Saturday, May 7, 2011

When Pigs Fly

I don't want to spend too much time writing about the Flying Pig marathon because I didn't spend much time focusing on it, but I do want to say a few things.  The goal was pretty simple.  Show up at the race and see if I could steal a win off whatever  speed I still had in the legs.

Based on the times of recent winners I thought I had a decent chance of winning if the race went a bit slow this year.  For a city the size of Cincinnati, and a marathon with as many participants as the Flying Pig, the field is generally not very competitive.  The race offers no prize money and doesn't give complimentary entries to help attract potential top contenders.  But it bills itself as "the people's race" and that is clearly the focus.  Even so, it would be really fun to win a race like the Pig.  It also helps that I didn't have to travel for the race.  I could just roll out of bed and run.  And so, I decided it was time to make my Cincinnati road racing debut and see what happened.

I knew 5:45 pace (2:30) would feel fast. Of the three real races I've done this year, the fastest pace I've touched was 6:45 at the 100k.  The other two were even slower trail 50k's. I was confident I could go 2:35 and if everything went perfect, I thought 2:30 was in reach. But the Pig course is not easy. There's a 300 ft climb at mile 7 and the course is constantly rolling. In my opinion, it's a couple minutes slower than the only other marathon course I've raced which is Rocket City in Huntsville, AL.  I also thought the weather might be a factor because at the start it was raining, relatively windy, and temps were in the mid 60s. 

As I settled in behind the starting line, an unassuming, shirtless guy next to me asked what I expected to run.  I guess he noticed my white bib number indicating I was a full marathoner amongst all the half marathoners and relay racers who were also present. Maybe it's my collegiate track background, but in my experience it's pretty unusual to ask a front runner on the starting line what they plan to run.  It's kind of like your poker hand. You don't want to give away your strategy. But it's mostly just superstition I think, so I told him 2:35 and asked him what he was shooting for. He said 2:25. You don't just toss around 2:25s. I asked him if he'd ever run that before. He went 2:29 at New York. Well, that settles that. He's legit. New York isn't an easy course either.  

The race started with a countdown. Yeah, a countdown like on New's Year eve.  I think a "runners set" and "go" was in there somewhere, but we were already gone by then. I let the 2:25 guy go hoping he might come back to me late in the race and started in my typical conservative fashion.  

Photo courtesy of Chris Nye.

After about 5 miles or so, I felt like the gap to the leader had stabilized at about a minute. That got me a little motivated to try and keep him in sight should he start to fade toward the end. So I started pressing a little and had worked my way into a battle for 2nd by the half marathon. I split 1:14:42. Right where I wanted to be to give myself a shot to break 2:30 and feeling pretty good. While it didn't take long to become the lone second place runner, it didn't take long for the brisk pace to catch up with my legs either. They tightened up and I began to slow around mile 18. My focus shifted from trying to catch the leader to doing what I needed to do to prevent being caught from behind.

It was a lonely 8 miles back to downtown Cincinnati.  I held it together alright but split a few 6:0x miles in that stretch which allowed my 2:30 goal to slip away.  I finished 3 minutes behind first place in 2:31:14.  The weather wasn't as big of a factor as I had expected.  The rain let up shortly after the start and kept things cooler than it would have been otherwise.  And the wind must of let up as well, because I don't remember it being an issue heading back into town.  

My stomach was a little upset the whole race and that might have slowed me down a little bit. I chose to carry a hand-held water bottle with raspberry GU Brew from the start. I had intended to take some GU Roctane at 50 min and 1:40, but I was only able to force down half of the first gel. I could never talk myself into getting out the second gel, or taking any of the salt tablets I was carrying.  Fortunately it was cool and wet from the rain so I didn't have any cramping issues. I was able to continue drinking the GU Brew and that probably provided just enough calories and electrolytes to get me to the finish.

I have to admit, the atmosphere of the race was pretty cool. The crowd support, especially on the first half of the course, was incredible. But, I wish race organizers would put a little more emphasis on the racing part of the marathon though. Especially with start to finish live TV coverage, a few more guys up front would make the race much more interesting to watch for the casual spectator.  It really does the sport of distance running no favors to televise one guy doing a 26.2 mile tempo run alone; most people think the sport is pretty boring to begin with.  Then again, if they made the race more competitive, I'd have about as good a chance of winning as a pig does flying.

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