Monday, May 2, 2011

Hamming it up at the Flying Pig!

Well, folks, it's that time of year again: the time when we put on poofy tutus, squeal like pigs, and get funky in Cincinnati. No, it's not crazy Cousin Eddie's wedding... it's Flying Pig time!

Just like last year, Cincinnati put on an amazing weekend full of fun, challenges, adventures and laughs. My best friend Shelley and I had the privilege of running three of the Flying Pig races: the 10k, 5k, and half-marathon. (Our friend Michele also joined us for the 5k) Here are some highlights from the weekend events:

The Flying Pig Expo

This year's expo was pretty much identical to last year's, in terms of size, offerings, and organization. It is hands down one of the best expos around. The volunteers (called "Grunts") are friendly, efficient and always smiling. The swag is second-to-none. And the Flying Pig-themed gear you can purchase is very high-quality. I may or may not have purchased several super-cute piggy-themed things.

Shelley is very excited about the swag - three t-shirts, art posters and an embroidered backpack!

Toyota 10k - Saturday, April 30, 8:00am

The first race event of the weekend was the 10k. The start area, just outside the Great American Ballpark (home of the Cincinnati Reds), was fun and energizing with a live DJ and lots of runners. Shelley and I had opted to wear our Team Shiny Medal shirts (which we wore for the Niagara Falls Marathon Relay last fall). We were pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself.

The shirts say "Ooo Shiny!" And yes, we have the same shoes.

It was a cool and sunny morning in downtown Cincinnati - perfect running weather. The 10k course starts at the ballpark, crosses over the Ohio River into Kentucky, meanders along the riverfront, crosses back over another bridge into Ohio and finishes back at the ballpark. It's not an easy course. The bridges (there are three total) are essentially long hills, and there are also several other hills along the route. As you will soon see, it was just a warm-up for what was to come on Sunday.

We had no intention of racing any of the weekend's events. I know what you all are thinking. Yes, it's true I have a long history of not being able to not race races. But I assure you, we actually stuck to the plan of not racing.

However, it had been over 3 years since the last time I ran a 10k. So I was able to set a new 10k PR in this non-race just from running at a moderate pace. It's not a particularly impressive time and I know both Shelley and I are capable of significantly faster. But coming away with an unexpected PR is still a nice little bonus. It is more proof that I am less slow than I used to be!

Flying Pig 5k - Saturday, April 30, 10:00am

The next event in our Weekend of Running was the 5k. We were joined by our good friend Michele. For the most part, we let Michele dictate the pace, since she is a run-walker. But occasionally, we gave her a little nudge to run a bit farther or faster. And also, to not cheat. (That's right, Michele... we're on to you!)

Me, Michele, and Shelley before the 5k

After completing our Saturday morning races, we spent the rest of the day shopping, eating, and enjoying the city. I also went to the Flying Piglet Diaper Dash event to shoot video of a friend's daughter who was participating. It was very cute, and all the babies got medals, which promptly become teething toys. All of this walking around the city and the mall was taking a toll on my legs without me realizing it, until...

Flying Pig Half-Marathon - Sunday, May 1, 6:30am

Shelley and I woke up dark and early at 4:30 Sunday morning to get ready for the big run of the weekend. I would like to point out that Cincinnati is on Eastern Time, so 4:30am in Cincy is 3:30am where I come from. Yes, it was painful to wake up that early. The good news is that I actually slept pretty well that night, so after a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, I was ready to roll. I donned my traditional Flying Pig gear...

...and as we made our way to the starting line at Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Cincinnati Bengals) amid thousands of other runners, history repeated itself.

The rain started.

It was very light at first. Not quite like the torrential downpours and nonstop lightning and thunder of last year. But it was definitely building. And as we walked, it rained a little more. And as we waited in line for one more port-a-potty stop, it rained a little harder. And as we made our way to the "Pig Pen" corrals with less than 10 minutes til the race start, it rained a little harder still.

The Flying Pig instituted a corral start system for the first time ever this year. It was much-needed, since this race is quite large and not all runners are effective at self-seeding. We were supposed to be in Corral D. We never did get there though. We made as far as Corral C when they opened up the barriers between corrals and the race started. Oops! We were not alone, though. Another girl, who was running her first full marathon, hadn't made it to her corral either. She asked us what kind of pace we were running. We said we didn't really have a planned pace - we were just going to run easy. She said that's what she was doing too... And so, for the first several miles, we were joined by the adorable and bubbly Allison, from Charlotte, NC. We ran and chatted for the first four miles, until she stopped to stretch. She is also a blogger, and here is her very cute blog.

After the Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati miles, things get very hairy in the Flying Pig half-marathon and marathon events. After Mile 5, the Big Climb begins. And it just never seems to end. Just when you think the course has leveled off, you turn a corner and there's more hill to climb. But the great thing about the Flying Pig is that even the hills are fun, because the spectators and course volunteers are so enthusiastic and energetic. Even in the pouring rain (and it did pour rain for most of the run), Cincinnatians crowd the streets by the thousands to cheer on the runners. You can't help but feel a burst of energy from all the excitement.

Elvis performs at this spot every year, near the bottom of the Big Hill

The reward at the top of the Big Hill: the view from Eden Park. It's a Kodak Moment! Look how drenched we are from the rain.

Now's a good time to mention the aid station entertainment. The Flying Pig has a contest every year where runners can vote on their favorite aid station. And the aid stations work very hard to earn the title of Favorite Fluid Station. Some of our favorite aid stations included the Avondale Running Club at Mile 6, who were rapping such classic and witty things as "The Gatorade is in the green cups. The Gatorade is in the green cups." Entertaining and informative! We also very much enjoyed the Walnut Hills High School Football Team at Mile 10, and not just because they were very cute. *wink wink* They were also unbelievably enthusiastic, giving out high fives and shouting encouragement to every runner who passed by.

The last few miles of the race were pretty tough for both of us. Cardiovascularly, I was fine; I wasn't breathing hard and my heart rate was low. But my legs were very tired and my feet were sore. All of the running and walking yesterday must have taken a toll. Shelley was also suffering a bit since she is getting over a recent bout of pneumonia. So we did take a few walk breaks on some of the steeper hills.

I felt a little wimpy about those walk breaks. But when I got home and uploaded my Garmin data, I was shocked to see that the total climb on the half-marathon course was over 1,000 feet. The full marathon course climbs about 1,500 feet total, so the half-marathon is actually a tougher course than the full marathon, on a climb-per-mile basis. Also, the Big Hill is from Mile 5 - 8.5 on both courses. This means it's late in the half course, but early in the full course. The full marathon lends itself well to negative splits for this reason. The half... not so much with the negative splits.

At about Mile 10, the half course takes a nosedive and it's 2 solid miles of fairly steep downhill. It's easy on the heart, but hard on the legs. Fortunately, the race is almost over by this point. Before we knew it, we were climbing the final small hill and we knew the finish line (er, I mean, finish swine) would be just on the other side. Shelley told me she didn't have any kick in her. I told her it didn't matter because we weren't racing. She sped up anyway. So I sped up. And then she sped up some more. So I sped up some more. No finishing kick, eh?

We collected our final medal of the weekend and made our way through the insanely long finish area, where they were serving up everything from bananas to donuts to Swiss cake rolls to chocolate milk. We made our way back to the hotel, got cleaned up and put on warm, dry clothes, and wore our three medals around for the rest of the day. We were very noisy with all the clinking and clanging of the medals. But it was the sound of accomplishment. And also the sound of insanity.

Why did we run three races? Because we have a sickness. And we love shiny medals. And something about personal accomplishment and stuff.

The three little piggy medals

We will, of course, be back again next year. The Flying Pig is now a tradition that cannot be broken. Which race(s) will I run next time? Your guess is as good as mine. But I do love me a good hilly marathon...

Peace. Love. Train.

1 comment:

  1. OHHH my goodness! I soaked up every word of your recap...I loved it! I'm SO glad I ran into you guys before the start of the race. The instant I saw your pink tutu I knew y'all would be fun to be around! PS... so glad you knew the name of the Rap group at the Mile 6 waterstop... they were AMAZING! Too funny. I will be back for this race again, that's for sure!