Race Recap: Flying Pig Half Marathon
“You’ve never run the Pig?!?”
My Cincinnati peeps couldn’t believe I’d never actually run the Flying Pig Half (or full) Marathon. You see, I didn’t actually take up distance running until after the Flying Pig 10K in 2009, and in the two years that followed, I tried the Indianapolis Mini Marathon and the Chicago Spring Half. So, I figured it was time to pay homage to the biggest running event in the city where I fell in love with the sport.
After busting my butt to PR at the Chi-Town Half last month, I took a decidedly more laid back approach to the Pig. I knew I was in for some hellacious bridges and hills, the very same ones I toiled on three years ago as I got my running legs beneath me. I knew I would see dear friends and places that would conjure happy memories. And I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of every mile.
The forecast was calling for unseasonably warm temps (and the organizers even gave full marathoners the option of deferring to next year), so I was actually thankful for the ungodly early 6:30 a.m. start time. Nearly 20,000 people registered for the full and half marathons — a record — but the corrals and starting area were surprisingly organized and easy to navigate.
When I crossed the starting line near the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, I felt my eyes well with tears. Looking around at the bridges and buildings that were my home for three years, a huge wave of sentimentality washed over me. I smiled through it, said to myself, “Get it together, Maggie!” and we were off.
Two minutes in, we turned the corner up Joe Nuxhall Way next to Great American Ball Park, the first of many, many, many hills. Frankly, by comparison, it’s barely a hill. Yet, I was feeling the burn — and a little panic. Oh, crap. If this hill feels hard, what the hell am I gonna do when I get to Eden Park? Then, I calmly reminded myself that it always takes me a few miles to get comfortable and I trudged on.
We trekked over the bridge from downtown Cincinnati to Newport, Ky., then over the Licking River bridge from Newport to Covington. (Note: This is the bridge that three years ago spawned the “Bless America!” declaration I use when I’m in a situation where spewing four-letter words is not appropriate.) As I passed the street where I used to live, I was reminded of watching Bad Angels Adrea, Amie and Dave cruise by with smiles on their faces during the 2009 race, which is what planted the seed that maybe, maybe, maybe someday I would try a half for myself.
Then, it was back over to Cincinnati via the ridiculously long overpass we Angels affectionately call the Taco Bell bridge for a couple miles of relatively flat downtown running before beginning the ascent up Gilbert Avenue to Eden Park. (For those unfamiliar with Cincinnati, this series of hills was referred to as the Devil’s Backbone in the classic early 90s film “Airborne.”)
At this point, I realized I had misjudged the timing of my playlist. My “let’s kick this hill’s ass” songs came on about a mile too early.
The climb up Gilbert began, and the crowd started to thicken. The Beastie Boys blared into my ears, filling me with an emotion somewhere between anger and inspiration. I listened to “Say It” twice in a row to get me up that damn street, and then something strange happened. I had reached what is arguably the most difficult and intense part of the course: the insanely steep ascent into Eden Park. But the crowd cheering and the Beasties rapping gave me goosebumps. I felt so alive! That moment is what running is all about, friends.
The park was even lovelier than I remembered. (Though, I have to admit, I wanted to stab all of those marathon relay runners right in their daisy fresh legs. Boo!) The hill near the conservatory at mile 7 was rough, but I knew a water stop and my favorite view in the city were close at hand. I chomped a Shot Blok and took it all in.
After exiting the park and turning onto Victory Parkway, a gigantic speaker started blaring “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” It was like they were playing it just for me. I turned down my headphones and listened to MCA, AdRock and Mike D for as long as I could hear them.
The crowd grew again at the split for the half and full marathoners, and I was feeling sky-high. People say the half course is all downhill from there, but Adrea warned me that’s not exactly true. Miles 9 and 10 are ripe with sneaky difficult rolling hills before the real downhill free-fall begins. Being armed with that knowledge really saved my butt — and allowed me to save some energy in order to rock out a super-speedy 5K to finish the race.
Only one more hill to go: the stupid small incline on the final straightaway to the “Finish Swine.” I remembered how much I hated that thing in the 10K three years ago, and this time was no different. Cincinnati band Bad Veins (appropriately enough) provided my personal soundtrack for the sprint to the finish.
I had easily broken two hours, which was my only real time goal entering the race, and I was super pumped about it. I was able to thrive on what was by far the most difficult course I’ve ever run. Sure, it was my slowest half marathon, but I really don’t care. I truly had so much fun.
The rest of the day was just as wonderful. I got to see so many of my dearest Cincinnati friends, both during the race and afterward over beers and burgers. I felt loved.
In short, my entire Flying Pig experience was everything a race should be. — Mags