When my friend Tessa, who has known me since I was 8, asked if I’d run a fall half marathon with her to help her get back in shape after having a baby, I happily agreed. After all, she agreed to run a half marathon with me after I had my first baby a couple of years ago.
Besides, I, too, was looking for a fall race, so when the organizers of the Flying Pig Marathon announced the inaugural Queen Bee Half Marathon, we knew it was fate. Tessa (who lives in St. Louis) and I agreed to train together, from afar. And even though we were both a bit conflicted regarding our feelings on running a women’s-themed event, by the time the big day arrived, we were both totally excited.
Sweet swag from the excellent expo.
The Expo: If the expo, which was held at the brand-shiny-new casino downtown, was any indication of how this race was going to go, I knew we were in for a treat. I already love race expos, and this one was particularly awesome. Along with a long-sleeved (well designed) race tech shirt, we also received a nice bag, a Queen Bee-themed Sweaty Band and a pair of sunglasses.
While race expos always have decent discounts on local merchandise, this one truly had some of the best deals — and it was all women’s apparel. The local running store, Bob Roncker’s Running Spot, had Moving Comfort sports bras for $10. Seriously, people. Ten! Dollars! And yeah, OK, I know, I KNOW you’re not supposed to wear new clothes on race day, but they had the cutest Queen Bee tank tops and I had a pair of arm warmers I’ve really been wanting to give a whirl, so what the hell, I bought a tank to wear for the race. I had to get back to work, so I didn’t partake in the massages, braiding bar, mini facials, and multitude of other free awesomeness at the expo, but like the race it is named for, this expo really ruled. (Ba-dum-CHING!)
Breaking running rules, ready to roll.
The Parking: Race morning, I was a little concerned about parking for the race. The start and finish were at the casino (which is where the race organizers encouraged everyone to park), so I had a chance to case the scene while I was there for the expo. I observed that this potentially could become a ridiculous bottle neck, and when race morning came, that’s exactly what happened.
Luckily, I work downtown, so I know the area well and was able troubleshoot and find an open parking lot near the finish line. It turned out perfectly because we were able to weave through the finish area (and to the vast number of open port-potties) before making our way to the start line. Five dollars well spent.
The Start: This race sold out and reached capacity a full two weeks before race day. Race organizers must have been prepared for this because the start line was wonderful. It was well-organized, not crowded and easy to find our way to the appropriate pace group. Because of the parking snafu, race organizers announced that they’d delay the start of the race 10-15 minutes to allow people to get to the start line. Since it wasn’t TOO chilly out (actually, it was ideal running weather — cloud cover, no wind and approximately 50 degrees), this was just a slight annoyance. Hopefully next year, they’ll find a better solution for parking, and it won’t be an issue.
Aaand, they’re off!
I was surprised by the number of men I saw on my way to the start. While the Queen Bee is a women’s-themed race, it’s not women exclusive, and men could run — with a 15-minute handicap. I should also note that while the men’s shirts weren’t as awesome as the women’s, they were still pretty great. I also saw a few dudes proudly sporting their race-themed Sweaty Bands. I, for one, appreciate a man secure enough in his masculinity to rock a purple Sweaty Band. Well done, dudes.
The Climb: Our fool-proof race plan was to hang with the 2:10 pace group (that’s about a 10-minute mile pace, for those of you who suck at race math as badly as I do) and to NOT GO ANY FASTER than them for the first 5K. I have a tendency to get excited at the beginning of races, go out way too fast and die somewhere in the middle. But because I made a pledge to eliminate reckless miles — and to enjoy this race with my childhood girlfriend — we were sticking with the pace group, dagnabit.
The pacers, dressed in full bee costumes, cheerfully led us up the beast of the hill that was the first three miles of the race. The climb to Eden Park is ALWAYS hard, and it’s especially hard when it comes at the beginning of a race when you haven’t yet found your rhythm. Despite that, the fall leaves looked beautiful and showcased the city wonderfully. I saw my friend, Cat, cheering near the top of the hill, and her high-five gave me the energy to power up the remainder of the climb.
O’Bryonville and Hyde Park: Ah, sweet relief. In my mind, I was thinking, “It’s all downhill from here!” and wished my legs would sync up with my brain a bit faster. Our scenery got decidedly more urban, and the crowd support picked up. There was a particularly enthusiastic group handing out Twizzlers somewhere around mile four.
At one point, I said, “Do you hear that music? What is that?” before I realized it was the music in my own headphones that I had been completely oblivious to until this point. In fact, I can honestly say I could have run this race sans music entirely (this is not something I say lightly, as a music-reliant runner).
Badass bagpipe boy.
Mt. Lookout: As we turned the corner onto Linwood toward Mt. Lookout Square (and my home turf), my friend, Sara, popped out onto the street, ready to run a few miles with us. Whoohoo! This was a godsend because the pace group was just starting to get away from us as I was starting to feel the fatigue from the early hills.
There was a big crowd in Mt. Lookout Square and all kinds of funny signs, treats and even a table of beer shots. And then … wait a second. What? What the crap is that hill?!? DAMMIT. I drive Linwood almost every day, so it never occurred to me to run this little section of the course, but it was decidedly uphill. Since I had already signed off on being DONE with the hills, this was not a welcome discovery. Up ahead, I saw my daughter, Nora, waving wildly at us from atop my husband’s shoulders. She looked so happy! And it made me happy! Tessa and I stopped to kiss our kids and hug our husbands. Well worth the 30-second break — AND now we were halfway home.
Historic East End: As we cruised into the back half of the race, we lost sight of the pace group once and for all and decided we were tired anyway, so we might as well just enjoy the ride. Aces! They were handing out orange slices just as we were having this very conversation.
The East End is one of my favorite sections of Cincinnati. The beautiful historic buildings, painted ladies and little shops make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. I thought the crowds (both the runners and the spectators) would thin out, but they were pretty steady the entire race, the East End being no exception. In fact, we got cheers from Bad Angels Chrissy and Allie, who were spectating along with my favorite twin toddlers, Ben and Charlie.
The awesome mile markers and themed fuel stations continued to rock throughout the this section. My favorite was a line of people handing out Vasoline on popsicle sticks. I’ve seen this (and needed this) for a full marathon before, but never for a half. Since my ArmPocket was rubbing me raw, I grabbed a stick, swiped my arm and had instant relief. Thanks, random stranger with lubricant!
Please, sir, I’d like some more.
River Drive: The best part about River Drive is that it is almost completely flat. The worst part of River Drive is that it is completely flat. Ugh. I really hate River Drive. I have bad race memory from the torrential downpour of the 2013 Cincinnati Half Marathon, and I just generally never run well on this section of road. Which really isn’t fair to the road. It’s a perfectly nice road with interesting sites and a beautiful view of both the river and the city skyline. But all I could think about at that moment in time was just how far away the city looked. I wanted to be done. Done running. FOREVER.
But I had made a pact to enjoy this race, so I distracted myself with the race ridiculousness. Luckily, River Drive offered up a few of my favorite mile stations.
Now THAT is how you do Chippendale’s.
First up was “Margaritaville,” where the local Parrothead Club was handing out leis whilst blasting Jimmy Buffett. Sing it, Coral Reefers!
Next, we reached the “Royal Tea” station, where they were wearing crowns and handing out cups of tea. Don’t mind if I do!
And at mile 12, we hit the Chippendale’s mile marker. When I saw “Chippendale’s” as a mile theme in the race pamphlet, I was fully prepared to go into a full-blown feminist rage about equality for BOTH genders, expecting to see half-dressed men in bow ties handing out water. What ACTUALLY greeted us at mile 12 was a group of middle-aged men and women, wearing T-shirts with muscles drawn on them, handing out chocolate chip cookies. OK, now that’s funny. In fact, it was my favorite fuel station.
The Finishing Stretch: What goes down, must go up. And, since we’d been running down on the river for a handful of miles, there was a bit of a climb to come back into the city. I was completely tanked and just trying to get one foot in front of the other to finish this thing. Just then, Bad Angel Kelly whizzed by us and flashed her horns. Since I knew she was aiming for a 2:30 finish time and was blowing by us at mile 11, I also knew she was well on her way to a big-time PR. Rock on, Kelly!
Then, Tessa started scoping out people we could pick off before we finished. We cruised by crampy-crying lady and long-religious-skirt girl before we hit the finishing stretch. It was the first time I noticed the wind all day, and it felt pretty good, even if it was working against us.
Best finish line ever.
The crowd was cheering, a glee-club was singing and when we crossed the finish line, military guys in full uniform placed medals around our necks. Very classy. So classy that I teared up as Tessa gave me a high-five and a huge hug. I glanced down at my watch and realized that Tessa had also PR’ed — and by a solid 8 minutes. Not a bad day at the races at all.
The After Party: The After Party was pretty awesome. Unlike most overly-crowded race parties with long lines for the good goodies, the Queen Bee Race Party had a plethora of easily-accessible presents. There were chocolate-covered strawberries, mimosas, Skyline three-ways, a medal-engraving station and even race-themed flip flops. The band was rockin’ (albeit a little too loud for this old lady) on the outdoor stage, and everywhere I looked, I saw groups of girlfriends with smiles from ear-to-ear.
We give this race four horns up!
Final Thoughts: Nearly everything about this race surpassed my expectations. For all of my fears about the female theme feeling condescending, the Queen Bee managed to find a way to make it all feel empowering, fun and inspirational. From Rosie Red at the starting line to a sunflower for every runner at the finish line, I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this race.
And since the race itself was geared toward female camaraderie, this recap would not be complete without mentioning that it allowed me to spend a couple of hours (which is hard to find with kids and jobs and distance and families) with one of my best friends in the whole wide world. And while Tessa keeps thanking me for helping her get through training and to the start line, it was she who helped me through the end of the race and to the finish line. But after all, isn’t that what friends are for? — Aidz