Flying Pig 2006 Course Tour
By Brian Nash
After several years of tinkering with the route, it appears that the directors of the Flying Pig Marathon finally feel that they have it right. For the third year in a row, we will run essentially the same course. Baring any major construction changes or last minute emergencies, the 2006 course is expected to be almost identical to 2005. This essay contains a description of what to expect on the 2006 course that I hope can be helpful in planning your race day strategy.
I think that the Flying Pig course can be divided into seven sections, 1) The Warm Up Bridges 2) The Climb 3) The Near Neighborhoods 4) The East Neighborhoods 5) The Connector 6) Old Eastern Avenue 7) The Home Stretch
Part I - The Warm Up Bridges
In most of the earlier editions of the race these bridges were the "kick you in the quads and hammies" bridges because they came at the last four miles of the race. Now they will serve as a simple warm up for the hills to come. This section is far from flat, and the bridges are not the only hills, but it should be a good opportunity to settle into a solid pace and rhythm.
The race starts between the Ohio River and the new Paul Brown Stadium. This section has many of the coolest things to see, enjoy them as you work to find your pace. Soon after the gun goes off you will run under the Roebling Suspension Bridge. The bridge was completed just after the Civil War and designed by John A. Roebling, who is most famous for designing the Brooklyn Bridge 16 years later. Looking in a line from the Roebling Bridge toward downtown Cincinnati you will see the unique architecture of the recently opened Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Freedom Center not only pays tribute to the important role that people of the Cincinnati area played in the Underground Railroad, but also in a much more general way offers lessons and reflections on the worldwide struggle for freedom. Just beyond the suspension bridge are the remains of Riverfront Stadium, home of 4192 (if that number does not mean anything to you, ask ANYBODY from Cincinnati). Rising just east of the old stadium you will see and pass the new home of the Reds, Great American Ballpark. (Sadly, no game on race day, but they will be back in town to play Washington on Tuesday)
The first cross street on the course is a left turn on Pete Rose Way. This is the first of three course visits to this street. You will be back after running the bridge loop and again in mile 26, so it would not hurt here to pay your respects to "Charlie Hustle" and contemplate the wisdom of naming streets after people while they are still alive.
Left on Pete Rose Way and an immediate left onto the Taylor Southgate Bridge send you immediately over the Ohio River toward Kentucky. This is the first and the most gentle of the three river crossing bridges in the first miles of the race. At the base of the bridge on the left you will see the Newport on the Levee entertainment district and the Newport Aquarium. At the base of the bridge is a gentle uphill on York Street for a block, then a right turn on 4th. As you turn to the right, look over your shoulder to the left to the southeast corner of the intersection. On that corner you will see the world's largest swinging bell, the World Peace Bell. The bell was cast by Cincinnati's own Verdin Company and weighs 33 tons. Listen for it to ring a few minutes before noon while you celebrate with your friends after the race.
Turning right onto 4th Street the course runs through somewhat urban areas of Newport and Covington. Between the two Northern Kentucky cities is the bridge over the Licking River. This bridge is fairly steep, but short. The good news is that most of the Covington side of the bridge is a gradual downhill that goes on for almost an entire mile. In this mile, on the right side of the road, you can see the IRS Processing Center that serves a big portion of the Midwest. Rebate this year? Maybe time to be thinking about that cool GPS or at least a new pair of shoes.
Another right turn begins the climb over the last of the three bridges, the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. This is a long bridge that seems to go on longer than expected. Remember that the Ohio is a really big river and the highest portion of the bridge is in the middle. On the Ohio side of the bridge look to the right at the Bengal's practice fields and Paul Brown Stadium. After making the playoffs in 2005, it looks like the Bengals are about one ACL tear away from competing for the Super Bowl. Watch for big excitement in this stadium this fall!
The "warm up" portion of the course finishes with an approximately one mile run along the southern edge of the downtown area of Cincinnati. Because this section is just a one block walk from the start, expect lots of fans lining the course for this mile. Be careful to watch your pace as it is easy to get caught up in the spirit and pick it up in this flat section. A quick jog down Broadway puts you back on Pete Rose Way for a few blocks heading east. Pay close attention on your right as you run this section. After you pass a pedestrian bridge (the Purple People Bridge) on the right you will see a parking lot for Sawyer Point and if you look across the parking lot you will see them. Proudly standing atop four steamboat smokestacks, the FLYING PIGS. You are feeling good and it is fun to be around the 5th mile in such a playful marathon. Enjoy the moment because you are about to start...
Part II - The Climb
Strategy. This is the part of the course that takes some thinking. You will need to decide how hard you want to run these hills. This section is nearly 3.5 miles of mostly uphill running to the highest spot on the course. Conventional wisdom would probably say to try to keep consistent effort, not consistent pace, in this section to avoid building lactic acid in your muscles too early in the race. To do that you may need to run these miles a bit slower than the rest of the race.
The section starts with a left turn on Eggleston immediately in front of the Flying Pig statues. (You will be coming back past them again very near the finish). Eggleston is a very gradual uphill grade that serves as the base of the 2.5 mile stair stepping climb to the top of Eden Park. The course follows the eastern side of the downtown as it slowly climbs and then makes a right turn over I- 71.
The real hill, what I consider the "signature hole" of the Flying Pig marathon, starts when you turn left off of Elsinore onto Gilbert. The incline is much steeper in this part and the course stair steps up to the top of the hill. This is also one of the most scenic parts of the race with a very nice view of a gazebo overlooking Mirror Lake in the park. It also turns around the woods a lot on the way up so that you cannot see the top of the hill until you turn the corner by the Krohn Conservatory building. A stone bridge spans across the road at the top of Eden Park's hill. Look for the bridge, keep your head up, and keep running to the top. Just after cresting the top of Eden Park, runners are rewarded with a short, flat loop around a scenic overlook that looks across the Ohio River into Kentucky. In past years this has also been a spot for some of the best entertainment on the course. Enjoy!
Do not be discouraged as you leave Eden Park when you notice that the grade continues to climb. In about half a mile and after a few turns you will notice St. Ursula Academy and Convent on the right side of the road. You have now reached the highest point on the course. It is all downhill from here!.Well, not quite, but it is all NET downhill from here. Now that you find yourself at a convent, have you committed the sin of excess lactic acid production? If so, you will pay. But, if you have run smart in this section, your reward awaits 12 miles ahead when you run strong on the very gentle roll of Eastern Avenue. Around the corner past St. Ursula begins…
Part III - The Near Neighborhoods.
This section includes the neighborhoods of East Walnut Hills, O'Bryonville, Hyde Park and Oakley. The grade of the road through this section would best be described as rolling. Plenty of up and down grade, but nothing long or particularly steep. This is also probably the best supported section of the course.
The first turn in this section is a right on Madison Ave. The half marathon runners will leave us here to head back toward town and the shared finish line. We turn east and run through East Walnut Hills, past some of the most impressive mansions in the city. Also the folks from the Seventh Presbyterian Church on Madison are usually out in front of their building encouraging us with orange slices and high fives.
The next highlight of the course is an easy one to miss. About half a mile down Madison, watch the left side of the road for a group of nursing home residents in front of St. Margaret Hall. They have been out cheering and ringing bells for the runners in every edition of the Flying Pig. Maybe our version of Wellesley College? Unfortunately, they are on the other side of the road from the runners, so wave to them and let them know that you appreciate their enthusiasm.
Following Madison into the shopping district of O'Bryonville, look to the right side of the road for Bob Roncker's Running Spot. The Running Spot is always heavily involved in support of the Flying Pig. You will probably get to see Bob in front of the store in his big red Running Spot outfit with a microphone calling out encouragement to the runners.
The course continues to undulate for the next mile or so through O'Bryonville to Hyde Park. On the left side of the road in Hyde Park you will see the campus of Withrow High School. It looks like a small college campus with a big clock tower. Many of Cincinnati's "movers and shakers" attended Withrow. The tree lined streets of Hyde Park are used by more runners than just about any other streets in town. Enjoy some of the nicest older homes in all of Cincinnati as you run through this area.
When previous participants gave the Flying Pig high marks for crowd support, this is the section they were thinking of. Even in the chilly rain of 2004, Hyde Park Square was packed full of enthusiastic supporters. Let the crowd energize you! Also, if you look closely on the left as you enter the shopping square, you can see a Graeter's Ice Cream shop. For the folks from out of town, Graeter's would be a spot to hit after the marathon for a celebration scoop of some of the finest ice cream in the country.
Coming out of Hyde Park Square, Erie Ave has a moderate incline until you reach the left turn on Paxton. Paxton starts with a very short steep grade that is followed by a nice, rather long downhill. The course winds back around for a brief visit to the Oakley neighborhood, and two right turns bring you back to Erie Ave. After turning left onto Erie the course follows an approximately one mile descent that starts very gently and becomes steeper as you pass Hyde Park Country Club. Leaving Hyde Park, the course climbs again for about half a mile as it crosses Red Bank Road and makes a right turn into...
Part IV - The East Neighborhoods.
This is the third year for the course to include the neighborhoods of Madisonville, Mariemont and Fairfax. The section starts with about a half mile run down Bramble through Madisonville. You will notice that soon after you pass the small shopping area that you will go by Simpson Street. The next street after that is Homer Street. Coincidence? Turning right onto Settle, you soon enter Mariemont. This neighborhood road starts with a short, steep culvert, but then flattens out completely, ...as in... absolutely pancake flat.
If you are driving the course, the part in Mariemont can be pretty confusing, particularly if you are from out of town. When the course turns left onto Murray it is a divided boulevard, but actually traffic may go both ways on both sides of the boulevard. The runners turning left will be on the left side of the boulevard and will be able to see the runners ahead of them returning from downtown Mariemont on the right side.
The section in Mariemont probably has the most turns on the course. Just follow the instructions of the course monitors and be happy with the variety of things to see. What seems to be turns on every block will soon be long stretches without a single turn. Also be happy that the race director resisted the temptation to send the course further east to Indian Hill. As you might imagine, that direction has some "serious hills" and is a favorite hill training spot for runners in the area.
The right turn past the Mariemont Graeter's Ice Cream into the town square is the east most point on the course and, in general, for the rest of the way, you will be heading for home. After leaving the square the course returns to Murray and allows you to see some of the runners who are behind you.
As you run back down the other side of Murry heading west, make note of two things. First, you are less than 10 miles from the finish line. Second, there are only four "significant" hills standing between you and the finish line. For the most part the course is either a gentle grade down or a gentle roll from here on in.
Murry ends at a bike path that enters Fairfax. You leave the nearly completely flat running in Mariemont with a half mile of gradual downhill on the bike path. This neighborhood route is much like Mariemont in that it has lots of turns, but it has one noteworthy difference, the first of those four remaining hills. The hill on Waterson is short but significant. Tell yourself, "one down, three to go" and climb quickly to the top. After zigging and zagging through the streets for a mile or so the course emerges onto Wooster Pike/Columbia Parkway. On your right, behind a chain link fence, you will see Frisch's Mainliner Restaurant with the Big Boy statue out front. The Big Boy statue is the last landmark in the neighborhood section of the course and he welcomes you to...
Part V - The Connector
The only reasonable way to continue back toward downtown from here is on this highway. So for the next one mile pretend like you are somewhere else, because you are going to be running on the shoulder of a highway without much to look at. Nobody likes this part, but at least it is almost all down hill. So let gravity work for you and reminisce about the fans in Hyde Park and Mariemont. This section will be over in ...(insert your pace/mile here)... when you will go down the exit ramp onto...
Part VI - Old Eastern Avenue
Eastern Avenue was picked as the finish of the race because it is probably the flattest long stretch of road in Cincinnati. This section does have some mild roll to it, but only three places where the hills should be of any notice. The first is about one mile after coming down onto Eastern Avenue. It starts in front of the Bella Luna Restaurant and is a gradual, but over ¾ mile long, grade that curves enough that the top is not easily seen until you are at the crest. The last two hills are fairly short. So….race strategy, other than basic finishing pace, is pretty much over when you get here. If you have planned and paced correctly to this point, you should be able to finish strong along this long, "comparatively flat" part of the course. If not, well...
The initial part of Eastern Ave runs through the second oldest settlement in the State of Ohio, Columbia, which was first settled in 1788. Some of the buildings are a bit "worn" in this area, but respect them, they are really old. You will pass through a business district that includes schools and churches. Toward the end of the business district you will notice the historic Columbia Baptist Church. Just a few more buildings down on the right, the second house past Tusculum Ave., you will run past a beautiful, light yellow house, 3644 Eastern Ave. This is the Morris House, built in 1804, and claimed to be the oldest inhabited home in Cincinnati.
The course makes a zig left onto Stanley and then zag right onto Kellogg which, after a short distance, becomes Eastern Ave again. The largest landmark to look for in this section is the large red clock tower of St. Rose Church (1868). This part of town once boasted a world class shipbuilding industry. But as river transport was replaced by rail and then roads, the industry declined. Also this area is "comparatively flat", something that you will appreciate very much at this point, so it is also very susceptible to flooding. (On the back, or riverside, wall of St. Rose Church there is a chart of floodwater heights from many different years. You might come check it out after the race). As you run past St. Rose tilt your head back a little and breath deep through your nose. Can you smell it? Yes...you can smell the finish line because you are entering...
Part VII - The Home Stretch.
Just a 5K to go. How many times have you heard that before? If you have paced correctly, you should now be getting close to running out of gas and holding on for the finish line. In this last section I will try to give more specific landmarks to concentrate on and think about as you run for the finish.
In general the course will follow the Ohio River as it slowly bends to the left all of the way to the end. After you pass the St Rose Church the road bends to the left and you will see a blue sided building, the Leblond Recreation Center, on the left side of the road. That building is about 1/3 of a mile away on fairly flat road. When you reach the blue building the course turns again to the left and the next marker is the top of a mild incline about a quarter mile away. This segment has some very nice new condos on both sides of the road that were not here for the first edition of the Pig.
At the top of the incline the road again bends to the left and looking straight down the road you will be able to see a white billboard over the middle of the road. That sign is about 0.6 miles away and when you get there you will see that it marks the entrance to Allied Building Products. Also in this segment, located on the left side of the road, you will run past the Verdin Company Manufacturing Building where they have been making bells since 1842. Remember Verdin made that giant World Peace Bell that you ran by back in Newport. Let the thought of that bell help you summon some of the energy that you had so early in the race.
Another bend to the left past the Allied Building Products building leads to a downhill under a railroad tracks overpass. The overpass blocks your vision of what is on the other side. Well, on the other side is your next to last uphill. Please don't let it surprise you. It is not particularly steep or long, but comes in a tough place, so be ready for it. The hill bends to the left and there is a red brick building very near the top. In previous editions of the Pig the giant Team In Training water stop has been located in front of this building and is a super high energy zone. Soak it in.
From your current vantage point you have a good view of the Cincinnati riverfront for the first time since you began "the Climb" section. The bright yellow bridge going over the Ohio, known locally as the "Big Mac" Bridge, crosses just in front of the Flying Pig statues that you passed the last time you came this way. On your right you can see the trendy Mt. Adams section of town. You were near the top of that part of town when you made it to the summit of Eden Park Drive. At the bottom of the down slope in front of you is the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, world famous for ribs, a circular building on the left that will come into view as you run down the gently sloping ¾ mile stretch.
At the bottom of the slope near the Montgomery Inn you will notice the course turning to the right and out of view. Once again, the turn is blocking a short, but this time fairly steep, hill. This hill was completely ignored in the early editions of the Pig because it came early in the race, but at this point, within the last mile of the race, it may come up to bite those who are not prepared for it. Dig deep and get to the top, you have climbed much bigger hills and don't let this one get you.
At the top of the hill you may be able to hear the cheers of the finish line. It is now a run to the stadium and around the bend into the chute. Eastern Ave turns into Pete Rose Way just before it passes the Flying Pigs. Did you pay proper respect to the "Hit King" on your first two visits this way? This time you run the entire length of the east side of Pete Rose Way, several blocks, until it runs under the stadium. I have noticed that the turn appears to be coming up one block before the actual turn. Remember that you need to go all the way to the brick of the baseball stadium before you turn to the left.
At the end of Pete Rose Way the course does a 180 degree turn around US Bank Arena. As you round the arena notice the big red paddlewheel with smokestacks that commemorates the rich steamboat history of Cincinnati. On the river side of the arena the course quickly turns into the finish chute. At the Finish Swine you will be greeted with one of the very best medals in all of marathoning, a walk along the serpentine wall by the river, and an open grassy park. Congratulations! Enjoy your early memories of one of the nation's top marathons.
For those who have a car from out of town. I would recommend taking the time to drive "the Climb" and "Home Stretch" portions of the course. Both are easily accessible from Sawyer Point. In Eden Park stop at the overlook and enjoy the view. I would not try to maneuver all of the turns in Mariemont, it is all flat in that area and finding the turns is a real challenge even for Cincinnati folks. We hope that you have a great time with the race and all that goes along with it.