I first heard about the Flying Pig Marathon seven years ago, right when I moved to Cincinnati. After all, how could you not? It’s a part of our city’s culture, even for those who, like myself, pull a solid 20-minute mile (on a good day). However, the idea of lugging my body for 26.2 miles straight, even for just one day, felt impossible. Now imagine my surprise when I heard that there are people who have not only run just one Flying Pig, but every single one of them for the last 19 years.
They call themselves the Streakers.
“We definitely run with our clothes on, but we are a little crazy and have run all the Flying Pig full marathons since the first one in 1999,” says Amy Schmidt, one of the eleven or so female Streakers. There are about 85 Streakers in total this year, with ages ranging from 38 to 83. They run independently of each other.
“Most are definitely athletic, but we come in different shapes and sizes. Some are fast runners and others walk, crawl or do whatever it takes to get across the finish line to maintain the streak,” she says.
Schmidt works at Delta Airlines, and finds marathoning to be a great stress reliever. “We have lawyers, engineers, an ex-congresswoman and all types of professionals,” says Schmidt, 58, who is not related to that ex-congresswoman/Streaker, Jean Schmidt.
The majority of the Streakers live either in Cincinnati or close by.
“Since we have run all of the races, we have a vested interest in making sure the Flying Pig is one of the best marathons in the country, and it truly has become just that,” Schmidt says. “We love our city and the people that come out every year to cheer us on.”
And this year’s Flying Pig is a special one, marking the 20th year the marathon has brought the city together. It’s actually the centerpiece of a weekend full of events, which start Thursday when P&G presents The Piggys at the Aronoff Center. It’s a “sneaker formal” awards show, according to the event’s website, to honor the community that supports the race, including participants, marathon volunteers, sponsors and, yes, the Streakers. The Nashville Indie band COIN — known for their aptly titled breakout 2015 track “Run” — will headline a Friday Night concert at The Banks, accompanied by performances by locals DJ E Trayn, Moonbeau and Telehope.
But the 26.2-mile race, which starts Sunday at 6:30 a.m., is the main event for the Streakers. “The main thing we all have in common is endurance,” Schmidt says. “For the streakers, there is a great sense of tradition in keeping the streak alive. A lot of us have said we just want to do the first 20, so it will be interesting to see how many continue next year, 25, 30, etc.
“The marathon is a great day, sort of a celebration of all of your training. Getting up in 10-degree weather during January and February and going out and running 15 miles… that’s the hard part.”
However exclusive the Streakers club may be, Schmidt’s eyes are on the medal all runners receive at the end of the marathon. “Medals are very special to marathoners,” she says. “They symbolize all the effort we put in. These keepsakes make sure the memories are kept alive.”
Even though talking to Schmidt made me want to go pick up my first pair of running shoes, I still didn’t quite understand why anyone would run a marathon, let alone make such a grueling physical feat a 20-year-tradition.
“It’s all about the journey,” Schmidt says. “Meeting and talking and helping others along the way. Enjoying the crowd that is cheering you on. Not worrying about your aches and pains and just relaxing and taking it all in.”
If you’re unlike me and are reading this with your Flying Pig registration already ready to go, Schmidt has some Streaker-ly advice: “So many younger runners run with headphones, and that is not really when marathoning is all about,” she says. “You have to take in all the sights and sounds to really experience a city and all the race has to offer.”
And Cincinnati has beauty to offer to every runner.
“The water stops are amazing,” Schmidt says. “The groups have themes and really cater to making it fun — lots of music out on the course, and as Streakers we look forward to Elvis going up to Eden Park, the Barbershop singers at Eden Park, big house parties in Mariemont and a great older couple playing symphony music on Eastern Avenue, toward the end of the race, just to name a few.”
After I finish grilling her, Schmidt has one thing to add. “Streakers, and marathoners in general, are very generous people. We are running for something much bigger than ourselves. My group ran our first five races or so raising money for leukemia, and we had a specific child hero that we raised money for and ran for,” she says.
“Marathoners are strong in body and in mind,” she continues. “It’s often said a marathon is 95 percent mental, after you have done the training. That is why a lot of first timers struggle, as they do not have the confidence in knowing they can do it. Streakers definitely have that confidence and are so grateful of the gifts we have been given and therefore run for others who can’t run.”
If you’re feeling inspired to try the Flying Pig, it’s not too late to register for the marathon’s wait list. Other half-marathon, one-mile and extra races are available for registration at flyingpigmarathon.com. Nevertheless, it’s free — and a little more relaxing, maybe — to cheer from the sidelines.
For more info on the 20th anniversary of the Flying Pig Marathon, visit flyingpigmarathon.com