I am a Flying Pig finisher. The training and preparation that started several months ago paid off. I completed the race in two hours and 57 minutes. About 1,200 people finished the race after me. I was in the top 50 percent of my age group. The Flying Pig was my fifth half marathon. Writing about the race feels like an important final step in my Flying Pig experience.
The race started at 6:30 am. We were grouped according to the finish times we projected on our registration materials. Group A projected the fastest times. Group H projected the slowest times. I was in Group G. A rainbow briefly graced the sky as we waited to start. It was a message of hope and strength. I had been up most of the night throwing up due to a headache that felt like a vise-grip was squeezing my brain. Maybe I was nervous? Maybe it was a migraine? Maybe I was getting sick? I am not sure. What I know for sure was I was not about to give up, and the rainbow soothed and reassured me. The sequence of what was happening was a blur. The National Anthem. Bagpipes played Amazing Grace in remembrance of the Boston Marathon bombing. Runners in Group A took off as “Sweet Caroline” was piped through huge loud speakers. Group G waited. Group G waited some more. About 18 minutes into the race Group G took off, and I began to weave my way through the crowd and establish my race pace. I did not feel comfortable until about mile 3.
The first four miles involved going over three bridges. The route took us immediately into Kentucky. That meant we would cross the Ohio River. In Kentucky, we would also cross the Licking River. We crossed three large bridges in total. I had trained on bridges, so it wasn’t new to me, but the incline of the bridges started the race with a certain level of seriousness that would not truly relent until mile 10. The bridges thinned the pack that was tightly situated at the start.
I had been warned about running up Gilbert Avenue. The ascent up Gilbert Avenue started at mile six and did not end until mile 9. Part of the climb included Eden Park. At one point, Eden Park over looks the Ohio River. That view took my already choppy breath away. I had never seen that part of Cincinnati. I was seeing the river and the city with new eyes. It was almost a release from the stress I felt in my glutes and thighs. I had started power walking by then, and I remember thinking, “I will need to drive up here some time.” A truly beautiful part of the race was a real challenge.
I knew I would finish when I arrived at mile marker 10. Having just spent the better part of an hour climbing Cincinnati, I was completely exhausted. I was experiencing low-grade doubt. My Pandora shuffle started to play Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” I smiled, grooved a little, took a deep breath, forgot about the fact my butt was numb, and started to run again. I did not run very fast, but something compelled me to move. The route was flattening. My breath was steady. I was smiling. My energy was building. I made the conscious decision to finish strong.
The Finish Swine
The last three miles of the race were basically a descent into downtown Cincinnati and the Finish Swine. I was grateful that race organizers had decided to place the finish downtown. It was a nice gift to weary runners. It started to gently rain as I passed mile marker 11. My body was so warm at that point I did not feel the cold. As I reached downtown, it was clear I had to do a small loop before actually reaching the finish. That was a bit frustrating. I was ready to just get done. I ran around downtown one more time and turned toward the Finish Swine which was along the Ohio River next to US Bank Arena. This stretch was a part of my training route, so it was nice and familiar. It felt like I was truly turning toward home when I first saw the Finish Swine. As I approached, the cheers of the people brought tears to my eyes. People had been cheering and wonderful all morning long, but this moment was special. I knew my parents were at the finish, but I could not see or hear them in the midst of the glorious commotion. I crossed the Finish Swine and was handed a metallic blanket and finisher’s medal. The man who handed me my medal asked how I felt. I replied, “Exhausted.” I wandered through the finishers area. I was catching my breath. Eventually I met up with my parents by the big paddle wheel adjacent to to the finish. We sat on a bench for a few minutes. I gave them a blow-by-blow. I felt hungry, and relieved, and powerful, and grateful. We headed to lunch.