Recap: Gulley Park Cow Paddy Run

All photos courtesy Stephen Ironside / Ironside Photography
Ben Putman (left) and Max Mahler (right), race directors for the 2011 Cow Paddy Run, deliver a check for over $6,000 to Lisa Devine (center left) and Holly Johnson (center right) of the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation at Gulley Park in Fayetteville on Friday, April 22, 2011.

The forecast called for rain last Friday (April 22), just in time for the 6:00 p.m. Gulley Park Cow Paddy Run, a 5k race I knew Max Mahler and Ben Putman had been planning vigorously for months. I hated this for them, and for the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation who would receive the run’s proceeds. They simply worked too hard in spite of full-time jobs and classes to be defeated in this way. We discussed “weather contingency plans” to the extent that we simply asserted, “It won’t rain.”

All photos by Ironside Photography

I even concocted a mock mind-over-matter theory to back this up: “in any given geographical area, the weather will ultimately conform to the wishes of the group of individuals who feel most strongly about its behavior, who are also doing the most good.” More specifically: no group of people in Fayetteville, at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, who wanted a certain type of weather, who were also doing good deeds, would be able to sway the rain more persuasively than Mahler, Putman, and their fellow volunteers. Silly, I know.

But the fact is, in spite of the forecast and the looming clouds (and alarmist text messages from my girlfriend about “TORNADOS IN GENTRY!”), the rain didn’t come until 8:30 p.m., as we loaded the last tents into vehicles, well after the results were in, the awards ceremony over, and the 5k run with complete success.

Though it was Mahler and Putman’s first race, Cow Paddy was far from amateur. Along with the Rush Running trailer and its huge, inflatable Starting Line, there were promotional tents for Pack Rat and Ozark Natural Foods, Cow Paddy technical t-shirts and trophies on display, and the Race Wizard electronic chip-timing command center. By the time I arrived, there were also a couple hundred racers milling around, registering, talking, buzzing in the unique way of runners before their event, which is an unmistakable atmosphere of celebration. In other words, it looked and felt as good any race I’ve ever attended.

After all, attendance itself is the real gauge of any race’s success. Cow Paddy enjoyed a loyal following throughout the ’90s under the direction of Wade Colwell, but petered out around 2000, until Mahler and Putman resurrected it this year entirely of their own volition. “As a general rule,” said Mike Rush of Rush Running, “first-year race directors can expect around 100 participants” – even with name recognition in their favor. Friday, Race Wizard registered the times of 232 finishers in the 5k alone; the 1-mile fun run timed an additional 32. At over 300 registrants (an impressively small fraction skipped out), Cow Paddy greatly exceeded expectations, and in doing so raised over $6,000 for public education. Over $500 in donated merchandise from North Face and others was raffled away, and the top three finishers in every category received original Cow Paddy trophies (donated by Polytech). Ironside Photography covered the event for free, whizzing around on bicycles (pictures can be reviewed and purchased on

Finally, as a sign of the admiration Mahler and Putman inspired while assembling their race (along with Wade Colwell’s advice), volunteer David Hughey awarded them all “Golden Cow Pies” (honorary manure on engraved plaques). Where else but Arkansas?

However, in typical fashion, Mahler and Putman seemed only partially pleased with their success. We all sat around with a cool beverage afterwards, and soon the question was raised, “What can be done better next year?” Someone called out, “Make it sunnier!” Mahler laughed and said he’d make some phone calls. But on a serious note, they began a list.

I won’t divulge all the details, but in the years to come, improvements may include live music, more donated merchandise, more t-shirts, more volunteers, and better organization. No matter what future Cow Paddy racers may see, it is certain that a solid foundation has been laid to build upon; both race directors were gushing with praises and thanks for all volunteers and sponsors involved. At 24 and 23 respectively, Mahler and Putman have much time to continue perfecting Fayetteville’s greatest 5k. If bad weather couldn’t impede their first year’s success, it’s hard to imagine anything slowing them down.

Jarrett Bates