When the alarm went off at 4:55 a.m., I was already awake. It was FLYING PIG MORNING, and I had been excited about it all week. The weather was shaping up to be absolutely beautiful, and as I slapped my running hat-turned-pig-head on my noggin, I was grinning from pig ear to pig ear.
I trained hard all winter in my quest to break the 2-hour half marathon barrier. My pace dropped, but the more I saw results, the less concerned I became with the actual number. I had begun to realize what I loved so much about running really had nothing to do with a specific finish time. So as I towed the line for my seventh Flying Pig Half Marathon, I was more concerned with having a good time than I was about running a good time.
As we started the race with fireworks (a new and awesome addition to this year’s course), I couldn’t help but be pumped up. I just kept telling myself to rein it in, run my race and avoid reckless miles. I knew if I ran at my long run pace, I’d have a Pig PR, and I was thrilled at that prospect.
It had been a few years since I had run a big race like the Flying Pig, and I forgot just how much I enjoy the enormity and pomp of an event on a scale like this.
The first few miles of a half marathon are always exciting and shiny and new, and this year’s Pig was no exception. The city looked beautiful, the crowds cheered loudly, and I cruised comfortably through the first half of the race.
Then, I started up the Eden Park hill. Man, that thing is a beast. I knew going in that my pace would slow down during this two-mile climb, but I didn’t expect to slow down that much. Holy molasses.
As we came off the turn at the top of the hill, a pair of girls passed me. One girl said to the other, “Only four miles to go!” as she gave her partner a high-five. Well hey, when you put it THAT way … And just like that, the smile returned to my face and my feet found their rhythm again.
I flew down the hill at mile 10, and as I churned into the final 5K of the race, I was feeling pretty gassed. Instead of turning on the after-burners and pushing for what would have been a really painful 5K, I elected to keep a steady pace and finish the race conservatively. I had another half marathon coming up in a few weeks, and I cared more about enjoying both race experiences than I did about an arbitrary finish time.
So I shuffled it in to the finish line. That last mile hurt. Bad. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the Flying Pig, and I managed to do that for about 12 miles. That last mile was a blur, and when I looked up and saw the finish line within reach, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I crossed the finish and felt the elated swell of pride that comes with every hard-earned race’s end. I grabbed my space blanket and medal and looked around with salt-encrusted contacts — and a huge smile on my face.
This was the first big race I had run without my phone (another of my running resolutions for the year). The time I thought I would miss it most — at the finish line, trying to locate friends and family — was the time I missed it the least. Instead of burying my nose in congratulatory texts, logging my virtual miles or snapping post-race pics, I was able to enjoy the after party and really be present in it. I saw hugs, happy tears and throngs of exhausted, exhilarated runners.
So that’s what I’ll take away from this Flying Pig Half Marathon. Truly immersing myself in a race and embracing the experience. When people ask me how it was, I merely respond that it was awesome … because it was! Besides, most of my feelings about this race are deeply personal and hard to explain in a one-sentence answer.
While I don’t know how to translate this race experience into water cooler talk, I do know one thing: I love Cincinnati, and I love it in a way I never thought I would as a transplant from Iowa. And the city never shines as brightly as she does on Flying Pig Sunday. — Aidz