Top seeds Cheptoek, Kosgei conquer Cotton Row Run course
Story by Mark McCarter
The first time, Patrick Cheptoek let The Hill get the best of him. It wasn't going to happen a second time.

Cotton Row run 

He had heard about The Hill, an arduous climb up Mountain Brook three miles into the Cotton Row Run. Hearing about it and seeing it, are two different things. Running it is still another.

As back-to-back women's division winner Lydia Kosgei said, from the base of The Hill, "The first thing that came into my mind was can I walk it?"

"Last year the most challenging thing was The Hill," Cheptoek said. "This time I knew where the challenge was. I had to take care of it. I had to go slow until I got down, then I settled into pace."

On Monday morning, in running conditions he called "very perfect for me," the 27-year-old Cheptoek won the 34th annual Cotton Row Run open division. He finished the 10K run in 30:09, 18 seconds quicker than runner-up Michael Eaton of Louisville. Daniel Kirwa was tird, Emmanuel Borfourth, Sammy Kiplagat fifth, Sean Burris sixth.

Josh Whitehead, with his Cotton Row personal best of 31:35, was the fastest local finisher, coming in seventh. He was running third as he reached Mountain Brook but confessed "I got a little overambitious on The Hill and that usually spells doom on this course."

Malcolm Campbell, 42, of Marietta, Ga., won the Masters Division and was ninth overall.

Lydia Kosgei defended her women's title, with a time of 35:33. That's a new women's division record, topping by 21 seconds the mark she set last year.

Jennifer Dunn of Decatur was second, only 12 seconds behind.

Ten runners have competed in every Cotton Row. They are:

Charlie Vanvalkenburgh, 56, Kevin Jose, 52, Joanie Bell, 65, Bill Albritton, 58, Bill McDowell, 59, all of Huntsville; Don Hillis, 56, of New Market; James Carroll, 62, of Dickson, Tenn., Jon Turner, 65, of Gainesville, Fla.; Gary Deere, 68, of Belmont, Tenn., and Betty Byrne, 73, of Athens.

There is some bit of coincidence between the two winners, both of whom were top-seeded by the Huntsville Track Club race organizers.

Kosgei, a Kenyan,  is working toward her Masters in public health from Eastern Kentucky University, where she was an All-America selection in cross-country. She was last year's Ohio Valley Conference Female Athlete of the Year and now is a graduate assistant coach for the cross-country team.

Cheptoek, from Uganda, lives 166 miles away, at Western Kentucky University. He's working on his second Masters there, in social work after obtaining one earlier in sports administration. He's a graduate assistant coach for the cross-country team.

"There's not much of a rivalry (between Eastern and Western) because we're not in the same conference," Kosgei said.

However, the two teams are often in the same meets and Cheptoek and Kosgei know one another. More than a rivalry, though, there is a common bond between the two, as Cotton Row winners. And they share the common rival, The Hill.