Just under three weeks ago I lined up for the Boston Marathon with big goals. I had had a great series of winter races leading in and felt like I was in top shape. The day didn’t go according to plan, however, when temperatures at the start were already in the 70’s. I knew I was in trouble by 10k and was walking by mile 15. If there is a race to tank at, though, I suppose that’s the one. The crowds I had tried to tune out during the initial miles now became the highlight of the race. There was no way I wasn’t finishing the race—not this race—not on my first attempt, and I'm not sure the crowds would have let me step off course anyway. I took a moment to process my disappointment, took a deep breath, then shifted my focus—then totally cramped up. For the rest of the race, I tried just to take in the experience (double leg cramps can interrupt the most zen of moments) and be inspired and pushed along by all the people who lined every step of the course as I shambled in for a 3:25 finish, over 30 minutes off my goal. Regardless of what went wrong that day, the feeling of making the final turn onto Boylston street and running the last half mile into the finish was a flood of emotion and something I will never forget.
However, I knew by the time I reached the airport I already knew I wanted one last shot at a spring marathon to see if my legs could at least hang on for a sub 3:00. It felt like a long shot, but as I sat in the lounge at Boston’s Logan International, I started looking for a race that would have a chance of decent temps. I zeroed in on The Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Sure it has a monster climb from miles 6-9 and sure it has a history of above ideal temps, but I took a chance and registered and booked a hotel.
I arrived the evening before the race and headed to the expo for bib pickup. From the get go, this race was clearly well-organized and had a surprisingly large expo. However, I learned from Boston that too much walking before the race can bite on race day, so I took a short trip around and then headed on to the hotel. Race morning the weather was a stark contrast to Boston. It was upper 40s at the start and mid 50s for most of the race once the sun came up. Although the 6:30am start meant a 4:00 wakeup, it also meant there were 2-3 miles before the sun came up in force.
I lined up in the A coral and anxiously awaited the starting gun. The opening miles felt surprisingly good. I settled into a 6:30/6:40s pace and I made sure to take in the really amazing views as the course winds over a couple of bridges into Kentucky and back. From start to finish, this is a really beautiful race course. I chatted with a few runners as we went and got some input on the climb that I knew was coming but had yet to see in person. My initial goal was to set the pace right at 6:52 for a 3hr overall time, but I felt surprisingly good and decided to push that up a little to 2:55. The flying pig is mostly rolling hills, with the exception of miles 6-9 which climb 300ft over 3 miles. Mile 6 is by far the steepest of those 3 with a steady dose of 6-9% grade with no relief. I felt great climbing, though, and kept pace at 6:45 for those three miles (In retrospect probably a little faster than I should have). For anyone considering this race, don’t let these hills dissuade you. The views from the top as the sun rises over the city are stunning and worth every step of the incline. Then, you are rewarded with 2 miles of downhill before another 80ft climb up to mile 12, then a couple more miles of downhill before the mildly rolling hills of the remainder of the course.
With the exception of some GI issues that were a first for me, I felt really good all the way through 20 miles, and was able to chat with runners around me. I knew that running another marathon on short rest was a big gamble, and it was right after mile 20 my legs started to give way. I’d done a few 10-12 milers on the two weekends between and even by the end of those runs, my legs were getting heavy. Here I felt ok breathing, but I couldn’t get my legs to keep turning over. I kept trying to make believe that they were actually someone else’s legs and I should feel free to just run them into the ground, but it didn’t work. I managed to hang on to 7-8 minute miles from 21-26 and came in at 3:04:47. Not what I was hoping for, but no regrets and no complaints after what was still a really enjoyable bonus-round marathon.