Flying Pig Marathon – Cincinnati, OH
The race was over before I even started running. As I sat in the Linwood Baptist Church watching Sergio Reyes finish the Flying Pig Marathon in 2 hours and 22 minutes, a flurry of thoughts rushed through my brian. How did I get myself into this? I can’t believe that I’ve waited 2 hours and 22 minutes already and still have to wait another hour before I run the final leg of the relay. Am I actually going to be able to run 6.55 miles, or am I going to collapse in this heat? Isn’t this so “meta”, actually watching a race that I am participating in live on TV? Do I really know what “meta” means?
I waited for my turn to in a race that felt more like personal torture than athletic competition. I sat with my own thoughts, thinking about how much I was going to have to push myself to make it 6.55 miles on a surprisingly hot Cincinnati day. I thought about the crazy fact that I was actually going to be participating in this event, something I didn’t think was even a possibility. We had planned on merely viewing the marathon when we initially added the Flying Pig Marathon to our itinerary. Neither of us had any illusions that we’d be able to run a marathon without extensive training, something that is just unable to happen traveling in an RV. We’d just go to the race, hold up a sign, maybe try to volunteer to give out water to the runners, and cover it as if it were a football or a basketball game.
That all changed when we were contacted by Jackie’s sorority sister Abbey a little after Christmas. She had been perusing our itinerary and noticed that we chose an event that hit close to home with her. She grew up in Cincinnati, and even knew some of the movers and shakers involved with the founding of the Flying Pig Marathon. Taking a second look at the event website, Jackie noticed that a marathon was not the only thing happening in Cincinnati that weekend. In addition to a marathon, the Flying Pig Marathon also includes a half marathon, a 4 person marathon relay, a 10k, and a 5k. It wasn’t long until the wheels of Jackie’s brain started turning, and she convinced Abbey as well as another sorority sister Mandy, living in Cleveland, to take part in the 4 person marathon relay. Which of course left me to finish out the 4 person marathon relay team and run 6.55 miles in an event where I previously thought that I’d be handing out Gatorade.
As the Flying Pig Marathon was shaping up to be more than I’d bargained for, we continued to travel the country at a breakneck pace. Athletic training while traveling in an RV can be difficult, as there’s really nowhere to run inside of an RV as its driving 6-8 hours almost every other day. Combine that with our penchant for local delicacies, and training would prove to be anything but a run in the park. Luckily we relied on YMCAs while traveling, most notably in Augusta, GA and Durham, NC, which helped us get some runs in here and there. Last but not least we got creative, running through the streets of Charleston, in the woods of Tennessee, and in Jackie’s case, even a Walmart parking lot. As if a hectic training schedule weren’t enough, we’d be arriving into Cincinnati the same night as attending the Kentucky Derby, and just two days after an early morning wake-up call for the Bassmaster Douglas Lake Challenge in Tennessee. Throw in a 4:30 AM wake-up call on race day, and we were running on fumes even before heading to the starting line.
Which brings me back to the Linwood Baptist Church. As my time to run approached, I exited the church to find my name being called. It was Abbey, who’d run the second leg. Her family brought her to this exchange point to see Mandy finish her leg and me start mine. I asked her how she did, and how her somewhat uphill portion of the race had been. “It was good, I ran faster than I thought I would and made it through OK,” she said. And then she told me something that immediately struck a chord, something that I hadn’t even though of before she said it. “There’s tons of people along the race course, cheering you on as you run. It gives you a little boost to keep pushing through. It really helps.” And here I was in my own world thinking about my upcoming internal struggle. It had never dawned on me that I wasn’t running my leg of the race alone.
In just its 14th year, the Flying Pig Marathon has established itself as one of the top marathon in the country, and bills itself as the 3rd largest first-time marathon in the United States (meaning that you don’t need to qualify for it to be able to participate). Cincinnati has a history with pork, which were bought, sold, and processed right on the shores of the Ohio River. Known at one point as “Porkopolis”, Cincinnati renovated its riverfront area for their bicentennial in 1988, and introduced statues of pigs with wings adorning four smokestacks. Said to represent pigs that had given their life so that the city could grow, these much debated figures turned into lovable symbols over the years, and were adopted by the marathon organizers as their marathon logo back in 1999. Without an official name for the marathon, local media took the logo and flew with it, calling the newly formed event, the “Flying Pig Marathon”.
From humble beginnings, the Flying Pig Marathon has grown to a record 30,993 participants this year. Possibly even more importantly, the marathon attracts nearly 45,000 volunteers, more than 200,000 spectators, and since its inaugural year has raised more than $8.7 million for charity. With so many people involved and having the backdrop of giving makes the Flying Pig Marathon feel like one large community coming together. You can see it in the signs that people hold up, or in the pig costumes and paraphernalia that so many people wear along the route. You can feel it as you run, with people lining nearly the entire 26.2 miles, cheer you on and giving you encouragement.
All of that became apparent as I took the digital timer from Mandy and started the race. Within a mile, one of the full length marathon runners began talking to me, giving me encouragement, telling me that I would be his pace setter and that he would run with me to finish the race. He would get ahead of me, then I’d catch up, and he’d say, “There you are! I never let you out of my sight.” All the while countless people cheered me on, telling me how much was left to run, and encouraging me to a level that I though I never really needed. But like Abbey said, it did help.
Jackie (who ran the first leg) then found me with about a mile to go, and took the beautiful pictures of me that you see in this article. She ran alongside me for a bit before heading to the runners waiting area, an area that felt like I should already be in by now, as it felt 6.55 miles was starting to feel like its own mini marathon. But like the whole run had been so far, the last half mile was lined with people, pushing me to finish the race strongly. As I crossed the finish line, the weird feeling wasn’t just “I did it”. I had thought it would be, and expected to feel a huge sense of self-accomplishment. But after what I had just experienced, I instead had that “We did it” feeling.
Because in the end it wasn’t just me. With the help of Jackie, Abbey, Mandy, volunteers, and the people of Cincinnati, WE did it.