Back in 2008, I did the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati to count for the state of Ohio as part of my quest to complete a marathon in all 50 states. I remembered it as a fun race, very walker friendly (with a 7 hour cutoff), and lots of neat premiums. We came home that year with an attractive short-sleeve tech shirt (which I still wear), a large poster suitable for framing (and frame it I did), a large duffle bag, and my favorite medal, a 3-dimensional piggy with face on the front and cute little rear-end on the back. This was also the year there was a 3-alarm fire on the course so runners had to be diverted to an alternate (longer) route.
Although there are lots of races on the first weekend in May, I thought it would be a good idea to return to Cincinnati and check out the Pig again. I have to admit that a big inducement was the chance to do the 4-Way Challenge – this challenge meant that I would do a 10k run at 8 am on Saturday, followed by a 5k run at 10 am (both races started and ended very close to each other), and the full marathon on Sunday. People who wanted to do the 3-Way Challenge would do the 10k, 5k, and the half marathon. What would we get as our reward? Three piggy medals (two small piglets and one large pig) and a shirt for each race, short-sleeve cotton for the shorter races, short sleeve tech for the marathon, plus 2 premiums for completing the challenge itself – a long sleeve tech shirt and a plaque to hang our medals on. The sponsor of the 3- and 4-Way Challenges was Skyline Chili, a dish unique to Cincinnati by way of Greece. Three-way chili consists of chili and shredded cheese on top of spaghetti; 4-way includes onions or beans. Five-way has both onions and beans but so far there is no 5-way challenge. If there is one included for next year, I may be back to do the Pig again.
Our porcine adventure began on Friday morning with an early flight to Ohio via Atlanta. Once in Cincinnati, we made our way to retrieve our checked bags and ran into a person in Pig costume accompanied by several official greeters who gave us little pink goody bags. Next stop was the booth for Executive Air Transportation, a shuttle between the airport and downtown hotels in Cincinnati and Covington, KY (the two towns are separated by a bridge). Everyone in our shuttle was also in town for the races, although I was the only one doing the 4-Way.
We had reservations at the Westin Downtown, a nicely-appointed hotel but very pricey. Previously we had stayed at the Hilton but I remembered that hotel as slightly run-down and a little disappointing, so this year we opted for the more expensive but attractive Westin. We were able to check in right away so we quickly deposited our luggage in our room and headed down to the Expo at the Duke Energy Center, a short walk away. The expo was huge, much larger than I recalled, and quite overwhelming. I lined up at the Challenge section and received 3 bibs (chips on back), 3 shirts, 3 posters, and a good-sized plastic cooler bag. Then Darcy and I walked up and back and around all the booths multiple times, trying to take everything in. There were lots of samples and giveaways, including granola bars, frozen yogurt, and Proctor and Gamble miniatures (P & G was big sponsor). If there was something pig-related you could find it here. I bought a pig storybook for my granddaughter (signed by both the author and the artist), a mouse (‘pig’) pad, pig tattoos, and several other things I didn’t need but couldn’t resist.
It was time for lunch and my husband had already selected the Rock Bottom Brewery for our midday meal. The food was excellent and the music subdued, so we could actually carry on a conversation. After we ate our fill, it was time to go back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow’s two events. While I attached the 5 and 10k bibs to my race shirt (we were supposed to wear both bibs together on the front of our clothes) and selected my shoes and the rest of my outfit, my husband scouted out the start and finish lines for the two shorter races. Then it was early to bed for both of us, the exhaustion from the busy day finally catching up with us.
Saturday morning was cool, in the mid-fifties, with no sign of the predicted rain showers. After my coffee and bagel, I dressed and woke my husband and we headed out to the starting line at the Great American Ball Park. The 10k race was to begin at 8 am while the 5k was due to start at 10. There were a LOT of people ready to do the 10k and even more for the 5k – lots of people of all ages and abilities, many clubs and organizations, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes, all excited and enthusiastic. The elite runners at the very front may have been nervous and anxious but the vast majority of 5 and 10k runners and walkers seemed happy and relaxed. There was a pronounced spirit of fun that permeated the atmosphere; you could see it on the pig snouts and crocheted pig ears and plastic ‘pork chop’ butts that people sported.
I had not raced anything shorter than a half marathon in several years so it felt a little strange to be doing these relatively quick races. I had forgotten how to pace myself and decided to just go with the flow and try to do my best while remaining upright. I finished the 10k in 1:16:38 (12:22 pace) and the 5k in 38:44 (12:30 pace) so I was pleased. I should note that all my bibs, including that for the marathon, had a yellow ‘bar across the numbers to denote that I was a 4-way. After completing the 10k, instead of getting our medal for that race, we were encouraged to head over to the 5k starting line and wait to collect both our little piggy medals after we finished the 5k. Good idea – we didn’t want the 10k medal clanking and hitting us as we did the 5 k. The finisher chutes after both these races had a bounty of food available – I collected snack cakes, chips, nuts, fruit, bagels, and water.
With two races down and the afternoon ahead of us, Darcy and I decided to do a little sightseeing. We focused our attention on one major attraction, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and spent almost 3 hours looking at exhibits, watching a movie about Ohio’s role in the Underground Railroad, and viewing a special exhibit by Stephen Marc that combined landscape photo collages with documents and images of the Underground Railroad. We left the Center around 3 pm and realized we had better get some lunch. An obvious choice was a nearby Skyline Chili where we indulged in some 5-way chili dishes and a couple of cheese ‘coneys’ (hotdogs), wearing the obligatory bib to keep our clothes clean. Then it was back to the hotel to relax and get ready for the big race tomorrow.
On Sunday morning I was awake, fed, and dressed by 5 am and ready to go. Both the half and full marathons began at 6:30 am. We left the hotel around 5:30 and I found my way to corral (‘pig pen’) G (there was one ‘pig pen’ behind mine). Porta-potties were everywhere including several within each corral – and few long lines to use them. The atmosphere was very relaxed and tension-free compared to other marathons. There was no pushing or shoving or jockeying for position; people joked and laughed and in general seemed out for a good time. Just before the races began, there was an invocation, the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, and a moment of silence in honor of the Boston Marathon victims. Then the first corrals opened and runners spilled out while a recording of the Boston Red Sox favorite Sweet Caroline played. It took about 15 minutes for my corral to reach the start line. Spectators lined the streets for about the first 2 miles as we made our way across several bridges, through downtown, and then continued our jaunt in and around numerous neighborhoods and parks.
The weather started out in the 40’s and cloudy but about halfway through the race it began to drizzle and it continued for the rest of the race. Fortunately, I had a plastic umbrella bag that I placed over my casted arm (I was not supposed to get the cast wet) and that seemed to work well. Aid stations were spaced about every 2 miles and all had water and Gatorade; a goodly number had orange slices, bananas, licorice, gummy bears, cookies, gels, and other treats as well. I was most appreciative of the aid station at mile 24 that had fig newtons (I mean ‘pig’ newtons); I really needed a hit of sugar at that point. Bless those stalwart volunteers who stayed out in the rain to man the aid stations and medical tents and guide us at turns. I’d also like to thank all the police and state troopers who kept traffic at bay and watched out for us. Also deserving of gratitude are the many musicians who provided entertainment on the course. Unlike many other marathons, these musical groups stayed and played for the back-of-the-packers, much appreciated by 6 and 7 hour finishers.
Sure, there were some hills, but compared to the Georgia Marathon or Blue Ridge, these were just little bumps in the road. It was easy to forget about the inclines with cheering volunteers and spectators encouraging you and giving you a ‘thumbs up’ sign. The last couple of miles are downhill and the sight of the finish line (finish ‘swine’ in flying pig parlance) was just what I needed for that final push to finish in 5:54. Then it was back to the hotel for a quick shower, followed by brunch at CRAVE restaurant before we turned in for the evening.
One of the neatest things about the Flying Pig Marathon Weekend is the way the entire city seems to get into the porcine spirit. Volunteers are called ‘Grunts’ and there are entertainment grunts, aid station grunts, and security grunts – all with tee shirts that pronounce their status. Children’s races are called piglet events. Corrals are pig pens. Pink is the color of the weekend. Everyone in Cincinnati seems to know about the Pig. It’s a good feeling.
This race is definitely recommended for walkers. The 7 hour time limit is very generous and there are lots of walkers in both the half and the full marathons as well as the shorter races. The medal remains one of my favorites, and the extras – like the poster and cooler – are definitely value-added bonus items. Next time I do this race, I think I will crochet myself a pair of piggy ears.