night, we ventured back downtown and ran a "social" 3 miles with a fun group that meets up at local watering hole Quixotes for a jaunt called "Running for Brews"....but we scooted after the run to make a grocery store run, make a dessert to take to my Dad's house for lunch that day and pack up for a night away from home.
On Sunday, we got up early and hit the road to go to my Dad's lake house on Lake Jordan. It was a short visit, but long enough to get in a boat ride and a great "linner" (the afternoon version of brunch) of BBQ chicken with all the trimmings. My contribution to the meal was Tyler Florence's Ultimate Berry Trifle. A bit more involved than I would have thought for a trifle (he gets you to cook the berries with some lemon juice to bring out their juices before you layer everything up, and more), but let me tell you...totally worth it. The lemon curd folded into the real whipped cream totally elevated this dessert to another level. Definitely one to make again.
Not a drop of alcohol that day to avoid dehydrating (which is rare for me on the lake), and while I was initially concerned about being out in the sun the day before the race and overheating, humidity was unusually low. Was definitely hoping this trend would continue for Monday. Still, I consciously kept fluids in my cup and hydrated up while on the boat ride and chilling with my family.
Mid-afternoon, we began the three hour trek north to Huntsville. It was great to see E and show The Hubs around my old Huntsville stomping grounds a bit. We hung out, did some last minute errands and got some of the food ready for next day's post-race cookout. Definitely wasn't hungry after the awesome BBQ chicken earlier that day, so just kept on hydrating. Before bed, we watched Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. I was dozing on and off on E's couch and under a fuzzy blanket, but definitely enjoyed what I heard. My favorite part (and yep, I'm a lawyer):
"Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer, should learn a computer language, because it teaches you how to think. It's like going to law school. I don't think anybody should be a lawyer, but going to law school can actually be useful because it teaches you how to think in a certain way....I view computer science as a liberal art."
After not sleeping all that well due to standard pre-race jitters, I woke up before the alarm and laid there a bit next to The Hubs. He knew I was a little nervous and told me that I was ready, which helped a lot. I think I had let thoughts of The Hill get in my mind when I read this article, which quoted the fastest local runner from the past few Cotton Rows. He said:
"You get to The Hill at mile 3. Even the really elite Kenyan runners who come here tell you, 'That's the worst hill we ever run.'"
Since the 5K course is totally different and doesn't take runners up The Hill, I hadn't done it the year before. From when I lived in Huntsville, I was pretty familiar with the course and topography around The Hill, but what I remembered was up...straight up. I'd been running some hills in preparation for my half marathon in Auburn, but none as steep as The Hill.
After my pre-race breakfast of a Smooth Caffeinator Picky Bar and a bottle of water with Amino Last, I got my race gear on and ready. For this race, I wore my Oiselle Origami Tank and Bum Wrap, with my Newton Distance shoes, Pro Compression Calf Sleeves and Pro Compression Trainer Low Socks:
Once I was ready, I made the short drive over to the starting line and met up with Kelly. She's a very cool, smart chick who has busted her tailfeathers to get back into shape after she had her adorable little boy. She looks awesome -- fit and strong. We worked together at a law firm in Huntsville when I was there, and she also has her realtor's license so she's been my realtor as well. We'd chatted about paces and training and felt like we could hang with each other throughout the race. Since Cotton Row doesn't allow any headphones during the race, having a race buddy was a good thing.
A gun went off at the 20 minute warning, telling everyone to make their way toward the starting line to get situated and for the pre-race ceremony. After some announcements, we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance by Herbie Johnson, an 88 year old veteran of WWII, who landed in the first wave of soldiers on Omaha Beach in June 1944. He runs the 5K every year in honor of his brother, a soldier who was lost in the war in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a very meaningful moment on Memorial Day for all of us lined up to run.
Then, a trumpeter played "Taps" for us. Again, very poignant and made us remember what the holiday was really about.
And then, we were off!! There was a pretty big crowd at the start, so we were weaving in and out and good bit. I even had to stop and retie my shoe (I know, I know - amateur move). Caught back up with Kelly, though. We tried to stay conservative knowing what was ahead of us, but definitely were all over the place those first couple of miles.
In between miles 1 and 3, we ran through downtown and my old neighborhood in Huntsville as we approached The Hill. I knew a friend was going to be calling out split times at mile marker 3, which was actually halfway up The Hill. When we hit the base of The Hill, we immediately made the call to walk it. We saw almost everyone around us do the same thing. However, once we hit the mile marker in the middle of The Hill, we picked our pace back up -- slowly, for sure -- but we were running. We saw lots of people really struggling to make it up, and I was glad that we didn't blow it out trying to keep a faster pace with that incline.
After a little flat section and a water station, there were a few downhills -- what I remember from this is chanting "GRAVITY! YEAH!" with some runners around us. We were able to pick up some good speed on some of these, which was a lot of fun.
Between miles 5 and 6, I could tell that Kelly needed a bit of a pep talk. She urged me to go on without her, but I could tell she was physically doing just fine. So I said "YOU GOT THIS" (actually, I said it a bit more colorfully in the heat of the moment..but who's keeping score?) and guess what....she did! We blew past the last water station and came into town together for the final stretch.
The finish line (this is true for the 10K and the 5K) is a bit deceptive. After you make the final turn onto Clinton, you can see the starting line in front of you (it's a loop course), but beyond it, there's the finish banner and timing mat. Your mind plays a trick on you; you think you are right at the finish, but actually, you've got a bit more to go. I booked it toward the finish line, but when I felt like I should be there, I really had about another .2 - .3 left. Trust me, it really felt like a LOT more at that point.
Kelly and I hugged it out at the finish line; she took a couple of minutes off of her 10K time from last year and I told her how proud I was of her and how much I appreciated her running it with me. I definitely think we encouraged each other on the course.
Once we were at the finish, we saw my friend Scott (married to my sweet friend KT pictured above at the baby shower) who had just SMOKED the 10K with a time of 52:07. Very proud of him!
I immediately texted The Hubs to let him know I had finished. We met up shortly thereafter -- he had come over with Ang, Amelia and E (below, with me and The Hubs), all of whom were also going to do the 5K. I grabbed some water and chewed up some Honey Stinger Cherry Cola Energy Chews. We circled up for some quick pics near the starting line and then found our spots for the 5K pre-race ceremony.
I hugged and kissed The Hubs good luck for his first race of 2013. Our plan was that he would go on ahead of us; the female crew planned on completing a "social" 5K -- a.k.a. catch up session. We were definitely all coming at it from different places. Ang -- doing her first race ever (SO PROUD TO BE A PART OF IT!) gave birth less than 6 months ago and was still getting her equilibrium back, not to mention still trying to strengthen her tendons, ligaments and everything else. I could tell she felt more confident when we were walking briskly; she commented that she felt like she'd actually end up with a better time doing a consistently powerful walk as opposed to a slower walk after a short run interval. E, on the other hand, was looking to run once she got warmed up at mile 2. Amelia was getting her race legs underneath her for a 5K that she has signed up to do later this summer in Cullman, AL. We ran a few intervals together on the stopwatch, but generally walked it at a good pace. And -- as promised and agreed -- we all stuck together and crossed the line as one!
The 5K is a different course than the 10K, and we went by Huntsville's new memorial that I hadn't seen yet, with flags flying at half mast. Beautiful!
After we finished, we hit the post-race party long enough to grab an ice-cream sandwich from the Purity Dairy truck, which was also handing out chocolate milk to hot and thirsty runners. Serving ice cream sandwiches is an awesome idea for a cold post-race treat, but there were also bagels, bananas, cokes, gatorades, granola bars and orange slices. And oh yeah....fresh pizza. While Domino's isn't my favorite, it smelled like it would hit the spot at that moment in time...and yep, it did.
We then went back over to E's to get ready for the cookout. She cooked pork ribs low and slow on her Big Green Egg and also had chicken for those guests who weren't pork eaters. Everyone else brought sides, drinks and desserts...and Brandy brought her famous "dip" buffet (multiple varieties of dips and chips for every taste!) We ate, drank and made merry with games set up in E's yard and enjoyed the beautiful day and the time together. While it definitely warmed up from the perfect temps of the AM, it never felt unbearable.
One of the fun parts of our Memorial Day party is its family-friendly vibe. All kids are welcome, and it's so much fun to see them growing up right before our eyes. And they enjoy it too -- but I promise you, there are no cups of beer in being used in the "water pong" game set up below. (We're just teaching them skills that may very well come in handy one day in college....)
And this time next year, there will be some new additions to our now traditional porch pic!
Hope everyone has an awesome weekend!