Flying Pig 2008 Course Tour
By Brian Nash
Please be advised for those driving the course that there is a “one way” road going the wrong way. At 3rd Street downtown, we recommend turning right at the traffic light to stay on Mehring Way at Great American Ballpark. A block past the ballpark turn left to go over the bridge into Kentucky and put you back on the course.
For the tenth running of the Flying Pig Marathon the finish line has been moved out of Yeatman's Cove and onto Pete Rose Way. The new finish will be much wider and also will be much more visible in the final meters of the race. Also, the first 6.5 miles have been reconfigured a bit, most likely to try to avoid confusion between the half marathon runners and full marathon runners. Otherwise, the course remains pretty much the same as the course that we have come to appreciate over the years. This essay contains a description of what to expect on May 4 and I hope it can be of help in planning your race day strategy.
I think that the Flying Pig course can be divided into seven sections, 1) The Downtown and Kentucky Bridge Loop 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 Downtown and Kentucky Loop
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 16 years later designed the Brooklyn Bridge. Looking in a line from the Roebling Bridge toward downtown Cincinnati you will see the unique architecture of the 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 is a very valuable open area of land that over the next several years we will get to watch become "the Banks".
As the road bends to the left you will see and pass the home of the Reds, Great American Ballpark. The rectangular building closest to the road is the Reds Hall of Fame building. Anyone with even a passing interest in baseball would be interested to stop by after the race to review the rich history of the very first professional baseball team.
Past the ballpark the course turns right on 3rd Street in front of the downtown area. If you look back at the brick side of the ballpark from 3rd Street, you will see the words "Rounding Third and Heading for Home - Cincinnati Reds". These words are the nightly sign off of the beloved Cincinnati baseball pitcher and broadcaster, Joe Nuxall, who passed away last year and left the entire city with a heavy heart. Sometime after the race it would be worth your time to visit the northwest corner of the ballpark where you will find a statue of Joe pitching a ball to Frank Robinson.
A few blocks to the east another right turn leads the runners down Broadway across Pete Rose Way to the Taylor Southgate Bridge. Look to your right as you cross Pete Rose Way and you will see the Finish Swine in front of the ballpark. This is very close to the one mile mark of the race and is a perfect opportunity to remind yourself of your pace for the day. Are you running a pace that will allow you to finish feeling strong when you see that finish line again in 25 miles? If not, it is time to slow down now.
The Taylor Southgate Bridge is the first and the most gentle of three bridges in this section of the course. On the Kentucky side of the bridge 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 two blocks, then a right turn on 4th. Between 4th and 5th Street in Newport you will see the world's largest swinging bell, the World Peace Bell. It 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. Refund 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 keep climbing 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 Bengals practice fields and Paul Brown Stadium. We are still waiting for our talented group of skilled players to really click, but things are clearly looking up for the Bengals in 2008.
Over the bridge back on the Cincinnati side, the route turns to the left to enter the west side of town for the first time in several years. The feel on this short section of the course is fairly industrial. In the late 1800's there were over 25 breweries in Cincinnati and many of them were here on the west side. You can see the smokestack of the Hudepohl Brewery on your right.
Another right turn directs you toward the downtown area on 7th Street. It has been a number of years since the Pig course has toured a downtown street and obviously the buildings on this street have a lot of history. On Plum Street to the left you will see the unique Byzantine-Moorish architectural style of the two spires of the Plum Street Temple. It was from this building that Rabbi Isaac M. Wise founded the institutions of Reform Judaism in the 19th century.
At Race Street the Art Deco style of the Shillito/Lazarus Building dominates the entire block. The building was originally a giant department store that has been converted to loft apartments in the past decade. The interior of the store was inspired by fashionable Parisian department stores; in fact, when the new store opened in the 19th century, Cincinnati was acclaimed the "Paris of America.". A few blocks further down 7th at Walnut Street you will see the Aronoff Center for the Arts, one of the cultural hubs of the city. Across the street from the Aronoff is Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, a great choice for those of you who like to celebrate with a high quality steak after a marathon.
As 7th Street leaves downtown it becomes a ramp onto Gilbert Avenue. A slight climb up the ramp then a downhill brings you to the Cincinnati Greyhound Bus Terminal on the left side of the street. This is approximately at the 6 mile mark of the marathon and marks a transition to the next section of the course.
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 about 2.5 miles of mostly uphill running that climbs a total of 280 feet to the highest spot on the course. In previous years the climb section of the Pig was 322 feet spread over 3.5 miles. 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.
About a quarter of a mile up the hill from the bus terminal you will notice on the right side of the road a very unique looking Norman Romanesque mini-castle made up of two towers connected by an archway. This structure was commissioned in the 1880's by the Cincinnati Water Works as a tribute to Elsinore Castle from Shakespeare's Hamlet. At that time it served as a footpath entrance to the park, and also as a valve house for the water works.
What I consider the "signature mile" of the Flying Pig marathon starts at the Elsinore Castle. From this point 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. When you see him, yell "CONGRATULATIONS BOB". He was just elected into the Running Specialty Hall of Fame and The Spot was again voted one of the top 50 Running Stores in the country.
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 one of the sections 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!
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 approximate one mile descent that starts very gently and becomes steeper as you pass Hyde Park Country Club. This long downhill is a great spot to make up a bit of the time lost in the climb up Eden Park. 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 section of the course includes the neighborhoods of Madisonville, Mariemont and Fairfax. It 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" inclines/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 mostly 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 incline 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 3/4 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 Riverside Drive. (the fancy new name for this more upscale area of Eastern Avenue) 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 breathe 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 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 run by some very nice new condos on both sides of the road that were not here for the first edition of the Pig.
Beyond the condos, 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 the 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. This is one of those funny hills with a false top. As you run up look to the red brick building on the right side of the road. The top of the hill is in front of that brick building. Power your way up.
From your current vantage point you have a good view of a bright yellow bridge going over the Ohio, known locally as the "Big Mac" Bridge. 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 3/4 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 will be able to hear the cheers of the finish line. It is now just a run to the red bricks of the stadium that you see over the road about half of a mile directly in front of you. The grade is a nice easy downhill for a few hundred meters until it goes up a gentle rise and another slight downhill to the finish. As you pass under the Big Mac Bridge, make sure to look to the left to see the four FLYING PIG statues that sit atop four steamboat smokestacks at the entrance to Sawyer Point. 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 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. Also, if you decide to drive the bridges section of the course, when you get to 5th Street in Newport, it is a one way going the wrong way. I would skip that part.
Welcome to Cincinnati and the Flying Pig. We hope that you have a great time with the race and all that goes along with it.