The long anticipated PIG-THEMED marathon was finally attended by Team Running Riddles as Aaron crossed Ohio off the 50 state marathon list.
PIG. MARATHON. Need I say more? That was all I needed to hear to know I wanted to run this race as part of my 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge. It was one of the first races on our radar when we started researching various marathons to run in each state. In fact I registered for this race immediately after the 2018 running ended and they opened up registration for 2019! So yes, I REALLY wanted to run this marathon with pigs aplenty!
Training, The Course, and a Pig Cape
With 2019 being a very marathon heavy year, I had a bit of a break since my last marathon in Atlanta, GA (The 2019 Publix Atlanta Marathon in Atlanta, Georgia). However from the reviews I had read, I understood the Flying Pig course to be rather hilly. Checking out the course and elevation map, it looked as if there would be a good bit of incline from miles 5 to 9, and then be a gradual down hill from there.
Having just run the hills of the Atlanta Marathon and experienced the Morgantown Marathon #yesitshilly course last year, the Flying Pig hills did not look to be that intimidating. Still, with another marathon coming up in June on a VERY flat course in which I want to attempt a marathon PR, I figured it would be best to play it safe and just run the Flying Pig Marathon by feel.
In addition, with it being a PIG themed race, I really wanted to have fun with it. I planned to run the race wearing my Running Riddle’s gear (which already features a pig), and tie a few plush pigs to my hydration pack as well. However, one weekday before the race, a package arrived in the mail for me. I had ordered a pig flag for the front of our house to display during the spring. When I opened the package and pulled out the flag, I was disappointed to see the flag was too small to fit our house flag pole. At that moment, Christie saw the flag, and not knowing what it was, exclaimed “Did you order a PIG CAPE for the race?!”.
That was all I needed to hear to know the pig flag was now a pig cape to be worn at the Flying Pig Marathon!
The Trip and Expo
The drive to Cincinnati was not bad at all. With the driving time coming in at just under 7 hours, we split the drive into two days (leaving in the evening on Thursday and arriving in-town on a Friday). At our Friday evening hotel stop, Christie surprised me with a gift…a PIG QUILT! I now plan on taking this with us on all trips as an extra blanket and for good luck.
We arrived in Cincinnati on Friday in the early afternoon. Our first stop in the city was at the expo held at the Duke Energy Conference Center. The expo was HUGE…by far the biggest one I have ever been in. You picked up your bib in the front, and then had to make your way among Flying Pig Merchandise and a large vendor area before getting to the spot where you got your free swag.
Seeing a long line for “samples” from the main sponsor P&G, I figured if people were waiting in a 15 minute line for something, it must be good. Turns out it was just for some basic grocery products (bottle of water, granola bar, tissues, tooth paste, etc). It’s cool it was free but I would of bypassed it had I known what the samples were ahead of time. However Christie, Corinne, and Caitlin did happened to find a Flying Pig BROWNIE section in which they purchased a few. I planned on saving mine until after the race. 😉
I personally am not big on expos, so we did not spend a lot of time there. We left as soon as I was able to grab my shirt and a nice high-quality soft-cooler (which I received for registering as early as you possibly could).
A Day at the Cincinnati Zoo
The rest of Friday we spent relaxing and on Saturday we made a day-long visit to the Cincinnati Zoo. We enjoy animals so we wanted to see the zoo anyway, but realized on our way there that it was named one of the best zoos in the country. It really lived up to that designation.
The zoo is massive and it took us all day (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) to see everything. All the exhibits are clean, informative, and the animals are all very well cared for. I’m not keen on keeping wild animals in captivity, but thought this zoo did a fantastic job of making sure they had huge enclosures to live in, playmates to interact with, and more. One of the more interesting exhibits was the night animals areas…where you walked into a building that was dark during the day allowing you to see the nocturnal animals being active.
The zoo highlight for me was running across a few pigs / boars that the keepers were walking through the zoo. I had no idea where they were going, but if a pig crosses your path the day before a pig-themed marathon, you know that is good luck!
Worn out from the zoo, we spent the rest of the day lounging around the hotel as I prepped my outfit for race day. This meant velcro-ing my plush pig companions to my hydration pack and pinning my pig cape to it as well.
Race Day Morning
The morning routine of a marathon comes naturally to me these days (this would be my 13th marathon). That means getting up 3 hours prior to race start (3:30 a.m.) and enjoying a breakfast of a banana, water, whole wheat bagel with almond butter, and a cup of coffee. I got dressed and ready, and put my hydration pack, gels, and pig cape in a plastic bag to carry to the race starting area. With the race starting at Paul Brown Stadium, my starting corral was an easy 1.3 mile walk from the hotel. It was drizzling a bit during that morning walk, but having checked the weather a few times I knew it would end soon giving way to ideal race conditions (in the low 50s and partly cloudy).
With about 45 minutes to the start of the race, I found an open space within my starting corral and assembled my hydration pack pig cape vest. The Flying Pig marathon is a huge production and I was set in starting corral D (with it going all the way up to corral I or so). It did not take long for the corral to fill up with more and more people. By the time the race was set to begin, we were packed in there pretty good.
I noticed the guy standing next to me had a “first-time marathoner” bib on his back (the race gave those out for those running their first marathon). He seemed in the zone with his earbuds in, so I didn’t make much conversation other than tell him “Good luck” and shook his hand. After the national anthem, the race began, but my corral had to wait 10 minutes or so before we could start. We inched up closer to the front, and when they said “GO”, giant flames shot out of the top of the starting gate. Quite a way to start the race!
The First Few Miles and the Pet Pig
Until we arrived in Cincinnati I never realized how close it was to Kentucky (located just across the bridge over the Ohio River). That is where the first few miles of the marathon took us. Running through downtown Cincinnati and then across the bridge into Kentucky, the first part of the race was on relatively easy rolling hills. It didn’t take long until I began to hear comments such as “Awesome pig cape!” and parents pointing me out to their kids saying “Look, he has piggies on his shoulders!”. This was exactly the type of reaction I had hoped for and I was already having a blast only a few miles into the race!
Heading back across the bridge into Cincinnati I knew I was moving quicker than a very easy pace, but I felt comfortable too, so I decided to just keep it steady. As we ran along 7th street there were crowds all along the street cheering the runners. People loved the pig cape. I saw a bunch of people with their dogs on leashes, when all of a sudden coming up directly on my left side was a man with a REAL LIVE PIG ON A LEASH!!! I jumped up in the air and said “YES!!!!!” as I pointed to the pig. As I passed by I almost considered going back for a selfie with the pig, but figured I have my own pet pigs at home I can do that with.
Up Hill and Down Hill
Right around mile 5 you hit the first of a few big hills. You can see the entire first hill coming from a bit down the road, almost like it is taunting you. Having run hills all the time back home, I eased up on the pace a bit and steadily made it up the hill with quick, easy, flowing steps. Being my 13th marathon, I’d made the mistake to go to hard in the beginning before, so I knew better now to save my energy for the downhill portions which would be coming up.
The hills took you all the way to the top of an area overlooking most of the city. It was beautiful, and an added cool breeze made it feel so good to reach the top of the hill. About this time the half-marathoners split off from the full marathoners which opened up the course a bit more. The crowd support continued to be constant (one reason this race is a must-do). There were rarely stretches of the course where there were no spectators cheering you on. If there happened to be a section with no spectators, there was usually an aid station right there with more cheering and support. (Side note: The Flying Pig marathon had aid stations at every mile…which really makes the time pass by and keeps your mind off of the fact you are running 26.2 miles).
I continued to hear comments about the pig cape and pig passengers on my shoulder. With all the different spectators there were so many different things I saw that I cannot name them all here…a group handing out mimosas, a bacon aid station (which I playfully jeered), several misting areas to run through, a guy dressed up as Buddy the Elf cheering on people, numerous musicians and DJs playing music. I gave a high-five to any child holding their hand out that wanted one, slapped the ever-popular “Power Up Here” signs held by several on-lookers, and said “Thank you for helping, officer.” each time I passed by a police man or woman.
Finishing and Petting a Pig
With 6 miles to go I was starting to feel the challenge that is the marathon, but my pace was steady. I had been fueling every 3 miles with a gel, and sipping my hydration drink each mile, so my energy level felt good. Deciding to keep the pace as is, I kept on moving forward feeding off the energy of the crowd. With 3 miles to go and a spectator yelling “only a 5K to go”, I looked at my watch and saw I was going to come in well-under 4 hours. I thought to myself it is funny…I struggled for years to run a sub-4 hour marathon, and now this would be my 4th consecutive sub-4 hour road marathon (not counting a few ultras). I guess the hard work is paying off.
The last mile was lined with tons of spectators as you ran back towards Paul Brown Stadium towards the “Finish Swine”. I kept giving high-fives to those that wanted them, and saw some full and half marathoners who had already finished walking back to where they had parked. I said “congratulations!” to any of those I saw wearing a medal. Looking for Christie, Corinne, and Caitlin amongst the “Finish Swine” area deemed impossible as I was unable to pick them out from the massive crowd. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:49:34 and shook the hand of some guy wearing a suit (he was probably important haha).
I quickly found Christie and the girls and we took our traditional post-race photos. There were times in the past when I could barely walk after a marathon, but my body must be getting used to it as I felt fine. Sore…yes…but was able to walk without looking injured. It was at that moment that we saw a REAL LIVE PIG AT THE FINISH LINE! People were giving the pig on a leash some space, but since I have pigs, I ran right up to it and asked the owner if I could pet it. He said sure, and I immediately got down and gave the pig a nice pet and belly rub. Christie took my photo…and it was the happiest I have ever been after a race. I think only qualifying for the Boston Marathon will put a bigger smile on my face…though it is debatable.
Post Race Reflections
The Flying Pig was a “must-do” race for me when Christie first gave me the idea of a 50 States 50 Marathons challenge, and after running it I am so glad that I did. Not only for the pig theme which encompasses the whole race weekend, but in how organized and well-put together the whole event is.
It is one of the most popular marathons in the United States for a reason (just search up reviews and you will see nothing but positives). The whole city really celebrates and comes together to make it an exciting weekend for runners of all shapes, sizes, speeds, and experiences. Not to mention that we were really impressed with how nice of a city Cincinnati was (clean, friendly, and easy-to-get around).
There is constant communication about the event leading up to the race (from months out), tons of things to do race weekend, a HUGE expo (if that is your thing), and not to mention my favorite race medal I have received so far (not only for having a pig on it…well..ok that’s the only reason).
Official Race Results
Overall: 740 of 3,932
Male: 592 of 2,148
Male 35-39: 109 of 336
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.