Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Start Time: 6:30 AM
The Flying pig half marathon was one of my favorite half marathons! I really wanted to see what all the hype was about with this race and boy did I. There were tons of surprising elements to this race and I’m not just taking about the course itself. The local volunteers and cheer crowds are very passionate about this race and you can tell! If you ever needed support from a crowd to run a little bit harder and push through the pain, this was the race to run. It all started at the expo.
Most of these expos work in similar fashion. You first get you bib/packet, then head over to get your t-shirt, and stroll the convention center floor to pick up 1 or 2 free items from vendors. This expo on the other hand caught me off guard a little. It wasn’t because of the random painted pig statues, which were really creative, but more of the amount of free swag you pick up. P&G (Proctor and Gamble) was the main sponsor of this race and they had a huge presence! They had an area roped off as if you were ready to go onto the most popular roller coaster ride. P&G had a row of long tables set up with all kinds of free sample product including but not limited to detergent, mouthwash, and even feminine products. You could take as many as you wanted, within reason of course. I naturally grabbed 2 of each and went on my way to the t-shirt pick up section. I thought we were only getting a t-shirt, but was suddenly surprised when I received a quality backpack, large poster, and a 13.1 magnet as well. After collecting all of those items, I walked the convention center floor to pick up some literature, speak with a few venders and pick up a few other goodies then headed out.
The weather was great the morning of the race. A cool 38° with barely any wind and not a cloud in the sky. One thing that’s missing from this gear check is sunglasses or a hat. They are a must for this race as the sun is rising when you start and it’s a bit blinding in the first mile or so as well as a few other spots. Other than that, I chose to go with my compression shorts with regular running shorts overtop as well as a long sleeve compression shirt with a wicking short sleeve t-shirt over that (always remember that cotton is rotten!). I could have just used a wicking t-shirt for this race, but I chose to add a little extra on in the event it was a bit chilly by the water (which it was).
With the start of the race set for 6:30, my team and I decided to get to the starting area around 5:30. I like to get there early because I need to loosen up a little by stretching or perhaps having a few quick bursts of running a few feet to get the body ready. Also, I needed to shed my pants and jacket to give to the gear check volunteers. The gear check bus system was very well-organized and I handed in my clear bag within seconds of arriving to the correct bus. There was a live band playing near the starting line keeping everyone motivated and as expected there were lines at the porta potty, but there were more than enough to use. There seemed to be even more porta pottys on the course than at the start which is a good sign for some. We got to our corral which are called “pig pens” and waited patiently for the start of the race. I found it amusing that someone shouted out “let my people go!” in reference to Moses. The pig pens let out a couple of minutes apart. Our pig pen was next in line and what came next was awesome.
Some races start with a “bang” while others with an air horn…
The Flying Pig half marathon started with flames!!
And just like that, the race was off! As we’re rounding Paul Brown Stadium the sunrise crept up and for a few moments it’s blinding, but beautiful. As I stated earlier, this would have been a good time to have sunglasses or even a hat. One thing to be careful of in the first mile other than clothing shed by runners, are the center islands dividing the lanes of traffic. They can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention. After that is the very first turn. This is a little difficult to navigate because it’s a sharp turn and there are still a lot of people to sift through the streets. The crowds of cheering fans/family/friends on the sidelines will be excited to see you race past them, but this is only just the beginning. The first memorable part of this race other than the start is the Taylor Southgate Bridge into Kentucky. Yes, you read that correctly. This race takes place in not one, but two states!!
After crossing into Kentucky you pass the Newport Aquarium and navigate through a couple turns leading up to the first fluid station. I generally tend to avoid the first fluid station because it is always the busiest. There is also one a little less than a mile down the road after crossing the second bridge into Covington. Something to be aware of while approaching the fluid stations are the amounts of runners stopping to grab water or Gatorade. The system seems to work well for the volunteers with small groups of runners, but when everyone is in need of fluids at the same time it tends to get a bit dicey especially if you’re running for time. Shortly after that station comes the 3rd bridge exiting Kentucky. The Clay Wade Bailey Bridge is yet another spectacular sight to see. The sunrise was in full force overtop of the city.
After crossing the bridge you are met with another fluid station as well as members of the Purple Mile Team in Training who hold fundraisers for Leukemia and Lymphoma. A few more turns and you end up in downtown Cincinnati. This is a great area filled with cheering fans, volunteers, and lots of music. Both sides of the street are filled with motivational posters for family as well as some hilarious posters.
At this point it was a good idea for us to take a few deep breaths and shake out our arms. This part of the course is flat and while I was excited from all of the cheer crowds and posters I knew the hilly challenge awaited. The hills on this course were intense, but placed perfectly in the middle of the race and for good reason. Hill training and preparation is definitely a must for this race. On the way up, all of the runners were greeted with tons of cheering fans and family. I’ve never seen this much support going up a hill, but wow there were a lot of people cheering. There was even a guy standing on one of the street divider islands with a bull horn saying “get the F up the hill” while holding the letter “F.” When we reached the top we were met with stunning views of Eden Park and a great panoramic view of Kentucky. This was without a doubt the prettiest and most scenic part of the race and it was worth it to climb up those hills. I found this an opportune moment to stop and take a few pictures. About halfway through mile 8 is the half and full marathon split. I was worried about the split and how organized it would be, but it was clearly marked.
This is the point that I tell my team to take a few more deep breaths and let them know that for every uphill, there is a downhill and wow I was right. The last 3 miles of the course are all downhill!! At certain points during this downhill there were runners excited to see something other than an uphill. While it’s great to have this element in the course as it gives you the speed you need to finish, it’s also not so great if you don’t control your legs and feet. Slapping your feet against the ground on this long of a downhill (or any downhill) isn’t the best for your legs. This downhill was a great ride which led us right back into downtown Cincinnati. The cheering grew louder on these last few miles.
There were more fluid stations along the way as well as people handing out Twizzlers and orange peels which was a pleasant surprise! The local high school football team, cheerleaders, and band were out cheering for us as we ran through their balloon arch.
Closing in on the finish line, or “Finish Swine” they call it, I felt a little bit of relief and joy. My team and I made it through the course together and helped each other out. Most of the help really came from the volunteers and cheering fans as they came out and rooted for everyone. It didn’t matter if you were a stranger or not, they cheered for you.
After we crossed the finish line and grabbed our medals, we walked into the food/refreshment area. There were tons of snacks and of course the much-needed post race bananas. Overall this race was filled with beautiful scenery, large crowds of fans, and perfect running weather. We couldn’t have asked for a better race day experience.