A Running Story the 20th flying pig marathon

We are less than three months and counting until the 20th Annual Flying Pig Marathon. Now is the time of year thousands run to the frozen sidewalks and start training for the race that is part of the fabric of the Tri-State.

Executive Director of the Flying Pig, Iris Simpson Bush, calls the Pig an "iconic" event for the community. The Flying Pig is expecting a record number of participants in 2018. Early projections show possibly more than 42,000 run/walkers that weekend from the 1 mile, 5K, 10K half and full marathon.

That means there are 42,000 stories to tell leading up to the Flying Pig Marathon. This is the place for those stories.

"Each race morning I feel, this is going to be the best Flying Pig ever. I feel excited about this year."

Iris Simpson Bush/Flying Pig Marathon

Iris Simpson Bush's running story starts at WCPO TV. She was the sales manager in the middle of a successful career when she found out a marathon was coming back to Cincinnati. Simpson Bush was instrumental in convincing her fellow managers we should broadcast the race on 9 On Your Side. Two years later she left WCPO to be the executive director of the marathon.

"It's grown and we have become an icon in our community," said Simpson Bush from her office. "We have developed a national reputation which means a lot for our city."

"The race is imaginative; possibilities are limitless for everyone in the marathon where pigs fly."

Harvey Lewis/Pig Streaker

Badwater Ultra-Marathon winner and Cincinnati resident Harvey Lewis agrees. "I’m a streaker and have run all 19 marathons since 1999," Lewis said. "It’s been amazing to see the race and city evolve over that time growing to be one of the country's true running Meccas." Lewis should know.

Harvey Lewis - Ultra-Marathon Winner/Cincinnati Resident - photo credit: John Borntragger

He has finished 73 official marathons while running in 92 countries, on all continents. The Flying Pig is always on his list. "Flying Pig Marathon is hands down my favorite. The Pig is superbly organized, travels through historic neighborhoods with enthusiasm and the most fun theme," Lewis said. "The race is imaginative; possibilities are limitless for everyone in the marathon where Pigs fly."

2017 winner and Tri-State resident Kerry Lee agrees. "It's day that our Queen City comes together as a community to run, walk, race, cheer and support." Last year she was greeted at the finish line by many of the students she teaches and coaches at Anderson High School. "It's a day to experience hard work being poured into a goal."

The Flying Pig has something for everybody. It has grown from its start as a marathon only - to also offer a half marathon, 10K, 5K, kids races, a 1 miler and even events for dogs.

The growth Lewis mentioned has been under the watchful eye of Simpson Bush. The brand has added the Beer Series http://www.runbeerseries.com/#/main and The Queen Bee half marathon in the fall. http://queenbeehalf.com

"It's difficult to capture the feeling in words. Once you're a part of it, you'll know. There's nothing else like it"

Kerry Lee - 2017 Flying Pig Winner

Simpson Bush's Marathon day is not like the rest of us. She lines up at the start line. "To this day at the start line, my knees shake and a say a prayer for their safe return," she revealed.

She then heads to the finish line to greet every participant. "The most emotional moments happen right there at the finish line," Simpson Bush said. "The last person to cross the finish line brings tears to my eyes."

Simpson Bush would participate in the Flying Pig relay on marathon day in the early years, but the veteran of multiple marathons admits one day she would like to experience the event "like everybody else."

She actually runs the Pig a week before. She covers the full 26.2 course with a couple of friends. "I always have a lot of people to run with," Simpson Bush said. "Several local running groups divide themselves up into relays and they run with me."

Her family operates as the support team following them around as a mobile aid station with water, bananas or anything else she might need.

While running without the famous support along the route, she is well aware of the type of marathon she has helped create. "From the beginning we felt if you want to do a marathon and you want to do all of that training," she said from her office. "We want do all we can to get you from the start to the finish."

Simpson Bush has finished three official marathons and countless week-before Flying Pigs. She has participated in 32 Thanksgiving Day Races, "I never miss that," she said with a smile. It is her love of the city and the event she has helped mold that keeps her going.

Chair Awarded to Simpson Bush by Road Race Management

Her work with the Flying Pig is nationally recognized. In November, Road Race Management honored her as the National Race Director of the Year. It is an award handed out for more than 30 years and Simpson Bush is the fifth woman to win it.

"I was shocked. It's a big deal to me," said Simpson Bush, recalling the honor. "This award goes to the staff support, board support and all of the committed people that really help to make this a special event."

While Simpson Bush has been honored for what the Flying Pig has grown into over 20 years, he is also looking into what the brand might become. The staff and board of the marathon are looking into ways to grow.

"We ask, how do you stay relevant?" Simpson Bush said. "How do we give the participants, the sponsors and the community at large what it wants from its hometown marathon?"

Simpson Bush during recording of Unprompted Podcast with Riva & Nero

Simpson Bush would not reveal whats ahead in the next 20 years of the Flying Pig, but did admit to looking in endurance events involving multi-sport and trail running.

"We are not ready to announce anything," Simpson Bush said. "We are looking at other markets and the events they are doing. We might see some different events here through the year."

In a way, the Pig and Simpson Bush have grown together; into a running story of 20 years about the love of running and our community.

Training Time

January is the beginning of training for so many, since that's when most of the running groups start their programs. I have spent the last several years running with Fleet Feet.

"The Flying Pig is the more than just one race or a weekend of racing," Fleet Feet owner Frank DeJulius said. "The Flying Pig means an entire 5 month season of gutsy goal-making, cold, dark early morning training sessions and more friendships, bonds, miles and inspirational personal stories that we can fit into that same 5 months."

This year Fleet Feet will train close to 700 runners. Thousands more will be in similar programs through all of the wonderful clubs in the Tri-State.

"When the first weekend in May comes around its simply a celebration for us, our community, our stores and of course, our runners and walkers," DeJulius said. "Fleet Feet Sports is a locally owned specialty retail store but the reality is we are a community hub that is fueled by the spirt of so many Cincinnati runners and walkers. The Flying Pig embodies that spirit."

It's true. I hear all the time Cincinnati is a great running town. It’s a great running town because it is full of great people.

photos courtesy: Flying Pig Marathon

I have met doctors fighting disease, and patients trying to beat disease while training for the Flying Pig. I've met students, homemakers and those running from addiction. I have met those running toward a challenge they never thought was possible.

I represented the slightly overweight, mid-life father of three simply trying to recapture my youth while loving every minute. Challenge accepted.

I wondered as training began in January what The Running Story will be this year.

What motivates you? Why are you running the Flying Pig? Are you on a health quest? Trying to beat your personal best? Where are you from? Why now?

Do you want to see what you are made of at mile 2 or 22? Or is it simply a challenge accepted?

Contact me on TwitterFacebook, email: chris.riva@wcpo.com or by phone: (513) 852-1334.

This space is for your running story - it will be part video, part written word, part TV news story and part pictures. Hopefully it is as inspirational to read as I find it to gather these stories.

Until next week -- happy training.

Created By
Chris Riva


Flying Pig Marathon/Chris Riva

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