Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Race Day! Cincinnati Flying Pig

Pre-race jitters had me asking myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" The Flying Pig race route is notoriously hilly in the first 9 miles, a fact that had me spending an inordinate amount of time convincing myself it would be okay, no big deal, just walk the hilly parts and don't expect a good pace or PR.

Then there was the weather forecast. It wasn't looking good at all. Forecasts were for as much as 12 inches - A FOOT - of rain Sunday, beginning in the early morning hours and continuing until late afternoon. Looking at the upside of this, it would keep the temps cooler than they would be if the sun was out. I don't mind running in the rain; the only concern for us runners would be blisters and chafing from the wet clothes and shoes.

A wake up call, the clock alarm, and my watch alarm were all set for 5 AM. Clothes, shoes, socks, race bib, watch, hat were all set out. Room key, ID, medical card, chewing gum were all in a small zip-lok bag tucked into the little zip pocket on my running shirt. Now I had to hope I could calm down the pre-race anticipation enough to get at least a few hours' sleep.

The wake-up call rang in concert with the thunder that rumbled outside. Flashes of lightning illuminated the room before I had a chance to turn the bedside lamp on. The forecasters were correct. A peek out the window of my 17th floor room confirmed that it was raining. I got dressed, had a cup of Cheerios and banana, and then put my cap and jacket on and headed out of the hotel toward the race start line area.

The Flying Pig marathon had been on my to-do list for several years, but in January I noticed at the Runners World website that they were including this race in their Runners World Challenge this year. This convinced me that this would be the year to do this race! I subscribe to Runners World magazine and frequent their website almost daily to read the on-line articles, the editors' on-line blogs, and to use the on-line workout log. Signing up for the Runners' World Challenge would not only get me registered for the race but would give me access to a private area on their website for a training program, advice, forums, running articles, not to mention access to a pre-race and post-race VIP area on race day. This in itself would be worth the cost of signing up.

So on race day morning my destination would be a suite inside the Cincinnati Bengals stadium, where we had access to nice comfortable seating, a light breakfast buffet, dry and warm bathrooms (not porta-potties). It was just steps away from the start line.

Once inside and out of the rain, I could relax a bit and not think too much about what lay ahead on this hilly route. I met several more of the editors of Runners World and had my photo taken with Bart Yasso, then settled in with a cup of hot water and chatted with Peter, one of the editors who would be doing his first marathon (he's a cyclist).

As the 6:30 AM start time neared, we all began moving toward the door and the start line. It was still dark outside - no doubt because of the heavy cloud cover - and several of us stumbled a bit on the low curbs as we tried to get ourselves oriented to the start line. As we stood there, huddled up against the increasingly heavy rains, we watched as distant lightning lit up the skies. We also watched as 6:30 AM came and went with no race start. There was an apparent delay, perhaps weather-related, perhaps due to the lightning. In the meantime, the rain turned to a heavy downpour. Well, we couldn't get any wetter than we already were!

Once the race started, it was a slow start-and-stop walk as the crowd inched its way toward the start line. I had no idea where I was in the pack, but apparently it was pretty far back, judging from how long it took me to reach the start line and cross the electronic chip mats. I pressed 'start' on my watch as I stepped on the mat and began to move forward at a slow jog. We're underway!!

The mile-by-mile route narrative displayed at the Fitness Expo listed highlights of the route, things to look for as we ran through the miles. The first mile ran us away from the Bengals stadium and up and around the Reds stadium as we headed for the Taylor-Southgate bridge which goes over the Ohio River and into Covington KY. A couple of miles along city streets on the KY side and we then crossed the Clay Wade Bailey bridge back over to Cincinnati. As much as I wanted to keep a lookout for some of the historic or other interesting sites along the way, the dense running pack on the narrow streets, the potholes and dangers in the roadway, and the rain were all deterrents to looking anywhere but at the road in front of me. Somewhere along the early miles I managed to plunge into a deep puddle and my feet and socks were now soaking wet. This will put the Glide I used on my feet to a good test.

The crowds along the sidelines were spotty at best, no doubt deterred by the heavy rains earlier. Nonetheless, on the Cincinnati side, just after crossing the Bailey bridge, an intrepid fan stood alone along the side of the road loudly cheering us on. He is most memorable for what he was telling us. All of us runners really hate to hear those misguided folks who will say something like "You're almost there" when we're anywhere on the route that's not a mile from the finish line. But this fellow definitely had the best and most original motivation of them all: "I heard that it's sunny just ahead. Just keep running until you get to dry pavement." Now this really made us all laugh and was truly a bright point along the way!

The route took us west for a ways then turned us back east onto 7th Street through the downtown, where we were greeted by onlookers cheering us on. The heavy rain had let up and was now a steady light rain. Runnng out of the downtown area I knew that in just another mile I'd be getting to the hilliest part of the course. Looking back at the previous 6 miles, which included the approaches to two very large bridges across the Ohio River, I realized that I really didn't struggle as much as I feared on these inclines. So there was some hope that I would do better than I thought as the route took us up through Eden park, a gain of over 400 ft elevation in less than 2 miles.

The incline was particularly steep as we made the turn to go up the hill and into the park, too steep for me to maintain my running pace, so I slowed to a fast walk, knowing that I could walk this faster than I could run it. I walked for less than a half mile and was able to break into a run again when the grade eased up to a more manageable slope. The park was lovely and the road took us up to the top of a bluff where a parking lot turnout presented a gorgeous overlook of the Ohio River and miles of view beyond. Our route took us through this little parking lot loop so that we could enjoy the view before the route turned back toward the road that would continue up the hill and out of the park.

A couple more very short stretches of walking for me, interspersed with running, and I finally reached the peak of this longest and steepest of the hills at about mile 8 and I could once again establish a steady running pace. I had the long 3 mile downhill stretch to look forward to...I love running downhill and do it well.

Very soon I could feel the tilt of the terrain and sense the gravitational pull as the course very subtly started its descent back into the downtown. I've learned that the best way to deal with downhills is to just relax, let gravity take over, don't try to put on the "brakes," and just go with it.

It was liberating! I was flying past many runners and walkers. Three miles of this!! I felt confident that I was making up whatever time I may have lost with the brief sections of walking. Somewhere along the way, after going through Eden Park, I had shed the long-sleeve shirt. My intention was to wear it only for the first mile or so and then discard it into the piles of abandoned clothing along the route. But the heavy rains were a bit chilly for me and I never felt I'd be comfortable in just the short-sleeve shirt I was wearing underneath. But somewhere near mile 9 or 10 I was starting to get warm so took it off and tied it around my waist. It was water-logged and weighed a ton! But I didn't notice it too much running down the hills.

I will admit that I was not paying attention to many of the mile markers and had little sense of where I was. As I descended these hills and arrived into the downtown area again, the stadiums were clearly visible over the tops of the buildings and I realized that we were nearing the finish line. But how close were we? What mile marker?

The route had a U-turn in it and we were now running past each other, heading in two different directions. I looked over the median at the folks heading the other way and spotted the mile 12 marker. 12 miles! We were almost to the finish line - just one more mile to go - and yet I felt very strong! that I was on flat ground, the waterlogged shirt tied around my waist was starting to feel very heavy! I thought multiple times I should just untie it and toss it away. But the frugal side of me couldn't bring myself to do it.

So the shirt flapped against my thigh as I ran that last mile, feeling like dead weight around my waist! Finally, one last turn and I could see the finish line about 200 yards ahead, right in front of the Reds stadium. Or, rather, I should say the Swine Line. As I got near the finish mats I checked my watch one last time and was really happy with my time. As best I could remember, it would possibly be my best time ever for a half marathon. It was definitely faster than my time in this year's Houston half marathon. Wow! And with all the hills on the Flying Pig route, too!

Volunteers were standing just beyond the finish line, ready to put our finisher's medals over our heads. We were funneled into a tunnel along side the stadium, where volunteers handed us space blankets and tables were filled with bottled water. But I had a warm dry destination waiting for me inside the stadium and had to push my way through the throngs of runners and run the gauntlet of folks crowding the tables of post-race foods until I could find an exit that would let me double-back to the designated entrance to the Runners World Challenge private post-race party. Here I would be wisked up by private elevator to a private skybox, where Runners World had smoothies, cold and hot drinks, and a nice finger food buffet set up for us.

I was greeted by several of the magazine staff including Jennifer Van Allen, who had also run the half marathon. She's clearly a much faster runner than I am, since she was looking dry and composed and dressed in after-race warm-up clothes. I had my photo taken with her and then browsed the buffet and had a fruit smoothy, while sitting with a woman who was there with her son and daughter-in-law and their two adorable children.

The skybox had a fabulous view of the baseball field and I could only imagine what it would be like to imbibe and network while enjoying this skybox during a Cincinnati Reds game.

As pleasant as it was, being in that comfy and relaxing skybox, I was eager to get to my hotel room, take a warm shower and get into dry clothes. Besides, I had a date with a Cincy chili 5-way and a coney five-way later at the Dixie Chili restaurant in Erlanger, KY.

As I write this, I am still on a "high" thinking about what a fantastic experience this race has been. The pre-race Fitness Expo, the fun event staff and volunteers, all of the fun touches and attention to the details made for a memorable experience. I would definitely do the Runners Challenge again and will look forward to seeing their 2011 schedule.
My stats:
Race time: 2:44:30
Place: 14th out of 113 in my age group.

1 comment:

  1. I had ask earlier (or later) if you had won, guess I should not have started with your latest post. Job well done.