And then there was the Pig. 29 days after running my first 50k, I ran my eighth full road marathon. I seemed to recover fairly quickly from the Forget the PR Mohican 50k, so it didn’t seem entirely crazy to put all of this season’s speed work to the test at the Flying Pig Marathon roughly one month later. There were complications from the very start of this year’s Flying Pig, though, so it quickly became clear that this was not going to be my day to run a 3:20-3:30 marathon. Not by a long shot.
In fact, the complications began during my 20-minute shake out run the day before the race. While out for that easy run, I suddenly found my foot catching on what turned out to be a loose seam in the toebox of my left shoe. After getting home, I discovered that the shoe was indeed starting to fall apart! Despite having fewer than 150 miles worth of wear and tear, my intended race day shoes (Brooks Ghost 11s purchased in March) were suddenly not an option. I instead had to opt for an older pair of Brooks Ghost 11s, which I had previously retired due to some issues with an uncharacteristically narrow toebox. This was a decision I would come to regret.
Things didn’t get much better on the morning of the race. Despite checking for open spots on the drive downtown, my wife and I were surprised to find our intended parking lot was full. Once we finally found a place to park and checked our bags, we stood in the absurdly convoluted line for the porta-potties in our race corral for roughly half an hour. The small number of porta-potties compared to the overwhelming number of desperate runners that needed to use them would have been comical had it not been so tragic. By the time I finally got into and out of a porta-potty (which took all of about 10 seconds after such a dramatic wait), the first wave of the race had already started and I found myself roped off from my assigned “Wave B” and stuck with the 3:50 pace group.
Despite knowing better, I went out of the gate fast in an attempt to catch up with my wave and my target pace group of 3:25. The Flying Pig Course starts on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, but almost immediately heads south across the river into Newport, Kentucky. By the time we were through Covington, Kentucky, and heading back into Ohio I was caught up with my fellow 3:25 racers. The humidity was already getting to me, but I kept my pace around 7:40 for the entire climb up and over Cincinnati’s Eden Park. This part of the course gives racers roughly 300 feet of consistent climb across four miles. That steady climb gives way to rolling hills for the next few miles, but I kept my pace right around 7:35 through the halfway mark, technically running my half marathon PR in 1:40:43.
Of course, I wasn’t running a half marathon that day … so I still had 13.1 miles to go. My toes were slowly starting to bother me as I exited Hyde Park, but hydration was becoming a bigger issue. The course includes a fairly small loop through the Village of Mariemont and I found myself having to stop to refill my handheld water bottle at both the entrance and exit to this loop. I also had to make a brief pit stop in a porta-potty giving me my first 8-minute mile of the race at mile 15. My wife passed me around this point, looking strong and clearly on her way to a Boston-qualifying finish time. One of us was going to have a very good day, I thought to myself.
I was able to get myself more-or-less back on track for the next three miles, thanks in part to the psychological boost of seeing my mom and sister on the course cheering us near the Frisch’s Mainliner, but I found myself stopping to use the bathroom again at mile 19. I usually don’t make any pit stops during a marathon, much less two stops within four miles, so something was clearly going wrong. I was too hot and too sweaty and I found myself walking at mile 20 in an effort to mentally and physically regroup. It didn’t work. The next four miles were a slog as I would alternately run and hobble my way through Columbia-Tusculum. My toes were killing me by this point and I actually stopped multiple times to take off my shoes, loosen my laces and reposition my inserts. The 3:25 pace group was long gone by this point and I was suddenly overtaken by Cincinnati running legend Harvey Lewis and the 3:35 pace group that he was leading. I tried to stick with Harvey and my fellow BERunProject racers in that pace group for a while, but it was still too much. I stopped to walk again and the 3:35 group disappeared over the horizon.
It was over. My goal was lost and – frankly – I didn’t really care anymore.
I probably would have limped my way to a four-hour marathon finish if Rich Adams, one of my former pace coaches, hadn’t caught me about halfway through mile 24. Rich relocated to Texas last year but was back in Cincinnati for the Pig and he literally saved the day. Clad in a sombrero in honor of Cinco de Mayo and wearing our ridiculous team jersey from 2017’s Market to Market Relay, Rich pulled me from the depths of race-day despair. All of the sudden we were bullshitting and talking about how strong my wife looked as she pursued her BQ finish … and my pace slowly started increasing from a 9:20 to a 8:41 to a 7:53 minute mile. Runners and coaches from Beyond Exercise were screaming encouragement from the sidelines and suddenly the finish line was in sight. I was so close to coming in just at 3:39 … but it wasn’t meant to be.
It sucked, but it was done. I finished my third Flying Pig, my eighth full marathon and my last marathon of my 30s in a net time of 3:40:38 with an average pace of 8:26. This placed me 541st out of 3883 overall full marathon finishers and 74th out of 348 runners in my division. I didn’t land anywhere near my 3:20-3:30 target time, but I’ve also never run a full marathon one month after running a 50k before, so perhaps my expectations were simply unrealistic for this race.
Upon finishing, I was shocked to discover that my wife had been taken to the medical tent. After running the race of her life at a pace that would have easily beat her Boston-qualifying time by 5 or 6 minutes, she became ill with less than a mile to go. I unknowingly ran right past her as course officials evaluated her for over 10 minutes before finally letting her limp across the finish line with the help of some of our BERunProject teammates … with her BQ-plan now ruined. When I finally found her, she had an IV in each arm and was mostly delirious. It was a scary end to a hard day, but they released her after about two hours and we both still managed to complete our marathons in under 3:45:00 despite our collective mishaps.
Prior to the 2019 Flying Pig, I hadn’t completed a full road marathon since November of 2017. Running a full marathon was harder than I remembered. I hadn’t run the full Flying Pig since May of 2015. The race course was also harder than I remembered. I’ve come away from this race feeling less certain of my ability to run a Chicago-qualifying time in the near future. It’s clear that I still have to work on my ability to visualize a goal and stick to the pace required to complete that goal, rather than going out too fast and blowing up 75% of the way through the race. The Beyond Exercise and BERunProject community saved my ass during this race, though, and I’ll keep working with them to bring that 3:20-3:30 finishing time closer to reality.
My Race Kit/Gear:
- Goodr Sunglasses
- Tracksmith Strata Tee
- Tracksmith Session Shorts
- Rhinegeist Brewing’s Stryker Custom Crew Socks (By Fitsok, Discontinued)
- Brooks Ghost 11 Road Running Shoes
- Amphipod Handheld Waterbottle
- Maurten Hydrogel 100 Sports Fuel
- Garmin Forerunner 920 XT
- Scosche Rhythm24 Armband Heartrate Monitor
- Bodyglide Anti Chafe/Anti Blister Balm
- You can’t complain about Goodr’s price point, and I generally like their glasses, but the lenses fog up something fierce on humid days. And race day was incredibly humid.
- I knew it was going to get hot during the second half of my marathon, so I opted for my shorter pair of Session Shorts. The shorts and my Strata Tee worked like a charm.
- Someone needs to convince Rhinegeist to bring back both its Stryker Imperial IPA and the running socks that this beer inspired.
- The Brooks Ghost 11s pictured above were the shoes I planned to wear on race day. At least, that was the plan until they fell apart during my shakeout run. This taught me a valuable lesson: I need to have 2-3 viable pairs of running shoes in circulation while training. The Ghosts I ended up wearing were a disaster … and now so are my toes.
- Although they have fueled my long runs all season, this was my first time racing with Maurten gels. I struggled a bit with the consistency of these gels during the race, and they weren’t as easy on my stomach as I had hoped. I might still just need to get used to this brand of fuel, so the jury’s out.
One last thought: the crowd support at the Pig is phenomenal. My race included some deep valleys and the people around me – friends and strangers alike – made all of the difference in the world. I feel privileged to be a part of such a phenomenal running community.