Monday, May 3, 2010

26.2 crazy-hilly miles in the pouring rain = totally awesome!!!

And now the moment you've all been waiting for... the race report! The whole weekend was an experience worth talking about, so I'm actually going to make this a Flying Pig Weekend report. This is going to be a long post. You have been warned.

The Race Expo
We arrived on Friday afternoon and headed over to the expo after we checked into our hotel (which was conveniently located right next to the convention center where the expo was being held). My husband was going to run the 10k and the 5k on Saturday, and I wanted to run the 5k on Saturday too, so we needed to register and pick up packets for those events.

The expo was GINORMOUS. Hands down the biggest race expo I've ever been to. It was a runner's dream come true. The Flying Pig merchandise alone took up a space roughly three times the square footage of my house. I picked up my marathon packet at the Runner's World Challenge booth and had the privilege of meeting some of the editors of Runner's World magazine.

Now, let's talk swag. The standard swag for any race is the old bag full of brochures, maybe a free sample or two, and t-shirt. The Flying Pig outdoes them all. Yes, there's still the bag full of brochures, some free samples, and the t-shirt. But the t-shirt is a wonderful technical fabric with the groovy-colorful "Got My Oink On" logo. And then there was more. A beautiful, framing-quality art poster. And a super-nice Asics gym bag with an embroidered Flying Pig logo. Wow! Not too shabby, especially considering that this marathon only cost $70 to register for.

Saturday Events

Flying Pig weekend truly is a weekend-long event. The running events kick off on Saturday morning with a 10k, followed by a 5k, followed by a Kid's Marathon, followed by the Flying Piglet. Whew! My husband was signed up to run the 10k race, hoping to beat his previous 10k PR of 56:30. Early in the morning, before the sun had come up, we were awakened by the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning. We knew the forecast for the entire weekend was bad, but we were hoping for some sort of weather miracle. I kept checking the official Flying Pig Twitter page for updates and they kept saying "all events will begin as scheduled", so we got up, got our running gear on, and headed down to the starting line. By the time we left the hotel, the thunder and lightning were long gone - there was only rain. Lots and lots of rain. But that didn't stop the 10k runners. Nearly 1,600 people ran the event. My friends and I stood on the sidelines and saw the start, the 4.5 mile mark, and the finish. And what of my husband's quest for a PR? He blew it out of the water with a 51:23 finish. How awesome is that?

After the 10k race, my friends, my husband and I all ganged up to run the 5k together. It was to be a fairly easy run for me - just to loosen up my legs and get some blood flowing before my BIG race. My good friend Michele was on a quest to beat her previous 5k time so I wanted to run with her as sort of a pacer. It was very humid and the run was not easy for her at all... but she had an awesome PR.

So far, the weekend was shaping up to be a great one for PRs, despite the yucky weather. Would the luck continue on Sunday?

Later on Saturday afternoon, I did my Pump N Run Challenge. I arrived at the Pump N Run booth at the expo and got weighed, and they used my weight to calculate how much I would have to bench press and curl. As I had predicted, I would have to bench 80 lbs, and curl 45 lbs. I was terrified. Some older women were already lifting and they were busting out 20 or 30 reps, no problem. But because they were older, it meant they didn't have to lift as much. I asked the man in charge how much one lady was lifting, and he said 55 lbs. Well, geesh, no wonder they were doing so many reps! I went to the bench where I was to do my lifting and the big burly spotter guy loaded the barbell up with what looked like a LOT of big plates. I laid back on the bench, gripped the bar, and the spotter guy let it go. Ohhhhh my word, it was heavy! I eked out 4 measly reps before I was toast. Well, so much for getting a bronze medal. The spotter guy then loaded up the curl bar with 45 lbs and I proceeded to bang out 5 curls. Not exactly a stellar performance. I have to admit, I was pretty bummed at first. But the more I thought about it, the more determined I became to come back next year and redeem myself. And maybe next time I'll even train for it properly... by doing actual bench presses!!!

That evening, my friends and I carb-loaded at my favorite pasta joint... Noodles. And after that, we all headed back to the hotel and chilled for the evening. I went to bed pretty early and slept surprisingly well. I figured at this point, it was out of my hands...

The Big Day

It was finally here. The day I had been preparing for for 5 months had finally arrived. And I was beyond nervous. When I got up at 4am that morning, there was lightning and thunder in abundance. The doppler radar map looked horrendous. I simply didn't see how this race was going to happen. But I got ready anyway. I did everything I have been doing for the last 5 months before a long run. I ate my standard pre-run brekkie - oatmeal with raisins, a banana, and green tea from my lucky Harry Potter mug. Incredibly, I was able to eat it all, despite my very nervous stomach. I had already laid out my race clothes and pinned on my bib and timing chip the night before. So I put everything on... including the tutu I had specially made just for this race. Oh right. Did I mention that before? No, I didn't. It was a surprise. Surprise! You'll be able to see it in all its glory in the photos below. Patience.

I met my friends down in the lobby of the hotel. Two of them were running the half-marathon, which started at the same time and place as the full marathon. We all put on rain ponchos and made our way down to the start line. It was pure chaos. The rain was pouring, lightning was lighting up the still-dark sky, and thunder was crashing all around us. Throngs of people wearing ponchos and trash bags were moving slowly down the street. One man even had put plastic bags on each of his shoes to keep them dry. We arrived at the starting area with just minutes to spare, but the crowd had taken a wrong turn and the only way we could get to the start corrals was to climb down a steep, grassy embankment. Great, just what we need - to break our ankles falling down this slope trying to get to the race! But we made it. And not a moment too soon. The announcer called out on the loudspeaker "Two minutes til race start!" We hoofed it through the start corrals, trying to get ourselves properly seeded. It was futile. There were too many people and not enough time. I think we ended up near the 3:20 marathon pace group. Before we knew it, we were counting down the last 5 seconds "FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE..."

And we were off.

Shelley and I just seconds before the race start (I'm the one in the glasses, giving the thumbs up)... note how completely drenched everyone is

Miles 1 - 6 Downtown Cincy and Kentucky

Incredibly, the lightning and thunder had stopped just moments before the race start. And it never returned. It was truly the weather miracle I had been hoping for. Of course, that didn't stop it from raining profusely for the entire marathon.

The run started out as any other long run. I settled into a conservative pace and let people pass me. I knew I was surrounded by much faster runners, so I just let them go by. I listened to the chatter among them and tried to see out of my glasses as best I could (they were wet and fogged up... a condition which plagued me til the bitter end). The course started off flat for the first half mile or so... but that ended very soon. The first major "hill" was the Taylor-Southgate bridge, which crosses the Ohio River into Kentucky. It was here that I received the first comments about my tutu. I had shed my poncho and now people were noticing it. "Look, she's wearing a tutu!" they said to each other. And more often, they would say directly to me, "I love your tutu!" or "Hey, can I borrow that when you're done with it?"

We entered Kentucky and this is where we had our first really good spectator crowds. It was still dark outside, rainy, and yucky... but these people were out there cheering for us. And they say runners are crazy? There was a small brass band playing music, and another band further along playing Sweet Home Alabama. At Mile 2, I ate my first Sharkies - I was planning to stick to my fueling strategy as closely as possible - three Sharkies every 2 miles.

The 4th mile brought us back into Ohio on the Clay Wade Bailey bridge, which was an even steeper and longer climb than the first bridge. A nice young woman started chatting with me about my tutu, and then admitted that she was sort of following me because she liked my pace. It turned out it was her first half-marathon, and she had only trained for two months. We got separated at a water stop around Mile 5, and I never saw her again, but I hope she finished strong.

The 6th mile brought me right through downtown Cincinnati. Oh the crowds! The spectators were absolutely fantastic here - thousands of people lined both sides of the street and cheered, clapped, rang bells and made lots of noise for us. It was incredibly motivating. Indeed, the 6th mile was one of my faster early miles. Amazing what a little motivation can do for one's running!

Me and my tutu in the 6th mile

Miles 6-9 The Climb

I knew it was coming and I was pretty well-prepared, mentally. But that didn't make it easy. The elevation change was "only" 300 feet, but it was a rolling climb, which meant my accumulated elevation gain was far more than 300 feet. We will talk more about the elevation gain later....

My strategy for the hills was to walk the steep ones, and run others easy, and then let gravity speed me along the downhills. I stuck to this strategy throughout the entire race and I believe I owe much of my success to it. I saw Elvis during this climb and high-fived him while he sang "Return To Sender" to the runners. And they say Elvis is dead - ha!

There was a reward for all that hard work of climbing.: the view from the top of Eden Park. It was so spectacular, I actually stopped, took out my iPhone, and snapped several photos.

View of the Ohio River and Kentucky from Eden Park

Shortly after we came out of Eden Park, the half-marathon runners split off from the marathon runners to make their return to the city. The concentration of runners on the road dropped drastically. (As it turns out, there were more than twice as many half-marathoners as there were full marathoners)

Miles 10 - 18 The Neighborhoods

I loved this section of the race the most. I still felt good and strong, the spectators were out in abundance (even in the rain!), the other runners were still cheerful, and it was a net downhill.

I really have to hand it to Cincinnati. They are fantastic race hosts. I have never before run a race with such wonderful spectators. And these were just the people who were willing to stand out in the rain for hours! I can only imagine what this race is like when the weather is nice. The specators ranged from college students, to nursing home residents, to nuns (yes, NUNS!), to children, to dogs and everything in between. I received countless compliments on my tutu, which was a huge pick-me-up. (Wearing the tutu was the best.idea.ever.) At one point, I was even voted "Best Dressed Runner" by one spectator.

The course volunteers, known as Grunts, were as supportive and enthusiastic as the spectators - they cheered, the encouraged, and lots of them were dressed in costumes.

The folks in Hyde Park and Mariemont really know how to party - both towns had lots of great music going and the crowds cheered nonstop. Some spectators even set up their own refreshment stops and serve water, oranges, candy... and even beer! That kind of enthusiasm really helps make the miles fly by.

These miles were by no means an easy downhill run, though. The hills were nonstop. The overall trend may have been downhill, but it was rolling (and sometimes steep) the entire way. I stuck to my strategy and didn't let it get to me.

At every mile marker, they had Grunts calling out pace and projected finish times. I found it interesting that with every mile marker I passed, my pace and finish time both shrank. At first, my projected finish was around 5:46. By the time I left Mariemont, it was 5:28. Could I hold on to it?

Mile 19 The Highway

This short section of the race was run entirely on a 4-lane highway. It was.. well... not very exciting. There's not a whole lot to look at. But, thankfully, there were a few spectators. The water station on this stretch was particularly fun - the Grunts were all dressed in tropical garb and handing out "Margaritas" (aka, Gatorade).

Miles 20 - 22 Eastern Ave

This stretch of road was refreshingly flat compared to the rest of the course. There were some very good spectators in this area - lots of cheering and bell ringing. An interesting thing happened to me around the 20 mile mark. A woman on the sidelines asked me "Are you Emily?" Um... yes? And you are...??? It turns out she went to high school with my husband, and her husband was there running the marathon relay. My husband had gotten in touch with her and told her I would be wearing a purple tutu... and lo and behold, she picked me out of the crowd of runners just like that! She and her husband (who had just finished his leg of the relay) actually ran with me for a few hundred yards and chatted with me for a bit. That was an incredibly nice thing for them to do, and it gave me a burst of energy that I really needed to get through...

Miles 23-26.2 The Home Stretch

These miles are, not surprisingly, a pretty big blur to me. At this point I was just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I do remember that I passed an insane number of people during these miles. Probably hundreds. A lot of people had died off and were simply walking. I, on the other hand, was running faster than ever. I was on a mission. There were some hills in these last miles. Some were quite steep. I walked the the steep ones to save energy for my finishing kick. I wanted to finish strong. I knew if I ran up the steep hills, I would regret it later.

I could see downtown Cincinnati from the road I was running. I could practically taste the finish line (or Finish Swine, as they call it at the Flying Pig). The last projected finish time I remember hearing was something like 5:22. That was quite a bit better than my goal of 5:30, so I just wanted to hang on to it.

I crossed the 25.2 mile timing mat (they actually have a fastest final mile award in this marathon - how cool is that?) and knew that it was just one more mile to go. Just one more! I picked up my pace and was all set to cruise in to the finish. But then there it was. The last big hill. Less than a half mile from the finish, there was this short, but steep hill. It wasn't going to ruin me. No how, no way. I walked it as fast as I could and as soon as I got to the top, I took off as fast as I could. I could see the Finish Swine. The cheering crowds on either side were roaring (or at least it seemed that way to me). I saw my husband in the crowd, cheering for me - I ran faster. I started to well up with emotion - the medal I had been working so hard to earn was within my reach. I gave it everything I had and crossed the finish swine exactly the way I had dreamed of doing it - strong.

At Mile 26 - just 0.2 to go

Almost there - the final push

I looked down at my watch and was amazed. Could it be right? 5:15? That was my stretch goal! And these were anything but ideal race conditions. A wonderful finish line Grunt placed the medal around my neck and I cried tears of joy for what I had just accomplished.


The medal I worked so hard for. It was absolutely worth it.


I walked back through the finisher's area and got my space blanket, water, and much-needed food. The post-marathon banana was the best.banana.ever. There wasn't much else I could stomach right at that moment, so I savored it.

I met up with my husband and found out that my friends all missed my big finish because they were expecting me to finish 15 minutes later! Well, I did tell them 5:30. Shows you how much I know!

We walked (slowly) back to the hotel. I wanted so badly just to sit down, but I knew if I sat, I wouldn't be able to get back up. I was, simply put, exhausted. So we walked. And walked. And walked. It seemed like the hotel was suddenly miles away. When we finally got there, my wonderful friends were waiting for me in the lobby, cheering and applauding for me. My best friend's daughter handed me a paper cup full of water - now that was my favorite water stop. My best friend gave me a hug, despite the fact that I was drenched and sweaty.... but she said I didn't smell at all! Maybe it's because I had essentially just taken a 5-hour shower. Nevertheless, all I wanted to do was get out of my soaking wet clothes and get a nice, hot shower.

And so I did just that. And for the rest of the day, I refueled on delicious food, walked around as much as I could, and enjoyed the company of my friends, who were all victorious in their own races.

As for the run data... I know my fellow geeks are itching to see the maps and graphs. So here they are, in all their glory. Lots of detail here - just click on the images to see them larger.

The map

The graphs - check out the elevation graph!

The splits - note total elevation gain. For the record, I have no idea why the moving time is different than the total time. I assure you, I was moving the entire time (except at the top of the big climb, when I stopped to take pictures)

I must say, if I had known in advance that the total elevation gain was over 1600 feet in this marathon, I'm not sure I would have signed up for it. I wasn't really sure what the number was - I had seen figures varying from 538 feet to 1300 feet and I wasn't really sure which was closer to the truth. The Garmin elevation corrections that are now being used are supposed to be quite accurate, so I'm going to trust what it tells me. And just based on feeling alone, I can tell you that this marathon was hillier than any of my training runs. My training runs definitely prepared me for it, though.

Some of you may be wondering how I'm feeling today... the day after. Not too bad, actually. I am definitely feeling the effects of the hills - my quads and glutes are pretty sore. But it's no worse than if I had done a tough lower body weight workout at the gym. It's quite manageable, and as long as I get up and walk around regularly, it keeps me from getting too stiff. My worst "injury" from the whole event is my toe. The second toe of my left foot apparently had been hitting the front of my shoe (presumably during the downhills) and now the whole tip of that toe is a giant purple blister. It's a bit painful (not really bad though), and I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to be able to wear real shoes to work tomorrow (it's awfully swollen). But in the grand scheme of running injuries, this is a pretty minor thing. I'm counting my blessings, believe me.

All in all, I am so glad that I ran this marathon. I absolutely loved it. The hills ended up not being a chore. They actually made the course interesting. And the spectators are the best I've ever experienced in all the races I've run. The entire event was so well-organized, and the volunteers were outstanding. The swag is fantastic, and the cost is extremely reasonable. Cincinnati really knows how to put on a race! I can't wait to run it again next year - as soon as registration opens up for 2011, I'm signing up!

Peace. Love. Train.


  1. Wow, Emily! What a wonderfully written and touching race report. You made me cry! I'm so impressed with your strategy, your ability to stick to your strategy, your training AND your time of 5:15!!! Amazing. I love reading people's race reports, but yours was really something special. Thanks so much for sharing it with everybody. Take care of yourself these next couple of days. You so deserve it! -- Staley

  2. What a fantastic race report and an amazing performance!

    I too am not anywhere near as sore as I feared anywhere except glutes mostly and I'm sure that's from the hills. Sitting and standing are a little painful but otherwise I feel great! I credit the serious training I put in for this race and thats thanks to Runners World Challenge. --Tony D