Before I had even taken one step in my first marathon, I had registered for my second. Back in October, at the Marine Corps Marathon expo in Washington, I passed the Flying Pig Marathon booth and signed up on the spot. One of my sisters lives just outside Cincinnati, which is drivable from my parents’ house, so I figured it would be an easy race for my family to attend.
Fast forward six and a half months.
My sister, Donna, came to DC to watch me run MCM, and afterward, she casually mentioned something about training for her first 5k. So for her birthday, I registered her for the Tri-State Running Company 5k, one of the races on the calendar during Flying Pig weekend. Little did I know that it wouldn’t end up being her first. Or that she would turn it into a family affair. The weekend prior, she and my niece ran a 5k in their neighborhood that benefited my niece’s elementary school. So technically, this was their SECOND race, but the first one they would run as a family (including my brother-in-law).
Saturday morning, we drove over to Great American Ballpark, the start of the 5k. I took my nephew, who was still pretty confused about what was going on, to a spot in the race where we could cheer for them at mile 2 and still have enough time to make it to the finish line. He and I both made signs to cheer the runners on. His was a four-year old’s depiction of monkeys swinging from tree to tree. Mine read, “You should have pooped at the beginning.” I like to think we helped motivate everyone up the one hill in the course.
All of the races during the weekend were either sold-out and/or record-breaking events, so the 5k was very, very crowded. We managed to spot them at both points and snapped a few pics while we cheered them on.
I couldn’t be prouder of them for doing this as a family.
I’d taken off work early Friday and gone to the expo at the Duke Energy Convention Center. It was huge. Kudos, Flying Pig organizers. Vendors large and small from all over the country were there, promoting one race or product or another. The swag was ample, too. Proctor and Gamble, based in Cincy, doled out samples of all kinds of home goods – shampoo, deodorant, lady products. I managed not to sign up for another race, which is a good thing because my fall schedule is looking a bit overbooked.
Saturday night, I met up with my training partners, Lindsay and Scott, and their families for a carbalicious dinner at Pompilios in Newport. This would be Lindsay’s sixth marathon, but Scott was still a virgin. We spent most of the night allaying his fears of a code brown and enjoying the company of the prom kids who had invaded the restaurant. I spotted a camo tux, which was awesome. We were still in Kentucky, after all, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Back at my sister’s, it was lights out at 9:30, and I proceeded to wake up on the hour, every hour, until 4:00 am rolled around and I hauled my somnolent body out of bed. Lindsay, Scott and I (along with Lindsay’s sister, Shannon, who ended up PRing the half) met up at Scott’s hotel in Covington to take the free shuttle to the start line.
Like I said earlier, every race at this year’s Flying Pig weekend set records for participation, most likely due to the fact that organizers reopened registration after the events in Boston. That meant 33,000 people were starting either the half or full marathon (including relay teams) at the same time. We saw our friend, Dawn, right before the race. This was her 4th marathon this year, so she was starting a couple of corrals back.
After the sun broke over the horizon and a group sang a slightly off-tune national anthem, we crossed the starting line and took off. Sort of. It was Dodge City. We spent the first several miles bunched up behind runners (and walkers) choking the riverside streets of Porkopolis. The route took us across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge into Newport, where the congestion issues continued.
The route turned west and we crossed the Licking River in Covington. (I had a friend in college who told me the Licking River is so polluted it once caught on fire. And now I think about that every time I see it.) At any rate, the streets of Covington were narrow and clogged with supporters, so Lindsay and I took shifts carving paths and threading needles through three-wide walkers and people who had obviously lied about their expected finish times. Scott’s family greeted us as we crossed the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge back into the Buckeye State. After running around a rather unremarkable industrial part of the city, we headed into downtown and the throngs of fans who were waiting there. It was hard to suppress the smile that had formed on my face because of how amped up I get when there are people cheering on the sides.
Up ahead rose Mt. Adams, an affluent neighbhorhood of Cincinnati just east of downtown. Climbing the two-mile hill wasn’t easy, but we’d been training on hills for months, so we just put one foot in front of the other while our fellow comrades were dropping like flies. A funny thing happened here. I have a Twitter friend who lives in Cincinnati I’ve never met in real life. For some reason, I thought I saw him on the side of the street holding a sign. (Note: later Twitter conversations confirmed that it was him.) Mt. Adams gave us a breathtaking view of the city, but we didn’t have time to lollygag. A cursory glance at Ohio River and the outstretched neighborhoods below would have to suffice until a return trip with more time. When we (finally) crested the top of hill and left Eden Park, we came to the point in the course where the half marathoners would split from us and head toward the finish. And after they turned back, the road opened up before us. We could finally stop worrying about the congestion and just run. Zone out and go through the motions. Our next few miles were carried out at around an 8:45 pace – fast for us. Maybe it was the overzealousness of having the freedom to move about as much as we wanted, but we started to book it.
Lindsay and Scott took a bathroom break around mile 9, but I kept on, knowing they would catch me on a pre-planned walk break at mile 12. It was this time alone that I realized I hadn’t done one of the things I almost always do on longer races. I hadn’t given a name to anyone running near me. Enter Shirtless Guy. Shirtless Guy had been running near us for awhile and appeared to be in much better shape than me, but he would have to be my silent pacing partner/rival for the time being. Shirtless Guy sucked at pacing. He would bound down the declines and decelerate to a slow jog on the inclines, which I noticed were becoming increasingly routine on the course. Near mile 11, we entered the Hyde Park neighborhood, which was my favorite part of the race. Someone was cooking bacon, (appropriate, no?). By this point, I had written off Shirtless Guy because his erratic pace was frustrating. And he had already left me in his dust. Whatevs, Shirtless Guy. It was also in Hyde Park that a woman carrying an American flag high above her outstretched arm zoomed past me. Whoa. I know we hadn’t run that far, but how did she have the energy to race past me that fast? And that’s when I first became aware of the relay runners, who would come to frustrate me with their fresh legs and fast tempos throughout the rest of the marathon.
As predicted, Lindsay and Scott caught me at mile 12 right after my walk break. We high-fived Lindsay’s boyfriend and his family as we passed their house, laughed at some college kids who seemed to be continuing a party from the night before and chatted about the rolling streets before us.
Before I knew it, we turned a corner and a woman greeted us with, “Welcome to Mariemont.” This is where my family was going to be. I was getting tired but still felt good enough to keep our sub-9:00 pace. I saw my family amidst the group, ran over to thank them for coming, and scurried off to rejoin my running buddies.
Miles 16-19 were fine, although my tired legs felt heavier and heavier with every step. The three of us had agreed to pace together through mile 20, and it was quickly approaching. One thing had zapped my energy levels. The hills. They weren’t hills, though. They were just inclines and declines. Over and over and over. I’m sure I’m exaggerating, and other racers probably didn’t notice them, but these things DID. NOT. STOP. When we crested one, another one popped up right after it. At mile 20, Lindsay had started to pull away, and I could tell she was having a good run. I was hoping she would just go if she felt good enough, and she did. A half mile later, she was almost out of sight. And so it was just me and Scott. I told him to go on if he had legs because I was fading fast, but his endurance had waned, too. Alright, I thought, let’s just be miserable together.
For me, post-20-mile runs are mostly mental, but I’ll be honest with you – I was friggin’ exhausted. Just beat. At the Marine Corps Marathon, I walked on the mile, every mile, from 20-24. I didn’t want to do that again, so Scott and I would run as far as we could and then walk when we needed. It became a running theme (see what I did there?) for us to change goals mid-conversation.
“Let’s run again at that street sign.”
“This street sign?”
“No, the next one.”
“The next next one?”
Someone in the crowd yelled out that the rest of the course was all downhill after one last incline around 22, and in my running stupor, I believed him. When we got to the top, there was another slope upward waiting for us. If I had had the energy, I would have run back and kicked him in the face. Somewhere from 20-25, it started raining. Medics on bikes were asking people if they were okay, and the whole scene started to look like an episode of The Walking Dead. Scott and I commiserated liked grumpy old men, and my internal voice questioned why I was out there.
“You already ran a marathon. You don’t have anything else to prove. Why are you doing this? It’s cold and raining and you still have miles to go. You could be eating Qdoba and watching Family Guy right now.”
Also somewhere during this time, I heard a woman yell out, “Four more miles to the Promised Land!” I can’t remember if she said four or five or six or whatever because I can’t really recall too many details from this time. At any rate, I recognized the voice from somewhere. And then it hit me. It was Crazy Grandma from the half I ran just outside Cincinnati last August. “Hi, Crazy Grandma,” I said under my breath.
At mile 25, I knew I would finish, even if on bloody stumps. We were still on pace to finish in under 4:30 (my original goal), but the hopes of crossing the line in under 4:15 (my secret goal) were gone. There was to be no walking in the last mile, so we picked up our wet, heavy feet one more time. I told Scott to go on if he had legs, and that I was doing all I could with what energy I had left. He gained about 100 yards on me, and as we came up over the last incline, I could see the finish “swine” ahead. The crowds were 15-deep, and Scott’s family and friends cheered me on when I passed them. All of the agony of the last five miles was gone in a blink and was replaced with that feeling of elation and accomplishment I felt the last time I did this. I spotted my family on the second level of a parking garage overlooking the home stretch, and I teared up a bit. It was at this point, too, that I thought of Boston and the shameful cowards who would dare to take away this joy. I had my own moment of silence for them before crossing the finish line and checking off my second marathon.
Official chip time: 4:25:59. A new PR by 27 minutes!
Lindsay and Scott were waiting for me right after I got my medal (which is AMAZING). All three of us set PRs – Lindsay in 4:16 and change and Scott 51 seconds ahead of me. Our friend, Matt, blazed a 3:37 and was waiting for Dawn to finish. The rain was falling harder, and the temperatures had dropped significantly by the time I found my family. They took me back to my car, and my sister drove us to her house, where I devoured a buffalo chicken sandwich and showered.
I can’t praise the organizers of Flying Pig more. From registration through the post-race celebration, everything was perfect. There were ample supply stops – water, Gatorade, gels, fruit, you name it – throughout the course. And to make the experience even better, each neighborhood turned out in full force to cheer us on with their own signs and treats. Rarely did we run longer than a mile before someone was offering up fresh orange slices, grapes or a hearty shout to keep moving. Well done, Cincinnati.
Would I run it again? Maybe. It was a challenging course. The actual hills weren’t bad, but the rolling course on the back 13 eventually wore me down.
So marathon #2 is in the books. I’m going to take the next few weeks to run a few small races, hit the gym and get prepped to begin training for Chicago. It’s time to go sub-4:00.
Until next time, keep running, friends.
Thanks to Scott’s wife, Becky, and my sister for some of the pics.