Six months ago when I first signed up for the Flying Pig Marathon, 26.2 miles seemed soooo long. I had no clue what to expect or what my body would feel like at mile 14 let alone mile 26.
Training had gone fairly well and the weeks leading up to taper I was feeling pretty strong. Still, going into the race I had set multiple goals. There’s my ultimate, long haul, goal of qualifying for Boston (3:35). I knew, based on the course difficulty, that was beyond aspirational. After that, I just wanted a sub 4 hour, or ultimately just finish. I had other goals too – negative split, fast finish, no walking, etc.
Driving into Cincinnati, I was deflated when I saw Mt. Adams in person. That hill was no joke.
I mean, check out this elevation chart!
Race morning came about an hour earlier than planned. I am like a little kid before Christmas when it comes to sleeping the night before a race. I woke up at about 2:50 and sat in bed watching a Ryan Reynolds movie, munching on bagel and sipping coffee until it was time to gear up.
This was the only race I’ve been to that had a live band at the starting line (right outside my “pig pen” C).
This year they started doing a staggered start to alleviate congestion and it worked well. I didn’t have to do my usual surging to pass people. They checked your bib to make sure you were in the correct corral. Each corral had it’s own porta potties. I’ve heard complaints from previous years that the lines in the corrals were too long but it seemed like they added some because they weren’t that bad. Also, bathrooms were open in the Bengels stadium. I totally hit up both, because, well, I have a bladder the size of a pea. I still recommend getting to the start at least 45 minutes ahead of time.
Shortly after 6:30 am my corral was off. The race starts by heading over the bridge into Kentucky. In the first four miles there are three bridges to cross. I expected them all and adjusted my pace, conserving energy on the incline and making it up in the decline and flats. The people in Kentucky were awesome. My favorite: the crowd from the senior living facility.
Miles 1 through 5 were pretty nice, winding through Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati. The rolling hills were hardly noticeable and I was able to stay about 10 seconds under goal pace (knowing I would be losing that time over Mt. Adams). Even though I started strong, I felt like I could have gone faster. It felt like a solid, conservative pace.
I kept with my hydration plan of hitting every water station, alternating Gatorade and water at each and never combining Gatorade and GU. This worked well and I never had any GI issues.
I hit up my first GU pack at mile 5 to prep me for the big incline. Mile 6 is when the incline for Mt. Adams starts. I would be lying if I said that mile 6-9 of the course wasn’t hard. It was a beast. The only relief is that it inclines in steps, incline then flat over three miles. This portion of the race left my quads on fire and my Achilles’ tendon was flaring up. Still, I was able to stay on track and was still pacing for a 3:35 race.
The top of Mt. Adams is worth the climb – a sweeping, breathtaking view of the Ohio river and Cincinnati. I wish I had stopped and taken a photo, but I had a race to finish.
Just before mile 9, the marathoners and relay racers split from the half. I was surprised at the number of spectators that came out for every inch of this race. There seemed to always be someone out there cheering.
Miles 9-13 for me were the easiest. I hit up my second GU in mile 10 to replenish my energy. There were some rolling hills but nothing major and I remained at my half marathon pace through the halfway point.
Mile 14 is when I started to get bored. There was less going on – less spectators and sights to see. And I was starting to feel my legs. They weren’t bad but I was becoming increasingly aware of them.
I had been looking forward to getting over Mt. Adams so it would be “all down hill” like some cruel signs indicated. Guess what – it’s not all down hill. Those last miles are still pretty hilly. And after mile 14, I was really feeling every incline.
Amazingly, I stayed at pace through mile 16. In mile 17 I felt my pace slipping. I hit up my third GU, but I knew I was not going to make my 3:35. I fell in with the 3:40 pace group for a couple miles. They seemed to be pacing faster than a 3:40 and after slowing for water I couldn’t stay with them. Still, without them, I’m not sure I would have done as well as I did. Just trying to stay with them reminded my legs to move faster. So thanks 3:40s!
By mile 20 my legs were on fire and my feet felt heavy. At this point, I wasn’t sure I could pull out a sub 4 hour race. I was still pacing about an 8:30, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Still, I was proud I had only walked once – to climb a horribly short and steep hill in mile 17.
Miles 20-25 were also the most boring – the spectators were still great, but it was just a long stretch of road. There weren’t as many hills here, but the ones that were there were enough to deaden the spirit. I hit up my last GU in mile 21, more for something to do and a last cry for help to my legs. At mile 24 I wasn’t sure I had anything left in my legs. Mile 25 was by far my slowest since I had to walk one hill.
Once I saw the mile 25 sign and I knew I only had 1.2 miles left, I felt a bit of renewed energy. I was even able to muster up a smile and wave as I passed my family and friends in that last “sprint” to the finish:
This was such a well organized and fun race. With snacks at every mile, “hog washes”, great on course entertainment… This is a perfect race for wanting a fun time – just probably not if you’re looking for a PR.
And thanks to everyone who was cheering me on at the race and from home. I was definitely feeling the love!