I approached my first out of town marathon like a travel writer would: observe carefully, take notes and try to have a good time on my first running vacation at the 12th annual Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati where human runners are, for one day, turned into various derivative of winged swine flying over the rolling landscape of Cincinnati. I envisioned myself a pale pink sow, too skinny to eat, but pretty enough to keep around the barn.
I drove down with long time running buddies, Debi G and Maria C. We stayed at the Hyatt right next door to Hope M. and her crew, at the Millenium, who was strategically planning to use the Pig course to qualify for Boston. We settled in our hotel and headed to the expo. The expo reminded me of Akron's and then Nick B. who was there to run the half with his wife, Margie, and her friend, Amy, informed me that Akron has carefully modeled its expo after the Pig's as it wound through a labyrinth of vendors leading to the goodie bag pickup at the very back. There were tons of great vendors interspersed with various flying pig statues along with a giant toilet (sponsored by Charmin) that provided a great photo opportunity for people to pose in various expressions of intestinal relief. Hope M. had a great picture where she looked downright "serious"--probably contemplating her Boston qualifying time the next day. Debi was horrified at the toilet thing, so we continued through the expo without a picture. I was delighted to find a vendor selling Smart Wool socks 2 for 20. This was a steal, for sure, so I picked up a few to get me through an arduous summer of running along with a few G.U's, those wretched, gag reflex testing, but necessary evil things for running road marathons; I picked up a new flavor--orange burst
The expo loaded us down with some great swag. I couldn't believe the art prints, which they do every year, with a different flying pig scene. The 12th annual Flying Pig print was a high quality artistically pleasing depiction of hot air balloons carrying runners floating over Cincinnati with the ubiquitous Flying Pig front in center. I'll definitely get mine framed. Also, a very nice quality black duffle bag was given to all runners which I needed like crazy. I wasn't wild about the white v-neck tech shirt, but I liked the "get your oink on" slogan across the front.
We were going to join Hope and her crew for dinner, but they were delayed getting into their room, so Maria, Debi, and I had dinner at the Hyatt Champ's restaurant with Nick poised like a proud hog at the head of a table full of sows where we had a tasty, albeit overpriced, pasta buffet. After dinner, we watched ominous weather reports detailing a destructive storm system reeking havoc across the south--tornadoes and flooding in Tennessee and Arkansas. The weather system, like a raw red gaping wound, was working it's way toward Ohio and from what we could see, would be situated right over Cincinnati by our 6:30 start time tomorrow morning. I tried to not think about it. As a seasoned runner, I know the worst thing about running in the rain is thinking about running in the rain, so I got ready for bed. Debi and Maria were going to sleep in one bed and give me the other. They say this is because I'm running the full and would need more rest, but I think its because they found out I sleep pants-less. I found some interesting things about my long time running buddies: Debi really does hate to make decisions and Maria sleeps with a blue crocheted gnarled wad of thing that used to be her baby blanket. Very interesting.
Sure enough, on race day morning, lightening bursts intermittantly filled our room with light while a steady relentless rain pelted the windows. We got ready and tried to let it sink in that it was probably going to rain the whole race. I gave myself a pat on the back for remembering to throw a couple extra strength Exedrin in the pocket of my waterproof jacket. Down in the hotel lobby, a hotel worker passed out out trash bags. Runners were everywhere, the atmosphere festive, despite the weather. We all headed down to the start line while lightening lit up the sky. I worried they might cancel the race. We entered into the starting corral too close to the start where the fastest runners would be, so Maria led the way with Debi and I, clinging on like kindergartners on a field trip, toward the mid part of the corral where we wouldn't be tramped by fast people. The prayer was underway. We prayed for safety. I was never so grateful to be wearing a trash bag.
The half marathoners stay with the marathoners for the first eight miles of the race. Since Debi and Maria were running the half and I was running the full, we figured we could try to stay together those early miles. As droves of runners clogged the bridge that crosses briefly into Kentucky, I felt the concrete actually undulate and meet my footfalls at a place it clearly wasn't supposed to. Others didn't seem to even notice it, or were completely unbothered by it, but it nearly made me stop, as I was starting to feel slightly panicky, but I got over it. From this point on I was obsessed with finding a porto-potty that didn't have a line. I was afraid this little piggie would go "wee-wee" all the way home, but finally found one at mile 8. I lost Debi and Maria around mile 6 before the first of the good hills started. The first one, near a park and butterfly conservatory, I didn't mind because once I climbed to the top, I was rewarded with an amazing view over the Ohio River.
I felt like I was running comfortably--I certainly wasn't pushing it, but was trying to soak in the sights of this brand new course and city that I've never been to other than to drive through it on the way to somewhere else. Mother Nature was merciful and pulled the plug on the thunder and lightening shortly after the start, but she kept turning on and off the faucet soaking runners with warm rain. I was feeling some discomfort in my hip flexors around mile 15 and reached for the Exedrin I had the forethought to stash in my pocket. It wasn't there. I pulled out my hand covered in acrid white grit--the last vestiges of my Exedrin rolling around loose, when I realized the inside pockets are only mesh and completely dissolved my Exedrin. It took me at least two miles to get over my disappointment.
It's enough to casually look around in the early miles, but in the later miles I prefer to focus on certain runners. I followed for a few miles a girl dressed in complete "pig" regalia--pink ears, pink top, pink skirt, pink socks and an approximate 4 inch curly tailed pinned with missile like-precision to where her bum hole should be. The crowd support for the Flying Pig is top notch with spectators making pig calls. One guy even had an "oinker" device which sounded like a real pig. On the downside, the crowd support is so good, that you have well-intentioned spectators yelling "you're almost there!" with 8 miles to go. From miles 18-21, a man caught my eye because his gait reminded me of Bob's--easy Clydesdale like, and reminded me how much I wished he could be here running this with me.
I was on target for an easy 4:47 finish, but I wanted to make up some time. I picked it up the last few miles. The finish swine line was in sight--I saw Maria and Debi waving to me off my right. I crossed the finish around 4:44 chip time, got my coveted pig medal from a lady and burst out in tears. I wasn't winded, exhausted or upset. I was simply grateful to finish something I absolutely love doing. Running, for me, makes me accept gratitude on a micro level--grateful for a little things like a hotel worker passing out trash bags on a stormy marathon morning, an open porto-potty at mile 8, orange burst flavored GU that didn't make me gag, a handsome man that reminded me of Bob, and of course, good friends waiting for me at the finish.
The Flying Pig marathon was a fabulous experience for me and I'll definitely be getting my oink on again. I found out later that the incredibly cheetah-like Hope M. did, in fact, qualify for Boston with an astounding 3:38--two minutes faster than what she needed, and got an opportunity to flash her Boston emblazoned butt at the finish where Nick B. patiently sat waiting and successfully captured with his camera and put on Facebook minutes later. Thank you Hope for such a fabulous birthday gift and congratulations to you!