Kosgei retains her title at Cotton Row Run 10K


Skip VaughnBy Skip Vaughn al.com

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Standout runner Lydia Kosgei strained her left Achilles tendon in February while training on a treadmill. But you wouldn't know it from her May races.

Kosgei capped her stellar month by winning today's 34th annual Mercedes Benz Cotton Row

Run 10K in 35 minutes and 33 seconds. She was the first of 865 female finishers. Some 2,102 runners crossed the finish line at the traditional Memorial Day race in downtown Huntsville.

"The weather was great compared to last year," Kosgei, 27, of Richmond, Ky., said. "But the hill remains the same. It's really, really challenging."

Kosgei, who won last year's race and was this year's top seed, was referring to the steep hill halfway into the 6.2-mile course. The entire course has hills. "Tough hills and one big hill, makes this race the toughest," Kosgei said.

But she appreciated the spectators, who were all along the course offering encouragement to the runners. "They keep you going," she said.

Kosgei is a graduate assistant coach for track and cross country at Eastern Kentucky University, where she just finished her first-year master's program in public health. She is helping with coaching and with the recruitment for distance runners. One of her runners, Ann Eason, who will be a junior next year, qualified last weekend for the 5K nationals.

During May, Kosgei won two races in Mississippi and the one here today. The trio includes her 35:14 on May 11 at the AT&T/Bancorp South Gumtree Run 10K.

"This one was the toughest because I'm getting tired (after the previous races), and then the hills," Kosgei said.

She led from start to finish but Decatur's Jennifer Dunn didn't make it easy for her. She saw Dunn at the midway mark.

"She came closer and closer. She was strong. That's why I say this race was competitive. She looked strong," Kosgei said.

Dunn, 22, who just finished her college career at Florida State University, was second in 35:45. She ran track and cross country for FSU the last five years. Two weekends ago, she ran her last race for the Seminoles when she did a 10K on the track at the University of Virginia and missed qualifying for the NCAA regional meet by three seconds with her 35:03.

Dunn just finished her undergraduate degree in dietetics and will start an internship and grad school at UAB in the fall.

"I'm pretty happy with it," she said of her run today. "I knew I had the potential to possibly win but top three would've been pretty good. I'm pretty excited."

She could see Kosgei at the starting line and probably stayed about the same distance behind her the entire way.

"I didn't really know that I could've passed her," Dunn, who graduated from Austin High in 2008, said. "I'm happy to be within 12 seconds. She probably was a little better than me and had more experience."

Russia native Firaya Sultano-Zhdanova, 52, of Gainesville, Fla., finished in 39:49 and was the second master behind Liubov Denisova, 41, of New York, who did 38:13. "Today I feel good," Sultano-Zhdanova said. Huntsville's Kylie Lemon, 26, was the ninth female in 38:45.

In the 5K race, Jennifer Groves, 33, of Huntsville, was the first female finisher in 20:37.

"It was hot," Groves said. "But a pretty course and good supporters. I'd like to give a shout-out to the Fleet Feet speed training group because we did a 10-week speed training class. We met once a week and they gave us speed workouts and good coaching."