For years I have heard other runners talk about how wonderful the Flying Pig Marathon is. Runners get very nice gear with their entry and the race is considered to be one of the best in the country. I decided that it was time I ran this race and experienced it for myself so off to Cincinnati I went.
On the drive from the airport to my hotel, Jake, the shuttle driver, told me the history of the winged pigs. At one time Cincinnati was nicknamed “Porkopolis” because it was the country’s chief hog packing center, and herds of pigs often traveled the streets. For the city’s bicentennial, Andrew Leicester, a renowned artist, was commissioned to come up with some way to capture the city’s history as an in-land port and industrial center. He designed four steamboat stacks topped with winged pigs that were placed in Sawyer Point Park along the Ohio River front. Apparently there were mixed emotions about having pigs in one of the city’s parks. But since Cincinnati had been the final stop on many a pig’s earthly journey, winged pigs seemed to be most appropriate. Rather than hide their past, the citizens of Cincinnati decided to embrace the pig.
When they were looking for a name for the annual marathon race, the Flying Pig was the obvious choice. Something about a winged pig makes people smile. They carry the pig theme all through the races too. Corrals are “pigpens”. The finish line is the “Finish Swine”. For the kids races including the diaper dash, the participants are called “piglets”. Volunteers are called “Grunts” and many dress up with pig noses and ears too. There is no escaping the pig.
The Flying Pig race weekend had several race events. On Friday, there was the Little Kings Mile (whose participants are called “Brew Hogs” and enjoy lots of beer after the event). On Saturday there was a 5K and 10K plus a 2-mile “Flying Fur” event for dogs and their owners. The full and half marathon were run on Sunday.
For runners who just can’t get enough racing, they had the 3-Way and 4-Way Challenges (named by Skyline Chili, the sponsor of the events, after two of their menu items). For the 3-Way Challenge, a runner had to complete the 5K, 10K, and half marathon. For the 4-Way Challenge, a runner had to run the 5K, 10K, and full marathon. I was glad that I didn’t know about those challenges before I travelled to Cincinnati. I might have been tempted to enter the 3-Way Challenge just to get all the extra medals and shirts.
For an additional fee, runners could enter the Pump N’ Run that combines weight lifting and running. Participants had to bench press a percentage of their body weight (based on their age and gender) to earn a time reduction for each bench press repetition that they completed – a 30-second time reduction for each bench press repetition for the 5K and 10K, or a 2-minute time reduction for the half and full marathon. The maximum time reduction for the 5K/10K was 15 minutes (i.e., 30 reps) and 100 minutes for the half/full marathons (i.e., 50 reps). The weight lifting was done at the Expo. I wondered if I could do this and shave off enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. If this appeals to you, apparently the Flying Pig isn’t the only race in the country that offers the Pump N’ Run option.
This year’s Flying Pig had the largest number of registered participants for all the events – 37,770. There were 4,458 runners registered for the full marathon and 12,422 for the half marathon. This race is so popular that they had runners from all 50 states and 22 countries!
The Expo was fairly large. All the runners received a technical shirt, a back pack, and a poster depicting this year’s race theme. This race has an incredible number of sponsors like Proctor and Gamble who gave out free product samples including shampoo and tissues. I was glad that I came with a fairly empty suitcase – I was going to be filling it up with lots of loot. There was a Goodwill pop-up shop that was selling running clothes for $2. What a brilliant idea! I realized when one of the vendors recognized me from the Expo in Louisville that I probably have been racing just a little too much.
The weather was pretty good on race morning – upper 40s/low 50s. Before the start, I was chatting with other runners about the course. I had seen an elevation map (or, as I refer to it, the EKG map) of the course at the Expo. It didn’t look that bad to me. I just didn’t see how it could be worse than the Caesar Rodney race in Wilmington that was uphill from Mile 6 to Mile 9. I thought that race was pretty bad. But a runner who had done the race before cautioned me that it is much worse than it looks.
The race started along the river by the Cincinnati Bengals stadium. As we headed out, I heard squealing. I looked ahead and saw a man with a pig on a leash. I saw him and the pig several times along the course.
We crossed the river into Kentucky and ran down to the next bridge to cross back to Cincinnati. When we got to Mile 4, the crowds were huge. All the people who had been cheering at the start line had moved to this part of the course. It was exciting to have so much crowd support at that point in the race.
Our adrenaline was pumping as we left the downtown area – good thing because it was up hill after that – from about Mile 5 to Mile 9.5. It seemed like it would never end. We were running uphill and would come to a turn, expecting that things would level off but they didn’t. We just kept climbing. I learned later that Cincinnati is also known as the “City of Seven Hills”. I got to know that one very well.
As they say, what goes up must come down. After we got past all those climbs, it was time to head to the “finish swine”. It was 3 miles downhill. The first part was a very steep grade. That made me remember something that Jake, the shuttle bus driver, said “Running uphill is better than running down hill. There is less impact to the knees running uphill.” He was right. My knees started screaming at me at that point.
After I crossed the finish line, I came out to the most impressive selection of runner refreshments that I have ever seen. In addition to the normal water, Gatorade, and bananas, they had fruit cups, squeezable yogurt, apples, power bars, crackers, and cookies. I couldn’t carry everything so I was stuffing things down my shirt. (I forgot about my loaded shirt when I went for my picture with my medal. Oops.)
As I headed back to my hotel, I thought about how difficult the course had been. When they say that the course is worse than it looks, they aren’t kidding. I decided that this one was a once-and-done race.
A few days after the race, I started to think about how much fun the race had been and less about the climb up to Mile 9.5. There was great course support with lots of cheering people and plenty of water stops, port-a-potties, and refreshments. The fun was trumping the pain I went through during the race. I learned that the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon women’s division winner was Amy McDonaugh, 34, mother of three and legally blind. Now that is inspiring! After considering the challenges that Amy faced running the full marathon and winning it, I decided that I should come back and run the full marathon myself. The 20th anniversary of the race will be in 2018 and they will probably have great bling for that one. If I trained for the hills, I could do well. I guess you could say that this pig will fly again!