Running the Flying Pig Marathon May 2, I realized that whoever assigned Cincinnati that ridiculous flying pig symbol turned out to be a visionary. What other mascot offers such comic potential?
At least four head-to-toe pig outfits pumped the air with pink fists (hooves?) for us. Lots more flossed regalia with snouts, wings and round pink ears.
"This little piggy ran all the way!" said signs dotting the course. Another claimed one runner "may be kosher, but she's gonna smoke this pig!"
Besides, other than the drug gangs' deadly wars, Cincinnati isn't really that tough. It's sophisticated in incongruous pockets.
Our city's been called the biggest small town in America, and it's true that most of us move in pretty small circles.
Those I know not trying desperately to get out — and the younger we are, the harder we try — are working to change the course of this leaking, lumbering, gorgeous ship toward something positive. The hull seems to take on more water every time we take ourselves too seriously.
So what better image than a silly throwback to Cincinnati's past, implanted with wings, as we try to make the seemingly impossible happen? Impossible, as in running a marathon.
By 6:30 a.m. May 2, the cold rain we all hoped would let up at daybreak hadn't (and didn't 'til after 10). Upended trash bags with holes torn for arms and a head kept off some of the water. Nervous excitement ran before we did. A sign on a young man's back read "Son's 1st Marathon." Next to him stood an older man: "Dad's 100th Marathon."
The course weaved briefly across the bridges to Kentucky and back again. On Reading Road, the neighborhood's blacks and whites stood side by side to hold out paper cups of water and Gatorade. The sidewalks of Hyde Park and Mariemont were clotted with rooting people offering us orange slices, Vaseline to smear on whatever has started to chafe and affirmations I could use every morning: "Good job, keep it up, just a little way to go now, you can do it!"
"You go, girl!" yelled a policewoman on Eastern Avenue. Her colleagues guarded us from careening SUVs. Young bands played under canopies. Here and there, a lone singer strummed her guitar.
Twenty-six miles later, rounding the corner for that last 2/10th of a mile, you'd have thought we were Olympians. If we had any breath left, screaming people standing two and three deep momentarily took it away. Those who turned out for us in spite of the weather deserve a homemade medal, a sky-raising cheer and a sweaty, smelly bear hug. Pig hug.
Marathon running means a chance to be a sloppy kid again. A runner's high is like the fresh-air, gurgling-laugh exhilaration of playing tag.
And running long distances is gross. Grab a cup of liquid, dump most of it down your front trying to drink it, throw the cup and the rest of what's in it on the ground. Snotty nose? If you have the energy, wipe it on your sleeve; if not, just let it run, the rain's soaked you already anyway.
Gotta pee? There weren't many Porta-Potty stations along this course, so some runners did another kind of fly-ing at the edge of the woods and behind buildings. Others, well, they just let it fly. Already wet anyway, gotta get on with this marathon thing.
Cincinnati knows how to get its marathon thing on. The Pig isn't a fast course because of the hills, but it draws more and more participants — a record 12,000 this year — because the scenery's so beautiful and organizers do a great job. And not only with the marathon; there's also a walking division, a wheelchair race, four- and two-person marathon relays and a 10K, 5K and kids' fun runs. Some truly brave souls committed to raising thousands of dollars for charities while running thousands of feet.
Friends had asked if I'm going to write about running the Boston Marathon April 19. Now, after barely qualifying again (by two minutes, at 3:38), they ask if I'll return to Boston next year.
Naw, been there, done that. I think I'll stick around Cincinnati next year and wait another two weeks for the Flying Pig.