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Paul Long: Recounting the experience of The Flying Pig Marathon, or ‘I ran up Mount Everest’


In the wee hours of Sunday morning, long before the sun rose, it was raining.

In anticipation of their Flying Pig race that first day in May, runners awoke to a soggy ground and drenching showers. The worst was coming to pass — it was going to be a wet race from beginning to end, with the chance of thunderstorms the only thing to break up the gloom.

Yet, we quickly found out, it was not the worst possible weather.

A few hours later, the storms broke, and the runners took off their plastic covers. The start, which went off without a hitch, was clear and dry as 11,000 people raced through the streets of downtown Cincinnati and across the bridges into Newport and Covington.

It was nice and steady. The humidity was peaking, but it was bearable. Until, a few miles in — what’s that? — the sun coming out? So instead of the expected rain and cooler temperatures, runners got sunshine and 100 percent humidity.

Andrew Wetterer and Emily Horseman, ran back-to-back marathons -- the Derby on April 30 and the Flying Pig on May 1

Andrew Wetterer and Emily Horseman, ran back-to-back marathons — the Derby on April 30 and the Flying Pig on May 1. (photo by Emily Horseman)

Most people probably enjoyed the sunny break from the rainy weekend. Not runners, though.

“This was my fifth Pig and 12th marathon overall,” said Mark Regensburger of Elsmere. “I keep coming back to the Pig because it was my first marathon,  and it taught me that I can do anything I can set my mind to do. … This year, I just wanted to focus on a good marathon time. Sadly due to the higher than anticipated humidity and heat that didn’t work out for me. … (But)  it got done, and in the end, and that is the ultimate goal.”

Of the thousands of runners hitting the streets for the city’s premier foot race, many were doing it for the first time, and some were streakers — having run it for five, 10, 15, or even the full 18 years of the event. Some liked their first experience so much they came back for a second first time.

On New Year’s Day, 2015, Justa McIntosh of Independence resolved to eat and live healthier. She started running. By May, she was ready to take on her first half-marathon at the Flying Pig.

“I fell in love with the Pig,” she said. “I decided I wanted to go full circle in a year and make the Flying Pig my first full marathon. Running has taught me to focus on healthy goals and every time I meet one, it makes me realize just how strong and capable I am. This has carried over into other areas of life and keeps me running along my healthiest and happiest path.”

Julie Meister of Fort Thomas is another who ran her first half and full marathon at the Flying Pig. Although she has run other races in other cities, she considers the Flying Pig “her” race.


One side of the Flying Pig finisher's medal which is engraved on both sides.

One side of the Flying Pig finisher’s medal which is engraved on both sides.

“Pig day in Cincinnati is big day whether you are doing the Pig as one of your spring races or not,” she said. “The energy downtown the Friday and Saturday before the race is incredible. … My law partners and I still celebrate the Pig weekend by, well, pigging out.”

That’s a common attitude. Runners on both sides of the river feel possessive of the Flying Pig. And the city returns the favor. It’s widely respected as one of the best run marathons in the country. Runners come from all over the globe to run the Flying Pig in Cincinnati.

That’s despite the fact that it a difficult, hilly course. “I ran up Mt Everest in Cincinnati,” a Canadian runner in for the Pig titled her blog post.

The race begins downtowns before crossing the bridge into Newport, then into Covington, before heading back downtown. The toughest part of the race is next: Up a steep Gilbert Avenue to Eden Park, where more hills greet the runners, before hitting the apex in the park, along the overlook that has photographic views of the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky. But the hills don’t end there.

Marathoners take the hilly streets up through East Walnut Hills, through Hyde Park, and into Mariemont, before heading back downtown along Columbia Parkway, Eastern Avenue, and Riverside Drive toward the “finish swine” at the Cincinnati end of the Taylor-Southgate Bridge.

This year, the male winner was Sergio Reyes of Palmdale, Calif., who ran a time of 2.26:03. He also won it in 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014, making him the first five-time champion. The female winner was Anne Flower of Cincinnati, who was running her first marathon, and finished in 2.55:46.

Cincinnatians won the half-marathons, with David Bea winning the men’s race in 1:14.18, and Amy Robillard winning the women’s race in 1:22.40.

“I heard it was a great race, so I decided to enter,” said Flower. “It was awesome to hear so many people cheering for all the runners.”

That fan support is what makes so many fall in love with the Flying Pig. People line the streets all along the route. Residents of a senior citizens apartment building in Covington were out front at 7 a.m., cheering on the runners. The race has water stops every mile, and volunteer groups compete to staff them, and then compete for the best water stop. And apart from the official stops, groups also line up to provide runners with orange slices, gatorade chews, cups of bacon, and the occasional beer or other refreshment.

The 6:30 a.m. start of the Flying Pig, as the clouds were swept away and the sun appeared

The 6:30 a.m. start of the Flying Pig, as the clouds were swept away and the sun appeared.(Photo by Emily Horseman)

Near the finish line, a church group provides hugs and kisses (the chocolate kind) to the sweaty runners.

It’s a celebration of life as much as a race.

“We had a blast,” said first-time marathoner Tammy Alverson. “We ran, talked, walked, laughed, and took a bunch of pictures. I was determined to enjoy every single moment of this 26.2. … I had a beer shot somewhere in Mariemont — Mariemont loves Pig runners.  They come out in force to cheer, encourage, and feed the masses. … My last stop was just before the finish to imbibe in a mimosa and some bacon provided by my friends in the Endurance Sports connection organization.”

But for some, even one race wasn’t enough. A contingent from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky ran the Derby marathon or half-marathon in Louisville on Saturday before coming home the next day to run the Flying Pig.

One was Andrew Wetterer, who said he saw it as a different kind of challenge.

“I was a pacer at the Derby Marathon, so I ran that one at a comfortable pace and felt pretty good afterwards,” he said. “For the Pig, I decided to run what felt good and not worry about time. I enjoyed myself at the Pig, stopping at all the beer ‘aid’ stations and even stopped at Woodburn Brewery … and had a beer there. All in all, I had fun, which was the goal for the day and ultimately completed the challenge.”

Another double marathoner was Doug Arlinghaus of Bellevue.

“I really enjoyed doing it,” he said. “I’ve never ran two in a row before, so I didn’t know what to expect. My plan was just to take it easy in Louisville and then just do whatever I could at the Pig. I actually did a lot better than I thought I would. I hit the wall about mile 18 (of the Pig) but kept going on and somehow managed it so my last mile was one of my fastest miles over the the two days.”

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