I should probably start by saying this is one long blog! Please give it a read though – I hope it’s enjoyable and inspiring for any other first time marathoners! Well – I did it! I am officially a marathoner!!!
This month I ran the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and I can honestly and enthusiastically proclaim it was the single most incredible and fun experience of my life!
I signed up for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in December 2011. I had just gone out for a long-run on Sunday and ended up doing a half-marathon. Boom. I just churned it out. I had planned on only doing 10 miles, but was feeling ambitious (you runners know that feeling) and wanted to see if I could do 13.1 miles without the crowd or excitement of race day. And I did! Well heck, I figured if I could do a half marathon on my own, it was time to sign up for a full marathon! I’m an all-in kind of a girl, and I don’t do anything part-way. I had made up my mind!
I had seen booths at various races before and was familiar with some regional marathons. The one that caught my eye was the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Lots of pink and an adorable medal. Really though, the two biggest factors in my decision were that the race was in a new state, that I hadn’t raced in yet, and that the finishers medal was awesome. The Flying Pig fit both criteria! I didn’t know yet how lucky I had gotten!
Now, I figured I would be able to get my friend Tarah to sign up for the full as well. She had done the Chicago Monster Dash Half Marathon with me and she loved running. Wrong! Tarah was ready to take a break from running, and wasn’t up for racing. Then I figured I could wrangle some friends together for the road trip. Wrong again! As it turns out, the Flying Pig is also the weekend before finals! All of my friends were either planning to study or were planning to party to celebrate the last weekend of college! Whoops! At least I knew early on that I would be on my own for this race!
While the Flying Pig was a wildly inconvenient date for me and all of my friends, there was one benefit to the date it was scheduled for. It was exactly 18 weeks out from the start of the New Year. It was like the race directors knew everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions were something along the lines of “I’ll run a marathon when pigs fly” and wanted it to fall perfectly for the standard 18 week training plan!
But then wouldn’t you know it, I get injured right off the bat. I was home for Christmas and somehow managed my second serious runner’s injury. I experienced severe foot pain and could barely walk. Straight to the podiatrist I went, fearing the worst – a stress fracture. Good news – it was just tendonitis! Bad news – I was to be off my feet for three weeks. Good news – I was about to go on a cross-country week-long road trip and was waiting on a new pair of shoes to be delivered anyway.
I took all three weeks off. It almost killed me, like any runner will tell you about being sidelined with an injury, but I knew I shouldn’t push it. Glad I didn’t because when I went out for my first jog after the rest and I didn’t have the slightest pain, nor did it reoccur at all during my training!
My training was based loosely off of a Hal Higdon novice program. I consistently bumped the miles up by 1 or 2, figuring I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I kept it proportionality the same as what the program called for though. My main focus was just getting lots of miles in!
There came a point half-way through my training though where I wasn’t sure if the marathon was going to happen. In March I had a job interview out of state, spring break that was taking me across the country, and a hectic few weeks at my internship. I just didn’t think I’d be able to stick to my training, nor did I really want to. I was starting to feel burnt out.
About this time I had the fortunate opportunity to do three really fantastic runs. The first was a St. Patrick’s Day half marathon I did in Minneapolis, MN where I finally broke the 2:00 mark! The second run was in Boston, MA where I started my spring break. I did a 5k, with my great friend Zahra, called the Freedom Trail Run, that was a historic tour of Boston. It was a total blast and the most fun race I’ve done, with the exception of my marathon! I also did my 16 mile long run in Boston, along the Charles River, and got to run past MIT, Harvard, and Boston University! Finally, the next week I finished up my spring break in Chicago and ran along Lake Shore Drive three times. These changes in scenery were so helpful in clearing my mind and getting me excited about running again!
Leading up to the marathon I was both excited and wildly nervous. I knew I had nailed my training and felt confident. It was the three weeks leading up to the marathon, the taper weeks, that were what got me anxious! As the day approached, I began doubting my ability. I don’t know why – my longest run was 23 miles! I figured reading inspirational marathon quotes would help, but that just got me even more antsy! Luckily, I was also busy graduating and had plenty of work at school to keep me busy. I also spent some time at my local running store and the guys there were really encouraging! Once I realized there was no backing out, I pushed my nerves aside and started getting psyched up!
Leading Up to the Race:
When Marathon week arrived my confidence and enthusiasm were reinstated with an unexpected care package from my sister. I opened the box to find three of the most absolutely adorable little flying piggies. My sister is an avid knitter (you can check out her blog here) and this was the most heartwarming gifts she could have given me! You can bet I packed one of those with me.
The race began to seem that much more real when I picked up the t-shirt that I had made for the race. Since my second half marathon in Tulsa I’ve been going to ACME T-Shirts in downtown Columbia, MO to have shirts made for each of my races. The guys there are just awesome and have been so helpful in creating really unique designs. Dan, who usually helps me, came over while two other staffers were working on my design and said,
“Kelly! written huge on the front, with a state outline and a bunch of text on the back – Yep, definitely one of your shirts!”
Of course there is always the best part of the days leading up to a race – carbo loading! Seeking to avoid hitting the wall at all costs, I literally ate (don’t judge me) an entire Panera french baguette in one sitting. Yep, the whole thing!
Saturday morning I had the talisman, the gear, and the full stomach ready to rock the marathon! With that – I hit the road!
Saturday – The Drive, The Expo, and The Canadians
While I might not be the fastest runner, I am certainly a candidate for the most enthusiastic. Being that it was my first marathon I planned to be as over-the-top as possible. And of course that calls for car paint!
I’m glad I decided to window paint my car. The ‘oinks’ and ‘26.2 or Bust’ got some weird looks, but I received equally as many honks and fistpumps of encouragement along the way. Plus there was something motivating seeing it in my rear-view window the entire ride.
The great thing about the drive from Columbia, MO to Cincinnati, OH is that you can either go through Indianapolis, IN or Louisville, KY – I decided to take both routes! I went through Indianapolis on the way there and stopped for coffee with a friend from high school. It just reminded me of why I love this Race for 50 States goal. When would I ever get to see this friend in her new home city? I probably wouldn’t!
The Mini Indy Half Marathon was that morning, which I had seen the week earlier. it was all I could do to keep myself from signing up for it, but I knew I shouldn’t do something so crazy before my very first marathon. Maybe one day I’ll do it though – perhaps the Goofy Challenge?
I was really impressed with how cute Indianapolis was. It looked like they had a great farmers market, an adorable downtown, and tons of fantastic public art!
I arrived in Cincy and headed straight for the expo. I was not disappointed! Downtown was packed and seeing everyone walking around with all their marathon swag got me so excited I could barely concentrate enough to find parking. The expo center was decked out with pig statues and plenty of flying pig balloons!
I got to the expo at about 4:00 and it closed at 7:00. A lot of the 2012 Flying Pig merchandise was sold out at the point. That is probably the one thing I wish I would have known. But aside from that, the expo was a success. Proctor & Gamble sponsors the Flying Pig (ironic because they do animal testing) and I picked up a lot of free samples at their booth. I also tried every type of energy gel, gu, waffle, or drink under the sun! That’s the best part – all those free tastes and you get to make up your mind without the investment!
After the expo I found my hotel and then came back downtown for the pasta dinner. I was glad I did the dinner especially because I was by myself. Sometimes they aren’t exactly worth it, but this one was. Saturday was Cinco de Mayo, so there was also a huge festival going on and the entire pavilion was packed. Not only was there great music and great food, but I also met a ton of interesting people!
Filled up on all the pasta I could dream of, I decided to call it a night and go back for the evening and hang out by the pool. That’s when I ran into a Canadian running club! What a pleasant surprise that was! They were hilarious and I ended up doing not one, but two, Jaeger Bombs with them! I always enjoy a little action the night before a race – calms the nerves!
I didn’t sleep a wink – of course! I woke up (read as: decided to finally just get out of bed) and geared up. I planned enough ahead to have everything laid out.
During training I had planned to wear a Camelback during the race. My friend Sean had worn one during his marathon and really enjoyed having it. I used it during my longest run of 23 miles and it was a godsend. However, I realized that would make my custom shirt unreadable, so I knew I had to forsake it. The benefit of having people chat about my shirt and my Race for 50 States outweighed the cost of giving up the Cambelback.
At the expo I figured I would seek out one of those water bottle belts, which would allow me to store Gu, my phone, and keep some fuel on hand. I did end up buying one, but also scraped that idea race day morning. The Canadians the night before had made a joke about the “trendy” runners wearing the water bottle belts. A bit embarrassed (not really), and also anxious it would be awkward to run with since I hadn’t experimented with it yet anyway, I decided to just wing it! I knew there was going to be a lot of water along the course anyway. The Gus went in the sports bra and the phone in hand! (That seems to shock everyone, I run with my phone in my hand almost every run – I was at least used to that!)
The hotel I stayed at (Holiday Inn in Covington) put on a great spread for runners. That was really nice of them since they don’t typically do continental breakfast. It was fun chatting with all the runners as we all psyched up and mentally prepared ourselves! The news was on and they were running a story about one guy who was doing the race. This man was a Streaker (someone who has done the Flying Pig all 14 years it’s been going on) but that Sunday was his son’s graduation from the University of Kentucky. The race directors were letting him start two hours early so that he could finish early enough to make it to the graduation! How awesome is that?!
I left the hotel and walked the mile and a half to the start with a guy who turned out to be from St. Louis and we chatted about that! When you’re doing 26.2, the 1.5 walk made for a nice warmup.
The start was absolutely inspiring. Spotlights speckled the sky, which you could see coming across the bridge. Thousands of runners flocked toward the start and everyone was simply buzzing with excitement. I found the gear check bus, chugged a cup of gatorade, and was off to find my corral!
I decided to stick with a 4:30 pacer. Going into the marathon I had one goal: to finish. But if I had to have a time goal, which of course I did, it was to finish in under 4:30. 4:20 is a 10 min pace but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep that. The advice I heard again and again is start out slow, so I wanted to capitalize on that. Turned out to be a great decision.
My pace team consisted of ‘Beauty’ and her husband ‘The Beast’. The Beast was also a Flying Pig Streaker, and had done more than 100 marathons in his time.
It was at the starting line where I ended up making my first friend of the race – Mary. I knew she would be awesome from the get-go because of her bib. When we registered they let us customize what our names were. Of course I went with Kelly! and she had also capitalized on the use of special characters, adding a :) to the end of hers!
She went to school at Ohio University and had done one other marathon before. This is why I love the running community – everyone does such cool things. After school got out for the summer, she was headed to Alaska to work at a Girl Scout camp for the summer! She invited me to run in Anchorage, but unfortunately I’ll be in Madison for Hotdogger High by then!
Mary was a total blast to run with. We scouted out all the race photographers and kept an eye out for them along the way! We ran together for the first 4-5 miles and she did a great job setting the pace. At the beginning of the race we came over this bridge, overlooking the city and all of the runners ahead of us. It was an unbelievable sight!
The crowds were INCREDIBLE. I don’t just mean they were awesome, I mean they were OUT OF THIS WORLD. Fans lined the entire course, all 26.2 miles. My favorite part of the course, throughout the race, was going past a line of 50-100 spectators and just high-fiving every single one of them. I felt like an olympian! It certainly got me excited, and I think it also got them and the other runners pumped as well. One runner said she really appreciated my enthusiasm.
Thank goodness the fans were there because it proved to be a somewhat challenging course. Leading up to the marathon whenever I told any runner I was doing the Flying Pig they looked at me like I was crazy and told me to prepare for hills – it was going to be a hard marathon. “Of course it’s going to be hard,” I thought – it’s a marathon! Well I was so excited when I registered I hadn’t paid attention too closely to the course profile. Once I went back and looked I realized there is marathon hard, and then there is hilly-marathon hard. My first marathon was the later of the two!
The hills picked up at mile 4 and the promise was that they would be over by mile 9. Miles 4-9 were great! Like I said, the fans were awesome! Around mile 6 we started running through neighborhoods and I had no idea that people would be tailgating the marathon! But they were – with orange juice and bagels, but all the same hanging out in folding chairs cheering us on. A lot of houses even had food out for the runners. Heck yes! I was grabbing orange slices, Twizzlers, and gummy worms left and right! I had a quinoa cookie at one corner – holy smokes that might have been one of the best cookies I’d ever had! Of course I had to take a shot of beer at one house as well!
Now I mentioned the hills were supposed to be over at mile 9 right? Wrong! They just kept coming! I felt like a champ at mile 9, like the hard part was over. I even emailed my family from my smart phone with an update that I had made it through them. But alas, the hills were present throughout the entire race. They got smaller, sure, but my legs got more tired and the hills just got harder.
It wasn’t too bad though – I was having too much fun to think about it! At mile 8 there were a group of fans giving out free high fives, and they made a reappearance at mile 23. When I saw them later in the course they made sure to let the runners know they weren’t coming up on mile 8 again! Haha! I continued to meet awesome people the entire course. You begin to figure out who you’re pacing with and so you might as well chat them up!
The Kelly! shirt proved to be the single best investment I’ve ever made. The support I received throughout the course was unreal! Again, I felt like an olympian! The people I was running with all thought I had a lot of fans in Cincinnati! The single most inspiring and encouraging moment of the race came at mile 23. There was a group of 30 or so high school students around the aid station. They saw me coming and literally started chanting my name. Kel-ly! Kel-ly! Kel-ly! Not just cheering, but changing!
Mile 23 was a big moment for me. That marked the beginning of the virgin running territory. It was uncharted. But it also meant just a 5k to go. I knew I was going to run my first marathon! I knew it. That confidence, along with the chanting, and I was overcome with emotion. That’s when I started sobbing and was just so overwhelmingly proud and excited that I couldn’t contain it anymore!
Of course, at mile 23 people are either crying because of pure joy and bliss or because of pure pain. A few fellow runners expressed some concern, but shared my joy when blubbered through the tears that it was the former, rather than the later!
Here I was, one year after deciding to lose weight and become more active, 55lbs lighter running a freaking marathon!
The last three miles weren’t easy. I won’t lie. Those hills! They just kept coming. Luckily on the last one some cute, silly guy ran the half-mile uphill with me, cheering me on and ringing a cowbell! Thank goodness or I might have faltered!
In those last three miles I also faced another dilemma. I knew I wanted to take a 30 second walking break or so right before the final 5k. However, that 4:30 pacer had somehow crept up on me (I had stayed solidly in front of the Beauty and the Beast duo the whole race) and I could see their balloons bouncing a few yards ahead of me. I had to make the choice – walk a bit to ensure a strong finish, or try to just stick it out and beat the pacer.
Going into the marathon I had one goal: to finish. I wanted to finish strong, and if that meant taking the 30 seconds of walking to sprint the final mile, I was going to do it. Glad I did, because that final mile sprint made up for the lag time. My final mile ended up being 9:00 minutes exactly and I crossed the finish line at 4:29:12!!!! Booya!!
I had one goal: to finish. I secretly had that second goal: to finish in under 4:30. And I did it!!!!
I can’t even begin to fully put into words the emotions I felt crossing the finish line. My body was literally bursting with pride, excitement, enthusiasm, and overall happiness to be alive and be in that moment. I knew that it was literally the happiest moment of my life. Those 26.2 miles were single most fun experience I have ever had. I could not imagine a better experience!!
After the race I loaded up with post-race food. Swiss Rolls? Yes. Fritos? Yes. Bagels? Yes, Yes, Yes! I meandered over to the recovery area, changed my clothes, and just enjoyed the moment. The weather was incredible – a perfect 80 degrees and sunny. Every person was happy to be alive in that area. It was like being in a womb radiating positivity, surrounded by thousands of other people also having the best day of their lives.
Once I mustered up enough energy to get up off the grass I searched out the hotel shuttles, which seemed to be miles from the finish line. I had no problem walking the mile and a half in the morning, but the 1,000 feet to the bus after the race was basically like another marathon in itself.
Even on the bus, the day continued to be incredible! I met up with some of the people who I had met during the race and got to talk to them a little more. One gentleman, Joe, used to weigh 350lbs. Now he’s an average guy, except for the fact that he’s run 202 marathons – one in all 50 states – TWICE! Let me tell you, the race community is just incredible.
I made it back to the hotel, showered, and then promptly fell asleep. I can enthusiastically say there is no better sleep than that after a marathon!
I emerged from my slumber only because I knew Cincinnati had one more thing waiting for me before I had to leave in the morning. Cincinnati Chili! Have you heard of it? No? Not a surprise, no one outside of Cincy has!
Cincinnati Chili is spaghetti, topped with chili, topped with cheese. That’s the standard way to serve it. You can also get it 4-way, which adds in beans, or 5-way with beans and onions. Cincinnati has a few big chains that specialize in it, but one of my professors this semester from the area recommended Skyline Chili. Great recommendation because it was also conveniently located directly across from my hotel!
Now this isn’t any chili and it’s certainly not Texas chili. In fact, it’s not spicy at all. It is Greek and has cinnamon and nutmeg in it! I would definitely classify it as more of a meat sauce. Spaghetti and chili are probably two of my favorite foods and I was excited to try them together. I wasn’t sure if it would be absolutely heavenly or too much of a good thing. Turns out I couldn’t really evaluate – combined they were like an entirely new experience! It was awesome! The service was also incredible at this place, which was really more of a dive. I got a goodie bag since it was my first time and the server was an absolute delight! And I wore a bib with the meal – something I normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, but hey – I’m in Cincinnati eating Cincinnati Chili – you just have to do it! The whole experience was worth trying if you’re ever in town!
After dinner I crossed the street back to the hotel and did one final thing to top the day off. I took off my 13.1 magnet on my car and joyfully replaced with a 26.2 magnet. I had done it! I had run the marathon! I am a marathoner!