Monday, May 07, 2007

05/06/07 The Flying Pig Marathon

The Pig is a very popular (though not overly large) marathon held each May in Cincinnati. It is popular because it is very well managed, it has a challenging but fairly fast course, the community really supports the race, and, of course, it has the gimmick of the pink flying pig.

The Pig is one of my personal favorites, though it lands on the same weekend as several other great marathons: Avenue of Giants, Lincoln, and Ft Collins. It’s also the same weekend as two other marathons that would be much easier for me logistically: Reno and Vancouver. AND it’s the same weekend as a few other races, like the Poconos Marathon, that I don’t know much about. But I really like The Pig. I also had a score to settle with this race because last year I had a terrible time. I still did okay for me: a 3:55 in the middle of a series of 7 in 7 weeks where I got faster each week… but I felt terrible the whole race. So I decided to come back and try again.

The course is a 5 mile point-to-point, starting by the Bengals’ stadium, crossing a bridge into Kentucky, over another little bridge, a mile or so through the city of Covington, a bridge back over to Cincinnati (which, as you can guess, has a lot of bridges), and then over to the Reds’ stadium. From here, the course is a 21 mile loop up through the big hill in the middle of the city, down the back side, and then back to the stadium area via the river. The elevation chart makes it look like there’s a monster hill on the course that ends at M8, and then a nice downhill all the way to the finish. Not really. If you squint at the chart, you’ll see the truth: a challenging (though, honestly not monstrous) up between M5 and M9ish followed by rolling hills all the way to the end. The general tendency is down, but there’s certainly a lot of up along the way. And at every one of these hills, a kind spectator will tell you “this is the last hill!” Except for the spectator at M25.5… oh yeah, there’s a little cruel joke hill at M25.5… except for that person… the rest of them fib.

The Pig starts at 6:30a, which is quite early for a non-Hawai’i or Florida race. Race morning weather was blue sky and a very moderate 52, but the humidity was high and it was supposed to be windy. It would turn out to be breezy in a few locations, but the big wind wouldn’t show up until late in the day. Of course, I dressed in Island Boy’s normal 4 shirts… and for the first race this year, Island Boy regretted wearing so many clothes. I didn’t ditch any of them, but I was hot and steamy all day.

The Pig has plenty of bathrooms before the race (and during, too – great org!), which was a much happier experience than last week in Eugene. I had plenty of time to utilize the football stadium’s potty and then wander down to the sea of humanity. This is one thing that The Pig could improve: the starting area is a sardine can. Yes, the race utilizes chips, but it seems like nobody seeds themselves very well each year. There were a few signs for various paces, but they were too close to the starting line, and even the pace teams lined up more spread out. It was packed wall-to-wall with people. I was back around the 3:50 team… couldn’t hear announcements or the Star Spangled Banner, but then BOOM (and I mean a cannon BOOOOOM) meant we were off. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Almost two minutes later, I really crossed the line. Then it was time to play walker dodgeball. Argh.

My two goals for this race were very simple: I wanted to put in 18ish miles averaging my current marathon pace… so I was shooting for 8:40/mile. I also wanted to beat last year’s 3:55. Beyond that, I wanted to NOT feel like crap. However, because of the hilly nature of the course, I was ok with not putting in precise splits. Factoring in a mile of walker dodgeball, I decided to try to get to M19 at 2:36 plus whatever my time would be during that first mile. That turned out to be 9:18… so, I wanted to hit M19 as close to 2:45:18 as I could.

I had a lot of people ask me about my pink shirt during the Kentucky section, and I met a woman named Marlene from coolrunning. I know she was Marlene because her leg had M A R L E N E written on it :-). As we crossed the bridge back into Cincinnati, my friend Dan caught me. We talked for about a mile until the need to potty became too much for me to bear. I wished him well, hopped the fence right before M5, opened the door of the potty with the little green dot, shocked myself and the woman sitting inside, and quickly closed the door. Yeep.

Important safety tip to all runners: please lock the door. Mahalo plenty!

Business concluded, it was time for The Pig’s big hill. This is where the two runwalkers started playing leapfrog with me. Now, while some folks have a philosophical issue with the runwalking method, I think it is fine. Whether you walk, run, runwalk, hop, or dance… if you finish before I do, you beat me fair and square. I don’t like it when runwalkers stop suddenly right in front of me, and thankfully these two did not do this. But they DID do something I found very annoying. While in run mode, they’d pass me. No problem. But when they passed me, one of them would immediately drift in front of me. Right in front of me. And then slow to my pace. The first time, I played matador. The second time, the gal bumped me with her elbow. The third time, her buddy hit my foot and tripped me. By the fourth time… THE FOURTH TIME… I began to wonder whether it was intentional. I don’t think it was, really. I think they were just talking. But by the fourth “olé”, I finally had to say something and move to the other side of the street. One positive thing is that I was too focused on this to get psyched out by the hill. Up and over.

The middle miles kind of drifted by. The weather was great, and so the spectator support was outstanding all day. Part of my brain was keeping track of my effort and pace, but the rest of it sort of zoned out. M14.6ish-M16 is a little balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back before heading back towards downtown. In here, I met fellow Maniac and online buddy Perfesser. Cool guy, and I wish I could have stuck with him for longer, but I was hit with the need to potty again at M16. This is exactly where I got nailed, and nailed badly, last year. This year? False potty stop. Argh. I hate those. Off I went.

I wanted to hit M19 as close to 2:45:18 as I could. My time at M19? 2:45:09. HA. Very cool. It was here that I had to decide whether I really wanted to push things or not. The Pig was not a goal race, and I have two races in the next few weeks where I might want to push. AND I have two different doubles (two marathons in the same weekend) in the next three weeks. Naaaah. Not today. This is not to say that the last seven miles were easy… in fact, I struggled through a few of them. But not the “dig deep and almost die” kind of struggle. I met a ton of people during this section, and quite a few coolrunners and Maniacs. Some of these I was passing, but many of these folks were passing me on their way to various PRs. The 3:50 pace guy went by me somewhere around M21. His group looked strong, and he was still providing excellent encouragement. Go pace team guy.

The M25 mile marker was spray painted on the ground quite a ways before the M25 sign and clock. The spray paint was correct. The spectators energized me and I sped up for the last mile. The Pig has this weird contest where they track everyone’s last mile (M25.2-M26.2) and award a prize to the person with the fastest final mile. Of course, no midpacker will win this award, but it does seem to cause everyone to surge. Me included.

The spectators were wonderful. Tons of people shouted for me (tip: write your name on your shirt). I think I saw people I recognized… but after 25+ miles, the emotion of the last mile when everyone is yelling for you causes your brain to go into a weird state of perception. Everything seems to speed up and slow down at the same time. It’s a truly funky experience, and one of the coolest things about racing. I saw several people wearing the singlet for February’s National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer, which is my ultimate goal race. And then I was over the line and done. I got announced, but the announcer did it very oddly, saying “…from Seattle” like it was a bad thing. Heh.

3:52. I made my second goal of beating last year’s 3:55 and I felt great. As I met up with various folks and heard about all their smoking times and PRs, part of me felt a little badly for not trying to hammer the last miles. But it is all part of the plan. I had goals and I achieved them.

Incidentally, as has become my tradition recently, my 8:11 26th mile was the fastest of the last 15, and my third fastest mile of the whole race. It helped that everyone else was surging too.

After the race, I ate my yogurt and green bananas. The pig is weird because there’s the food area. And then behind that is… another food area. I got a yummy bagel in the second food area.

I was supposed to meet a bunch of cool people for beer afterwards. I got directions to the place, but my calorie-deprived brain processed them wrong. So I waited for awhile at the Irish Pub whilst they were all having fun at the German place. Ooops. Oh well, maybe next time. I did put in an extra 4ish miles walking around.

Next up: a brand new marathon next week in Tacoma. It is the pet project of one of the founding Maniacs, so we’ll all be there running or volunteering. I’ll see you there.

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