Flying Pig Marathon Course TourBy Brian Nash This edition of the Flying Pig course tour is dedicated to our Flying Pig Streakers. Our hometown race is honored to have over 100 marathoners who will be toeing the Flying Pig starting line for the 15th consecutive year. We are humbled by their loyalty to the race and inspired by their dedication to health and fitness. Make it a goal this year to meet one or more of our Streakers, the true stars of our race.
This course tour was originally written to be read prior to race day so that folks unfamiliar with Cincinnati could have some idea what strategy they might use for the different parts of the course. Since the first edition of the tour I am now aware that many out-of-town guests use the tour as an aid in driving the course prior to race day to become familiar with the landmarks of the course. If you are planning to use this tour as a driving aid, I have included three footnotes at the end that you should read before heading out, particularly during race weekend.
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
This section of downtown Cincinnati between the two ballparks is known as The Banks and we are excited after several years of planning to see the area begin to blossom into a vibrant entertainment, retail and residential district. You will notice that pretty much everything in the area other than the Roebling Bridge is new. It will be fun over the next several years to see the dynamic changes that happen to the first mile of the race.
The first turn of the race is to the left at the Moerlein Lager House. 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 were the nightly sign off of the beloved Cincinnati baseball pitcher and broadcaster, Joe Nuxhall, one of the true icons of Cincinnati sports. 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. At the southeast corner of York and 4th 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 watch 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.
Over the bridge back on the Cincinnati side, the route turns to the left for a tour of a small portion of Cincinnati’s west side. The feel in this section of the course is fairly industrial. In the late 1800’s there were over 25 breweries in Cincinnati and many of them were in this area. You can see the smokestack of the Hudepohl Brewery on your right.
Another right turn directs you toward the downtown area on 7th Street. Fans that came to the start of the race often make their way to the flat mile on 7th to cheer. With that fan energy it is easy to let pace get a little fast in this section so kick back a little, enjoy the scenery, and keep an eye on pace. Look ahead to the left at the corner of 7th and Plum Street and 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 few decades. 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.
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. Behind the Bus Terminal you will see the brand new Horseshoe Casino that opened in March 2013. This is approximately at the 6 mile mark of the marathon and marks a transition to the next section of the course.
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. 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 gradually turns through the woods 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..
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. Expect lots of fans and excitement on this beautiful 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.
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 an open 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, including the “Spot On” pace teams and the official training groups. Every year the Spot is voted by the Independent Running Retailers Association as one of the top stores in the country. Stop in if you have time while in Cincinnati. But if you don’t have time, you can still take advantage of their great expertise and product selection at the Flying Pig expo.
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…
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.(see driving tip #2) 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.
Murray 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, a significant hill on Watterson. This hill does not come into view until you reach its base at a turn in the road. It is short and steep. Some of our experienced ultrarunners would recommend power walking it. That would cost about 15 seconds compared to running 9 minute/mile pace, but save significant energy for later in the race.
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…
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 downhill. 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…
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 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…
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 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. Yep, those are the original Flying Pigs. They welcome you to the Finish Swine and offer a hearty congratulations for a race well planned and well run!
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.
- 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 Nuxhall 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. Also, this section on Pete Rose Way is the finish of both the 5K and 10K races on Saturday morning. So it would be best to avoid this first mile of the course completely on the Saturday morning before the marathon.
- If you are driving the course, the Mariemont section can be difficult to navigate unless you are very familiar with the area. Rather than driving all of the turns, we would recommend leaving the course at the intersection of Settle and Murray to continue down Settle until it dead-ends into Belmont. Turn right on Belmont until it dead-ends back into Murray with the bike path in front of you. Turn left on Murray and follow parallel to the bike path until the intersection with Watterson. A left turn on Watterson puts you back on the course.
- The Saturday morning races share the same finish line and some sections of the course as the Sunday races. If you plan to drive the course on Saturday morning, please be sure to study the course maps of each course carefully to avoid disappointing delays behind races.