Flying Pig Half Marathon Course Tour
By Brian Nash
For those driving the course, be aware that 3rd Street downtown is one way the wrong way. To avoid 3rd Street, we advise staying on Mehring Way rather than turning left on Joe Nuxall Way at the first turn on the course. Follow Mehring Way past Great American Ballpark and US Bank Arena and follow the curve to the intersection on Pete Rose Way. Turn left on Pete Rose Way and take an immediate left at the light onto the Taylor Southgate Bridge. Now you are back on the course at about the one mile mark.
I think that the Flying Pig Half Marathon course can be divided into four sections, 1) The Downtown and Kentucky Bridge Loop 2) The Climb 3) Walnut Hills and 4) The Slide Home
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 12 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 5th. 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 race.
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 half marathon and marks a transition to the next section of the course….
Part II - The Climb
This section is about 2.5 miles of mostly uphill running that climbs a total of 280 feet. In previous years the climb section of the Pig was 322 feet spread over 3.5 miles.
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 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. From here on the grade will be mostly either rolling or downhill. As you turn the corner onto Woodburn you leave the climb behind and enter…….
Part III - Walnut Hills
As you might guess from the name, this section is not flat. But, for the most part, the hills are not particularly long or steep and they are all followed by a downhill. Walnut Hills is one of the oldest of the original Cincinnati suburbs.
Looking up the street after turning on Woodburn you will see at the end of the road the impressive architecture of St. Frances DeSales Church. The church is located at the intersection of Woodburn and Madison and also houses a giant bell. Sadly the bell cannot ring because it would shatter the glass of the neighboring buildings. As you reach the church at the end of Woodburn, you will say goodbye to your friends heading further east in the full marathon. You will turn left on Madison and look for those runners ahead of you that you want to pick off over the last 4.5 miles of the race. (Do they know what to expect from the course like you do? Ah, …..you have the advantage!) The run west on Madison, which becomes Martin Luther King Drive in a half mile or so, is a real roller coaster of ups and downs. The climbs in this mile are the last challenging uphills of the entire race, so don't be afraid to "put the hammer down" a bit here.
The next turn is to the left onto Gilbert Ave. As you round the corner, look to your left at the old house on the hill. That is the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet moved to Cincinnati around 1830 with her family when her father became leader of the Lane Theological Seminary. It was here that she gained significant exposure to the abolitionist movement, particularly through her interaction with the students and faculty at Lane.
Gilbert Ave in this part of town has a very gentle uphill grade that goes on for a half mile or so. Go ahead and use up whatever uphill climbing muscles you have left, you are not going to need them again because you are about to hit…….
Part IV - The Slide Home.
After the gentle uphill of the first part of Gilbert, the course reaches the highest point of the race at the corner of Gilbert and McMillan. From that intersection to the finish line it is almost all downhill or flat. For those that have spent it all at this point, just roll up in a ball and roll on in. For those planning to run this race fast, you will need to practice your downhill running because the grade can be steep going down in several areas. The city skyline of Cincinnati opens up in front of you as you run down the hill, including the twin towers of Cincinnati's Proctor and Gamble.
Most of the severely steep downhill grade comes early in this section. Soon the loop of the course is complete and you will find yourself running in front of Eden Park, down the other side of the road that you were climbing just 5 miles ago. The faster runners in the race will be able to see, encourage, and be encouraged by, some of the slower runners as they continue on "the Climb".
When you reach Elsinor Castle this time you will turn right onto Elsinor Place for a block and then left onto Reading. Down the hill on Reading leads to a fairly flat but short out and back on Central Parkway. After the turn around on Central you will turn to the right onto Eggleston.
On Eggleston the grade becomes a nice gentle downhill that points directly toward the river. You should be able to really let it out as you come down Eggleston. As you come to the end of the road where it meets Pete Rose Way, be sure to look up and see the Flying Pig statues that are on top of steamboat smokestacks in Sawyer Point directly in front of you. At that corner you will turn right onto Pete Rose Way and hit a small incline then a short downhill to the Finish Swine directly in front of the ballpark. At the finish you will be greeted with a great finisher's medal, a walk along the serpentine wall by the river, and an open grassy park. Congratulations! Enjoy the satisfaction of a race well planned and well run!