Russell: Best part of the Flying Pig are all the stories of perseverance, passion

CINCINNATI -- The beauty of Flying Pig Marathon weekend is that it’s a collection of 37,244 stories, one for each entrant in the glut of races from Friday to Sunday.

This year’s participants flocked to Cincinnati from 20 countries and all 50 states to prove they could complete marathons, to continue weight loss goals, to honor loved ones and to fulfill dozens of other motivations. Sunday’s marathon and half-marathon winners provided snapshots of the moxie and passion that dominated the field.

Meet marathon winner Jack Randall, who just graduated from the University of Cincinnati after earning a degree in biomedical engineering. The 22-year-old Dayton native and Oakwood High School graduate had never run a Flying Pig Marathon before clinching Sunday’s race victory in 2:33:46.

“It’s a dream. I honestly did not think it was possible -- it’s always a little thought in the back of your head -- until probably around Mile 10,” Randall said. “There were three of us up there, and I could see first place. I thought, ‘Man, if I can get him by (Mile) 16, I think I can do it.’”

Randall overtook 2015 Pig champ Adam Gloyeske between Miles 15 and 16 and surged ahead for good. He finished ahead of second-place Emmett Saulnier (2:35:15) and third-place Brian Korody (2:42:10) in the 19th edition of the marathon.

Randall has long competed nationally with the UC Running Club, although he usually focuses on shorter distances. Now that he has graduated, the five-time marathon runner said he’s switching gears.

“The marathon is going to be my race,” said Randall, who lives in Clifton.

He assumed the mantle of victor one year after Californian Sergio Reyes won an unprecedented fifth Flying Pig. Reyes bowed out this year due to preparations for another marathon in June, which opened the door for a new victor.

Perhaps the most compelling story Sunday morning was the women’s marathon win by Anderson High School math teacher and track and cross country coach Kerry Lee. Six straight years of second and third place finishes washed away when Lee, 42, finished the 26.2-mile race in 2:53:55.

Lee endured agony just one year ago in the Pig. She led the marathon until Mile 21 but was overtaken by eventual winner Anne Flower, one of her former students.

“I really didn’t know who I was at that point,” Lee said. “I was sick. I did not feel well. My body wasn’t doing well.”

The Hyde Park resident changed her training a bit in preparation for this year’s marathon, running extensively over the winter and “controlling the controllables” like her nutrition. Her ultimate goals were to run well and have fun, and she did both with the help of some Anderson runners.

Liam Gallagher, Ben Lindblad, Will Thomas and Joe Ingram ran a Flying Pig relay alongside Lee and came together with her in the chute. Lee enveloped the quartet in a group hug after winning the title.

 

The crown of laurels was a long time coming, and a lesson in perseverance.

“I think obviously it was a goal I set a long time ago, and I’ve just worked for it every year, and every year I’ve wanted it more. It’s really just because of the kids I coach. I want to show them grit and going for your goals and that working hard pays off,” Lee said.

Lee finished well ahead of second-place Wendy Marshall (3:00:04) and third place Katie Aerni (3:02:59). On a day you “never know who’s going to show up” and “you never know how you’re going to feel,” Lee was thrilled to complete her 25th marathon at her favorite race.

She hugged Game Day Communications president Betsy Ross before accepting her first-place trophy.

“It’s about time,” an elated Lee said.

Kerry Lee hugs some of her Anderson High School runners.

Former Xavier runner Tommy Kauffmann won the Flying Pig half-marathon in 1:08:32, followed by Jake Kasperski (1:11:41) and Matthew Beherensmayer (1:13:05). Kauffmann is no stranger to running, as he competed in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles last February.

The 29-year-old teacher at John XXIII Catholic School in Middletown twice started the Pig’s full marathon in years past, but injuries twice cut short his races around Mile 19. Kauffmann said he had never done the Pig half-marathon before because he’d opted for other races that were a little less challenging.

He mastered the Pig’s challenges Sunday.

“I was cruising until the Eden Park hills, and then I had to downshift a little bit. But (I was) good after that,” Kauffmann said.

Asked if he had a special message for his students, Kauffmann smiled.

“For the eighth graders, their projects are due on Monday,” he said.

 

University of Cincinnati track and cross country assistant coach Lara Crofford claimed the women’s half-marathon title in 1:20:23. Katie Lenahan, the three-time Queen Bee Half Marathon winner, was second in 1:23:01 while Kristen Leslie placed third in 1:25:02.

“Honestly I took off a little fast, and from there I didn’t look back. I heard at one point (Lenahan) was like 20 seconds behind me up by Mount Adams,” said Crofford, 27, a former professional runner and collegiate star at Nebraska.

Throngs of runners crossed the finish for hours and hours after that as the Pig mascots, Erica Heskamp and Mary Jo McKibben, greeted them in fluffy Pig costumes. They’ve manned the “finish swine” all 19 years the Pig has existed. But that’s another story for another day.

Shannon Russell is a freelance sports analyst and columnist for WCPO.com. Follow her on Twitter at @slrussell.

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