I’ve run the Flying Pig Half Marathon half a dozen times. I’ve run it in the best shape of my life, the worst shape of my life, and everything in between. And you know what? It’s dang hard every single time.
The Start (Mile 1)
The Flying Pig starts on the river downtown, just behind Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Cincinnati Bengals). It’s important to note that other than the finish line (which is just a few blocks from the start), this is the lowest point on the course.
Pro tip: This is a big ol’ race with a bajillion runners, so mentally prepare to wade through the sea of chaos when the gun goes off. Don’t waste energy bobbing and weaving. Go with the flow, and the crowd will thin out soon enough.
‘Tucky (Miles 2-4)
The Flying Pig is famous for its hills, but don’t discount the bridges. They make for three slow, steady climbs.
The runners thin out a bit as the race takes shape, but the mass of runners still makes the third and final bridge shake like an earthquake as thousands of feet charge over the top.
Pro tip: The first water stop comes just after the first bridge, and it always feels too soon. Ignore this feeling and take water anyway. Trust me on this one.
Downtown (Mile 5)
Once you’re safely back in Ohio, you dip your toe onto the west side of town (barely) and head toward the heart of downtown. The buildings tower over you, and you really feel like a part of a momentous event. This part goes by quickly, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Pro tip: The downtown crowds are the loudest, thickest and most enthusiastic. Soak it in! This is the fun part, folks! You’re a celebrity!
The Climb (Mile 6-8)
Around the halfway point of the race, the course starts to head up the hill that separates the girls from the women. All told, the hill lasts about two miles, and it burrrrns. This is a big climb, and it can be scary and intimidating. But there are actually a few breaks on the way up, so don’t give up and keep moving forward. Once you hit the gargoyles in front of Eden Park, you’re home free.
Pro tip: Don’t shoot your wad going up the hill. Your splits will be slower during this section of the race, and that’s OK. What goes up must come down, and there’s still quite a lot of racing yet to do.
The Split (Mile 9)
Praise the sweet racing gods, you’re not going uphill anymore! As you turn right onto Victory Parkway and head toward Walnut Hills, it’s actually a slight decline. Here, you’ll meet big, enthusiastic crowds and some lovely scenery as you break away from the full marathoners.
Pro tip: This is the best place to rack up some high-fives. Treat yo’self.
Rolling Walnut Hills (Mile 10)
For me, this is always one of the toughest sections of the race. Not many people run in this area of town unless it’s Pig Sunday, and not many spectators come here to cheer, either. It’s mostly rolling hills, which wouldn’t be so bad, but coming on the heels of the Eden Park climb, it’s rough.
Pro tip: Crank up your tunes, repeat your mantras, do whatever it is you’ve gotta do to plow through this section. Stay steady, and you’ll be through it soon enough.
The Descent (Mile 11)
I’m flyyyyyyyyying! At last, the downhill section of the race! And what a relief it is! Better yet, you’re back in the land of the living. Spectators! Fellow racers! And guess what? Those suckers are still coming UP the hill.
Pro tip: Lean forward, run on your toes and cruise down toward the city. If you put on the breaks in this section, you’ll shred your quads and anger your knees, and you’re really going to need those to finish out the last mile and a half of the race.
Out and Back (Mile 12)
Just as that glorious downhill ends, you have to add on a little mileage downtown. You run down a long, straight stretch of Central Parkway (it’s only about five blocks, but it FEELS like an eternity), turn around and come right back up. Woof.
Pro tip: Home stretch, baby! Once you loop around on Central Parkway, it’s time to see what you’re made of. Give it all you’ve got because you’ve only got one mile to the finish.
The Finish Swine (Mile 13)
Pro tip: Keep your head held high, look for the pink balloons and sprint until you pass a flying pig.
Godspeed, runners! — Aidz