After surviving 18 miles at Lisa’s 100th marathon extravaganza in England a few weeks ago, I was feeling much more optimistic about my chances at the Flying Pig Half Marathon this year. For those new to my blog, this race was my third attempt at actually finishing the Pig. The first year I was registered to run it (2010), I got a femoral neck stress fracture in my right hip and was out of running commission for eight months. The second time, in 2012, I started the full marathon, only to have my back go out on me and completely lose control of my right leg at mile 9. I hopped (literally) my way to the finish line of the half marathon, but it wasn’t pretty. One good thing did come out of it, though – I took this now famous picture that got me a whole lot of exposure online and on tv and is still circulating to this day!
Still, I’ve never finished the race I’ve set out to finish, so I don’t count Ohio as one of my completed states. Now that I’ve decided to finish the remainder of my 50 states as half marathons, I technically could count it, but it’s a DNF to me. I wanted to finish the half marathon on my own terms, which mostly means upright and in control of all of my extremities. That’s not too much to ask, right?
My sweet husband offered to make the drive up to Cincinnati with me, where I would be meeting up with my friend Patty. I was seriously overjoyed when he decided to come (he’s not much for marathon spectating), so we decided to make sort of a weekend out of it and stop in Knoxville on Friday night on our way to Ohio. We didn’t have much time there – just enough to eat tacos and walk around for a bit, but it was nice to be somewhere different just the two of us.
We headed to Cincinnati on Saturday and made it there around 3 pm. Patty’s flight was delayed, but we checked into the hotel and then headed to the expo. The Flying Pig Expo is massive, but I’m not much for expos anymore. I have enough running gear to outfit an entire army at this point. One thing that was super exciting was I got to meet a devoted reader of this blog, Kari! We have emailed back and forth a bit and she was in Cincinnati to run the full marathon. It was great to meet her and chat for a bit!
Patty got in and she and I headed back to the expo to catch up for a while, and then all three of us headed to dinner in the rain. The weather wasn’t looking so hot for the race the next day, but our main concern was just hoping it wouldn’t storm and cancel the race, although really, that’s about the level of luck I’ve had with Flying Pig at this point.
Race day dawned bright and early as AJ groaned and ignored us while we got dressed and scooted out the door by 6am. The race started at 6:30 and we made it to our corral right as the gun went off for the first corral! It took us about 15 minutes to cross the starting line, and we were off!
One thing we definitely did not have to worry about was being cold or it storming. The air was thick with humidity and we were warm from the start. The race quickly heads over the bridge into Kentucky for about two miles before heading back over the river into Ohio and running through downtown Cincinnati.
One thing to love about this race is that there is amazing crowd support everywhere. It doesn’t matter that the race starts early or whether you’re doing the half or the full, there are constantly people cheering. It’s incredible! Patty and I had a spectator of our very own – AJ made it out of bed to catch us around mile 5! He didn’t even seem that bored.
The energy downtown gave us a boost, but I knew Patty was not feeling great. She’s one of the most positive people I know, but she said from the beginning that she was struggling. It’s hard to feel like you’re struggling in this section of the course, though – people are everywhere!
As we headed out of downtown, the hills got even more intense. Flying Pig is known for being a very hilly and challenging course, and it definitely lives up to its reputation. The fact that it was so humid and warm didn’t help matters, but we kept pushing. It doesn’t happen very often, but I took the role of run leader for a change and set the pace up the hills, pulling Patty along. The course was tough on me too, but I only had to run 13.1 miles – she was doing 26.2! I was worried as we split apart at mile 9, but she was all smiles – typical Patty!
It was kind of strange to reach the half and full marathon split. It brought back a flood of memories from the last time I was at this race; I had initially turned off with the full and then lost control of my leg/my back gave out shortly after. I had to hop back in the opposite direction of what the marathoners were running, which was a horrible feeling. This time, though, I was in full control of all of my limbs and my pace. Despite the heat and humidity, I was feeling strong and ready to pick up the pace. The majority of this part of the course is downhill, so I knew I could make up quite a bit of time.
I ran past my favorite water stop – the Walnut Hills High School football team, at mile 10 – and smiled when I remembered how they have managed to put a smile on my face even during the race four years ago. It’s not every often that water stops make a permanent impression on me, but this one did. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that the race and water and Gatorade stops every mile for both the half and full marathon, which was awesome and much needed on a day like today!
I kept charging down the hills as fast as I could, although I was starting to feel slightly lightheaded and weak. I sweat like a whore in church when I run (like way more than a normal person – ask any of my running friends, they will concur on this), and it’s just impossible for me to replace the fluids I need. I slowed as needed but tried to push myself as much as I could. I may not be running fast half marathons overall right now, but I can run fast portions of half marathons, especially when I take the first 9 miles easy.
As I reached the spot on the course around mile 12.5 where I had taken the now-famous picture of Thomas, I was overcome with gratitude. In that moment, everything made sense to me. The day that it happened was one of the worst running days of my life to that point, and I thought my running career was done forever. It seemed that nothing good could possibly come out of it. But everything happens for a reason – had I not had my back go out on me, I never would have taken that picture. That picture is what led many of you here to my blog in the first place, and it is what gave me the exposure that has translated into a tremendous amount of opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. As I ran past the spot, the world made sense for a minute. (By the way, Thomas and I still stay in touch and I was hoping to meet him this weekend, but he was out of town, unfortunately!)
I charged towards the finish line as best I could and raised my arms in triumph, crossing the line in 2:15. I was pretty pleased with that because my estimated finish time at mile 9 was 2:20, so I picked it up quite a bit at the end! I got my half marathon finisher medal – happily, this time – and set about finding AJ. It turns out that he had tried to meet me at mile 12 but missed me by about 30 seconds thanks to my blinding late-race speed (ha!). In what was one of the top 5 finisher’s photos of my life, I found a REAL PIG sitting in a wagon wearing wings and took a picture with it while completely soaked (like, my shoes were squishing) in sweat. Flying Pig, you are the best.
We had just made it back to our hotel room and I was attempting to extricate myself from my sweaty clothes when Patty texted me and asked if I could meet her around mile 20. She was struggling and needed some late race company. I was feeling pretty dizzy and wasn’t sure how much I had in me, but Patty has bailed me out of so many races in my life that I had to try. I changed into the spare running outfit I had somehow thought to bring, guzzled some water, and tried to choke down a Kind bar while pushing AJ out the door so he could drive me to go meet her.
While waiting for Patty, I cheered on the marathoners with some of the many people around me. One woman kept yelling “You’re almost there!!” Now, we were at mile 21, so I had to gently tell her that that is definitely not “almost there” and that marathoners definitely don’t feel like they’re almost there at that point in the race! She was like “Oh, my gosh, I had no idea! I mean, they are almost there, though! There’s only 5 miles left!” And I was like “I know, but trust me on this one, it doesn’t feel like that to them right now.” She adjusted her cheers accordingly and I considered my good deed done for the day. You are welcome, Flying Pig Marathoners finishing around 4:15 and later.
Patty appeared and it was go time! I knew that I was going to run her in no matter what, and to be honest, I didn’t really have a choice – AJ had taken the car back to the hotel! I had a water bottle and some food with me just in case. She was in better spirits by the time I saw her, but it was pretty hot and, you know, the last 5 miles of the marathon! Patty is amazingly consistent and she just keeps running, occasionally taking short walk breaks. She was determined to make it in under 5 hours, so I tried to talk as much as I could and keep her entertained and keep us moving forward. This was her 68th marathon (and 40th state!) though, so she didn’t need too much help from me. A little company is always nice though.
I peeled off right before the finisher’s chute started and she made it across the line in 4:57! All in all, a very successful day, even if it involved sweating all the way through two running outfits.
I’m happy to say that the score has finally been settled with Flying Pig. It’s a race that has given me more than I ever could have anticipated and has been just out of my grasp for years. Although I didn’t conquer the full marathon, I’m good with 18 or so miles, the full use of all my limbs, and more great memories with one of my closest friends and my husband. What more can a girl ask for?