I am Cincinnati-bound this weekend. Headed to what is supposed to be a fun-filled weekend of running, chili, and friends (not in that order). I’m looking forward to it, but not without trepidation. I know, mostly I try to be positive and uplifting in how I write, but sometimes reality takes a turn.
The Flying Pig is a legendary race, and Cincinnati is the best running town I have ever been in. Held the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby, the Pig is what the other half does. Everyone gets on the plane to Cincinnati, which is actually Covington, Kentucky, bearing either a big hatbox (yes, that’s real) or running shoes dangling from her backpack. It’s fun being the not-hatbox chick. The Flying Pig is special as a race in general. It’s huge, the expo is enormous and fabulous, and it lends itself to a real race that acts like a fun run. The entire city gets behind it, from the senior citizens at mile 2 in Kentucky (because you run over the bridge and pass into Newport, KY), with their signs (“Hurry up, this sign is heavy”, “I woke up for this”, “Run faster, I’m missing Bingo”), to the guy a third of the way up Gilbert Hill (ohhhh Gilbert Hill!) with the giant “F”. As in “get the F up the hill”, or maybe, “what the F was I thinking”. To the Elvis near the top of the hill, the views at the top in Eden Park, the football team at mile 10.5… I could go on and on. It is an entire race weekend, if you want it to be.
The Little Kings Mile is on Friday, and the only race I have ever done where they have the slow people start first. Then Saturday is a 10k, followed by a 5k. Sunday you have the half marathon, the marathon, or the marathon relay. (Sunday you have to choose one of the three, but you can do any or all of the others.) True to Cincinnati taste, if you do the 5k, 10k, and half it’s a 3-way, with the full it’s a 4-way, and with the LKM it’s “with extra cheese”. One of the fun things about Cincinnati is that you can say with a total straight face that you are going to Cincinnati for a 4-way, or talk about the great 3-way you had in Cincinnati, without it being at all a naughty thing! Cincinnati is a great town. Before I actually went there, I just thought of it as a random midwestern city, fairly inconsequential, albeit somewhere my parents lived before I was born (and they loved it). It is an AMAZING town. Doing fabulous things. Its downtown is like a New England downtown, before they got all into disrepair. Over the couple of years (2-3 times a year) I have been there, I’ve seen places get nicer and grow. I’m like a moth to a flame to Porkopolis, and I don’t like the Reds or the Bengals, and I don’t even EAT pork.
It’s also special to me personally. When I posted pictures of my first 5k, five months after I began running and three years ago this month, Leah, an old friend from my Peace Corps days, said to me, “oh, you can do the Pig with me next year”. The Pig? What’s that? “Oh, it’s a half marathon we have here in Cincinnati.” That was the first time I had ever heard the words “half marathon” and I was unequivocally adamant that I was NEVER going to do such a thing. Two months later I did my first 10k, and at the end of it, thought, well, that wasn’t so bad, I could have done this again… and my thoughts went to this weird half marathon thing Leah had mentioned. By August 2013 I had gotten up to 13.1, and had done 2 or 3 halfs before the Pig came around again… and then it became a thing. Leah… and me… and the LKM… and Hai, another Peace Corps friend who lives in Cincinnati… and chili, and Graeters, and Sweatybands, and karaoke in Northside, and sometimes, we drive an hour in each direction to eat fufu in Lexington the next day at Sav’s Grill, where we are appreciated for our love of fufu and our knowing the right way to eat it. Pig weekend means getting to hang with Leah and her family, whom I love. It reinforces that though there’s distance, and it’s been years, true, real friendship lasts.
I have been so vocal in my support and love for the Pig, that last year dozens of people in the various running groups I’m in online decided to join me in Porkopolis and run the Pig, and have a grand get together and meet up in person. (Okay, probably I can’t claim 100% credit for that… but I deserve some!) I’m a shameless extrovert and looked forward to it tremendously. I even found people at the expo! And it’s true, I loved to meet everyone in person, I had a fabulous time for the most part. Some of the people I didn’t even know were coming, have become among my closest friends. (I’m looking at you, Julie!)
But. I am SO SLOW. And yes, I know, I have posted many other times before about how it’s fine to be last, so what, it’s not like the cure for malaria or Zika or something rests on my beating the time limit. But, last year… it’s the one thing. Everyone finished before me. On Saturday, everyone was done and halfway through lunch when I finally finished. I couldn’t find anyone (other than Leah, who is reliable and faithfully waits for me, even though I’m an inconvenience). On Sunday, I was so worried about the 3.5 hour time limit and falling behind and not completing the challenge that I was in tears in the corral. Only on Gilbert Hill, when Julie asked a race official what happened if we fell behind and was told that we’d have to move to the sidewalk but still be allowed to finish, that I relaxed a little. Julie’s a much faster runner, but has chosen a couple of times – the Pig was the first time – to run with me, sacrificing her own race. (Sometimes, I guess, having a good time doesn’t mean having a fast time.) And we weren’t ever asked to move to the sidewalk.
And… here we are again. I am beginning to freak out again. I haven’t run a consistent 16mm pace more than a mile or two in months. Maybe years. Freakout time. Why?! I did this last year. I have nothing to prove to anyone. The point of this is supposed to be fun. The Pig even says that despite the time limit, if you want to spend more time enjoying the course, that’s fine, you just move to the sidewalk. The finish swine (get it?) is open for seven hours. I just did a half marathon two and a half weeks ago. In six-plus inches of wet cold snow falling and blowing sideways. I can do this. My friends are occupied with the social events, getting together, the karaoke (or not), the food, the drinking. I’m an extrovert. I’ll be around people I love in a city I love, and I am sure the ‘after’ posting will have a much different tone from this ‘before’ post. But right now, in my own head, I’m still thinking about being last, the way I’m almost always last, being deserted if people don’t wait around, feeling guilty if they do.