The 2017 Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon…I was due a good one
I am a diehard Cincinnati girl! I love this city & I love this race. This was my fifth consecutive year running the Flying Pig (all but one being the full marathon), so I know I may seem a little biased… But I have run this race in some horrible conditions, like 85 degrees and sunny coming down the home stretch where there is no shade. And I’ve also run other marathons. So I’d like to think, despite my home-field advantage, I’m able to look at the Flying Pig Marathon through unbiased eyes… and still say it is my FAVORITE MARATHON! It is a pretty course, it is a challenging course, and it is a fun course. So here’s my race recap of this year’s Flying Pig.
A whole lot a history
In November 2016, I ran the Indy Monumental Marathon as my sixth full marathon. It was the perfect day. The weather was great, my running group was all there, my training had gone smoothly…This was suppose to be the day I got my 4:30:00 marathon! (Side note: I know a 4:30:00 marathon is a Sunday stroll for a lot of runners, but that is what I love about this sport – my goals are not the same as anyone else’s…And while 4:30:00 may seem easy to some, I had to work really hard to get there.)
Which makes what happened next all the more deflating. We were on a great pace until the half mark where my back seized up, and I had to endure one of the most painful 13.1 miles of my life… So the Austin Marathon in February 2017 was suppose to be my ‘Redemption Marathon.’
I went into Austin suffering from a knee injury and had horrible weather conditions for what became another Bad Marathon…So I set my sights on Nashville last month where I would finally get that REDEMPTION race…But a bout of whooping cough (who knew you don’t have to be in daycare to get that) and even MORE horrible weather conditions forced me to back down to the half…WATCH ME BOMB THAT RACE IN THIS RACE RECAP VIDEO
So over six months I attempted to reach my 4:30:00 marathon THREE times, and I failed – MISERABLY – all three times. I was completely and totally defeated. And what’s worse, I was AFRAID! I was afraid of the marathon. I had developed this anxiety as I approached the Starting Line that I wasn’t physically or mentally capable of tackling this distance…and that was a scary feeling! Because I LOVE the marathon…at least that’s what I thought. The marathon has become such an integral part of my life that I began to question who I would be, what my life would look like, without it. Now I know this seems very overdramatic and self-absorbed to people who aren’t in the running community…but to those of you who are – you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
The marathon is more than just a race or a challenge or an obstacle. It is the bar to which I measure my existence. It is what keeps me pushing forward, not just on the road, but also at home as a wife and mom, in my career as a freelance writer, and in pursuit of my passion as a novelist. It is my spiritual time with the Lord. It is my therapy, my social life, my health, my wellbeing…it is the thing I hope to pass-on to my children… So if I am not a marathoner – then who am I????
This question gave me chest pains. A pit so deep in my stomach I can still feel it just typing these words today.
So going into the 2017 Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, to say I was not in the proper headspace would be a vast understatement. AND, on top of everything else, the week between the Rock ’n Roll Nashville Marathon and the Flying Pig Marathon – my grandmother passed away and I found out a immediate family member has Parkinson’s Disease…
Despite all of that, I swallowed my antibiotics, and pride, and decided to run the marathon… thinking ‘What the Hell? It CAN’T be any worse than the last three races.’
Let’s pick up our packet
The expo is held at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. I went to the expo on Friday afternoon at lunchtime, so it wasn’t crowded yet. Parking can sometimes get tricky when it is busier, but knowing the city – I am always able to find a meter on the street. For out-of-towners staying downtown, everything is within walking distance. I only had an hour on my meter, so I quickly jogged through the drizzle to the expo.
The expo is always well organized and I had no problem picking-up my packet. The race organizers are smart and put your swag at the other end of the expo so you have to walk through all the vendors. There are always a nice number of vendors at the Pig Expo. This year, as in the last two years, the expo was set-up in a grid pattern. I’m sure this helps with traffic flow, but I have to say – I miss the days when the expo was set-up in a serpentine where you all had to herd like cattle…because it meant you got to see every booth. When expos are in a grid, I find myself wondering aimlessly…I didn’t really need anything though, so I bought my Flying Pig water bottle for myself and three adorable pig snout sugar cookies from 3 Sweet Girls Cakery for my girls. (I thought it was very smart of a bakery to have a booth at the expo.) I also heard the United Way or Salvation Army had a booth where you could buy throw away clothes for the CHILLY race-day weather we were SO OVERDUE TO ENJOY ON PIG MORNING!!!!
The Flying Pig always gives some nice swag. Our theme this year was pig-mojis – which I thought was adorable… We got a nice backpack and a commemorative poster. *NOTE – A lot of people were pulling their packets and other purchases out of their plastic bags and putting them into their backpacks on tables set-up at the back of the expo…I know the clear bags are for gear check, but it might be a thought to give us our swag backpacks/bags with our bibs…and then make us walk to the back of the expo for our shirts and posters (just less stuff for us to have to carry…)
On my way back to my meter, I had enough time to stop in at a restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a LONG time, Raya’s Lebanese. I LOVE falafels, so I got a falafel gyro. It was out of this world! Although the falafels were great, the star of the show was the fresh pita that I swear had just been made from scratch before being wrapped around my sandwich! If you come to Cincinnati to run the Pig, I highly recommend stopping in at this diner.
This room cost how much???
After the expo on Friday I went straight to my daughters’ school to help decorate for/chaperone their Father Daughter Dance. I was running all over that school, not taking it easy at ALL! I did make sure to have snacks in my backpack and keep my 50 oz. water bottle on me at all times. After the dance, at about 8:45 I finally sat down to some leftover pizza. Knowing two nights before a race is really important, I wanted to make sure I got a good source of carbohydrates, and I know pizza works well for me. Do I know a sweet potato or other form of natural carbohydrates is more nutritious? Yep… But I know what works for my body, and pizza does the trick.
I went home and collapsed into bed and opted to skip my small town’s annual Derby Dash 5k on Saturday morning. It had been such a long, stressful week – I just wanted to stay in bed for a few extra hours. I made sure to start hydrating as soon as I got up, and had
2 slices of Ezekiel Bread, 2 Tbsp Natural PB, and 1 banana
We took our girls to the Derby Day festival where we walked and they rode rides. It was tricky finding something meat-free, non-fried to eat at the festival…but luckily there was a Chinese food booth where I found some plain rice. And then my husband found these AMAZING thinly spiraled potatoes that were lightly fried…Oh My Lord, they were SO good!!! I just fell right into a carbohydrate heaven!
I left the festival a little early to head home and eat more of my tried and true pizza for dinner and pack my overnight bag. Even though I consider Cincinnati home, I am still about 30 miles from the city. Because the Flying Pig has a 6:30 a.m. start, my brother-in-law (who runs the Half Marathon) gets a hotel room downtown and is gracious enough to let me stay with them.
This year we stayed at the Millennium, which is right next to the expo and only a few blocks from the Starting Line. We were on the Thirteenth Floor… I didn’t think hotels had 13th floors, and coming off three horrible marathons I was not looking for anything else to freak me out – so I tried to push the Tower of Terror to the back of my mind as I boarded the elevator. I got off the elevator and attempted to find our room only to learn that there are two towers in the Millennium Hotel – and I was in the wrong one. So a quick trip back to the lobby and a different set of elevators solved that problem. The room was decent enough with modern furnishings attempting to mask the old space…but the bed was quite possibly the WORST bed I’ve ever slept on in a hotel room that cost $180 a night. It was literally a sheet of plywood with a mattress slapped on top. As I tried to get comfortable that night I kept telling myself, “They sleep in tents and pick-up truck beds on ultra races…surely I’ll survive a creaky double-bed…”
Neither the alarm clock nor phone worked in our room, so we all set our alarms on our phone for a 4:50 a.m. wake-up. I had no trouble going to sleep, and I slept really good – despite the fact that any time someone went to the bathroom and flushed the toilet it sounded like a helium tank exploded in the pipes… But I woke-up around 3:30 worried we’d overslept and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to get up and take a hot shower to warm my muscles up… This shower was again one of the most disgusting experiences I’ve ever had in a hotel room costing more than $100 a night. When I stepped into the shower, my feet squished down against the floor… They had obviously tried to cheaply refinish the tub, and there was water trapped between the two layers. It was like taking a shower standing on a waterbed…there was NO way I was taking an ice bath here!!!
I went downstairs to make my breakfast – oats with vegan protein – and while they did have a nice area set-up where they were selling breakfast to the runners; they didn’t have any bowls??? So I made due with a coffee cup. Normally I have a hard time choking down my breakfast on race day, but I was hungry and able to eat everything. I went back up to the room as my sister and brother-in-law were getting up and had time to do some PT warm-ups and spend some time on my foam roller… I felt great!
It was 35 degrees outside!!! I mean, we were due some nice weather at the Flying Pig (it typically is above 60 degrees at the start), and this day couldn’t have been anymore perfect!!!! I wore my compression sleeves, shorts and t-shirt – and this was my first full marathon I didn’t wear my fuel belt. It was so liberating to not have that thing strapped around my waist!!! (Although I kept thinking I was forgetting something as we walked to the Start Line:) I definitely fell into the newbie runner mistake of thinking I needed to eat and drink WAY more during marathons than I actually do… so I’ve been working on eating and drinking less on training runs. During this marathon I was able to carry my 2 GUs and a package of Honey Stinger Chews in the pockets of my Blyss running shorts (which are AMAZING!!!!)
I brought a pair of throwaway gloves and headband to the Starting Line, and – as usual – was sporting my trusty garbage bag.
As I walked to the corrals, I still hadn’t devised my race strategy… Did I want to go out with the 4:30:00 pacer and try to hang with them as long as I could, or did I want to hang back with my 4:45:00 group and see if I had anything left in me to push through the second half of the race? I honestly left it up to chance, and bumped into my 4:45:00 friends first – which turned out to be the PERFECT unplanned plan!
I came to play
It was so good to be surrounded by my running friends at the Starting Line, especially the first time marathoners… I ran into a friend from my hometown who was running her first marathon! There is something about the energy that exudes off newbies… It’s electric and contagious. I was able to shed all my extra layers before crossing the Starting Line, and felt confident starting the run.
We went out SLOW!!! Which is always the smart thing to do. The first 3 Miles of the Flying Pig take you between Ohio and Kentucky over three bridges. While they aren’t huge, they are still hills and you don’t want to tire out before you get to the big hill at Mile 6. The first few miles of the race offer great views of the city and amazing crowd support. This year there were some minor course changes due to roadwork, and I think I speak for all of my running friends when I say, ‘Please try to keep these changes!!!!’ We got to cut-off a less-than-scenic section of the course and felt like we got a shortcut to Mile 4-5, which takes you down 7th Street. The sun is always blinding here as it rises between the buildings, so don’t forget your glasses. The crowd support is unbelievable as you approach the climb up to Eden Park.
The hardest part of the Flying Pig Marathon is the approximately three-mile climb through Eden Park. It begins a little before Mile 6 and goes to Mile 9. In those three miles you have about a 400-foot elevation gain, but it is beautiful… and Elvis is always waiting for you outside the Krohn Conservatory before you round out onto the Overlook with an amazing view of the Ohio River. I knew I had to get to the top of Eden Park before I could even consider picking-up my pace, and I have never felt better running up that God-forsaken hill… I knew now was the time to make my move, so I just let my body lead the way. I picked-up my pace on the down hills and pulled back a bit on the up hills as we moved along the rolling hills of Madison Avenue.
Mile 11 takes you through Hyde Park, which is one of Cincinnati’s quant neighborhoods. And while there is a bit of an incline up Erie Avenue, it was so nice to have another course detour this year where we got to run all the way down Erie on Mile 12…which was my fastest mile of the marathon at a 9:42:05 pace.
After the Half Marathon mark the marathon evens out and is relatively flat. At this point I knew I’d gained back some ground on the down hills that I’d lost in the first few miles, so if I could regulate my pace and stay in a comfortable groove I might be close to my 4:30:00 finish. But honestly, at this point – and through the entire day – I just wanted to have a good run. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to enjoy it and remember what it felt like to run a good race… And it was happening. I had my headphones in blaring my playlist, and I was in the zone. I kept telling myself, if you start to hurt or tire – you can always pull back… but if you feel good, keep going. So I kept going.
Through the first half of the race, I nibbled on my Stinger Honey Chews (having two every few miles.) This works for me to keep my blood sugar stable. At the half mark I opened a GU, but I ate it slowly over the course of two miles. This also helps me avoid a stomachache. I only took water when I felt thirsty, and even then I would only sip.
Miles 14-18 take you through the charming Village of Mariemont where it seems the entire community comes out for a huge block part on marathon day. This is usually the point in this marathon where I want to die…but not today! While I didn’t need anything the crowd had, like popsicles or crackers, it was so nice to feed off their energy! And this was where I saw my favorite poster of the day that read
“Someday you won’t be able to do this… Today is not that day!”
And this quote stuck with me as I thought about the death of my grandmother and the illness of my family member. It is so simple, yet so profound… We are truly blessed to be marathon runners and we need to savor it while we can!
Mile 18 takes runners out onto the most boring stretch of the marathon; US 50…It is just a highway with nothing really to look at and no shade cover, which is brutal in hot years. However, the Cincinnati Parrot Heads have their water stop set-up here, which is always fun (unless you’re having a bad race, in which case it wouldn’t matter if Jimmy Buffett himself were out on the course.) And this is also where they have the Inspirational Mile, which is lined with quotes from people like Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller.
You leave U.S. 50 and turn right onto Eastern Avenue. The shade trees provide much relief from the sun and the volunteers pull out all the stops to help you forget that you are on Mile 20 of your marathon. My favorite, most memorable, water stop of the day was along Eastern where Mrs. Clause handed me my water. They had Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men, which was a lot of fun. Around Mile 21 you can usually find people offering beer, tequila or Jell-O shots, which on a bad day I might gladly accept, but today I felt great and wanted to keep moving.
I told myself I wasn’t even going to start doing ‘marathon math’ until I got to Mile 20. At this point, I knew I could assess my chances of a 4:30:00 finish. Once I did the math, I knew it would be close… so I tried not to mentally freak myself out, instead listen to my body and push until I didn’t think I could push anymore. I was still cranking out sub-ten-minute miles, so I just kept going. I was able to get another half GU down around Mile 20.
Right before Mile 22, you turn onto the dreaded Riverside Drive… I mean, the last four miles of every marathon are dreaded, but Riverside is just a straight shot along the river with nothing to really look at except the skyline off in the distance that looks about forever away. However, Mile 22 is also where you get to do your Layup for Lauren, which is always a motivator to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
About Mile 24, I really started to feel it… I’d just raced 24 miles. I didn’t feel like I was ‘hitting the wall’ but I knew I was going to need some help to finish strong. This is where my AMAZING running friends stepped in and helped get me across the finish line. I knew my friends were going to be coming up, so when I spotted them (all wearing their half marathon medals) I yelled, ‘Who wants to pace me at a ten-minute mile?’ Erin quickly threw her medal to her sister and jumped on the course with me. She talked to me about any and everything to keep my mind off running. And she ran me up one of the last two hills of the course to mile 25. Then I caught Justin who ran me up the last hill where our Head Coach Joe ran me in… That was a pretty cool feeling! I crossed the Finish Line feeling strong, and a little bit like I might vomit, at 4:32:45 which I will take ANY day!!!
Yes, I was due a good run – and the 2017 Flying Pig Marathon gave me just that! I feel a renewed sense of confidence in my training, and I’m ready to set loftier goals. If I could feel that good at the Finish Line of a 4:32:45 marathon, I am ready to train and work harder for a more serious goal. I remember a Facebook post I made after completing my first sub-five-hour marathon. It said something along the lines of, “I know I’ll never qualify for Boston…” After this runner’s high I’m still riding, I know if I work really hard and never give up I might just have to eat my words one of these days…