The sun, barley aroused from its slumber, casually ascends to illuminate the streets of downtown Paducah. The cool breeze warms as the hue of the sky shifts from the cool of night to the warmth of day.
On most Saturday mornings in May, this metropolitan scene would be one of stilled slumber. On this day, however, nearly a thousand pairs of feet stand ready, poised to run at the crack of a pistol. The excitement of this moment has been building for quite some time, and the energy along Jefferson Street is electric, belying the early hour.
This is the annual running of the Paducah Iron Mom Half Marathon. Now in its 5th year, the Iron Mom is a premiere running event for our region, and the implications of the race are as diverse as the runners themselves.
READY, SET, GO!
Cindy Medford's life was busy, but she knew the value of making time for daily exercise. "I didn't start running until after 40," she says. "It was an easy way to work exercise into my day."
Like many who catch the running bug, Cindy's goals expanded as her endurance grew. "I did five half marathons," she adds, "but I always had to travel out of the area. In 2010, I had the idea of bringing a race to Paducah. I liked the May time frame. It is a beautiful time of the year to showcase the city. And Mother's Day is front and center, so the theme of Iron Mom stuck in my head."
Cindy came home from yet another race with the possibilities of the Iron Mom ruminating in her mind. "I took the idea to a friend," says Cindy, "and within an hour, he'd sent me the periodic table logo. That reinforced it, and I couldn't just sit on it anymore. I took it to Amy Peal and Mark Vance, and they loved it as well."
The trio ran with the idea, organizing the first Iron Mom in 2011. "They really put the meat on the bones," adds Cindy.
They selected the Family Service Society as beneficiary of the race, and with sponsors and flagship sponsor Lourdes Hospital in place, set their sights on Mother's Day weekend 2011. "By November of 2010, the idea had really caught fire," says Cindy. "It was an unbelievable experience."
In an odd twist, the inaugural running of the Iron Mom took place on Father's Day weekend. "The 2011 flood hit, and all of our volunteers and support were all-hands-on-deck with that. It was very successful in spite of the change, however.
"And you can't believe the stories that starting coming in," adds Cindy. "The people who thought it was something they could never accomplish but did. The mothers who get so excited when they beat their sons! The stories of the oldest runners. And all of those who run in honor or memory of their moms or just to make their momma proud.”
One surprising story came from the unlikeliest of places: a women's prison. "They somehow heard about the race," says Cindy, "and a group began training to run the half marathon distance. They then held their own race on the prison grounds the same day as the Iron Mom. That kind of inspiration was surprising!"
RUNNING WITH IT
In 2015, the Iron Mom welcomes a new race director. Pam Truitt, the Executive Director of the Family Service Society, has been involved from the beginning and is poised to carry on the new tradition.
"We had been looking for a fund raising event," says Pam, " and I think we'd done just about everything including a duck calling contest! My husband is a runner, and I was just getting into running as well, so when we were approached about being a part of the Iron Mom, we said sure!"
The half marathon quickly became the Family Service Society's signature event. "Last year we raised $35,000," says Pam. "That's a one-day event, and that's hard to beat. A fundraiser that works is hard to come by."
The benefits of the race are extremely diverse. "For one, we've been able to expand our services," adds Pam. "It has touched things like utility assistance. And now we're looking at new initiatives such as Strengthening Family, a hands- on, educational program that helps in nurturing relationships, making healthy choices, and financial management."
The community profits go beyond the financial realm as well. "It is an opportunity to teach about nutrition and exercise," says Pam. "We want our families to be healthy.” And this year, we've applied for funding to do scholarships for people we serve. Ten will be able to take part, and the scholarship will pay for their registration and a twelve-week training program that includes education from a dietician. We want to give more opportunities for people to take part.
"The whole community gets involved, even if everyone doesn't run. The support for the event is amazing from our city to the local law enforcement and fire department,” Cindy adds. “We have wonderful volunteers, and we are always in search of more! People in the neighborhoods along the route come out to cheer people on. One year, some little girls did their own water station in the Pines neighborhood. As the day gets warmer, some have set sprinklers out for the runners. Community support is important to a runner, and we want even more spectator groups to come out and cheer them on!"
STAYING THE COURSE
The ongoing success of the Paducah Iron Mom Half Marathon resides in it being a well-organized, beautiful race that becomes a must-do entry in many runners' calendars.
"It's been such a well-oiled machine," smiles Pam. "Amy and Mark established the race guidelines, and so we've learned from the best. What they gave us is priceless.
"And people travel from all over the country to enjoy the course. We've had runners from as far away as Nevada and Idaho. It is a showcase for Paducah!"
The first leg of the course encompasses the length of Jefferson Street. Runners, under the shade of trees as old as the city itself, take in the variety of historic homes along this storied street. From there, they see a newer side of Paducah in the Pines neighborhood. The course then turns to the Greenway Trail through Stuart Nelson and Noble Parks. The last leg runs down Madison Street and through Lowertown.
"And the end is just breathtaking," says Pam. "You come through the flood wall and see the river there before you. You hear the cheers of the crowd at the finish line. It's simply beautiful! From the runners to the volunteers to those who are cheering, it is such a wonderful spirit of inspiration."
For more information on running the Iron Mom or to volunteer, visit paducahironmom.com.